budgetWhile newlyweds take their first wedding dance, a delicate budgeting dance can be going on in the guests’ heads—especially if they had to pay for travel expenses as well as numerous engagement, bridal shower, and wedding gifts.

As stressful as it sometimes can be, it’s possible to keep wedding expenditures in check by thinking of ways to stretch your budget. Luckily, there are many creative ways to make your money go further while still helping the newlyweds start their life together, says Jamie Miles, an editor of popular wedding website, TheKnot.com.

“Couples are aware of the economy and how it’s affecting different people,” Miles says. “They’re going to be understanding if you have to stay within a budget and get something a little less expensive off their registry. Yes, there are bridezillas out there, but at the end of the day, they’re going to understand.”

First, start by shopping early, before the couple’s gift registry is picked over, she says.

“The key to saving is to buy early. Generally about 52 percent of the items on a couple’s registry are going to be under $50,” she says. “If you go within the first weeks, you are still going to be able to buy items that are under $50.”

While The Knot’s Bridal Registry Study shows that friends typically spend $79 on a wedding gift and family members average $146, it’s fine to give an amount that’s comfortable for you, Miles says. “If you’re in the friend realm, it’s going to be a little more acceptable to get something less expensive off their registry.”

“Say that you settle on something in the $20 to $40 range, that’s OK. You can also personalize it a little bit more,” she says. “Say you get them a wine rack off their registry, you can add a couple bottles of their favorite wine. That makes the gift a little more personal, and it’s still going to be affordable.”

Another way to stretch your dollar is to team up with friends to contribute smaller amounts to a group gift. Some 70 percent of couples receive at least one group gift, according to The Knot’s Bridal Registry Study. “It might end up being a little more substantial of a present, but it’s not going to affect your wallet as much as you buying that substantial present alone,” Miles says.

Even if your budget is limited, wedding experts recommend getting a gift from the couple’s registry instead of trying to find a similar item at a lower-priced store.

“I would definitely recommend getting something from the registry. That’s what they need. The registry has been created for a reason. It’s like telling someone what you want for your birthday and them totally ignoring you,” Miles says.

Beth Bernstein, owner and event director at SQN Events, a premier wedding planning company in Chicago, agrees.

“If they’re registered for salad bowls, they would like those salad bowls. They don’t want other salad bowls from a different place. I would not go to a lower-priced store. I would just get fewer items off their registry that you can afford,” Bernstein says.

The idea is to make a gift special, even if your budget is smaller, she says.

“If you don’t have a big budget to give a wedding gift, a good idea is to donate to a charity that’s meaningful to a couple in their honor,” Bernstein says. “A donation is always appreciated.”

Most charities will send a card to the couple letting them know that a donation has been made in their honor, usually without disclosing the specific amount. This can help you feel comfortable staying within a limited budget.

Another alternative is to give a meaningful personal gift, such as a framed photo of the couple, a framed copy of their wedding invitation, a gift certificate to their favorite restaurant, or a contribution to their honeymoon registry. You can also give a gift card to the store where the couple is registered so they can buy items after their wedding. “They might still need two forks, but you might feel weird just getting them two sets of silverware,” Bernstein explains. “They can use [a gift card] for what they want after the wedding to fill in the holes.”

Of course, when budgeting for wedding season, there’s more than the wedding gift itself. The wedding gift usually amounts to 60 percent of the total gift expenditure, with 20 percent for the engagement present and 20 percent for the bridal shower, Miles says.

Plus, for out-of-town weddings, there’s also the cost of airfare and hotel. Make a list of all possible expenses, including all gifts, dress, shoes, hair, makeup, hotel, and airfare. Then figure out a total expenditure level that is right for you.

Whatever your gift to the couple is, Miles says, “It’s going to help them as newlyweds start a life together. They’re going to be thankful, regardless.”

A Chicago-based writer and editor, Eve Becker writes about personal finance, health and other topics. She is a former managing editor of Tribune Media Services.