When she says I do, you need to be prepared to say I don't.
I don't want to be your bridesmaid, that is. I know. I know. Why wouldn't I want to be intimately involved in my best friend's, sister's, or brother's wedding? Hear me out.
We're programmed to believe that an invitation to be a bridesmaid is an honor, and it is. So please don't take this advice as an attack on wedding traditions, even though it's coming from a happily-single, 33-year-old woman.
Being a bridesmaid is an honor. But, it's much more than that. This honor is really a promise, practically a contractual agreement, to do whatever the bride asks of you.
So, before you agree to this honor, this privilege, and the accompanying obligations, you should be aware of what will be expected of you. You should be aware of exactly what you're agreeing to, specifically with regards to financing this honor.
Going in with your eyes wide open will make the experience what it should be, a celebration of your loved one's love. Going in blindly could ruin the experience for you, put a permanent stain on your friendship, or leave you struggling to pay off your bridesmaid's debt long after the bond of your friendship has dissipated.
Saying "I don't" isn't necessarily rude. It may be the only responsible option.
Before you accept an invitation to be a bridesmaid, have a candid discourse with the bride about what her plans are, what she anticipates the costs being, and what you're financially competent to spend on her big day. (This is all assuming that you want to be in the wedding party.)
I know. I know. It's so crass to talk about money when someone is sharing their big moment with you, asking you to be involved in their big day. But it's not crass. It's necessary. It's responsible. And it's the healthiest thing you can do for your friendship.
It's also financially sound advice. Let my varied experiences pave a yellow brick road of guidance for you.
The wedding industry has become a financial monster, and I am not afraid to say that the incredible amount of money people spend on these common affairs is socially irresponsible, considering the prevalence of poverty in this world. That's just my opinion. A wedding should be a celebration of love, not money. But the inverse is usually the occasion.
Of course, each person is free to have the most ridiculous, exorbitant gala -- to celebrate their wedding like they've just discovered the moon -- as they see fit. That's their choice.
But… you might get suckered into one of these affairs, totally blindsided, and forced to assume a portion of the cost of this financial smorgasbord, far beyond what you initially imagined.
In my early 20s, I was a bridesmaid in two of my best friends' weddings. I never asked them what it would cost me. Instead, I eagerly blurted out Yes when they asked me to be a part of their special day. I wasn't thinking about money. I was so flattered to be invited. To be included. To be one of the girls. Accepted.
Fortunately, those two turns around the bridesmaid-carousel turned out to be great. Both weddings were lovely, and incredibly unassuming of me. I spent less than a thousand dollars on both weddings combined. For me, at that time, that was affordable. And the icing on the bridesmaid cake is, that I'm friends with both of these women today.
Fast-forward the clock seven years, and now I am invited to be in the weddings of two of my best friends, as we approach our 30s. This is where I stress that your financial circumstances are a necessary consideration of your acceptance.
When my first best friend asked me to be a bridesmaid, I immediately accepted. Glowing in her happiness, I didn't even consider my finances.
I was in my first year of law school, living off student loans and the tips I made bartending two nights a week. Zero savings. For the previous five years, I had been a student-by-day, bartender-by-night, struggling to pay my outrageous rent in NYC.
When I agreed to be her bridesmaid, the last thing on my mind was what it would cost me. Part of me assumed that it would be like the weddings I'd been in before. Part of me assumed that my best friend wouldn't ask anything of me that she knew would be a financial imposition. Most of me didn't consciously think about it.
That was a mistake. One that I would pay for, literally, with over 2,000 dollars of debt plus interest.
So you would think that by the time my second best friend asked me to be in her wedding that I would have learned my lesson? No. This time I was invited to be the maid of honor, an even bigger financial commitment.
And this time, I was in my second year of law school, working as an unpaid intern, with zero disposable income. Basking again like a deer in wedding headlights, I immediately accepted the invitation. It wasn't really a question, right? Wrong. Almost 2,300 dollars of debt later, I realize that it was, and one that I should have politely declined.
Without getting into the details of why both of these weddings cost me so much money, I will say that there are certain factors that you can discuss with the bride at the outset to eliminate the possibility of breaking your bridesmaid bank.
How many parties will you be attending (presents will be expected for each one); where will you be expected to fly and how many times (one wedding meant three round-trip tickets to Florida for me); will she being having a simple bachelorette party or an extravagant weekend away somewhere; and finally, will you have any choice in anything -- dress, shoes, hair, makeup? All of these things add up. Quickly. And before you know it, your honor is costing you thousands of dollars.
Then, you have to take some time to think about it. Please, think about it. Ask yourself if you will have to finance this honor with debt. Ultimately, this is your choice. Your decision. Your debt.
You may just want to give the bride a flat number, what you're capable of spending. Let it be her choice to invite you with that limitation as a condition of your acceptance.
If the bride is really your friend, then she will understand that you can't put your future at risk without a moment's pause to consider the economic realities.
Bridesmaid hindsight has left me with this insight, which I hope will become your foresight: Financing a bridesmaid honor with debt is not a good idea. It's not fiscally responsible. And it won't make your friendship any stronger. Would a friend really ask you to do that?
I encourage you to commit only to what you can. Be open, sincere, and let her decide if she wants you and your financial limitations to stand beside her on her wedding day. If not, no hard feelings. No resentment, and no ugly taffeta gowns and lavender satin wedding shoes.
But, if you do decide to blindly accept, at least be aware of the risks and appreciate the possibilities. You should be willingly to risk financial debt for a friendship that might not exist further down the road, for reasons out of your control.
I know. It sounds cynical, but it's not. It's realistic. It's my reality. Just graduating law school, I have over 4,000 dollars of bridesmaid debt on my credit cards, aside from my student loans, but my two best friends are not a part of my life anymore.
Being a bridesmaid should be an honor, not a debt. And bridesmaid debt shouldn't outlive the friendship. But sadly, it often does. So choose your weddings wisely.