Help—I’m a bridesmaid on the verge of a financial breakdown!
Beth takes on a tricky new money question—and offers expert advice on how to resolve it and how to talk it over in constructive ways.
My best friend from childhood is getting married this summer, and over the holidays, she asked me if I’d be one of her bridesmaids. Of course, I said yes; I want to be there for her on her big day. But this is my first wedding party, and between the bachelorette party in Vegas, the shower, and the main event, I (naively) didn’t realize how much the costs are going to add up. Her other bridesmaids have jobs in PR, finance, etc., so maybe they can afford this stuff—but I’m a broke grad student. How do I survive the next sixth months of bridesmaid madness?
Putting down a credit card deposit for a male “exotic dancer” dressed as Jon Snow from Game of Thrones. Hiding your eyes as you hit “purchase” for those flight and hotel costs. Realizing just how much it can cost you for twenty minutes of standing in a line of women in identical lime green dresses. (The tailor to take in the hems! The hair appointment! Dyeing the shoes to match the sash!)
Welcome to the Bridesmaid Zone, Anonymous. And don’t worry: You’re not alone. According to WeddingWire, for a typical bridesmaid, costs can add up to around $1,200—including travel, bachelorette party and shower expenses, gifts, dresses, and other beautification factors like hair, makeup, and accessories. Beneath the glossy veneer of it all, there can be a Pandora’s box of stress—and feelings of guilt or shame if you’re not sure you have the budget to be the perfect bridesmaid. But you don’t have to be perfect—just present, in your friend’s wedding, and in your own realistic assessment of your finances as you plan for the big day. Here are a few steps you can take to keep your bank account (and your emotional well-being) from spinning out of control.
As a bridesmaid, you might feel like expressing any negative emotion is taboo. It’s your friend’s big day, and it’s all about her, right? This might hold true when it comes to swallowing your pride about wearing lime green. But if being in your friend’s wedding is going to break your budget, you need to talk to her about it.
“Chances are, the bride is one of your closest and dearest friends, so if finances are an issue for you, bring it up as soon as possible,” said Jessica Bishop, founder and editor of The Budget Savvy Bride. If you don’t see each other as regularly as you used to, it’s possible the bride doesn’t have a good picture of your financial situation. “Perhaps she’d be willing to chip in to help offset some of your costs, like your bridesmaid’s dress, or arrange for lodging if you’re traveling from out of town.”
Travel costs or lost time at work or school might mean you can only afford to attend the wedding, not associated events like the shower or bachelorette. “Saying ‘no’ to the bachelorette party because it doesn’t fit into your budget is completely acceptable,” said Caitlin Kenney Smith, the editor of UltimateBridesmaid.com. “Hopefully your friend will understand that you have to prioritize, and being at her wedding takes priority.” If sitting out the bridal shower means you can afford to get your dress altered, so be it. And maybe you can watch everyone coo over the KitchenAid on FaceTime.
Whatever you do, don’t charge your expenses to a credit card you can’t afford to pay off. If you do, this wedding will end up costing you a lot more money in interest than it would have to begin with.
Get your heads together
If you’re willing to start an awkward conversation about budgeting, you’re probably speaking up for your fellow bridesmaids. When Shannon, 28, flew from Denver to Miami for a surprise bachelorette blow-out, she was shocked by the expectation that the bridesmaids were supposed to cover all of the bride’s trip expenses—especially after the maid of honor had already told them they were only going in on group activities like a kayak tour of the Everglades.
“I really expected her to at least offer, ‘Hey, let me cover drinks this time,’” Shannon said of the bride-to-be. Ultimately, she and her fellow bridesmaids had to band together for an uncomfortable talk with the maid of honor and the bride. It was a delicate process, but it was necessary, Shannon said: The unexpected expense made the trip unaffordable for some of the bridesmaids, especially with the other wedding costs. “I had to be mindful of the wedding coming and the money I’m spending on that, and also a friendship that I want to carry over ideally for the rest of my life.” Ultimately the bride understood—and she agreed to pay her share.
Once Shannon and company had broached the subject of how to split bachelorette expenses, it was easy to do so. “One of the girls said, let me do a Google spreadsheet, so that we can hold each other accountable,” Shannon said, noting that this document ended up tracking expenses from the Everglades tour (they saw their money’s worth of manatees) to group dinners—to the stacks of bills they tossed at the Hunk-O-Mania strip club. (One of Shannon’s main financial takeaways from the trip? “It made me realize how it expensive it is to go to a strip club!”)
Stepping up to help plan logistics for the bridal party can be another way to help keep costs down, which could be a relief for everyone. “Even if you’re not the maid of honor, you can have a big impact on how much is spent on bachelorette parties, bridal showers, and bridesmaid dresses,” said Kenney Smith. “Come up with suggestions (good ones!) that will be less expensive but still please the bride. Ask the bride for details on what kind of bridesmaid dress she envisions—colors, length, material—and then start searching yourself. Suggest a wine-and-cheese night in for one night of the bachelorette, and offer to cook or create a custom party game.” This might require a perspective shift, but it will be one that will ultimately make your whole bridesmaid experience a little more Zen. “Try to offer solutions (that just so happen to fit your budget),” said Smith, “rather than complaints.”
Get ready for next time
“I love to encourage anyone in their 20s and beyond to start a special savings account specifically for wedding-related expenses,” said Bishop. Whether or not you’ll be in a bridal party again soon, if you anticipate a number of save-the-dates on the horizon, you’ll thank yourself if you’re financially set to weather next year’s wedding season. “Chances are, you’re going to have different friends getting engaged every year, so it’s important to be prepared for those expenses without having to dip into your regular monthly budget.”
And if wedding bells are ringing for you in the near future, remember being in those (unsightly) bridesmaid shoes. It’s not uncommon for people who’ve been through a wedding party experience to carry a financial grudge into their own nuptials. “‘I spent this much money on my friend—I expect her to spend this much money on me.’ Some people have that mindset,” said veteran bridesmaid Shannon. “The cycle just never ends.” So why not break the chain? Be mindful of your bridesmaids’ budgets and upfront about costs. You might just help everyone escape the Bridesmaid Zone, and focus on what’s important: having a big ol’ party.