How To Be A Bridesmaid On A Realistic Budget

Weddings are expensive, and not just for the people getting hitched.

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Your dear friend just got engaged, and she breathlessly asks you to be one of her bridesmaids. You’re honored. After all, being a bridesmaid signifies how much your friend loves and appreciates you, and how she trusts you to be a part of her big day. But before you start brainstorming ideas for bridal showers and bachelorette parties, you should consider something much less romantic: your budget. Being a bridesmaid costs, on average, more than $1,000. If you have a friend who will be walking down the aisle soon, that’s a scary sum. Although we all want to be there for our friends, paying for dresses, hair, makeup, a bridal shower, and other wedding activities can take a real toll on your budget. In order to keep your bridesmaid duties from becoming a financial burden (or worse, a strain on your friendship), it’s important to talk about financial realities and budgeting constraints before you commit to being in the wedding party. “While there are certainly … factors to consider that override money, this should definitely be a part of the discussion,” says Marsha Barnes, a financial social worker and founder of The Finance Bar, which provides financial education to people in and around Charlotte, North Carolina. “It’s also important to note that over 50 percent of Americans don’t have $500 in a savings account; therefore, it’s never safe to assume that others are in a position of affordability to participate.” It’s always hard to talk openly about finances in an emotional situation, and you probably don’t want to let your friend down. However, talking about your budget can make the entire wedding process easier for you, the bride, and your fellow bridesmaids. Here are some tips for being a bridesmaid on a realistic budget:

Have the hard conversation.

Barnes recommends talking about the financial implications of being a bridesmaid right off the bat. For example, if your friend wants a black-tie wedding and a full-weekend bachelorette party, you can bet that being a bridesmaid is going to get expensive. If you are concerned about being able to cover basics costs—like the dress, travel to the wedding, and contributions to the shower—discuss that with the bride right away. “In no way should bridesmaids feel uncomfortable with addressing this,” Barnes says. “While a wedding is a one-day event to celebrate and honor someone that you love, it is equally important to remember any personal financial commitments that will continue afterwards.”

Take an honest inventory of your own financial situation.

Before you commit to being part of the wedding party, honestly ask yourself whether you can afford the added costs. Weigh your current financial situation and how soon the wedding is. If it’s further off, that gives you more time to save—if not, it may cause undue stress and strain. “I believe it’s safe to say that for people we love, it’s natural to have the desire of participating in their special moments,” Barnes says. However, that can negatively impact your financial future. “As with many holidays or birthdays that excite us, we always have to look at our finances from a realistic view.” Barnes recommends asking yourself whether you have disposable income, or whether you’re willing to cut back on non-essential expenses to budget for being in the wedding. “What are you willing to give up personally in exchange [for] being available personally and financially to participate?” she asks. “Maybe this is an opportunity to shave off some of your non-essential expenses for six months to a year, which will increase your chances of being able to take care of costs associated with your bridesmaid responsibilities.”

Don’t be afraid to DIY.

If you’re trying to keep costs under control, considering doing your own hair, makeup, and nails. For added cost savings, don’t stop there, says Kim M., 27, who has been a bridesmaid six times and a maid of honor twice. “Have a family member or bridesmaid host the bridal shower, and ask the bridesmaids each to bring a dish,” she says. “Make favors instead of ordering them—bridal-themed cookies are always a hit, as are little craft bags filled with candy.”

Plan ahead.

A little planning can go a long way when you’re trying to stay on a budget. Kim recommends putting money aside for wedding-related expenses each week, even if it’s only $10. Shop for dresses early to avoid rush fees, and triple-check your measurements to avoid costly alterations. If you do need to have your dress fitted, consider going outside the bridal boutique. “I’ve heard of friends spending $100 or more to get a dress altered when my local cleaner is a wizard with even the most complicated dresses, and it has never cost me more than $30,” she says.

Set limits.

Everyone wants their friend’s wedding to be unforgettable, but it’s perfectly ok to sprinkle in a dose of reality, especially if the entire bridal party is on the same page. “I have told a bride before, ‘We can’t have a destination bachelorette party.’ It was out of everyone’s budget,” says Sara B., 30, who has been in three weddings recently. “Luckily for us, she was understanding.” Open communication will help protect your pocketbook and your relationships. “Remember that the wedding is such an important day for the bride,” Barnes says. “However, there are necessary moments when we must stop to evaluate our own personal circumstances to determine if we are able to participate or accept all invites as a bridesmaid. Be forthcoming and transparent regarding how you are able to contribute so that post-wedding emotions or bitterness do not inflate for months or years to come.”

Kelly Burch
Kelly Burch is a freelance journalist who has written for The Washington Post, Cosmo, and more. She specializes in health and mental health content as well as stories about families. When she's not writing she is getting lost in the woods of New Hampshire, where she lives. Connect on Facebook or find out more at her website.