Wedding Season Is A Budget-Busting Nightmare

Wedding season is upon us, and along with all the pomp and circumstance comes a variety of expenses guaranteed to destroy any budget: plane tickets, hotel rooms, bridesmaids' dresses, bachelorette parties, wedding showers, and so many gifts. Attending one wedding is expensive, and it's not unusual to attend three, four, five, or more in a year.  Dina Gachman tackles money issues in her new book, Brokenomics: 50 Ways to Live the Dream on a Dime, and includes a chapter dedicated to the stressful budget conversations you have with the bride and your fellow bridesmaids. Once you sort out wedding season, pick up her book for tips on surviving a lay-off, paying your taxes, and so much more. Wedding Season: Their Dream, Your Nightmare
Courtesy of Seal Press.

Some of the bridesmaid dresses are now on sale.
If you have yet to purchase, it’s probably best to do so ASAP!
Please hurry and do not forget. And make sure you buy silver heels too if you don’t have any. Small jewelry
is best, no big bangles
please! If you haven’t told me whether you want your hair and makeup done let me know ASAP. It’s 
$150 for each. Can’t

As far as pre-wedding emails from a bride-to-be go, that one is pretty tame. I feel extremely lucky that none of my friends has morphed into a Bridezilla leading up to her big day. Scratch that. There was that one time that my friend Courtney lost her mind ten minutes before the ceremony and screamed, “My bridesmaids are all bitches!” Was she offended by the way we were holding our bouquets as we stood in a single-file line wearing unflattering $300 dresses and uncomfortable metallic heels in her honor? Sometimes people freak out in the months and weeks leading up to the happiest day of their lives. If you’re in the wedding, it’s your job to bite your tongue and help them get past the “I do” part so they can go back to being a nice, normal, sane human being. Weddings are pricey for the people throwing them, of course, unless they’re eloping and stopping for pierogies after. They’re also expensive for the legions of us who are asked to be in the wedding — the esteemed bridesmaids and groomsmen who feel honored to stand by our friends on their big day, but who also feel secretly stressed out about the tuxes and dresses and parties and gifts and plane tickets and hotels and mental abuse that lies ahead.    Once you reach a certain age, a barrage of delicate, embossed wedding invitations starts flying at you like daggers. Once this begins, get ready for a series of events that will test both your survival instincts and your threshold for pain. You love your friends and want to support them, but when it comes to weddings, that support isn’t just emotional — it’s financial. What can you do when someone you love and care about asks you to plan their bachelor or bachelorette party and fly to another country to watch them walk down the aisle? You suck it up and say yes is what you do. You break into a cold sweat and start planning. And, most important, you vow that one day, you’ll exact your revenge by making them fly first-class to Tasmania and wear Armani outfits when it’s your turn to get hitched.   
I’ve planned bachelorette parties in Los Angeles, New Orleans, Palm Springs, Austin, and Guerneville. Are you impressed yet? I'm talking burlesque shows, hotel pools that have people walking around handing out free popsicles, fun dinners, and games where you make penises out of Play-Doh. Planning a bachelorette or bachelor party on a budget does not mean you will wind up sitting in a tent with the bride or groom and the rest of the bridesmaids or groomsmen, eating yeast, drinking Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill, and wearing hand-me-down penis hats. You just have to plan ahead, and you have to be honest and communicate with everyone about the cost, which is usually easier said than done. As an example, let’s look at the most recent bachelorette party I helped plan. It was for Allie, one of my closest college friends who was and is a surgeon. I’m not telling you this so you can marvel at how successful and intelligent my friends are. I’m telling you this so you understand that half of the people paying for the bachelorette party were doctors, and the other half consisted of: a freelance writer (me!), a massage therapist, a teacher, and a therapist-therapist. We all knew each other at least a little bit, but talking about money with another human being is always awkward and embarrassing, no matter how close you are. Lauren, one of the doctors, was the maid of honor, and for whatever reason I became the intermediary between the two factions. We weren’t at war, but when money enters the picture it can sometimes feel that way, even if, under normal circumstances, you genuinely like the other people involved. We knew the date of the bachelorette party, and we knew we were going to Palm Springs, but, up until four weeks before the big weekend, that’s about all we knew. And so, panic set in. Kate, my massage-therapist friend, needed to know how much this would be costing, and so did I. Would we be staying in a luxury suite or sharing normal rooms with pull-out couches? Were we dining at Michelin-starred restaurants or eating at pizza joints? Since a doctor was in charge, we assumed the worst. At least plane fare wasn’t part of the equation. Our texts got a little hysterical. Kate: Have you heard from Lauren? Where are we staying?!!
DG: No idea — we need to know!
Kate: I know! WTF. Will you ask her?
DG: Ugh. OK. I hate this. HATE IT!   

I put on my big-girl pants and texted the maid of honor. I’d like you to note the smiley face in the following exchange, because it’s the ultimate 21st-century symbol of passive-aggressive bullshit behavior. DG: Hey Lauren! Do you know where we’re staying yet? Just trying to figure out budget :)
Lauren: In Bali!   
 “What the fuck?!” I said out loud, to my phone. More hysterical texting with Kate ensued. DG: I asked where we’re staying and she said “in Bali!” That’s not funny
Kate: WTF we need to know!
DG: I know! This is so awkward
Kate: What do we do? The rooms might end up being $500 and I won’t be able to go. Allie will kill me  Kate’s texts set my imagination ablaze. I had visions of us sipping Dom Pérignon and cackling as we gorged on Maine lobsters. We went back and forth playing the martyrs and getting creative with emoticon combinations to let out our frustration, like pairing a crying face with the stack of money that has wings attached to it, or the gun with the slot machine. The emoji of the girl getting the head massage is a perennial favorite of mine. It captures just how I’m feeling when stressed: soulless, two-dimensional, and desperately in need of a temple rub.  A few days after the Bali text, I got an email from Lauren. Turns out she actually was in Bali when she texted, so the joke was on me I guess. When I wrote back, I didn’t use any smiley faces or emojis. I explained to Lauren that some of us were on a budget and needed to start planning for the weekend, and, wouldn’t you know, she didn’t blackball me or call me a penniless nuisance. She totally understood. Turns out, doctors need to budget too, or at least they remember what it’s like. We got on the phone and had an honest and productive talk about feathered boas and hotel rooms, and just when we were settled on a budget and a plan, I blurted, “We should have a lingerie shower too!” Curse my stupid Southern roots. If you don’t know, a lingerie shower is a bachelorette party “must” where I’m from. Sometime during the weekend, usually before dinner on the first night, you sit around sipping cocktails out of penis straws and everyone gives the bride-to-be some sort of lingerie gift. It can be sexy and pretty, or it can be a “slutty cheerleader outfit” and some anal beads. It’s best to do it in a public place like a hotel lobby or a bar, for maximum mortification. The point is, it’s an extra cost and I don’t know why I suggested it. Well, I do know. When you love your friends, you want to do nice things for them for their bachelorette or bachelor party, even if it costs extra. Lauren agreed to the lingerie shower but then added, “I’m so afraid to ask people to spend money. Would you mind telling everyone so people can plan?” Fair enough. I crafted a beautiful email extolling the virtues of the lingerie shower, explaining how much fun it would be. “You can get her a teddy or you can get something funny like a Door Jam Sex Sling and really embarrass her!!” There were a few smiley faces in that email, as you can imagine. In the end, everyone was more than happy to do it, even Kate. Or at least they pretended to be happy and then sent each other pissed-off, hysterical texts behind my back. I’ll never know. Once we’d agreed on a hotel and a food budget that worked for everyone, spending the money on our friend was a pleasure instead of a burden. Just remember that when wedding season starts taking over your life, you need to plan ahead, communicate, grin and bear it, and never, ever let the bride or groom see you stress about money. You can do that in secret, using as many emoji as you need. Once you’ve agreed on the plan and you’re all together for the night or weekend, you better jump in and have fun. Or, if you really can’t afford to fly to the Bahamas for your friend’s nuptials, don’t beat yourself up or go into debt over it. If she’s a true friend, she’ll understand.
After all the stress of planning, Allie’s bachelorette party was drama-free. We swam, drank, danced, and had the lingerie shower that I’m sure made my ancestors proud. There was only one minor altercation. It happened in a crowded club on the second night, when I noticed that Allie wasn’t wearing the tiara we’d gotten her. It was the kind that said Bachelorette in glittery letters and had a little tuft of pink tulle poking out of it. I scanned the dance floor like a ninja until I saw it perched on the head of a stranger gyrating to Rihanna. I marched across the club like a courageous Viking outfitted in a floral-patterned romper to reclaim what was rightly ours. I’d become a ninja and a Viking, which can happen when you drink a few martinis. “Excuse me, but that’s my friend’s tiara,” I said to the drunk klepto. “WHAT?!” she yelled, spilling her drink a little as she straightened the tiara on her head. I screamed over the music, “You’re wearing my friend’s tiara and it’s her bachelorette party!” I then pointed at Allie. She was dancing and laughing and couldn’t care less about the stolen tiara. I was still determined to save the day and get those fake diamonds back, though, because that’s what bridesmaids are for. I braced for a showdown, even though I’d never been in a fistfight and would crawl across the dance floor on my hands and knees like a toddler if this stranger tried to hit me. She didn’t try to hit me, though. She just pulled the tiara off of her head and handed it back, dancing all the while. I accepted it with grace and integrity, as a warrior should. I returned to my clan triumphant and handed Allie her crown. No one made a big deal about it, but I felt like someone should have handed me a Bridesmaid of the Year award or a goblet of mead. The plastic tiara only cost about seven bucks, but we did pay for the thing. It wasn’t about the money though. It was Allie’s night, and that was her tiara. We were just there to make sure she got the most out of it.  *Excerpted from Brokenomics: 50 Ways to Live the Dream on a Dime (April 2015) by Dina Gachman, with permission from Seal Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group. © 2015 Opener image courtesy of NBC.

More from Work & Money

R29 Original Series