Ever wish you could ask others how they spend their money? We’re going there. In our “Cash Confessions” series, LearnVest breaks down the numbers to show how real people spend their paychecks, and whether their habits are financially on track — or off the rails. 

Today, writer Kara Perez shares how she was able to attend a close friend’s extravagant wedding without busting her budget. 

I am deep into the wedding season phase of my life. Most of my friends are engaged or already married, and for this year alone I have five invitations on my fridge. I love a good wedding, and I’m happy to see that my friends are happy.  

That said, weddings are so much more than just a party — they can be a declaration to the world of your class, your priorities and your social standards. A potluck in a barn sends a very different message than a plated meal at a Manhattan hotel.  

Recently, one of my friends had a weekend wedding extravaganza. I love and admire the bride — she’s one of the hardest workers I know, and she’s an excellent friend. But we come from very different financial worlds. I knew this New England wedding was going to be one of the fanciest events I ever attend, and I was worried about fitting in and affording it.  

The wedding was held on the coast of Maine in early June. There was a welcome happy hour and dinner on Friday, followed by after-dinner drinks at the local yacht club. Saturday was filled with activities on the beach before the ceremony, and then the reception at the local country club. Sunday there was a goodbye brunch at a very fancy hotel.  

All of this is very outside my norm. I'm very low-key: I rarely eat out, and most of my clothes come from Goodwill or clothing swaps. I needed at least three nice outfits for the dinner, brunch and actual wedding, in addition to beach clothes. I’d never been to a yacht club before.  

What I Spent on Wedding Guest Costs 

Travel: $285. As excited as I was to attend, I knew I had to stick to a budget. To save money, I planned ahead and leaned on my network of friends who were also going. I started saving for this trip in January, six months ahead. I booked my flights two months before the wedding, getting a roundtrip ticket for $252. Flights to Boston are not cheap, especially for summer months. I estimate booking early saved me about $150.  

I flew into Boston and met up with two friends to drive to Maine in their car, splitting gas and tolls. Once in Maine, we were able to walk to most of the wedding events or take a complimentary shuttle.  

Accommodations: $75. The wedding was held at the bride's family's beach community. Her family owns two beach houses on the coast, and all my friends and I were able to stay there for the three days and two nights of activities. I covered a $75 cleaning fee for my stay. Food was provided, and most activities outside the ceremony involved time on the beach.  

Clothes: $0. As I was packing for the trip, I laid all my nicest clothes on my bed. Since this was an East Coast wedding in a conservative area, I chose the ones that were the most modest for the brunch (a black tank top/linen pants combo) and the happy hour (a sleeveless green-and-red sundress). When in doubt, black on black is always a safe bet.   

I borrowed a formal, lace dress for the actual wedding from another friend, since none of my dresses were really appropriate.  

Gifts: $50. I got the couple a $50 certificate to a restaurant in their home city. I'm all about gifts that double as experiences.  

Total Spent on the Wedding Weekend: $410 

recent Bankrate study found that the average wedding guest spends $628 to attend a friend’s wedding ($728 if you’re in the bridal party). I didn't attend the bachelorette, and there was no engagement party or bridal shower. Overall, I saved roughly $200 compared to the average by planning ahead and getting creative.    

The Takeaway 

I’ve known the bride since high school, and her wedding was like a mini high-school reunion. Having a group to spend time with made a huge difference in feeling comfortable. We were all seated together for the reception dinner, and we danced the night away.  

When it came to mingling with some of the more affluent guests, I found that my initial anxiety was unfounded. Everyone likes someone who is kind and polite, and that’s who I was. I had several great conversations about living in Austin, books I’ve read, and how perfect the weather was. Our salaries didn’t matter in the conversation — our mutual experience won out.