You’ve been asked to be a bridesmaid—congrats! Or … maybe not. From the dress and the shoes to traveling and attending all the celebratory events, being part of a wedding party can be an expensive undertaking. So before you accept, make sure you understand the financial responsibilities and expectations involved.
Furthermore, with the number of weddings increasing this year to an expected 2.6 million, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if you’re asked to be in multiple bridal squads. In fact, a recent survey by Joy, a digital wedding planning platform, found that 76% of respondents will be in at least one wedding party in 2022, with 9% in three or more. Holy matrimony!
And, according to the survey, travel expenses are the top stressor for bridesmaids—with the cost of clothing, hair and makeup as close seconds.
“Too often people say yes to being in a wedding, but don’t think about the money part until it’s too late,” says Julianne Smith, owner of The Garter Girl, a hand-crafted wedding heirloom online store.
Here, we gathered tips from wedding experts to help you navigate those financial duties and respectfully let the bride know what you can and can’t afford.
Understand the Bride’s Expectations
It begins with talking to the bride. Will you be expected to wear a specific dress? How much is it? Is she hosting a destination wedding? Where is it and for how many days? Is a huge bachelorette party in the cards?
“Open communication will allow you to better understand the bride’s wishes for the wedding party,” says Katie Brownstein, resident wedding expert at Joy. “Once these expectations, and expenses, become clear, you can figure out how you want to proceed.”
Be Up Front About Your Budget—and Negotiate
Remember, it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing occasion. “If you need to adhere to a strict budget, tell the bride sooner rather than later that you’re happy to participate, but you may not be able to attend all of the events or acquiesce every request,” says Sarah Crowell, lead planner at event planning company Mavinhouse Events.
Who knows, you might discover that the bride is willing to negotiate. If she picked a bridesmaid dress that’s a little out of your budget, for example, ask if you can choose a more affordable option in the same color and style.
If there are specific trips or events she absolutely wants you to attend, see if she’s willing to let you do your own hair and makeup to save on those costs. If she’s hosting a destination wedding with multiple days of activities, she might be okay with you attending some but not all of the ones you’d have to pay for on your own. Compromise is key!
Do Your Research and Get Creative
So, let’s say you decide to say yes. That’s great! Now get planning.
If you’ll need to travel, research cheap rates on flights and accommodations and book as far in advance as possible. “If plane tickets are looking expensive, set price alerts so you can buy them when the fares are at their lowest,” says Brownstein. “In addition, take advantage of credit card points for hotel rooms and flights if you have them.”
For your attire and everything that goes with it, look for sales or buy slightly used items. “Shop friends’ closets for clothes you can borrow, consider rental services such as Rent the Runway or check out consignment websites and local vintage stores,” says Brownstein. Chances are, you’ll be able to find the same dress you need that was purchased by another bridesmaid, worn once and listed at a cheaper rate (I know this to be true for Show Me Your Mumu, at least).
For wedding gifts, instead of getting something listed on the registry that you can’t afford, offer your services—like decorating the venue or making sure that mean aunt doesn’t bother the bride’s anxiety-prone mother.
Split the Costs
Chances are you’re not the only one looking to save a dime or two. Chat with the other bridesmaids to see if they’re also budgeting and if any are willing to share a room with you, carpool or rent a house as a group.
“An Airbnb or VRBO can also help you save you on eating out, since you can make your own meals,” says Tonya Hoopes, owner of Hoopes Events. It might also be a good idea to go in on a big wedding gift together—saving everyone some cash while still giving the bride what she wants.
How to Say No
If you decide you can’t afford to be a bridesmaid at all, let the bride know that—while you’re delighted to have been asked—you just can’t shoulder the financial commitment.
“Declining early on is a lot better than dropping out later or not being able to fulfill your responsibilities as a bridesmaid,” says Jamie Chang, wedding planner and owner of Mango Muse Events, a wedding planning company.
But declining doesn’t mean you can’t do anything. Communicate that you want her wedding to be as special as possible by offering to be part of it another way. Perhaps you can help host the bridal shower or address invitations if you have great handwriting.
How the Bride Can Help
As the bride, your goal should be to have your loved ones be part of your big day without putting them in a financial bind.
“Be conscious of what you’re asking of your wedding party and be empathetic toward anyone who may not be able to attend every single event,” says Brownstein. “Consider how important each request really is to you and give your bridesmaids options when possible.”
If your wedding budget allows, covering some of the costs is not only customary to show your appreciation, but also helps your bridesmaids manage some of the expense.
“It’s a thoughtful gesture, especially if there’s something in particular you’re adamant they do, wear or attend,” says Chang. “It’s also a nice way to thank them for being in your wedding party.”
So, if you really want your bridesmaids to have professionally done hair and makeup, maybe that’s something you pay for. Or “if you have your heart set on a specific bridesmaid dress, perhaps you can contribute to each bridesmaid’s dress fund instead of gifting them with matching robes,” says Crowell.
If your budget doesn’t permit you contributing to any of your bridesmaids’ expenses, be flexible on your asks. After all, the most important thing is having them there when you say “I do,” not losing them because they say “I don’t want to pay for that.”
Millie content is licensed from Meredith Corporation, publisher of Millie, Real Simple, InStyle and more.
Ivette Manners is a New York-based writer. Her work has appeared in Vogue, The New York Times, Brides.com, HarpersBazaar.com and more.