In 2016, I became a bridesmaid for the first time in my life. I’m usually a big mush — it doesn’t take much to get me emotional, and I can find the sentimentality in virtually anything. It was no different when it came to one of my closest friends getting married. I said yes, and that was the beginning of my bridesmaid journey.
That same summer, aside from the cost of being a bridesmaid, I also paid my part for a bachelorette-party trip and a vacation that I had in the works for a while. I couldn’t afford any of it. But I was too scared to tell my friends I was broke, and that landed me in debt.
The average member of the bridal party will spend $728, according to a 2018 survey by Bankrate. This figure includes gifts, dress, and travel costs associated with wedding-related events. The same survey revealed that the average cost of attending as a friend or family member is nothing to scoff at, either. The average American wedding guest spends about $628 to just be there.
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How Do You Say No?
I was faced with a question: Would I rather admit my situation or get myself into thousands of dollars of debt to look good to my friends? I chose the latter because I was embarrassed and afraid of missing out.
Why are so many people afraid of being honest about their finances?
For me and so many others, going into debt is less scary than having a conversation about it.
Looking back, I had a great summer. Yes, I have debt from it. But at the same time, I never would have had those experiences if I had played it safe and said, “No, I really can’t afford it.”
As terrific as those experiences were, there’s something toxic about saying yes to an expense that you know you can’t afford. In retrospect, the whole bridesmaid vacation situation had me so nervous that I couldn’t even think of an excuse to get out of it.
You’re Not Alone
In the past, I’ve heard other people say that they’re broke only after I admitted it first. For instance, I might bump into an acquaintance on the subway. We’d say the routine, awkward “hi” and ask each other about our lives.
On multiple occasions, I’ve said things like, “Yeah, things aren’t going great for me in that department.” This is almost always met with a sigh and “me too!” Misery, apparently, does love company.
It’s too bad that I could admit my financial downfall to a mere acquaintance but couldn’t imagine telling my closest friends. Aside from the fear of missing out, a big part was I didn’t want them to think that I was a loser. In reality, I don’t imagine I would have been judged harshly. I think they would have heard me out and gone on as usual.
I realize now that it was me all along, refusing to accept my own financial situation. To be honest, it’s not something anybody should be ashamed of or hide from.
No matter a person’s age, no one is immune to setbacks. Investments can fail, or you might lose your job. Chances are, if you start talking about how broke you are, you’ll find support from others who are in similar situations. Even better, you may be the beneficiary of advice and understanding from friends. It’s a conversation I wish I had with mine.
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How to Cut the Cost of Being a Bridesmaid
The average couple budgeted about $16,000 for the wedding and ended up spending closer to $27,000, according to a 2018 survey by WeddingWire, a global wedding marketplace that connects vendors and couples. But weddings aren’t just expensive for the couple and their families — they’re expensive for the guests, too. WeddingWire reported that the average cost of being a bridesmaid is around $1,200. If you really want to be a part of the wedding, there are ways to lower the cost.
While politely declining to participate is an option, weddings are fun and exciting and can be hard events to pass up on. Consider some of these tips to scale back on spending and avoid going into debt just for the FOMO.
1. Hotels and Lodging
Nightly hotel rates typically range from $100 to $150 per night for a hotel that’s rated three stars or higher.
Depending on the length of time you need accommodations for — from a bachelorette party to the big day itself — the cost can add up quickly.
If you’re traveling from out of town and want to save money on lodging, ask the bride and groom if they can secure a group rate for the hotel to lower the price. You could room with another guest or consider using Airbnb instead — maybe even split the costs with a few friends. This can shave hundreds of dollars off of hotel costs for all parties involved.
If the wedding isn’t local, you can expect to spend quite a bit to get there. Lifestyle blog The Everygirl puts wedding-related travel at $225 per person. Most couples don’t provide any transportation assistance for guests.
You can save on airfare by simply purchasing your plane ticket early to hunt for the best deals available. You can also use Google Flights to track prices and alert you when the cost of your flight decreases. Wedding travel is also a good reason to cash in on any credit card cash back or travel rewards points.
If you’re driving, carpool with others. And if you’re in a city, consider public transportation to wedding-related events like the bachelor and bachelorette parties or the bridal shower. The free shuttle buses some airlines provide can be a pain to wait on and commute in, but can save you on a pricey Uber from the airport to your lodgings.
Americans can expect to spend an average of $160 on wedding gifts for relatives, while the average amount to spend on a friend’s wedding is $99. On top of that, you may also need to get additional gifts for events like the bridal shower and the engagement party.
Gift cards are also popular wedding gifts. If you go that route, you can purchase discounted gift cards on sites like Raise.com and Gift Card Granny.
And if you’re really on a budget, consider making a gift. Pinterest is loaded with creative and unique gift ideas. A framed picture of you and the newlyweds or some scented bath salts are also some simple yet thoughtful ideas.
You can also check out CentSai‘s deals page to find thoughtful gifts at affordable prices.
4. Your Outfit
Just because you’re going to a fancy wedding doesn’t mean you need to go out and spend hundreds on a brand-new outfit. Make sure to check your closet to see if you can piece together something nice. Also consider borrowing pieces like shoes and jewelry from others. Sites like Rent the Runway also let you rent dresses if you are not attached to the idea of keeping your outfit after the event is over.
If you absolutely need to buy a new outfit, check out the clearance racks first. Maybe even search for some hidden gems at a thrift store.
5. Hidden Costs of Attending a Wedding
If you have kids who won’t be attending the wedding, ask a family member or close friend to watch them. They likely won’t charge you too much, if anything.
And for those planning to do special hair and makeup for the wedding, try some DIY beauty projects. You can find tons of ideas on Pinterest and tutorials on YouTube, and practice different looks weeks in advance.
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Remember to budget in any additional out-of-pocket costs that may pop up, such as food the day of the wedding, drinks (if there’s a cash bar), and Uber rides if you have one too many drinks at that bar!
And if you’ve pared everything down to the bare bones and still find that you can’t afford the cost of attending a wedding, don’t be afraid to decline an invitation.
Chances are this isn’t the last wedding you’ll ever be invited to.
The Cost of Being a Bridesmaid or Groomsman: Others’ Stories
Greg*, Groomsman to Be
I’m in the midst of planning for groomsman-ship this summer, so I don’t have the exact numbers on my spending yet, but I have a general idea. Thankfully, my friend and his husband-to-be are super frugal and casual folks. So while I’m buying my own outfit, that part, at least, is pretty cheap. My spending breakdown will likely look something like this:
- Dress shirt: $25
- Khaki shorts: $20 to $25
- Shoes: Not sure. My friend says that he and his fiancé may end up taking us shopping and buying everybody’s shoes the week of the wedding (to make sure we match), but we’ll see if that actually happens.
- Hotel for five to seven days: Ballpark of $700 to $1,000, based on Booking.com estimates.
- Round-trip airfare: $200 to $400, based on Travelocity estimates.
- Gift: I’ll likely aim for something in the $30 to $50 range.
In total, just the basics could come to around $1,500, give or take. Hopefully it will end up being a little cheaper than that, but always plan for the most expensive case scenario, right?
I’m also not sure if my friend wants a bachelor party, so I don’t know how much (if anything) I should factor in for the possibility of bachelor party festivities.
I think and hope it will be worth it, since I don’t see this particular friend often, and we’ve always been super close. Plus, he and his fiancé are super chill and the wedding is supposed to be pretty casual, so I’m hoping it will be minimal stress (at least relative for a wedding).
I was one of six bridesmaids at my friends’ wedding. I flew from Ireland to the USA and stayed with her for a month. It was a frugal wedding, but the gift-buying and general expenses still added up.
- Flights: $1,200 round-trip flight tickets from Europe to New York in mid-summer.
- Accommodations: I stayed with her and her family for a month, for free, and with family friends after the wedding.
- Dress: The dress was paid for, but I still had to pay $200 for alterations.
- Bachelorette party: We went on a “scavenger hunt” around the city and went for dinner. About $150.
- Gifts: Present for bride and groom, $150. Present for bride for bachelorette party, $100.
- Helped make and pay for the party favors, about $200.
It was still more frugal than most weddings I’ve heard of!
Patricia and Michael*, a Couple Attending Weddings Where Michael Was a Groomsman and the Best Man
For the first wedding, the breakdown of cost for Michael alone was:
- Transportation: $250.
- Suit: As a groomsman, $325.
- Bachelor party: $150.
- Hotel stay: 3 nights, $375.
- Wedding gift: $100.
For the second, Michael was best man. We didn’t have to buy clothes because we had them all already from other times, but here’s the breakdown on it. The marrying couple had a travel agent book it all together for a discount, so this includes airfare and stay at the resort. For Michael and me, it was $2,320 for the package.
Michael was also very involved with the bachelor party:
- Round-trip flights to Toronto: $200
- Toronto Raptors tickets, Airbnb, strippers: $300 (the world’s worst strippers, the groom once said!)
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* Names changed for privacy.
Additional reporting by Jazmin Rosa and Kelly Meehan Brown.