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Advice | Too broke to join a wedding party? You can say no.

I’ve long advocated for all the friends and family members whose savings are strained when they’re invited to participate in an extravagant wedding.

They don’t have the heart to refuse a request that will entail some outlandish spending. So I’ll say what they often can’t: Stop being selfish.

Many engaged couples fail to take into account how much they’re asking people to pay for the privilege of joining the wedding party. The affair can entail lavish bachelorette and bachelor parties spanning a weekend and other pre-wedding and postnuptial festivities that you are expected to help fund.

If there’s any pushback, couples protest that it’s their “big day.”

Your wedding isn’t a Burger King commercial where you “have it your way” because you rule with no financial consideration for the people you profess to care about.

Here’s one comment from a bridesmaid I interviewed a few years ago: “I don’t think couples do the math on how much the bridal party is spending, and I felt [the] couple let the vision of the wedding they both grew up wanting cloud some wisdom on how much this vision was costing everyone involved, including themselves.”


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If you’ve been asked to be a bridesmaid or groomsman, here are my suggestions for what to do before and after you accept the invitation.

Don’t treat the invitation like it’s a subpoena

It’s important to show up for special events. It’s what forges good relationships. So it’s understandable that you may feel you can’t say no when someone you love asks you to be part of the wedding celebration.

The pressure can be intense.

It seems wedding party proposals are a thing. It is hard to decline the invitation when you’ve received a personalized bridesmaid box filled with various treats and products. One bridesmaid’s TikTok video went viral after she showed off a proposal box with gifts totaling more than $400.

Or, there’s the guilt factor. It’s either said or implied by the couple or their emissaries, whether parents, siblings or other wedding party participants: “You can’t put a price on your presence.”

You actually can — because money matters.

You have to live out your financial truth, which means realizing when a request is outside your budget. For instance, when the invite comes and the couple says it’s a destination wedding and you can’t afford the airfare and hotel expenses.

If you know being part of the wedding party will be a financial burden, it’s okay to decline the invitation.

A mature couple will accept your decision with grace.

Don’t say yes to the dress until you know the cost

It’s not just about the required attire.

Frequently, bridesmaids and the matron or maid of honor are expected to pay not only for the dress but also matching shoes and styling, including hair and makeup. You might be responsible for expensive dress alterations.

By the way, groomsmen, don’t assume you’re on the hook just for a tuxedo.

A friend asked for advice after being asked to be groomsman in his brother’s destination wedding in Las Vegas. Between the airfare, a shared hotel room, food, his expected contribution for the bachelor party and rehearsal dinner, a golf outing, tux and car rental, he was looking at more than $1,200. He didn’t have the money.

Tell the truth, I told him.

He attended the wedding as a guest. His brother was okay with the decision.

Get all the details about what you are expected to do and pay before you commit. It’s better to know what you’re getting into than regretting later that you’ve spent more than you can afford — or having to back out because the cost proved to be too much.

Take a realistic look at your financial situation.

More than a quarter of Americans have no emergency savings, and nearly 3 in 5 say what they have isn’t enough, according to a new Bankrate survey.

A growing number of Americans are maxed out on credit cards, and delinquency has been steadily rising since the fourth quarter of 2021, according to a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

If joining the wedding party means racking up credit card debt that will take you months, if not years, to pay off, factor that into your decision.

I wouldn’t do it, but if you decide to proceed anyway, at least make sure you have a plan to pay down the debt.

You don’t have to attend everything

Weddings have gone from one big day to multiday functions, often requiring participants to pay a share of the expenses.

People fear a groom or Bridezilla breakdown if they elect to skip any of the activities.

If the events — out-of-town bachelorette or bachelor party, bridal tea, spa day, post-wedding brunch — are out of your budget, say so. You have a choice.

Be clear and upfront about what activities you can afford to attend. It’s your time and your money.

Your presence is your present

Okay, you’ve resigned yourself to ponying up the money it takes to participate in the wedding party. Then you wonder: “Do I also need to give a wedding present?”

Did you get a gift for the engagement party? What about the bridal shower, bachelorette, and/or bachelor party?

If you’re traveling out of town or attending a destination wedding, you’ll have to spend money on transportation, a hotel room and meals, right?

Will you have to take time off work, cutting into your available vacation time?

While etiquette may dictate gifts from wedding guests, wedding party attendants should be exempt from the expectation of giving a present.

If you feel you can’t go empty-handed, a nice card with a heartfelt note should be plenty.

It is an honor to be asked to be part of the wedding party. But the couple should also recognize your presence is a gift.

If you want more personal finance advice that’s timeless, order your copy of Michelle Singletary’s Money Milestones.

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