My friend is getting married and she asked me to be in her wedding party, which I know will mean spending several thousand dollars on her wedding. I really can’t afford that, but at the same time, it’s her big day and I want to support her. How can I budget for this expense and not feel resentful of how much she’s costing me?
— Maid of Honor, not Made of Money
Dear Maid of Honor,
The first thing to recognize is that just because you’re asked to be a bridesmaid or maid of honor doesn’t mean you must do it. You need to figure out for yourself if this is something that truly excites you. If you’re already dreading it, it may be a sign that it’s just not the right choice for you, regardless of how much money you may have. Even if you can technically “afford” it, you may simply realize that you prefer to spend your cash in a different way. Letting her know that the commitment is just too much for you to handle — without even mentioning money — is fine.
If you decide that being in your friend’s bridal party is a choice you want to make, don’t forget that even though it’s her big day, you still have a say in how you spend your money — and you should never feel forced to spend more than you’re comfortable with. It’s important to consider the “opportunity cost” — and make your boundaries clear. For example, while an exotic bachelorette weekend getaway sounds fun, if it’s going to make the next few months stressful for you, you might decide it’s not worth it and that you’d rather use your time and money for a lower-key party in town.
Bring up finances from the outset and make sure you’re both on the same page with a no-pressure conversation about money. You can be straightforward: “I’m really looking forward to being part of your big day, and I want to be present in all the ways that are important to you. But I need to keep my budget in mind, so I’d like to talk about what your thoughts are on bachelorette parties and dresses now.” You may find out that she’s fine with forgoing an expensive bachelorette weekend, or doesn’t care about expensive bridesmaid dresses.
Once you have a sense of how much you’ll be expected to pay, it’s up to you to figure out how you’ll find the cash. Figure out what sacrifices you’re able and willing to make to get it done. Maybe it’s only going out one weekend night instead of two or bringing your lunch instead of buying it for the next few months. Research shows that you’ll enjoy an event more when it’s paid for up-front, so make paying in full a priority. This way you can spend the wedding day dancing with your BFFs, rather than panicking about what the event has cost you.
Elizabeth Dunn, Ph.D. is a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia who researches how time, money, and technology shape human happiness. She is also the scientific advisor for Happy Money, a financial company that combines psychology and money to help people live happier lives. Have a question for Liz? Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org and check back every Tuesday for her next column.