Everyone knows that weddings are expensive, and that it's not just expensive for the couple getting married. Weddings are expensive for guests, and it's generally pretty darn expensive to be in a wedding — especially if you're a bridesmaid. Since people who are getting married often have good friends who are saving for homes, paying off student loan debt, getting married themselves, and/or starting families, it's incredibly easy for wedding party members to feel the financial strain of participating in a good friend's wedding.
Even though most of us have experienced the financial strain of weddings to some extent, it still can feel like a monumental social faux pas to tell good friends that you can't afford something related to their wedding. We learned at a young age that friendship is more important than money, and as adults, many of us feel selfish protecting our bank accounts (it's like Mr. Rogers is looking down on us and shaking his head at what an awful adult friend we've become). The adult reality, however, is that money does matter, and money has an effect on people's stress and well-being. As a result, when you stretch your bank account thin, you're often stretching your well-being thin as well.
So what's a financially-strapped wedding party member to do? I've now found myself in this position a few times, and had to be the wet blanket on a few wedding plans due to finances. The pit in my stomach I got initially has now surprisingly been replaced by the good feelings that come from taking care of myself and being totally honest with my friends. Here's what I've learned from attending and participating in the weddings of several good friends over the last couple of years, and in the process, learning to draw some financial boundaries.
1. Assess your friendship
If you are going to strain yourself financially, make sure it's for an incredibly worthy friendship. Relationships are all about balance, and that means that if you're going to be making some sacrifices to be in the wedding, that should be balanced with all the wonderful things you receive from a good, long-lasting friendship: love, support, encouragement, dependability, respect, understanding, etc. Social pressure and being concerned with what others will think are not good reasons to sign up for a wedding that is going to cause you any financial discomfort.
2. Be realistic about the costs up front
When it comes to wedding costs, naivete does not equal bliss. There are lots of articles on the cost of being in a wedding, and most have estimated the costs to typically be between $1,000 and $1,500. You want to have a realistic idea of what you can expect to spend so you're clear on what it actually means for you to be in the wedding when you agree to participate and be a part of all the celebrations that go with it. This way, you're not caught off guard before it's too late.
3. Be honest about your financial constraints
This is often the hardest part, but it's the most essential. Communicate, communicate, communicate! It's necessary to communicate openly and honestly to maintain a good friendship, and it's perfectly fine to say things like:
- I would love to be in your wedding, but I can only afford to spend $100 on a dress. Will that be OK?
- It would be such an honor to be in your wedding, but I'm not sure I can afford traveling for all the wedding festivities. If it's too expensive for me personally, are you OK with me just attending the wedding?
- It means so much to me that you want me to be a part of your wedding, but if you end up doing a destination bachelorette party, it may be out of my budget. Is it going to be OK if I don't end up being able to make the bachelorette party?
The earlier you express your financial limitations, the better it is for everyone. This also includes communicating with other wedding party members about the cost of wedding festivities like the shower. If your budget is minimal, then say it at the start of the shower planning before all the details have been settled. I've always found there's at least one other bridesmaid who is happy I've called attention to the budget question.
4. Don't feel like you need to make excuses
Every person spends their money differently, and there's no need for you to justify where you are spending your money or your financial decisions. Nor is there a need to eat ramen noodles for a month so you can spend more on your friend's wedding. This is one I really struggled with, because I originally had a hard time turning down a bachelorette party for a really good friend that required a plane ticket, and opting instead to plan a vacation with my husband. But I came to the realization that since I could only do one, the vacation with my husband was much more important to my long-term well-being than the bachelorette party, and as an adult, I was absolutely entitled to make that decision..
5. Be a creative cost cutter
If you're on a tight budget, it gives you the opportunity to be creative with your spending. If you can't afford a destination bachelorette party, offer to plan a day for your friend when just the two of you get to celebrate her upcoming marriage. Fun things don't have to be expensive. Go to an amusement park, plan a scavenger hunt, do something outside of the box that's meaningful and more wallet-friendly. If you can't chip in as much as everyone else for the shower, offer to come up with some fun games, or organize a thoughtful group gift from the wedding party. If your bank account is drained when it comes time for the wedding, give an inexpensive, meaningful wedding gift instead of a check or a gift off the registry. If your friend is a good friend, a meaningful gift will be as well received as any other gift.
6. Treat others like you would want to be treated
If you have to decline to be in a wedding or deliver some bad news, put yourself in the other person's shoes. Know they have A LOT going on with the wedding, and do your best to deliver the news in a way that makes it as least stressful as possible. Generally, when it comes to weddings, it's always best to deliver news as early as possible so that the couple and other people planning have plenty of time to make alternative plans.
7. Do what's best for you
Doing what's right for you and taking care of yourself is just as important as being a good friend, so make sure you're watching out for your needs and not just your friend's. At the end of the day, it's most important that you are a good friend to you over anyone else, and make sure to keep that in mind when you're tempted to be a super hero to your friends getting married. If you are taking care of yourself and having self-compassion in sticky circumstances (like wedding planning!), then you'll be a much better friend in the long run, which is ultimately the best gift you can give any friend.