AmEx: Wedding guests become more frugal in 2012

Even though brides and grooms sweat wedding expenses the most, new research from American Express shows that a wedding invite could cost many consumers as much as a night on the town. The latest edition of the American Express Spending and Saving Tracker studied wedding experiences of 1,500 consumers. Among their findings: The average guest spends $339 to watch their friends and loved ones say "I do."

Fortunately, it appears that a new frugality among engaged couples has trickled down to wedding guests over the past year. Last year's survey estimated the average wedding guest spent $490 on gifts, new clothes, childcare, parties and transportation. Falling prices at hotels and restaurants may make it less expensive to get hitched, but affluent consumers told AmEx researchers that they increased their spending on jewelry, accessories and pre-wedding get-togethers. Researchers found that members of the wedding party spend about $40 more than most invited guests.

Gift registries eat half of guests' budgets

Survey respondents told American Express researchers that they plan to spend an average of $166 on gifts for close family members or friends, nearly half of their anticipated budget. Even though just 18 percent of couples prefer receiving gifts from their retail store wedding registries, 34 percent of consumers lean on those registries to make their gift selections. Researchers found that more than half of Americans admit they'd rather receive cash or gift cards at their receptions instead of physical gifts.

Couples may need to use some of that cash to pay for food. Both men and women in the survey agreed that catering should get the biggest slice of the wedding budget. Venue fees, entertainment expenses and wedding cakes also earned top attention from the survey participants. Women placed extra emphasis on budgeting extra cash for a wedding dress, flowers and a bar.