Every time people hear me say that we lead a frugal life, they associate it with being "cheap." There's a huge difference between being frugal and being cheap! That show "Extreme Cheapskates" hasn't made it any better, but I'm here to tell you that weddings and parties don't have to scare you, intimidate you, or make you dig into money you don't have. You can be a superb and polite guest at these events without going over your budget, or digging through people's trash (though, dumpster diving is apparently a growing trend!). Here are my tips on how to be a wanted and loved guest, while still living on the KCL shoestring budget!

1. Decline invitations that you can’t afford

This seems simple but is key to being a good guest. Is the invitation for something that you simply cannot afford to attend? Perhaps you think you can, but have you added up all the costs associated with attending? Let's use a wedding for an example, where your whole family will attend. Perhaps you will need a cardigan for your daughter, your husband needs a dressy belt, and you need pantyhose or new shoes. You'll need a card for the couple, and a gift, and the ceremony is a ways away, so add in the gas money! This might sound overly nitpicky, but remember: sticking to a strict budget means sticking to your guns. Rather than being rude and just not bringing a gift (this is a NO-NO!), consider other ways to shave costs.

Attend the wedding alone, or carpool with a friend, to save on gas or childcare costs, if you have little ones. Opt for an outfit you already have, or raid a friend's closet for appropriate attire to avoid having to purchase any new accessories.  My husband and I have a special category for "gifts" in our budget, which helps us plan ahead, and I try to budget a little more during wedding season.

2. Save on the events surrounding the wedding

Often, attending a wedding can mean other activities like bridal showers, lingerie showers for a bride, or bachelor/bachelorette parties. To save in these areas:

  • Borrow a dress or outfit if you typically don't dress up much or know you won't wear it again. (Remember Rent the Runway?)
  • Eat a full meal before you go, and order appetizers or non-alcoholic drinks to save on your bill. Ask discreetly for a separate check, so you don't need to tip on everyone else's hefty bills if your total is much lower than others (if it's already split, don't cause a scene!).
  • Skip Victoria's Secret for lingerie and check places like Gap and Aerie clearance for lovely, feminine lingerie options that are less expensive and just as pretty.
  • Create a meaningful and useful gift like typing out recipes for a recipe book at a shower, or starting a recipe box with a few handwritten ones from you. You can find recipe boxes for just a few dollars at places like Target.

3. Use these specific ways to save on gifts and cards

Share the cost

Go in with another friend or wedding attendee to purchase a nicer gift where the price can be split. You might only be able to afford ten dollars, but by going in together, you may be able to purchase a larger item from the couple's registry or wishlist.

Stock up on greeting cards when they’re cheap

Buy greeting cards from the Dollar Tree or dollar store, where they can be as low as 2/$1…stock up when you’re there, and keep a few on hand for weddings and other events like bridal showers. Making your own is nice, if you have the time. I actually snagged a great "multi purpose" box of card stock and envelopes at TJ Maxx recently for $3.99! These kinds of cards do double duty as wedding or thank you notes.

Keep it neutral

Check out the selection of nice, neutral dishes and glasses at Ross Dress for Less, Big Lots, TJ Maxx and Marshalls. Good examples of easy gifts would be white or ivory coffee mugs, white or ivory dishes, clear drinking glasses or wine glasses. I spotted several lovely and brand name sets of glasses for under $6.99 at my local stores. By purchasing simple and non-patterned dishes, the couple can either use them, or re-gift them easily if they don't fit the decor. These are also very practical items. Zulily has great prices on mugs, including sets of mason jars, four for $8.99, and these darling polka dot mugs!

Take advantage of Black Friday

Shop Black Friday for items like bath towels, inexpensive appliances like slow cookers, electric skillets, and board games. Our local Target had bath towels for $3.99 during Black Friday Sales, and slow cookers were at JCPenney for only $9.99!

Think outside the box

Places like GroopDealz offer some really nice home decor items. I recently spotted a set of two couch throw blankets in pretty chevron patterns for just $13.99! You could get two gifts from that set by splitting them up, making your gift total just under $7. Think outside the box for extra-practical items like address labels. If the couple included their married names and address, you could order custom labels for $9.99 from Groopdealz! You'll have to think pretty far ahead, since shipping takes notoriously longer from sale sites like Groopdealz and Zulily.

Raid your stockpile

Raid your own stockpile and assemble a useful gift basket. I once gifted a cute basket of cleaning supplies from my stockpile! Things like laundry detergent, scrubbing bubbles, paper towels, Windex, or other cleaning supplies are practical and can be dressed up with a cute plastic tote from the dollar store and some pretty scrub sponges. This is also a gift that many people probably won't think of (we actually received a gift like this for our wedding years ago, and it was one of the most useful things we got!). Items like Starbucks bagged coffee can be put in a pretty basket with two inexpensive mugs for a thoughtful coffee-themed basket, and popcorn and soda can be added to a clearance DVD for a "movie night"-themed gift. Amazon has Batman on DVD for just $4.81!

If you decide to attend a wedding or party, put on the most important accessory: a good attitude! Don't whine about the costs or how expensive it is. Quietly find ways to cut your own costs without infringing on others’ celebrations or budgets. That will make you the best guest of all!

This is a guest post from Grace A. in Medford, OR.

How to Be a Great Wedding Guest--on a Shoestring Budget!