Your best friend is getting married and they want you to stand by their side. It’s the honor of a lifetime, but if you’re not prepared, it can come with a catch: Being in a wedding can cost upwards of $1,000 to $2,000. And these days, the biggest cost is never renting a tux or buying a bridesmaid dress. It’s the bachelor or bachelorette party.
“I’ve personally started to see more [bachelor and bachelorette parties] on the extravagant side, especially during the last few years,” says Kristina Kuusik, an event and wedding planner with New England-based Mavinhouse Events. Destination parties, week-long excursions, and activity-packed weekends are all becoming more common.
Worried about overspending? Here’s what to do if the bride-to-be pops the question.
First things first: “It’s absolutely acceptable to decline an invitation to be in a bridal party,” says etiquette expert Elaine Swann. There are some protocols, though. “It’s helpful to let the bride or groom know as early as possible so they can go ahead and move forward with their plans without you,” Swann says. She also recommends being politely vague when offering your regrets. Sometimes, mentioning financial troubles makes the bride or groom feel obligated to offer to cover some of your costs, a trickier situation to get out of. Instead, say, “Congratulations. I’m so happy for you. I’m unable to participate, but I would love to support you in any other way I can,” Swann suggests.
Kuusik says it’s common for cash-strapped wedding party members to commit to the bachelor or bachelorette party, shower, or wedding, but not all three. When deciding, keep in mind that you’ll have some input on the destination and itinerary for a bachelor or bachelorette party, but that those also come with the most unexpected costs.
Offer to Help With Bachelorette Party Ideas and Planning
One of the easiest ways to make sure you know how much something is going to cost is to help plan it. If you aren’t the maid of honor, reach out to her or the Bride and mention that you would be happy to help with logistics and to help keep costs reasonable. The bride might also appreciate that someone is stepping up to help plan the bachelorette party, as she might already be leaning on the maid of honor to help with wedding planning.
In the planning stages, suggest an off-season getaway (Napa for wine tasting in November? Las Vegas in spring?) within driving distance to save on flight and hotel rooms, says Kuusik. She also recommends looking for lodging through Airbnb, which is often cheaper—and more intimate—than a hotel. One, suggest a slumber party somewhere local and a day exploring your backyard.
Get Creative with Experiences
Kuusik recommends leaning toward DIY rather than curated experiences if you’re on a budget. Scavenger hunts are easy to recreate as a group rather than paying an organizer or company to run. Plus, then you can make it more personalized to your bestie.
A spa day can quickly get expensive at a resort, but if you bring the face masks and pedicures home instead to do a low-key girls night you will get to spend more time bonding with other members of the wedding party.
Say all the guys want to do a whiskey tasting. Instead of shelling out for a fancy distillery, suggest everyone bring their favorite $20 bottle and conduct a blind taste test at home. “You save money, and you have an experience the bride or groom will remember and love,” she says.
Be Wary of the One-Time-Use Wardrobe
If the maid of honor starts to get carried away with matching sashes, party favors, T-shirts, or robes for the bridesmaids, politely suggest that the money could be better spent on an experience or a nice meal out, suggests Kuusik. Likewise, don’t feel obligated to buy new swimsuits just because everyone else is.
Spending $200 on alcohol ahead of a weekend getaway might sound pricey, but it can save the wedding party a lot of money, says Agresta. “Even if you don’t drink a lot when you go out, someone will inevitably say the bill should be split evenly,” she warns. And the best way to keep cocktail orders in check is to make sure everyone is taken care of at the pregame.
Know When to Back Out
While it’s best to decline an invitation as soon as you receive it, party planning can be an unpredictable beast. Ideas often change, gather momentum, and blow way past your original budget despite your best efforts. It can seem rude to back out on your friend, but Swann says the polite move is to do what’s best for the relationship.
“Do not go into debt to be in someone’s wedding,” she says. That will lead to resentment, which will cause more damage to the relationship in the long run. Instead, be honest. “Say, ‘I can no longer afford to move forward with being in the wedding. I apologize, but I’m going to have to step back.’ The person will be upset and may even be offended. But the earlier you make this decision, the more time you give for that part of the relationship to heal,” says Swann.
Support From Afar
Can’t attend? Kuusik recommends participating in other ways. Send champagne to the bride and groom, or, if you know the girls are going out to brunch, call the restaurant and pay for mimosas over the phone. Have the waiter bring it to their table and tell your friends the bottle’s on you.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the interview subjects are not necessarily those of Earnest.