I always thought I'd be married by my 10-year high school reunion. But considering that's now only a few months away and there's no engagement ring on my finger or serious boyfriend prospects in sight, it's safe to say that's not happening (don't tell my 16-year-old self — she'd be devastated). I can honestly say I'm not as lonely or frustrated as I thought being single in my late 20s would make me, and I've been genuinely excited and happy for my friends as the "I'm engaged!" phone calls and Instagram pictures have started rolling in.
But you know what is frustrating me? All of the money I've had to spend on their weddings — especially when I've been asked to be in them. It's common knowledge that weddings are expensive to plan, but no one prepared me for how expensive weddings are to attend. I thought the best part of being a guest at a wedding was supposed to be that it was free — open bar, catered food, a DJ, and a dance floor. But it's actually hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to be the close friend of a bride these days, and the cost adds up at an annoyingly fast rate. You've got the engagement party present, the bridal shower present, the bachelorette present, the wedding present. The airfare to the bachelorette party and the wedding. The hotel fare for the bachelorette party and the wedding. The rehearsal dinner dress. The bridesmaid dress (and no — nine times out of 10, you cannot shorten it and wear it again). And even if you're not the maid of honor, you still might be asked to help plan the bridal shower and bachelorette party, which includes paying for decorations, food, activities, and gift bags. Before you know it, you've spent an entire month's salary to be in your friend's wedding. I was in the weddings of three close friends last year, and I have another two on the horizon. I finally added it up, and it's been costing me an average of $2,000 to be a bridesmaid.
I was recently airing my frustrations with a nonengaged friend of mine, and her response was, "Just say no — you don't have to be a bridesmaid." And she's technically right. But I could never do that. Besides not wanting to come across as cheap or a bad friend, I want to be a bridesmaid in my friends' weddings. I want to stand by their side as they marry the person of their dreams. I want to partake in the bachelorette party shenanigans. I want to play the silly bridal shower games. I want to give a heartfelt rehearsal dinner speech about how we met and what great wives they'll make. I want to be there for everything. Isn't that the point of being best friends in the first place — to celebrate life's special moments together? All I'm saying is I don't want to go broke doing it.
And so, as I approach my fourth bridesmaid experience, I've realized something: just because you aren't saying no to being a bridesmaid doesn't mean you have to say yes to all of the expenses that come with it. Even though the bride is ultimately calling the shots, there are many potentially costly aspects of being in a wedding that are well within your control, and finding the right way to navigate through them (without offending the bride-to-be) can save you a lot of money. Here are some of the tips and tricks I've learned to avoid becoming a broke bridesmaid.
1. Be your own glam squad.
While some brides will pay for their bridesmaids to have their hair and makeup done for the wedding, it's not to be expected. I had one experience where the bride didn't offer hair-and-makeup services at all, and another where the bride provided the professionals but asked her bridesmaids to pay for it. Of course, you want to look your best because you are going to be in a lot of pictures and standing in front of all the guests during the ceremony. But in reality, no one will be focusing on you — all eyes will be on the bride. So if you find yourself in a nongratis hair-and-makeup situation, save your money on this one. There are going to be a bunch of other women/bridesmaids getting ready in the bridal suite; chances are, if you aren't great at doing your hair and makeup, one of them is and can help you — for free!
2. Recycle your outfit.
Don't be afraid to be a rehearsal dinner outfit repeater. A lot of rehearsal dinners are cocktail attire, so if you have multiple weddings coming up (as long as the guest lists are different enough and your outfit is weather-appropriate), you can wear the same dress, bag, and shoes to several night-before events without anyone ever knowing.
3. Invest in your shoes.
Speaking of shoes, most brides will ask their bridesmaids to wear nude or black shoes with their bridesmaid dresses, which is great news because you probably already have something in those colors. If you don't, invest in some staple pairs immediately — not only will you wear nude and black heels over and over to weddings, but you can also wear them to work, date nights, and more!
4. Mind your measurements.
Bridesmaid dress designers can vary greatly in terms of sizing, so don't assume your usual dress size is your bridesmaid dress size. You might be able to avoid paying for alterations or extra length if you measure yourself before purchasing your bridesmaid dress. Most websites where you purchase your dress will provide the measurements that correlate with each designer's sizes, so check yourself against them to determine the right size for you. If you're lucky enough to live near a bridesmaid dress showroom, it's worth the visit — the stylists there can take your measurements for you and suggest your ideal size in the designer/style your bride selected. Take it from someone who almost ordered a dress that was two sizes too big — by doing a little measurement homework, I saved over $100 by not having to pay for extra length or major alterations.
5. Rethink the registry.
Sure, cheese boards and cutlery sets are kitchen staples, but they're not exactly the most exciting (or affordable) gifts. The wedding registry definitely serves its purpose, but consider leaving those nonsentimental items for the happy couple's distant relatives and college roommates to purchase, and instead buy (or make) the bride and her groom something that is unique to your friendship or their relationship as a couple. Having trouble thinking outside the registry box?
6. Forgo the fancy hotel.
Do you really need to stay at the five-star resort where your friend is getting married? While most hotels will offer discounted rates for wedding party room blocks, these deals typically (a) fill up quickly and (b) don't save you that much money. If the wedding is too far to drive to and there are less expensive hotels nearby (or other sleeping accommodations like camping or Airbnb), it's worth it to consider those options. You'll probably be in the bridal suite getting ready with the bride for most of the wedding day anyway, so you won't be spending as much time in the hotel room as you may think. And if you're not bringing a date, bunk up with some of the other bridesmaids or guests you know — splitting the cost of a room will definitely save you a few bucks.
7. Give your opinion (if you're asked for it).
Once you agree to be a bridesmaid and/or partake in the wedding-related festivities, you're going to have to go along with pretty much whatever the bride wants. But sometimes the bride will ask her bridesmaids for their input on things like bridesmaid dresses or bachelorette party destinations. If you are lucky enough to have the opportunity to voice your opinion, seize this moment (but in a respectful way, of course)! For example, my close friend and bride-to-be couldn't decide if she wanted to have her bachelorette party in Nashville or San Diego, so she asked us which location we would prefer. Considering that most of the bridal party lived on the West Coast, we told her that while either location would be fun, San Diego was definitely a closer and therefore easier-to-get-to (and more cost-effective) choice, which would mean more time together and less traveling stress. And just like that — $600 in airfare saved!