What it Costs to Be a Bridesmaid

NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Two days after I completed my duties as a bridesmaid in my cousin’s wedding, a close friend showed up at work and asked me to join her bridal party.

I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t into it, but this reluctance had nothing to do with my feelings for this friend or the clichéd disdain that single girls often have toward weddings. Directly following my cousin’s big fat Italian wedding, I was broke and lacked the emergency funds that I didn’t realize then were also meant to be used “in case of becoming a bridesmaid.”

While I had the bad luck of being in two weddings back-to-back, I’m certainly not the only woman who’s found herself saddled with other people’s wedding expenses.

According to the Wedding Report, an estimated 9.53 million bridesmaids spent $9.61 billion on wedding-related expenditures in 2009, and a bridesmaid can expect to spend an average of $1,009 on everything from dresses to traveling for a wedding.

To find out why so many bridesmaids spend $1,000 a pop, MainStreet consulted WeddingChannel.com, powered by The Knot, which provided the following estimates on what bridesmaids pay:

  • Engagement gift - $50
  • Shower gift - $50
  • Wedding gift - $100-$150
  • Travel to shower - $300
  • Travel to bachelorette party - $300
  • Travel to wedding - $300
  • Dress - $150
  • Alterations - $50
  • Lingerie - $50
  • Shoes - $75
  • Jewelry - $60
  • Hair and makeup - $100

All together the costs total $1,385, only slightly higher than the Wedding Report’s 2009 estimates. According to Amy Eisinger, editor of WeddingChannel.com, this is because certain expenses – especially the cost of a bridesmaid’s dress– have remained fairly stagnant the past few years. 
As Sharon Naylor, author of Bridesmaid on a Budget, points out, it’s actually easier to find affordable dresses now, since the recession caused many upscale designers to produce cheaper lines. Vera Wang, for instance, has a line sold exclusively at David’s Bridal.  

Still, the opposite can be said about other bridesmaid expenditures.

“It’s getting more expensive to be a bridesmaid, because the costs of non-dress related expenses are going up,” Naylor says. She cites the cost of bridal showers but also points out that travel and lodging can really drive up your bridesmaid bill, because it’s becoming more common for bridesmaids to travel to weddings.

According to the Wedding Report, 28% of bridal party members live in a different state than the bride, which necessitates travel for the engagement party, bridal shower and bachelorette party and often has them springing for a hotel room for the entire wedding weekend.

The ever-popular destination wedding is also to blame. New York City resident Kimberly Fisher told MainStreet she spent $1,050 on a hotel for a friend’s ceremony in Mexico.

“You can easily spend over $2,000 every time you are a bridesmaid,” Holly Lef, author of The EVERYTHING Bridesmaid Book, says.

But when bridesmaid duties beckon, here are some ways to save.

Understand What’s Expected

“So much of the cost does get dictated by the bride,” Eisinger says. You need to know what you’re signing up for before you agree to be in a bridal party.

Get a firm grip on the type of wedding your friend or relative intends to have by the way she’s talking about it, and feel free to ask what types of costs you can expect. For instance, you may want to ask whether or not you’ll need to have your hair or nails done a certain way for the ceremony, if you’re expected to help pay for the bridal shower, or if you’ll need to travel for the reception.
“It’s totally appropriate to be upfront if you have financial concerns,” Eisinger says.

With brides being more budget-conscious post-recession, you may not be out as much money as you think.

“The bridezilla idea is just for entertainment,” Naylor says. “You’ll find a far kinder bride in this day and age. Most are not requiring updos by professional hair dressers, or asking you to spend hundreds of dollars on an expensive dress.”

Say “I Don’t”

If do you feel that you’re in the wake of a bridezilla, opt out of being in the party, which can be easier said than done.

“There’s this expectation that if you’re asked [to be in a bridal party], you can’t say no … that it’s going to ruin your friendship,” Lefevre says.”But it’s definitely OK to say no if you can’t do it.”

Just be totally honest with your friend and most importantly, provide a reason why you have to forego the invite.

“You can cache it by saying that you can’t do it financially,” Naylor says.

Eisinger agrees, but advises not to put a specific number on your financial capabilities since the bride may take it to mean that you’re open to negotiations. Similarly, Naylor says to avoid mentioning other weddings you may have been in recently or plan to be in.

“It implies a ranking system,” she says. Instead, tell your friends that you don’t want to disappoint them when you can’t financially fulfill your wedding obligations and ask if there is anything else you do to help before the big day.

Consolidate Costs

If you’ve already committed to the wedding, minimize costs by focusing on the items within your control. Accept that the bride is going to pick the dress and you may have to do your own makeup.
However, as a member of the bridal party, you do have a say in where and when the shower is held, what you are doing for the bachelorette party and how much you’ll spend on the gift.

Eisinger suggests minimizing travel expenses by suggesting that the bachelorette party and shower be held on the same weekend. “You can have a nice luncheon, then go out in the evening,” she says.

Additionally, Naylor says you can save by holding the bridal shower earlier in the morning – around 11 a.m. or noon – in lieu of the more traditional mid-afternoon reception. This will increase your chances of getting a discount from the hotel or restaurant, reduce alcohol consumption and, subsequently, the bill for the party.

You can also dial down on the bachelorette party or skip it entirely, if you are particularly cash-strapped.

“Typically, the bachelorette party takes a back seat to the bridal shower,” Lefevre says, explaining that it’s perfectly acceptable to tell the bride that you won’t be able to participate in both events. “Ask her if she would rather have you at the shower or the party because sometimes the bride has an opinion.”

Another saving tip: Go in with another member of the bridal party for gifts. This is particularly popular when it comes to purchasing shower gifts, since the bridesmaids can easily pick a more expensive item off of the registry and split the costs. However, Naylor says, you can also consider giving a group gift at the reception.

“The bridal party can get the bride and groom a really great bottle of champagne and nice champagne flutes to toast with,” she suggests, explaining that if you can’t give money, you can give “an experience.”

But overall, be honest with your friend if you find yourself too broke to give her a gift.

“This is your friend, so you shouldn’t feel uncomfortable,“ Eisinger says. “She probably values you standing next to her on her wedding day more than she values you buying something off the registry.”

—For the best rates on loans, bank accounts and credit cards, enter your ZIP code at BankingMyWay.com.

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