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Money Manners: I’m Broke, and I’m Supposed to be a Bridesmaid!

Asked to be a bridesmaid, but you can’t swing it financially? You’re not a bad friend if you say “No.” Here’s how to bow out gracefully or cut costs to make it work.

What do you do if you're asked to be a bridesmaid but you're broke?Last week, a reader wrote to me about a common dilemma 20-somethings face: The 29-year-old had been asked, for the fourth time in the last three years, to be a bridesmaid in her friend’s wedding.

She instantly said yes, then regretted it 30 seconds later.

What’s not to like about helping a friend tie the knot?

The price tag.

Turns out, this reader is still paying off credit card debt from the last three weddings she took part in, not to mention her $160 monthly student loan payment, $150 car payment and food, rent and utilities.

Fortunately, and unlike 16.1 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 29, she does have a job. But unfortunately, like one in three people in her age group, she’s underemployed. Her job doesn’t require the bachelor’s degree she worked so hard to earn and she earns just $32,000 a year compared to the average college grad’s annual salary of $46,000).

That income will make it tough to cover her bridesmaid duties (at least in the ways traditions expect).

Average cost to be a bridesmaid: $1,695

According to a Wedding Channel 2010 survey of 20,000 brides, the average bridesmaid can expect to pay $1,695 to stand near the bride on her big day. (FYI: Groomsmen can expect to pay a similar figure. What you don’t pay for girly stuff like makeup will likely go towards the bachelor party.)

Here’s the breakdown for bridesmaids:

  • Engagement gift = $50
  • Shower gift = $50
  • Wedding gift = $50
  • Dress = $150
  • Alterations = $50
  • Shoes = $75
  • Lingerie = $50
  • Hair, makeup, nails = $100
  • Travel to shower =$300
  • Travel to bachelorette party = $300
  • Travel to wedding = $300
  • Shower contribution (decorations, favors, food) = $50
  • Bachelorette party contribution (taxis, drinks, entertainment) = $60

Ouch. No wonder our reader asked, “Can I back out without my friend hating me? Or how can I tell her and the other girls that I can’t do anything really expensive? Some people are already making noise about an out-of-town bachelorette party.”

How to save money when you’re in the wedding party

I asked Elaine Swann, a lifestyle and etiquette expert, what you can do to celebrate your friend’s big moment without breaking your budget, or how to say no to being a bridesmaid or groomsman while still showing you care.

If you’ve already agreed to be in the bridal party, stand by your word, but here are some cost-cutting tips:

Just because you’ve agreed to participate in the wedding, doesn’t mean you have to fulfill your obligations exactly how the other bridal party members do. Who cares if they’re all shelling out hundreds of dollars for shower, bachelorette party and wedding gifts?

Do what’s right for you and your checkbook by making one or two thoughtful but modest gifts. Even if you’re not Martha Stewart, you can give the lovebirds heartfelt, classy tokens of your friendship.

“These days, we take so many photos on our phones then do nothing with them. Comb through old photos, or take pictures at a special event of the couple, then print them out and put them in an album,” says Swann.  “If you make something, make sure it’s meaningful and there’s a story behind it. If your friend doesn’t cook, don’t make her a wooden spoon.”

For inspiration, check out this Pinterest board of DIY wedding, shower and bachelorette gifts.

And remember that proper etiquette allows you up to a year to give the couple a wedding gift. “But you absolutely must give them a card on the day of the wedding,” Swann says.

How to decline gracefully

But the next time someone asks you to be in a wedding (or if you haven’t yet agreed), here’s how to handle the situation.

Listen carefully – when a friend asks you to be in a wedding, don’t say yes right away.

“The first thing you should do, before you say yes or no, is to find out what your obligations are,” says Swann. “Ask, ‘Do I pay for the dress? Are you expecting me to chip in for the bridal shower? Will there be a couples shower?’”

Once you get that information, tell your friend you need a few days to figure out if you can swing it financially. If you don’t have a monthly budget, now’s a good time to start one. After you calculate your normal monthly bills, ask yourself if you can cut costs in one area (entertainment, for instance) for the sake of the wedding.

If you can’t, or if you don’t really think this person is worth giving up your cable and gym membership for, it’s OK to say no. Saying no doesn’t make you a bad person, or bad friend. Nor are you the only person who’s ever said, “Love ya, but I just can’t afford to be in your wedding.”

According to a Harris Interactive survey conducted for Coupon Cabin, 9 percent of people asked to be a bridesmaid or a groomsman turned down the request because it was too expensive.

“Be upfront and honest,” says Swann. “Just let them know you can’t do it. But don’t overload them with a list of your reasons so the conversation becomes about you and your troubles. All you have to say is, ‘After going over my budget, I can’t be a bridesmaid.’”

Still feel guilty? Worried your friend will be mad at you enough to sit you at a table with her mom’s loser friends?

Then offer yourself up for another service. Swann suggests saying, “’However, I’d love to host one event, or pass out programs at the ceremony, or help you out in any other way.’ Then, in a few days, follow up with a card saying, ‘Thank you for asking me. I’m so happy for you.’ Not an email, or a text message, but an old  fashioned card. This will help heal any hurt feelings because it shows you gave your friend and the request a lot of thought.”

But if you really, really want to be in the wedding, despite the fact that you can’t afford all of the associated costs, just tell your friend what you can and can’t afford.

“You can only do this at the very beginning, before you agree to take the job,” says Swann. “Just be honest and say, ‘I’d love to be a part of this, but after looking at my budget, I can’t afford everything. Here’s where I can and can’t participate. Is this all right?’ That way you don’t leave the couple or other bridal party members in a bind.”

And remember, considering that today’s divorce rate is 45 percent, you may get another chance to stand up in your friend’s wedding one day.

What about you? Have you ever dodged bridesmaid duties or wished that you had?

Published or updated on October 3, 2013

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About Patty Lamberti

Patty Lamberti is a freelance writer and Professional-in-Residence at Loyola University Chicago, where she teaches journalism and oversees the graduate program in digital media storytelling. If she doesn't know something about money, you can trust she'll track down the right people to find out. You can learn more about her at www.pattylamberti.com. And if you have any story ideas, or questions about money etiquette that you'd like her or an expert to answer, email her at moneymannersqs@gmail.com.


We invite readers to respond with questions or comments. Comments may be held for moderation and will be published according to our comment policy. Comments are the opinions of their authors; they do not represent the views or opinions of Money Under 30.

  1. Lura says:

    I can’t believe it costs so much just to be there for a friend! When I got married 5 1/2 years ago, the bridesmaids only had to pay about $50 for their shoes. It’s ridiculous to expect a friend to pay so much to be there for your big day!

  2. I think I have said NO twice ot being a groomsman and both times I was happy with the decision. Honestly though, I was in no financial situation to spend that kind of cash, rock the boat too hard and I would have been living on the streets :)
    Still, I made it to the weddings and ensured my friendship was really felt, as it turns out…there is a lot you can do to help out at weddings!

  3. patty says:

    Yes, you both had good friends who were honest. Too often, women aren’t honest, even to their friends, because women tend to want to be people pleasers. But if we can’t tell our friends the truth, we’re screwed.

  4. Shannon says:

    This is a FANTASTIC post! Most people just think about the cost of weddings from the bride/groom/family perspective; however, it is costly to not just be in the wedding party but to attend as well. People need to give great thought into not only accepting a wedding party position but also to accepting wedding invitations, especially for out of town weddings. Great tips for those who have already accepted and support for those who may have to say no.

  5. When I asked my friend to be my MOH, she told me right away that she could travel to attend the wedding but couldn’t afford, financially or time-wise, to travel to any other events. As it happened I had no intention of planning any showers or parties so she didn’t miss out on anything, but I thought it was smart and proactive of her to lay out from the beginning what she would and wouldn’t be able to do.

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