"Ask Brianna" is a Q&A column from NerdWallet for 20-somethings or anyone else starting out. I'm here to help you manage your money, find a job and pay off student loans — all the real-world stuff no one taught us how to do in college. Send your questions about postgrad life to email@example.com.
Q: I've been invited to a bunch of weddings, and I have no idea how I'm going to afford travel and gifts for all of them. How can I cut costs as a wedding guest?
A: Each week brings a new engagement announcement on Facebook, and every save-the-date card makes your long-held dream to backpack across Europe seem even more remote. I've been there.
During your 20s or 30s, back-to-back weddings can turn a joyful occasion into one breathless swipe of a credit card after another. These festivities come right when most of us are trying desperately to pay off our student loans, save for a house or move to a new apartment that's more "Frasier" and less "Girls."
As much as you want to celebrate your friend or family member's love, you shouldn't blow your savings on their wedding. Just as importantly, you shouldn't feel guilty about turning down an invitation occasionally, even if that seems soul-crushingly awkward.
Follow these tips to emerge from your next string of weddings without credit card debt haunting you — unlike the groomsman who gave that embarrassing toast at the reception; his speech will follow him forever.
SET YOUR OWN WEDDING BUDGET
No rules state you need to shell out $100 on every wedding gift, no matter how close you are to the bride or groom. Only you can determine how much you'll spend on each wedding, says Lizzie Post, etiquette expert and president of the Emily Post Institute. Set your own spending limit and prioritize the people most important to you. You'll avoid arriving at the destination wedding for co-worker No. 3 with a maxed-out credit card and a thick aura of resentment.
To start, choose a maximum wedding budget for the upcoming year or for the next several ceremonies you've been invited to. Include the total amount you plan to spend on travel, lodging, attire, gifts and additional pre-wedding events if you're a member of the bridal party.
As you plan your budget, make sure to keep at least a few hundred dollars in an emergency fund, and try not to carry a balance on your credit cards.
IF YOU CAN'T AFFORD IT, POLITELY DECLINE
Say you decide $500 is a reasonable amount to allocate to wedding costs for the year. You'll now be able to accept invitations only to those events that fit your budget. That could mean attending your close friend's wedding in a different city but not your acquaintance's local one.
When you break the news, no need to explain that your budget is the culprit. A simple "no" RSVP and "I'm really sorry, but I won't be able to make it" is fine, Post says. If you're closer with the couple, say, "Between budget and schedule, I just really can't make it work." You should still send a gift, but use the tips below to save some cash.
Weddings also include many other events, such as engagement parties and bridal showers, and you have even more obligations if you're a bridesmaid or groomsman. Ask the best man or maid of honour how much the bachelor or bachelorette party will likely cost before committing. If you can't afford to go, you are hereby permitted to decline any pre-wedding events, even as a member of the bridal party.
"It's more important for you to be present with them on the big day," says Jennifer Spector, spokeswoman and director of brand strategy at Zola, a wedding registry website.
KEEP GIFTS MINIMAL
A "yes" RSVP means you'll attend the event and bring a gift unless the invitation explicitly says otherwise, Post says. This tradition holds true even for destination weddings. If you have to fly to the event and pay for a hotel, you're still on the hook for a present.
When you're on a budget, consider contributing to a group gift, Spector says, which might be an option through the couple's registry: Put $30 toward your friend's coveted KitchenAid stand mixer, for instance, instead of buying the whole thing.
Cookbooks and small household items are also solid lower-cost options, Post says. Handmade gifts can be cheaper and more personal, but they work best when you have a particular talent or craft that you're known for.
"If you're going to go the homemade route, it needs to really be special," Post says.
This column was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet.
Brianna McGurran is a staff writer at NerdWallet. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @briannamcscribe.
NerdWallet: How to Build an Emergency Fund