Flower girl, usher, and now a bridesmaid for the fifth time. This is not my first rodeo. I have been standing up in weddings for as long as I can remember. For as long as I could walk, really. I know there are steep bridal party costs that come with saying yes to the dress. But I said yes anyway.
It happened on Halloween. First, I pulled out a beautiful candle. Then, a few sweets tumbled out. Then, a Ring Pop with a note attached to it. Will you be my bridesmaid? My instinct was to say no to the expense. This would be my fifth bridesmaid dress. Five dresses I’ll never wear again. Assuredly, the road to financial independence is not paved with taffeta. But when I saw the look of anticipation on my cousin’s face, I couldn’t help but squeal a yes.
Bridal Party Costs
There’s no mistaking it. People shell out big bucks standing up in a wedding. Weddingstats.org estimates that bridal party attendants spend an average of $141 on their gear for the big day. Then, there’s hair and makeup and manicures and pedicures, oh my. Throw in new shoes and a clutch, and you’ve spent another pretty penny.
It’s absolutely possible to be more economical when it comes to getting dolled up. But it’s slightly more challenging to avoid the expenses that come with wedding events. There is a bridal shower or two followed by a bachelorette party. Then, there’s the actual wedding. For many people, each of these events is seen as a time to give a gift. Even if you select an inexpensive gift or opt out entirely, there are travel expenses to reckon with.
Showing your support gets expensive. If you run the numbers, it’s easy to see why some people estimate that being a bridesmaid costs them between $1,000 and $1,800. The high end of that spectrum echoed in my mind as a I stared at the Ring Pop. Two mortgage payments. One third of my entire Roth IRA for the year. Another dress.
So why did I say yes?
More than a Bridesmaid Dress
I wasn’t racked with guilt. I didn’t say yes out of familial obligation. I hadn’t signed on for a chiffon quid pro quo of sorts since she was in my wedding just a few years back. I said yes because I wanted to.
Can I think of better things to do with a couple hundred dollars? Would an extra $1000 towards my mortgage make me happy? Of course. And don’t even get me started on compound interest should I be able to toss it in my Roth IRA. Be still my heart.
Make no mistake about it. My future self will thank me for a lot of things. Adding another bridesmaid dress to my jungle of a closet is not one of them. I am not excited about having to buy another dress. But I can afford it. There might not be a line item for it in my budget now, but I have time to make the numbers work.
Weddings are another easy target in the personal finance world. This post would undoubtedly net more clicks if it were titled “12 Ways to Cut Costs as a Wedding Attendant” or “How to Never Get Asked to Be a Bridesmaid Again”. People lament the expense, the materialism, and the cliches. Never mind the absurdity of draping everyone in coordinated shades of polyester to mimic the ancient tradition of dressing a bunch of women in identical garbs to confuse angry spirits, keeping newlyweds safe. It is silly.
But what if we’re approaching this all wrong? What if it isn’t about the dress hanging in the closet? When I swipe my credit card in the next few months, I’m not just buying a dress. I’m buying a memory. Not unlike a vacation or a family reunion, this event will happen exactly once. Even if not every marriage ends in a lifetime of bliss, every wedding pulls together family and friends for a moment in time that will never happen again.
Each wedding–big or small, costly or frugal, dramatic or zen–is more than an aunt who falls down in the middle of a conga line*, a speech that rambles on a little too long, or three minutes of an obligatory Chicken Dance. It’s a show of support, it’s time to gather together, it’s a toast to the future while smiling over the past. It’s a celebration. And if that’s what it means to be a bridesmaid again, then zip me up. I am going to rock this dress.
*I deeply regret that my photographer did not stay until the bitter end.
So Tell Me…How many weddings have you been in? Am I silly to embrace this next dress?
Note: I’ll never support going into debt (boo!) or jeopardizing your financial future (double boo!). Nor do I think any bride, no matter how much of a ‘zilla they are, would want that either.
Oh man, I so empathize with this! I’ve been a bridesmaid three times and maid of honor twice. If I had to guess, I’d estimate between $10-12k was spent on all of those dresses, shoes, hair appointments, gifts, hotels, travel (two of them involved at least one flight, if not two), bachelorette parties, etc. It makes me feel a bit dizzy thinking about it 🙂
In the midst of each one, I was frustrated about the money spent and wasn’t always the most gracious (not to the bride obviously…but complained to my husband!). Not my finest moments of friendship. I so admire your attitude! And looking back, I am so grateful to be asked to be a part of my friends’ lives like that. I just can’t think about compound interest. Ever.
Congratulations to your cousin!
That’s part of why I wrote this post, Britt. When it comes to money, I’m afraid to turn into a bridesmaid-zilla of sorts. It can be a huge expense to be part of a wedding, but I’m going to start putting money aside now so I don’t sweat it as much. It’s really easy for me to resent someone for asking me to spend money, but that’s actually a reflection of me, not them.
I try to remind myself of how special my wedding party was (and still is!) to me. And I have relatives that still thank me for having our wedding since it was the last event many of them saw my grandma at. When I keep this perspective, I feel like an idiot for worrying about money that I have. If I were in big debt, it would be a different story, though.
Oh god, don’t get me started. I’ve been in 4 weddings and have one more this year. This upcoming wedding though is for family and I think I was used just to fill the line (actually I know this) so I skipped all pre-wedding activities and will just be attending the actual wedding.
The other weddings I were in on the other hand were very costly. Flights, hotels, bachelor parties, Jack and Jills, etc. Luckily out of my closest friends, I’m the only one not married. So I’m hoping for a lull in the next few years.
At the end of the day I love the people asking me to be in their wedding and I don’t mind spending the money (wow that was hard to say). 🙂
It is hard to say, isn’t it? I wasn’t going to post this (now or at least not right away), but I actually want to keep this in the forefront of my mind. I still hope to be realistic about costs–thankfully, my cousin is pretty reasonable!–and stick to a budget. But I also don’t want to let money ruin this moment for me or for her.
I’m seeing a trend, Penny.
“I wasn’t going to post this” becomes some of your greatest posts! 🙂
When I first started blogging, I felt so much pressure to just write lists and give advice. Because those are the most popular Pinterest posts and the money-makers. I’m much more comfortable telling my own stories and letting people come to their own conclusions. If nothing else, it helps me learn and keeps me honest!
Go rock that dress, girl! I was in one wedding, draped in purple chiffon. But the marriage didn’t last long and my friend didn’t act very honorably. So I was left with positive feelings about the wedding and her husband, but her? Not so much. You’re wise to choose experiences over money. I’m sure your cousin is thrilled and you’ll have a great time.
That’s really hard. One of the weddings that I stood up in has also ended in divorce. But I have some really fun photos and memories of my parents and my grandma who also attended. It’s one of the only formal photos I have with my dad (besides my wedding!) since he’s not big on dressing up. I’m trying to keep that perspective.
I’ll let you know how poofy the dress is once it’s picked!
Emily @ JohnJaneDoe
Only been in one wedding (my brother’s first), which was a big formal affair. I tried to be nice to my bridesmaids and told them they could wear any black dress, figuring that would allow them maximum flexibility for different shapes, styles and budgets while still looking good for pictures.
The way I feel about weddings is this…someone has asked you to be involved in one of the biggest days in their life. It ain’t about you. If you can, go with a glad heart. Have a good time. Give a gift, of yourself and your attitude as well as something you can reasonably afford.
100% yes to all of this. I am seriously going to make a sticky note out of this: “Go with a glad heart.” Thanks for the pep talk, Emily.
“Go with a glad heart” – I need to hear this, every day! Thanks, Emily!
Amen. It’s on a sticky note on my desk!
Emily @ JohnJaneDoe
I’ll tell our priest…she uses it all the time.
I’ve been in 2 and will likely be in 2 more (my sister and probably for one of my brothers). I really have a lot of fun doing it and they were 4 years apart so each time I’ve been able to really get into it and put aside some cash for all the festivities. Both brides were super low maintenance and that made things waaaaaaaay easier.
As we plan our wedding we’ve considered what it means to the people involved, having been in them ourselves and it’s just one of those traditions I love. Having the people you love stand up and be there for you in a matchy dresses (or not matchy dresses, who knows) makes me so happy. Also: I was super glad to not have a ton of friends when we hit marrying age. Yay for introvertedness and shyness! WOO WOO!
It’s funny how it ebbs and flows. Now, it’s mostly baby showers. But in the next year or two, it’ll be back to weddings. I do think having already had a wedding helps give me a slightly different perspective. I know my girls spent a lot of money on me, but I tried to give them tons of options (come to a dinner or meet us for a drink later, etc.) and I made it a point to keep my expectations in check. What amazed me, though, was how much they all went above and beyond in their own ways to show their enthusiasm and support. I’m going to stay more focused on that than the money this time!
I’ve never been in a wedding! I’ve been to two bachelorette parties and bridal showers, but never in a wedding party. Some days it makes me sad that no one is close enough to me to ask me to stand up with them. Other days, I think of all the silly dresses I haven’t had to buy and the money I’ve saved 😉
You’re right though – what’s the point of money if we don’t use it for things that bring us joy (within our means)?
It’s stressful when it’s happening sometimes, but it’s so great, too. I didn’t even realize it when we threw my husband’s graduation party, but it was basically our bridal party coming together again. Everyone was so excited. And to see how people still talk on Facebook and in real life even though their only initial connection was me and the chiffon I made them wear is pretty awesome.
But you’re right. Saving that money is awesome, too!
Yesss I feel the same! It probably doesn’t help that my very closest friends are male and none are likely to get hitched any time soon.
Maggie @ Northern Expenditure
We have money so that we can spend it in good, meaningful ways. Strengthening relationships is one of those ways. If you have to suffer through purchasing and wearing another bridesmaid dress, you will strengthen that relationship forever (I mean, you’ll be in the all the wedding pictures forever!). Worth it.
Yes! That’s a perspective that I need tattooed on my forehead. Or maybe I should find a way to work that into the nickname of my bank accounts (since I check them so compulsively).
I’ve been in exactly 0 weddings, and the number of weddings that I’ve been invited to via someone who is not a blood relative is also 0.
Whenever I hear people bitch about the cost of wedding gifts and going to weddings, I’m thinking inside “At least people value you enough to include you” ?
I guess because I feel like I’d have no problem trading money for those types of lifelong connections every time.
YES! This 100%. If you don’t want to go, don’t. If you can’t afford to go, don’t. I am pledging right now that I’m going to be honest and upfront as difficult as it may be. No complaining behind the bride’s back. Because it’s exactly what you said, TJ. She values our relationship enough to ask me to stand next to her during a huge milestone. It might be expensive, but it’s also an honor.
Gary @ Super Saving Tips
What a great way to look at it, Penny. It is an experience and if you can swing it, it’s worth doing. While I haven’t been in a bunch of weddings, I’ve certainly been a guest at quite a few and even just that has its costs. But that is the price of being part of those special occasions with the people we care about.
Right. And I’m not saying I won’t try to be practical! The biggest advantage is that I have almost a year to sock a little bit away every month. But I think putting aside $50 a month will really take all the stress off.
I bought the dresses for my bridesmaids and tried to keep everything low-key, but I know it was still a lot of time and effort for them and will be forever grateful.
A wedding is one (for us the only one) time when everyone we loved was together in one place, getting to know each other and celebrating with us. I’m totally a sappy person and tear up at Hallmark commercials, but it meant the world to me.
My husband’s family lives in another state and most of his friends live in other states too, so for them to make the trek and meet my crazy clan was Huge.
My husband and I travel back and forth frequently, so mostly it’s his family there and my family here, but at least they’ve all met and now they ask after and care about each other.
A lot of our relatives are getting older, so the last few years have been and the next few years will be sprinkled with funerals, which makes the initial happy meeting even more significant. I’m grateful that we all met in such a wonderful way so we know each other well now and can support each other better in the tough times.
That’s amazing that you were able to pay for their dresses. I explained what we did in my comment to Jan below 🙂 I hope that the trend continues with brides trying to be honest about money and considerate of the cost of things.
Within six months of my wedding, my grandma and my cousin passed away–both unexpectedly. When people talk about our wedding, that is the first thing they mention: how great it was to dance with my nana or chat with my cousin, especially if they hadn’t seen them in a while or didn’t get to see them again before they passed.
I actually have not been a bridesmaid before! Most of my friends from high school and college haven’t married yet, and those that have had family-only bridesmaids, partially due to how geographically separated we all are.
For our wedding, we didn’t even have a wedding party. My friends were all either just out of college and poor (not to mention in another state), or still in school, and I didn’t want to put any financial strain on them. We had a small wedding to make sure we could spend plenty of quality time with everyone, though! 😀
That’s really thoughtful of you, Felicity! One of my biggest concerns was keeping everything reasonable and making sure my girls felt like that had lots of options. My maid of honor was awesome about this too. When she sent out my bachelorette party invites, she sent a list of different things we’d do and let people know they could come to one, two, three…or none!
Latoya | Femme Frugality
I just unexpectedly said yes to a bridesmaid dress too. It snuck up on me. I was planning to attend the out of town wedding and then all of a sudden – I’m in the wedding! I didn’t freak out or even hesitate about it though because it’s not like I couldn’t afford to pay up for the dress. My daughter was already in the wedding as well. I’m more in tune with your argument about the memories. I won’t deny myself those and that’s why I’m always on myself to be prepared. That just spurs me on even more.
That’s awesome to here that you didn’t hesitate at all. I’m embarassed that I did!
Maybe it is because I am older and from a different generation but I don’t understand asking someone to stand up for you and yet expect them to pay for the honour?
I have only ever been in one wedding (my sisters) and they paid for all costs associated to the bridemaids and groomsmen. We didn’t have a wedding but I always wonder that if someone values you enough to want you in their wedding, maybe they should also value you enough to include those costs in their planning and forgo the fancier location or more expensive honeymoon.
For my brothers wedding, they decided to get married out of town (a days drive) and my parents covered the groomsmen’s rooms at the hotel as well because it wasn’t their choice to have to travel.
But that is just my thoughts. 🙂
That’s a great point, Jan! I know that there are some brides who do pay for all of the costs or some of the costs, and I really don’t know what my cousin will do. That’s really generous of your parents to cover the hotel cost of the groomsmen.
Personally, I did not pay for their dresses. I told them to wear shoes they had and ditto for jewelry. I also asked them to choose if they wanted to get their hair/make my girls choose if they wanted to get hair or makeup done or do it themselves. I was hoping this would take the pressure off some. I did buy them all gifts for the wedding (silver sandals when they kicked off their heels, tote bags, etc.), and I hosted a party at my nail salon and paid for them to all get pedicures. On one hand, maybe it would have been better to pay for their dresses (I would have come out ahead money wise). But I think the memories that we made at all the other events were worth it. TTo each bride and bridesmaid their own I suppose 🙂
Amber from Red Two Green
Love this. I feel so strongly about being there for these kind of experiences (family vacations, weddings, whatever it may be) that to me, its *almost* always worth whatever you are missing out on financially (throwing it at debt, retirement, or whatever) but… if you really couldn’t afford it, as in, if you would be going into debt over it, would you actually say no?
I was just having this conversation with my mom, Amber! It would definitely be difficult and there would be hurt feelings, I’m sure, but I would say no. I’m sure that there are other people who might go along with it despite the financial hardship. I also could understand someone saying yes and then having to back out. I actually said it like that to my girls: my feelings won’t be hurt at all if the expense is too much. I really hope we can change the way people have conversations about money and weddings. I remember some of my bridesmaids thinking I was crazy for telling the salon that I wanted to know price ranges before we starting picking out dresses that they liked. Because it’s tied to love and friendship, wedding spending is so emotional. Money seems to be an afterthought. My hope is that with so many PF savy millennials, we can change that!
Just reading this gives me the jitters! I am so happy my friends are out of this phase though I have a half sister that may eventually get married. At 18 years her senior I am hoping she will see me as too old a lady to walk down an aisle on her behalf. Please spare me the junior girl dress and get me a wheelchair (with cup holder) instead!!
But to those still young at heart I understand the excitement. I am so grateful there are some still out there willing to profess till death do us part. And good for you to help them celebrate their big day. Though my marriage wasn’t a dream come true, I still believe in happily ever after…debt free, of course.
Oh yes, weddings can be expensive. I had 9 bridesmaids at my wedding and I made sure that the costs were super low – which they all thanked me for numerous times. Probably the cheapest wedding ever for a bridesmaid, haha!
I think I found your blog when you were first planning your wedding! That’s how long I lurked without commenting. Ha! That’s so considerate of you. I definitely hope we’re headed in that direction across the board with wedding/bridal party costs.
Ha, I’ve never been a bridesmaid and odds are I never will. Which I’m actually okay with.
Have been to … 3 Indian weddings? and 2 Caucasian weddings. Got dressed up in a borrowed sari for one of them and it was a lot of fun.
I had one maid of honour, told her to literally pick whatever she wanted as long as it was red, didn’t care. My nieces were flower girls and I paid for their dresses. I had two guys as bridesmen and just told them to scrub up, basically.