By Sara McCord | The Daily Muse

Between engagement parties, bachelorette parties, and bridal showers -- not to mention dresses, shoes, hotels and airfare -- wedding season gets expensive. And that’s even before you think about gifts for the bride- and groom-to-be!

If your wedding calendar is full this summer, here’s the scoop about gifts: Yes, you do need to give one for each wedding (and each shower) you attend. But, you don’t need to stock your friends’ china cabinets with $200 glassware off their registries. Decide on the dollar amount you can realistically spend for each wedding, then get creative with one of these five great gifts that won’t leave you broke (or looking cheap).

1. Pieces of a Set

Let’s say the couple registered for placemats, napkins, and napkin rings for six. In your fantasy world, where shopping is free, you may have given the full set at the shower and a check at the wedding. But when that’s not an option, give two placemats, napkins, and rings at the shower and the rest at the wedding. This way, the focus is on the theme and how you thoughtfully tied the gifts together -- not on the dollar amount you spent. And just think of the thank-you note: “We’ll always think of you when we set a beautiful table” is easier to write than “Thank you for five totally unrelated items that we’ll use to do totally unrelated things.”

2. A Useful Gourmet Gift Basket

I’m not talking a fruit assortment from Harry & David (that’s still a lovely choice for the office at the holidays -- but it doesn’t exactly scream wedding). Take a look at the kitchen section of the couple’s registry, and make a gift basket that complements their picks. Did they register for an ice cream maker? Buy them an ice cream cookbook and a few fun sundae toppings. Do they want a paella pan? Give them a basket of Spanish seasonings and spices. This is an equally great gift for young couples looking to stock that new spice rack or more established couples who can use the ingredients to entertain. Bonus: Gift baskets are great group gifts.

3. Gift Cards (to Where the Couple is Registered)

When you see the low-priced gifts on the registry, you may wonder -- do they really want these tchotchkes or are they on the list for form’s sake? It’s one thing if there’s an adorable salt and pepper shaker set you know they’ll love, but if you have $25 or less to spend and can’t picture the bride and groom smiling at any of the gifts on the registry for that amount, give a gift card. The couple likely won’t get everything they want, and your gift can be put toward something they didn’t receive.

4. Something Special to the Couple

Some of the gifts the couple will remember the most aren’t things that can even be put on their registry -- they’re the thoughtful gifts that really mean something to them. I remember audibly gasping at my bridal shower was when I opened a card that contained a secret family recipe for legendary brownies. Have a secret recipe of your own? Consider giving it with a few of the key ingredients. Other thoughtful options include great stationery that the couple can use for their thank-you notes or a framed piece of memorabilia that’s special to them, like the menu from the restaurant where they had their first date.

5. A Genuine Offer to Help

Couples are DIY-ing more and more these days, so offering your skills (or simply being willing to roll up your sleeves) for the projects they’re taking on themselves can be invaluable. This option is best if you’re in the wedding party or a close friend or family member -- but it can be a great way to give the couple something they really want at little or no cost to you. How do you distinguish between what’s expected of any great friend and a gift? A gift is something you take off the bride and groom’s plate wholly and execute as beautifully as they themselves would. Think designing programs, taking care of the seating cards, painting signs, or creating hotel bags for the big day.

Yes, wedding season is expensive, but you shouldn’t have to go broke to help your friends and family celebrate their big day. With a little creativity, you can bring a gift that the couple -- and your budget -- will love.

Tell us! What budget-friendly gifts have you brought to a friend’s wedding?

Growing up just outside the nation’s capitol, Sara McCord's childhood dream was to someday be the President…and a supermodel. Married to a college football coach- which requires an encyclopedic knowledge of mascots, a premium cable sports channel subscription, and the ability to move to a completely new community every couple years- Sara moved to Maine in July 2012. She has worked and volunteered in the public interest since graduating from Franklin & Marshall College in 2008, and is now pursuing writing full-time. Catch up with her on her blog Grab A Latte (www.grabalatte.blogspot.com) or follow her on Twitter for entertainment (or similarly) nonprofit and marketing RTs @Grabalatte.

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