The old-school mistress of manners, Emily Post, may gasp in horror at the breach in etiquette of rebuking a bride. But sometimes it has to happen, especially with the average cost of being a bridesmaid coming in at $1,324 in 2016.
It isn't just because your bestie has morphed into a bridezilla, demanding a destination bachelorette party and two bridal showers. It's also because of the unfortunate and chilling reality that you've entered the phase of life when dealing with five weddings a year (all of which are of course out-of-town) is status quo. These days the average age of marriage is 27 for women and 29 for men, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, making this a uniquely millennial financial dilemma.
So, what's a polite, well-intentioned woman to do when she's trying to balance her budget and friendship with a bride?
Can't Afford It? Just Say No Right Away
You know your friend. You can get the sense about whether she's going to be a delightful bride that sets and sticks to a budget or if she's going to be the kind of bride that insists on $400 name brand dresses and nixes paying for the bridesmaids' hair and makeup in order to purchase some Louboutin's for her walk down the aisle.
If you're dealing with the latter, and the notion of a $400 dress and $1,000 for a bachelorette party across the country in Las Vegas leaves you whimpering in the fetal position clutching your wallet to your chest, then maybe it's best to just bow out early.
Don't accept her invitation to be a bridesmaid and then put up a fight at every possible impasse. Your relationship can survive you tactfully saying no—it probably can't last if you appear to be a saboteur on her princess day. I mean, wedding day.
For those daring loving enough to accept a bridesmaid invitation, there is a five-step process to being a kind, supportive friend—while also ensuring you don't max out your credit cards. Frankly, it's not worth going into debt for your own wedding, let alone someone else's.
1. Talk Budget Expectations Early
Once you've accepted, it's time to establish some rules with your bride. There is no need for this conversation to be contentious, especially when done correctly. You should be forthcoming about how much you can afford to spend, but also come prepared with a suggested strategy already in place.
For example, "Hannah—you know I love you and I'm so excited to be a bridesmaid. But as you know, I'm already attending five other weddings this year and I'm in two of them. Because of this, I'm on a tight budget. So depending on price points for certain items, like the dress and shoes, I might not be able to come to a bridal shower and bachelorette party."
This means you aren't asking her to pick a cheap bargain bin dress for the bridesmaids, but you're also letting her know that if it comes with a hefty price tag there's a chance you won't be attending a destination bridal shower and bachelorette party.
2. Unionize with the Other Bridesmaids
That sounds a bit hyperbolic and shady, but having a little honest tête-à-tête with the other bridesmaids—sans the bride—will help ensure you're all on the same page in terms of budgets and pre-wedding events.
Take this time to let the other bridesmaids know about your personal budget restrictions and how much you can contribute to a bachelorette party, a joint shower gift or any unexpected requests that may arise. It also lays the groundwork for other bridesmaids to confess their own feelings about money.
It's best to know early on that everyone else thinks bridesmaids should only be hosting the bachelorette party or if the maid of honor also expects you all to co-host a bridal shower. Gently suggest that perhaps the future mother-in-law, a godmother or a beloved aunt may be able to host a bridal shower if the bridesmaids are already footing the bill for a bachelorette party.
3. Offer to Help (and You May Have a Hidden Agenda)
Disclaimer: This strategy probably won't work with your extremely type-A brides.
Brides are inundated with decisions, logistical issues and trying to handle controlling moms and demanding imminent in-laws, so it helps if all the bridesmaids can check a few chores off the list.
Offer to help pick out bridesmaid dress options as well as venues for a bachelorette party. This way, you and the other bridesmaids can have some control over price range instead of waiting with baited breath to see what gets picked.
4. Bundle the Bridal Shower and Bachelorette Party
Let's face facts here; weddings never seem to happen where you live. Odds are you'll be traveling for the wedding itself as well as a bachelorette party—and possibly even the shower. That's three trips for just one wedding—and you're probably attending more than one wedding this season.
To nix the triple trip curse, suggest early on that the bridal shower and bachelorette party be bundled into the same weekend.
Perhaps a demure afternoon tea for the bridal shower followed by a Beyonce dance class and raucous bachelorette fun that night.
5. Stand Up for Yourself by Saying No Delicately
When you reach the end of your budget, it's important to stick up for yourself.
You've set expectations with both the bride and other bridesmaids, so it should come as no shock when you pass on the second bridal shower (because somehow that's becoming a thing).
Always be respectful and tactful with how you say no. It also doesn't hurt to toss in a small financial contribution to ease the tension. Perhaps you can't afford the average $500 price tag for attending the bachelorette party and bridal shower, but you could contribute $50 towards the collective pot.
The Best Strategy: Save Now
It's not just June; wedding season is always coming. Instead of feeling crunched for money with each wedding invite and bridesmaid invitation, just open a wedding savings account today. Put a little bit of each paycheck away for other people's weddings and instead of feeling financially stressed out, you can actually just enjoy being part of your friend's special day. Eventually, the weddings will ease up a bit and you can finally use that fund for the trip to Paris you always hoped to take—or just put it towards your own wedding.