For many people, being part of a wedding party can strain their savings, not to mention their relationship with the couple.
For one New York woman, the cost for her family to participate in her sister-in-law’s nuptials several years ago was a four-figure commitment.
She, her husband (the bride’s brother) and their two teenage daughters were all in the wedding. And the expenses just kept mounting.
There was the matron-of-honor outfit for her and bridesmaid gowns for the girls. They all had to buy shoes and get their hair and nails done. There were the tux and shoes for her husband. She paid 50% of the cost of the bachelorette party, and her husband covered 33% of the bachelor party. The couple also hosted and paid for the engagement party. And as if that weren’t enough, they still gave the bride and groom a cash gift.
At least they didn’t go into debt.
“We were able to spread out the different costs over the year between the engagement party and the actual wedding,” Maria wrote to me. “Everything we did, we did pay for in real time, by making other sacrifices. For example, the month of the deposit on the two bridesmaids’ dresses, the matron-of-honor dress and the shoes meant no eating out, no movies, no bowling that month.”
All that money, and the marriage lasted just three years.
One Washington woman shared the costs of participating in two weddings in the last five years.
Wedding No. 1: Airfare, hotel, makeup, hair, dress and bachelorette/bridal shower: $1,000. “I never considered declining being part of the wedding. But I started to really pay attention to my budget and what I needed to do to get out of some debt. And I thought, holy crap, I don’t know that I feel that great about spending all this money.”
Wedding No. 2: Hotel, dress and bridal shower: $650. “This bride was very generous and paid for part of the expensive hotel room, hair and makeup. Most of our meals were at events surrounding the wedding. The dress was cheaper because we could pick our own. I paid for my flight and rental car with points I had on a travel credit card. Without that, it would have easily been over $1,000.”
Despite the costs, this bridesmaid had no regrets.
“Both friends were worth every penny,” she said. “But when I realized wedding No. 1 was heading into crazy territory, I started looking at it and how I’d want my wedding, should I ever have one, to be different. I don’t think couples do the math on how much the bridal party is spending, and I felt this couple let the vision of the wedding they both grew up wanting cloud some wisdom on how much this vision was costing everyone involved, including themselves.”
Here are my suggestions for what to do before you accept an invitation to participate in a wedding.
- Don’t say yes to your bridesmaid dress (or groomsman tux) until you talk costs.
- Walk through with as much specificity as possible to determine how much you’ll have to pay. I know you don’t want to make it seem like you’re focused on the money rather than the honor of being asked. Yet it’s better to know what you’re getting into financially than have resentment later that you’ve spent more than you can afford.
- Don’t go into debt.
- Can you put a price on friendship? Yes, you can, if it means racking up credit card debt that will take you months, if not years, to pay off.
- Don’t stay quiet if costs are escalating.
- Follow the example of the Washington bridesmaid. “I started choosing what parts of the wedding events I wasn’t going to opt in to, which is why I said no to the additional out-of-town bachelorette party. It would’ve been a minimum $600 for the two and a half days.”
- Don’t treat an invitation to be in the wedding party as if it’s a mandatory evacuation order.
- Speak the truth if it’s going to be a financial burden. A mature friend will accept your decline.
When the divorced sister-in-law got engaged again, her brother and his wife were blunt about the limits of their participation: guests at the church and reception.
Their objection wasn’t that she was getting married for a second time. “It’s difficult to reconcile paying for someone else’s must-haves for a one-day event when we are all working-class to middle-income families with our own financial obligations,” the wife wrote.
It is also an honor to just be a guest.
Michelle Singletary is a personal finance columnist for The Washington Post. Her column runs on Sunday.