The High-Cost of Being a Bridesmaid and What To Do About It

image newell jones + jones

To be by your friend throughout the highs and lows of the wedding planning process, to see her jitters on The Big Day, to see the sweet but nervous smiles throughout the ceremony, and to cry along with her as she exchanges vows with her soon-to-be-brand-new-husband is something every friend wants to do. And, if you’re a lady there’s a very high likelihood that you’ve had a friend ask you to be in her wedding.

We all want to support those closest to us and to be there when they need us. But what do you do if you’re broke, in debt, have no money, are on a Spending Fast, or a Spending Diet, and you get asked to be in a wedding?

This time of year I get a lot of emails requesting tips on how to handle the high-cost of being a bridesmaid.

The emails usually go a little something like this:

“I’m a bridesmaid for one of my oldest friends this summer and I just found out that the planner of her shower wants to do a weekend away – it would include a day at the spa and 2 nights of going out dancing and having what I’m sure would be a fun time. But there is no way I can afford the hotel, spa day, dinner, drinks and all of the other expenses. What do I do?!! I’ll feel like a bad friend if I can’t go..but I will already be spending money on the dress for her wedding, which is a large expense in my opinion! Help!”

No one wants to be the friend that’s all, “How ’bout we do a potluck y’all!” (As incredibly sweet as a wedding like that would be.)

How to handle the high-cost of being a bridesmaid and what to do about it…

So, first things first. If you’ve already committed to being in the wedding you can’t back out after that. Because if you do, the friendship will likely be irretrievably broken. The only solution is to make the best of it. There are a lot of social moments that can be awkward or uncomfortable if you’re trying to save money and be frugal, and I’ve learned that sometimes it’s all about damage control.

When I find out that a friend (or sister) got engaged I try to evaluate the situation and figure out if I might be asked to be in the wedding. I figure that if I can be prepared for the request then that will make all the difference. It’s also good to think about being a bridesmaid far in advance of being asked because if you wait until she actually asks then they’ll be a super long pause and then it’ll be obvious that you’re thinking about it and she won’t like that, at all.

I consider these 8 aspects

1. Was she in my wedding?

2. How close am I to her? Acquaintance, friend (but not super close), friend (close), best friend, or sister?

3. Can I pay for the bridesmaid dress that will most likely be an average of $100 + possible hemming and tailoring? Matching shoes, accessories (necklace, earrings, etc.), hair styling and coordinating makeup will also be an additional cost.

4. If I’m asked to be the Maid of Honor I’ll be responsible for throwing the Bridal Shower and (most likely) the Bachelorette Party too. If I don’t end up being responsible for hosting the Bachelorette Party too then I’ll be responsible for making sure it happens, and attendance at both the Bridal Shower and Bachelorette Party will be expected.

5. If I’m asked to be a Bridesmaid then I may be asked by the Maid of Honor to pay for part of the Bridal shower and/or part of the Bachelorette Party and I’ll be expected to give a gift for each event as well.

6. Will the Wedding, Bridal shower, and Bachelorette party be out of state? Because that will mean food, flight, hotel, and car rental costs.

7. Do I have enough paid time off (PTO) time from work to participate in and attend all of the events? If I don’t have enough PTO that could mean a loss of income.

8. Can I also afford a wedding gift for the couple?

It feels like a bummer to think about these things during such exciting times but it’s super important because if you can’t afford to be a part of the wedding and all that it entails it’s best to tell her at the time she asks you to be in the wedding. Make a heavy emphasize on the fact that you love her, be forthright, be honest, and lay it out there. It’s time to go into heart-to-heart mode and explain that your money situation is not ideal right now and that you want to be a part of the wedding, but maybe in other ways?

Some things you could do that show your love and support for her and her big day are things like:

Helping to set up the reception area so it’s just right
Doing last-minute errands and tasks the day of the wedding (it is SO helpful to have someone dedicated to the random things that come up that aren’t expected)
Or, if you have a skill like graphic design, offer to help with the various event invites. If it’s photography maybe you could take an image for the Save the Date card, or if you love flowers you could offer to arrange the bouquets.
Basically, wrack your brain to think of something you can do to help her and support her throughout the wedding planning process and on the wedding day. It may be a hard conversation to have and she may not like you after you tell her where you’re at but it’s better to do that and be up-front then to back out after she’s already pictured you standing up there with her.

Another thing to do is to try to be a part of the bridesmaid dress selection process from the very beginning. This means keeping the bride’s Wedding Day vision in-tact but also helping to steer the girls into the less expensive dress options rather than the “it costs WHAT?!!!” territory. And, you get bonus points if the bride picks an inexpensive and cute dress that you can actually really wear again, like, for real wear again, and not pretend “Oh, YEAHHH, I’ll definitely wear it again!”

In the end, an honest look at your financial situation and a long talk with your friend just might be the perfect solution to the high-priced Bridesmaid Blues.


image newell jones + jones

Have you ever been asked to be a bridesmaid and knew you couldn’t afford it? How did you handle it? Do you have any tips for those who are struggling with this?

17 Comments

  1. Leslie // January 10, 2013

    I find that alot of times, you can find popular bridesmaids dresses (David’s Bridal, Alfred Angelo) on sale for cheap on WeddingBee or Recycled Weddings, etc. Go try on with everyone, get your size, and then it’s usually pretty easy to find the color and size!

    • Anna Newell Jones // January 11, 2013

      Great tip! So for the bridesmaid dresses I’m guessing they have multiples of the same dress?

  2. Leslie // January 14, 2013

    Colors are rarely changed, or styles, so for example, you would go to wedding bee or whatever and type in the color and size, like “Guava size 4″ and it would pull if any are for sale- sometime I will google it too, because then it pulls from all the used wedding websites- I’ve also sold a few that would just get lost in my closet afterwards!

  3. Kate // January 24, 2013

    my best friend just got engaged and i know it’s going to cost me a ton of money, while i’m happy to plan…they also decided to get married in may, so there’s unfortunately not a ton of time to save like with a usually year long engagement. and we have 2 other weddings in may as well, one being a destination wedding. i am definitely going to have to get creative!

    • Anna Newell Jones // January 28, 2013

      Gosh, yeah weddings add up quick. If you figure out any money-saving secrets along the way I’d love to hear them!

  4. Vivian // February 11, 2013

    I’m getting married in October so this has been on my mind. I want to be as little of a burden on my bridesmaids as possible. Instead of forcing everyone to wear the same dress, I’m giving them a printed swatch of the wedding color palette witch the parameters that the dress needs to be knee length. That way they can choose something that fits their budget yet still looks coordinated with the rest of the group.

    Also if you are the MOH and you’re out of state ask your friend to appoint someone local who you can plan the bridal shower (mom?) and/or the bachelorette if you don’t have the funds to plan them. I think a practical bride would understand this request and appreciate your honesty. You can still be a part of the day from far away by sending a bridal shower gift, or maybe spring for all her drinks at the bachelorette party.

    Lastly consider starting the bachelorette at a fun lingerie/toy shop. Lots of boutiques have begun to offer their store location as a party starter (chance for them to make money!) Many allow drinks/snacks to be brought in too. You can ask everyone to pitch in for the bride’s gift card to the store so she can shop at the party! Follow this with a night out at the bar where everyone pays their own way and you’ve made a great night without busting the bank.

    • Anna Newell Jones // February 27, 2013

      great ideas vivian and i’m sure your girls are SO appreciative that you are thinking about them financially too! my little sister did that for us and it was so awesome to know that she was considering the cost of things for us.

  5. Erin // February 17, 2013

    Thanks for your great post Anna! Your blog has wonderful tips and I love your practical approach to things. I, too, have found that a change in spending is so connected to a change in heart- if we’re leaning on it to validate us and make us feel special and acceptable, it will be SO hard to break the spending cycle!!

    I got married shortly after graduating from college, and I knew my friends were all as broke as I was! But I was having a big wedding (lots of church family to invite)…, and I did want it to be elegant and pretty. Even before my hubs and I got engaged, though, I knew I wanted our wedding to be more about the people who had shaped our lives, turning us into the people who eventually fell in love, than about us Us US (and especially not ME ME ME). So, I looked and looked and looked and eventually found super cute dresses from Target online, on sale for around 50 buckaroos. I would never spend that much on a dress for myself, but for bridesmaids dresses? pretty cheap. I let my gals choose their own shoes (color was chocolate brown, so it was easy), and their own earrings– because who can even see them anyway? The out of towners stayed at my house so they wouldn’t have to pay hotel costs (I wanted time with them anyway). We did get manicures for the ceremony ($16), but we gave each other facials and massages. They all have very different hair, so I let them style it the way they liked best. I think the average total cost for them was somewhere around $150, including travel.

    LITTLE DID I KNOW (ok maybe I suspected this might be the case), that by letting go of what the wedding industry screamed was “my right” to micromanage and make everyone kiss my white lacy backside, I had the most cooperative, laid-back, drama free wedding preparation EVER. My memories of my time with my bridesmaids are meaningful and special, with no negative tensions to taint them. And I still had a stunningly gorgeous wedding. I would highly encourage brides to make a few sacrifices for your friend, or to at least be understanding when they cannot throw themselves under the financial bus for the sake of your dream. Be considerate of the expenses listed in the post. It CAN be done, and it can be a really positive experience!!!

    Sorry for the short novel… I just wanted to share a happy example of what a cost-considerate wedding can be!

    • Anna Newell Jones // February 27, 2013

      i loved hearing about your cost-considerate (love that term) wedding! thanks for sharing it with us!

  6. S // February 21, 2013

    My husband was asked to be in his friends out of state wedding. He told his friend he couldn’t afford to go. I am not sure how tactful he was but his friend of 30years hasn’t spoken to him sin ce.

  7. Amelia // May 31, 2013

    I recently got asked to be a bridesmaid in a wedding, I had to decline but my friend fully understood since I live half way across the world from her at the time being, I am still trying to save money up for a flight back to just be able to be at the wedding, shes like my sister!

    My wedding was sweet and small, I only had a maid of honor and best man, we told them the color and to just dress nice. The original plan was to have the small wedding now (we where moving) then later have a bigger ceremony….our little wedding turned out so amazing we decided to not even have another ceremony. My uncle did my hair for it, i got a cute white dress for 30 bucks from a local shop, paid my friends dad 50 dollars (the county judge) to be there to wed us, had beautiful decorations that I got on sale, made my own cake with my best friend (it looked great), the wedding was at a cute local park that is free to use, and we borrowed the chairs for the wedding from a community build (small town and connections!) I spent at the most for the whole wedding 200 dollars and it was amazing, and beautiful, I am thankful that I had friends, family, and great connections!

    • Lise // September 17, 2013

      Amelia – THAT’S what a wedding is supposed to be.
      About love and the unity of two hearts – two families into one.

      I’m SO frustrated with my friends and their pomp and show.
      None of them are thinking about anything but how they can have a debutante showing of a wedding and aren’t conscious of the impact these demands have on other people.

      As their friend you want to be there – but as a pragmatic person you feel torn because you can’t legitimize spending $2000 – $3000 a pop (which is what it’s adding up to for my friends)
      Although there’s never been a direct ‘ you MUST spend this, or you HAVE to do that… it’s all implied.

      I truly miss the days where a wedding was the family and friends getting together, pooling our talents and resources to create the most special beautiful day for the couple we all love together to celebrate their love.

      Since when did weddings become a chance for everyone to be a celebrity for a day!

      CONGRATULATIONS on what sounds like a glorious and beautiful celebration of your love with your partner.
      (it’s truly refreshing to hear about)

  8. Lise // September 17, 2013

    My friends all so wonderfully decided to get married in the same year – FIVE WEDDINGS one year… all across the world from Mexico to Newfoundland Canada.

    I’ve been asked to a bridesmaid in three and MOH for one.

    HELP!!!
    One of the girls asked me to be a maid (and I said yes) before she announced any details.

    She then announces she’s booking a $2500 per person destination wedding to Mexico – just five weeks ahead of another girl who I am MOH too (and who’s also having a $2500 per person destination wedding to Mexico!!)

    I simply cannot afford $5000 in five weeks AND sacrifice all of my time off.

    WHAT DO I DO?!?!

  9. rae // November 25, 2013

    My friend and I sort of lost connection when I got pregnant. We saw eachother twice in the post year. I found out via Facebook that she was getting married! Two days after I had my daughter she asked me to be a bridesmaid… I said yes not having a moment to even digest the idea! My daughter is now 2 months old and she has picked my dress and I have to be fitted for it this week. first off I do not like the dress that I will have to spend $200 on, and second I do not plan on being this size in 7 months when she gets married! I’m so torn, I should not have just said yes. I cannot afford it and I just had a baby, I’m flattered but I truly wish I didn’t feel obligated to say yes ! So my question is, would it be completely disrespectful to back out ?! tia

    • Brandi // July 13, 2014

      Rae, what did you do? I says yes to be in my friend’s wedding, she was just in mine in March and hers is a little under a year from now. Well shortly after she asked me to be in the wedding I found out I was pregnant. I’m due 6 months before her wedding and just can’t afford all the costs and the time consumption. So please say things worked out well for you!! :)

      • vicki // October 27, 2014

        Your friend shoved out money and made time for your happiness, for your special day, you’ve committed. Its karma.

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  • Anna

    Hi, I'm Anna! I paid off close to 24k in debt in only 15 months & it completely changed my life! I want you to have a debt-free life too so here you'll be able to read all about: How to do a Spending Fast®, saving & making more money, DIY's, & a lot about living awesomely with less. Let's do this!

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