Bridesmaid on a Budget


Q: A friend has asked me to be one of her bridesmaids, but I’m worried about how much it will cost. I’m on a very tight budget now and the bride doesn’t plan on having an inexpensive wedding. I’m already going to have to fly down for the ceremony, but I don’t think I can afford taking other trips for showers or bachelorette parties. I know she’s going to want us to buy a designer dress. What should I do?

A: Trust me, you are not alone in this. The cost of being a bridesmaid can be extremely high. If there will be a bridal shower and bachelorette party to travel to, you may end up paying for three flights, three hotels, and three gifts before the big day arrives. That’s not to mention food and alcohol during these occasions. And some bridal parties will ask their guests to chip in for special events: spa days, bar crawls, a limo, favors, decorations. For the actual wedding day you’ll be purchasing a gown that can cost between $150 and $300. You may be asked to have your hair and makeup done, which will set you back another $150 at least, and you may have to purchase particular shoes and jewelry as well. This all costs money.

So what can you do?

1. It is okay to say “no.” I know this is hard to hear because chances are you really do want to be in your friend’s wedding. (If you don’t want to be a bridesmaid, you should have said “no” in the first place.) But your friend is asking you to be her bridesmaid, not telling you. If you know that the cost of this wedding is going to be way outside your comfort zone, tell the bride that you’re honored that she asked you, but that you’re just not financially able to do it right now. Tell her you cannot wait to spend time with her on her big day, but that your situation only allows you to spend money on the flight to the wedding.

Yes, the bride may be disappointed, even mad. If she’s really your friend, she will get over it. You’ll also save both of you some headaches and heartaches. You’re going to be stressing out every time you click “buy” and she may be stressed out that she’s asking too much of you. If you have to constantly remind her that you’re on a budget, she may feel annoyed or harassed. You might be doing both of you a favor by opting out. However, you have to make this decision up front. Saying “yes” and then backing out later will cause hurt feelings and make the bride feel like you’re punishing her. Once you’re in, you’re in.

2. Talk to the bride about her expectations. Saying “no” not an option? Call the bride and tell her that you’re worried about costs since money is tight right now and that you want to put together a budget for yourself. Presenting it this way will keep the bride from feeling like you’re complaining to her about how much she’s asking you to spend. Say: “I want to get a general idea of how much everything will cost so I can plan ahead.” Ask her what she’s thinking about for parties and apparel. Will any of the parties be within driving distance? Will the bridal shower and bachelorette party be combined? Does she have a price point in mind for dresses? Once you know the costs, figure out how much of it you can afford. Tip: When the maid of honor starts planning the bachelorette party or bridal shower, ask her up front how much it will cost before you RSVP “yes.” This way you can avoid hidden costs. You don’t want to sign up for the party and then find out the bride wants to go on a cruise or rent out a restaurant—and you’ll be footing the bill.

3. Present your plan to the bride. Once you know the costs, come up with a plan. The easiest way to save money is to opt out of the pre-wedding festivities. There’s a chance the bride will be upset about this, but hopefully your friend will understand that you have to prioritize. Suggest to the bride or maid of honor that you combine shower and bachelorette events into one day or weekend. That’s one less trip to worry about and will be appealing to all the attendees (who doesn’t love a big party weekend versus lots of commitments spread out over months?). If you’re looking for smaller ways to save money while still attending all the events, consider these options:

  • Go in with another bridesmaid on presents. It’s also okay to go off-registry and either make the bride something or give her a small, personal gift.
  • Do your own hair and make-up.

4. Take an active role in planning events. Even if you’re not the maid of honor, you can have a big impact on how much is spent on bachelorette parties and bridal showers and which dress is chosen. Come up with suggestions (good ones!) that will be less expensive but still please the bride. Before anyone starts talking about a wine tour in Napa, suggest a wine and cheese tasting party at your house where everyone brings their favorite wine and cheese and the gifts have a bar theme. Instead of a beach weekend in the Keys, throw a Hawaiian luau pool party and shower the bride with beachwear for her honeymoon. Ask the bride for details on what kind of bridesmaid dress she envisions—colors, length, material—and then start searching yourself. Send her links to dresses that fit her criteria and are in your price range. Instead of complaining about how much everything will cost, you’re actually helping.

What you want to do, but shouldn’t: It can be very tempting to ask the bride to pay for you or to ask her to choose inexpensive dresses or keep her shower close to home. To you these things seem perfectly rational. But here’s the truth, even though you don’t want to hear it. The bride has a very specific idea of what kind of experience she wants. Some brides are going to naturally chose low-cost items or tell their bridesmaids to wear whatever they want. But some are going to want grand parties or getaway weekends. You cannot control this. The bride may end up resenting you for altering her vision of happiness and you may end up feeling guilty for making everyone change their plans. And asking her to pay is just not how this thing works. She can offer to pay, and I’ve heard of some brides doing this. But that’s her decision, and not something you can request.

To sum up: Having to talk to one of your best friends about your financial situation sucks. There’s no way around that. And planning a wedding is stressful, time-consuming and costly, so chances are your bride is not thinking about how much it’s costing you. When you go into a conversation about this, don’t blame or whine. Come in with a positive attitude and you’re halfway through the battle. Come up with helpful suggestions that fit the bride’s taste but are also in your budget, but if plans are out-of-control expensive, remember that you are a volunteer, not a hostage.