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.
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.
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 & 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.
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.
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.