(CNN) — It's a bit of a joke around my office that I'm a professional bridesmaid and wedding attender, sacrificing vacation and a lot of money to celebrate the nuptials of my friends.
Total bridesmaid appearances: 12
Total weddings attended: I stopped counting at 74
Total amount spent: I'm scared to find out, but according to American Express Spending Tracker, the average amount spent attending a wedding is $539, so you do the math.
Let's just say my credit card company loves me.
Luckily, I happen to love weddings. But after doing things the wrong way the entirety of my bridesmaid career, I now consider myself an expert on how not to go broke or resent your friends getting married.
Consider these my gift to you.
Take a deep breath and smile
If the thought of attending yet another wedding doesn't fill your heart with happiness like it does mine, try to remember:
This is your friend. And he or she has asked you to participate in one of the biggest days of his or her life. This is a good thing.
Weddings are not an exercise established to stress you out or bring you down, and if you've been lucky to have been included in any part of the day, well, then, smile, because that means you're someone's friend!
Smiles and deep breaths also help when it's time to fork over your cash and kiss your precious vacation days goodbye.
Be realistic and honest
After the squeals and hugs and "I'd be honoreds" are over, the sometimes-uncomfortable conversations about what's expected of you as a member of the wedding party will inevitably follow.
Anja Winikka is the site director for the popular wedding website TheKnot.com. She advises wedding guests -- that's right, guests -- to "get organized" when it comes to attending a wedding.
"If you know you have a wedding coming up in August and you know there will be expenses coming up, you may have to cut back in other areas," Winikka said. "Map out your calendar and set a budget."
Once you know what's expected of you as a guest or attendant and you've taken inventory of your budget, communicate any worries you might have to the bride or groom. Let them know what you can do and, more important, what you can't. If you're having trouble making rent, for example, an extravagant bachelorette party in the Virgin Islands is probably not feasible.
Ask the dress shop whether you can set up a payment plan to make monthly contributions toward your wedding wardrobe.
Once the date is set, book your flight and hotel rooms early to avoid high fares.
Whatever you do, let the bride and groom know where you stand. Flaking at the last minute because you can't afford it is a guaranteed way to put a friendship in turmoil.
I'm not one for putting a hierarchy on friendships, but when it comes to minding your finances and attending weddings, you can't do it all. So it's OK to be selective when it comes to whose wedding invitation you accept and whose you decline.
We all know about the "courtesy invite." Your childhood neighbor you haven't seen in 15 years would love to have you there, but sometimes you have to say no.
Be polite and send a thoughtful gift, but don't waste your frequent flier miles on a wedding for someone whose middle name you don't know.
Shack up and double up
Part of the fun of traveling to weddings is that they're usually a reunion with old friends -- and therefore present excellent opportunities to cut costs.
"Going in with your friends for a group gift is a great way to buy something more substantial for the couple," Winikka suggests.
Winikka advises finding out ahead of time who is going to the wedding so you can make plans to share a hotel room or at least share transportation costs from the airport.
Parading down the aisle dressed isn't exactly the same as strolling down a white, sandy beach, but if weddings are eating up your money and your vacation time at work, turn it into a vacation by tacking a couple of days on to the beginning or end of the trip.
Last summer, when my friend Elizabeth got married in Northern California, I scheduled a visit with another friend in Southern California and then drove up the Pacific Coast Highway.
Think outside the gift box
One of the best things about getting married is the loot you receive. But when it comes to presents, most of the brides I talked to said they'd prefer their loved ones' presence at their nuptials to a fancy gift.
Thanks to Pinterest and DIY blogs, homemade gift ideas are easy to find and replicate. Some of my favorites include homemade soaps, a scrapbook of unprofessional pictures from the wedding and collections of recipes from friends and family.
If Pinterest makes you feel as inadequate as I do, offer to house-sit or dog-sit while the couple is on their honeymoon or stock their fridge with a homemade dinner for when they return.
Just because it's not on their registry doesn't mean it won't be appreciated.
Recycle that dress
You were waiting for this one, weren't you?
It's a myth, ladies. Despite many a bride promising her maids "You can wear it again," I've actually never been able to pull this off.
Count the dress as a loss, a memory of a good time and the start to your very own "27 Dresses" collection.
Though I've never regretted any of the money I spent helping get my friends down the aisle to say "I do," with a little more forethought, planning and creativity, I could have Chicken Danced a lot easier without cracking open my nest egg.