Here Comes The Debt. How Can I Stop Overspending On My Friend’s Wedding?

Welcome to Taking 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, emotionally charged questions about money. This last two years have forced many of us to reprioritize our finances, and there’s no clear road map for getting through the pandemic yet — but Taking Stock is here to help us figure it out together.
This month, we're talking to a bridesmaid about how to budget for a friend's wedding without feeling guilty.
Dear Paco,
One of my really good friends is getting married this summer and we’re going all out. As a member of her wedding party, I’m involved in pretty much every aspect of the big day — from the engagement party, to the bachelorette (including a $600 flight to Mexico, an Airbnb for three nights, and all the meals, drinks, and activities), to bridal showers and, of course, the actual wedding (not to mention my bridesmaid dress!). Plus, gifts for all of these events.
I’m super excited for my BFF and so honored to be a 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 been to as a bridesmaid and I don’t want my worries about finances to put a damper on her big day and everything she wants, so I’ve been going with the flow so far. But I’m also starting to get stressed about money as everything adds up. Is there a way to set boundaries when it comes to spending for weddings? How do I politely push back on some expenses that might be out of my budget?
Dear bridesmaid seeking boundaries,
It sounds like you have an epic summer ahead of you, but you need help striking a balance and having a direct conversation about money. I love nothing more than telling other people that they need to have awkward, uncomfortable money conversations with the people in their lives.
Let me ask you this: Are you willing to risk carrying long-term resentment towards your good friend, the bride, just to avoid having this awkward convo? A 2021 online survey of 713 Americans who recently were a part of a wedding revealed that 43% of maids of honor, 38% of best men, 35% of bridesmaids, and 30% of groomsmen went into debt for the occasion. The same survey revealed that 51% of all wedding party members felt pressured to spend money on bridal party-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 most likely not alone in worrying about these incurring wedding expenses.
When it comes to setting your financial boundaries, there are three important elements to making sure that your concerns are received. First, this conversation needs to happen as soon as possible. Bear in mind that things like bridal showers and bachelorette parties are normally split amongst the bridal party, so communicating your boundaries early on will help the team manage their expectations and adjust their budgets accordingly.
Secondly, you need to be direct and honest about what you can afford. Yes, this means figuring out how much you can budget for the festivities. Before talking to the bride, try speaking with the maid of honor who’s typically the one orchestrating the bridal events and places to stay. It’s very possible that the maid of honor is planning ahead and booking things, like the Airbnb, without considering everyone’s budgets. If you feel comfortable, a good way to bring her attention to this is by suggesting a quick survey be done to gauge what everyone’s budgets are. 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?”
Lastly, remain calm and be kind about doing this. Keep in mind that there’s a lot of stress surrounding planning a wedding and even the bride and groom are taking a financial hit, so be understanding as to why they haven’t put themselves in your shoes.
I spoke with my friend Erin Lowry, author of the Broke Millennial series, whose latest video talks about navigating these awkward convos. She shared a great formula for approaching this boundary conversation:
1. When setting a boundary, you should start with a positive, such as "I'm so excited to be part of your special day."
2. Then bring up the financial issue and add some personal context, such as “But I do need to talk to you about the anticipated costs…
because I'm attending two other weddings this year.  
because I'm trying to pay off credit card debt.
because I'm aiming to save up for a down payment. 
because I'm on a tight budget right now as a teacher."
3. Then set your boundary and try to offer a solution at the same time. For example, "I'm not financially able to travel for a bridal shower, bachelorette party, and the wedding without incurring credit card debt. Between the bridal shower and the bachelorette party, which would you prefer to have me attend?" Or "I am excited for the bachelorette party, but I really can't spend more than $300 all-in. I completely understand if this doesn't align with the vision that you have, so maybe we can do something special after you get back."
You can take this a step further and ask the bride or maid of honor where they would like you to focus financially, such as formal wear, gifts, travel, etc. Just a side note: the aforementioned survey showed that attire was the most expensive purchase for 32% of bridal party members. If your bride is not insisting on matching dresses, Rent the Runway is a great option for renting dresses for the big day, Poshmark is another great way to score discounted designer attire. 
In the aforementioned survey, bachelor/bachelorette parties were the second most costly thing at 29%. When it comes to accommodations or destination locations for these, book ahead, coordinate with other bridesmaids for things like hotel rooms and be honest if you cannot afford things. You can also offer non-financial support in the form of lending a helping hand during wedding planning. If it’s too late and you’ve already overspent and you’re trying to get out of the hole, here are some first steps you can take. Assess the damage and list out your debts. How much do you owe, what’s the interest rate, and how much are your payments? Come up with a debt payoff plan using a tool like Take the time to understand the circumstances that led you to go into debt in the first place.
If talking about money isn’t something you normally do, I encourage you to practice. Ask a friend or family member or even record yourself or just deliver that monologue in front of a mirror. A bit of practice can help get your nerves out and give you an opportunity to stumble through it and regain your footing.
It’s possible your friend may get upset, and that’s okay because we’re all entitled to our emotions. However, you’re also entitled to doing what’s best for you. Being assertive with what you can afford is looking out for the best interest of yourself, the bridal party, and subsequently your relationship with your friend. Remember, everybody can be weird about money in their own special way. If you find yourself feeling shame about talking about money or guilt for having a strong boundary, I encourage you to explore those feelings a bit more. Where do you think the root of those feelings come from? What was it like for you growing up; was talking about money normal? Were drawing boundaries supported or frowned upon? Sometimes when we get to the root of our discomfort with money and conversations around it, it may get a little easier to face.
Your top priority should be supporting the bride on her big day. Considering this, you’re not a bad, unsupportive friend if you need to hang back from things like brunches and bar crawls.  
Your favorite finance friend,

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