welcome to Take stock, a space where we can take a deep breath and try to figure out what the COVID-19 economy really means for our finances. Every month, personal finance expert Paco de Leon will answer your most difficult and emotionally charged questions about money. The past two years have forced many of us to re-prioritize our financial priorities, and there’s no clear roadmap yet to get through the pandemic — but Taking Stock is here to help us figure it out together.
This month, we talk to a bridesmaid about how to budget for a friend’s wedding without feeling guilty.
One of my very good friends is to marry this summer and we’re all going outside. As a member of her WeddingI’m involved in just about every aspect of the big day – from the engagement party to the bachelorette party (including a $600 flight to Mexico, an Airbnb for three nights, and all meals, drinks and activities), to the bridal showers and, of course, the actual wedding (not to mention my bridesmaid dress!). In addition, gifts for all these events.
I’m super excited for my best friend and so honored to be part of the wedding, but I’m not super excited for the costs that come with everything. This is one of the first weddings I’ve attended as a bridesmaid and I don’t want my financial worries to put a damper on her big day and whatever she wants, so I’ve been going with the flow so far. But I’m also starting to get stressed out about money because it all adds up. Is there a way to set spending limits for weddings? How can I politely push back some expenses that might be out of my budget?
Dear bridesmaid in search of limits,
It sounds like you have an epic summer ahead of you, but you need help finding balance and having a straightforward conversation about money. I love nothing more than telling others that they need to have awkward and uncomfortable money conversations with the people in their lives.
Let me ask you this: are you willing to risk harboring long-term resentment towards your good friend, the bride, just to avoid having that awkward convo? A 2021 online survey of 713 Americans who recently attended a wedding found that 43% of bridesmaids, 38% of best men, 35% of bridesmaids and 30% of groomsmen are in debt for the occasion. The same survey found that 51% of all wedding party members felt obligated to spend money on wedding-related expenses. So first and foremost, think of this as a relationship-maintaining conversation. Understand that you have every right to want to protect your financial health, and rest assured that you’re probably not the only one worrying about those wedding expenses.
When it comes to setting your financial limits, there are three important elements to ensuring your concerns are heard. First, this conversation needs to happen as soon as possible. Keep in mind that things like bridal showers and bachelorette parties are normally split between nuptials, so communicating your limits early on will help the team manage their expectations and adjust their budgets accordingly.
Second, you need to be direct and honest about what you can afford. Yes, that means figuring out how much you can budget for the festivities. Before talking to the bride, try to speak with the bridesmaid who is usually the one who orchestrates the nuptial events and places to stay. It’s very possible for the bridesmaid to plan ahead and book things, like the Airbnb, without considering everyone’s budgets. If you feel comfortable, a good way to draw their attention to this point is to suggest that they do a quick survey to assess everyone’s budget. For example, the survey could ask questions like, “What would you be most comfortable spending on accommodations?” or “What are you most looking forward to doing?”
Finally, stay calm and be nice about it. Keep in mind that there’s a lot of stress around planning a wedding and even the bride and groom take a financial hit, so understand why they haven’t put themselves in your shoes.
I spoke with my friend Erin Lowry, author of Millennial Broke series, whose latest video is all about navigating those clunky convos. She shared a great formula for approaching this boundary conversation:
1. When setting a boundary, start with a positive, such as “I’m so excited to be part of your special day.”
2. Then address the financial question and add personal context, such as “But I need to talk to you about the expected costs…
because I’m attending two more weddings this year.
because I’m trying to pay off a credit card debt.
because I’m aiming to save for a down payment.
because I’m on a tight budget right now as a teacher.
3. Then set your limits and try to come up with a solution at the same time. For example, “I am not financially able to travel for a bridal shower, bachelorette party, and wedding without incurring credit card debt. Between the bridal shower and the bachelorette party, which would you rather I attend? or “I’m excited for the bachelorette party, but I really can’t spend more than $300 all in. I completely understand if this doesn’t fit the vision you have, so maybe be that we can do something special after you return.
You can take it a step further and ask the bride or bridesmaid where she would like you to focus financially, such as formal wear, gifts, travel, etc. purchase for 32% of the members of the wedding procession. If your bride doesn’t insist on matching dresses, Rent the Runway is a great option for renting dresses for the big day, Poshmark is another great way to get designer clothes at a discount.
In the aforementioned survey, bachelor/bachelorette parties were the second most expensive thing at 29%. As for accommodations or destination locations for these, book ahead, coordinate with other bridesmaids for things like hotel rooms, and be honest if you can’t. not afford it. You can also offer non-financial support in the form of helping out with wedding planning. If it’s too late and you’ve already spent too much and you’re trying to get out of the hole, here are some first steps you can take. Assess the damage and list your debts. How much do you owe, what is the interest rate and how much are your payments? Make a debt repayment plan using a tool like Unbury.me. Take the time to understand the circumstances that led you into debt.
If talking about money isn’t something you normally do, I encourage you to practice. Ask a friend or family member, record yourself, or just deliver that monologue in front of a mirror. A little practice can help you relax and give you the opportunity to stumble and regain your footing.
Your friend may get angry, and that’s okay because we’re all entitled to our emotions. However, you also have the right to do what is best for you. Being assertive with what you can afford is looking out for your best interest, that of the wedding party, and ultimately your relationship with your friend. Remember that everyone can be weird about money in their own way. If you feel ashamed of talking about money or guilt about having a strong boundary, I encourage you to explore those feelings a little more. Where do you think the root of these feelings comes from? How was it for you growing up? was he talking about normal money? Were drawing boundaries supported or frowned upon? Sometimes when we get to the root of our discomfort with money and the conversations surrounding it, it can get a little easier to deal with.
Your top priority should be supporting the bride on her big day. Given that, you’re not a bad, unsupportive friend if you need to get away from things like brunches and pub crawls.
Your favorite financial friend,
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