Bridesmaid on a Budget

How to Be a Brilliant Bridesmaid without Breaking the Bank


By Sharon Naylor

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Bridesmaids today face an average expense of more than $3,000 when they accept the invitation to be in a bridal party. Add in the cost of travel and lodging—which is increasingly becoming necessary, with the growing popularity of destination weddings—and that $3,000 climbs to an even higher price tag. It’s hard to say no when a friend asks you to be a part of their wedding, but in this economy, most bridesmaids just don’t have the money to participate—not without ending up with a handful of maxed-out credit cards and a whole lot of resentment, anyway.

In Bridesmaid on a Budget, Sharon Naylor—the author of multiple best-selling budgeting books for brides—offers women advice on how to beat the system. Naylor gives tips on where to find the best, most affordable dresses and accessories; planning fantastic (but low-cost) showers and bachelorette parties; giving a great wedding gift without emptying your pocketbook; minimizing the extra expenses of a destination wedding; and more. For the almost 10 million women per year who become one, Bridesmaid on a Budget is an indispensable guide to being a brilliant bridesmaid—without breaking the bank.


The Bridesmaid Handbook
Your Special Wedding Toasts
The Ultimate Bridal Shower Idea Book
Love Bets: 300 Romantic Wagers to Up the Ante on your Love Life
Your Wedding, Your Way
The Bride's Diplomacy Guide
Renewing Your Wedding Vows
The Essential Guide to Wedding Etiquette
The Busy Bride's Essential Wedding Checklists
The Ultimate Wedding Registry Workbook
Your Special Wedding Vows
The Mother of the Bride Book
Mother of the Groom
The Groom's Guide
1000 Best Wedding Bargains
1000 Best Secrets for Your Perfect Wedding
How to Have a Fabulous Wedding for $10,000 or Less
The Complete Outdoor Wedding Planner
How to Plan an Elegant Wedding in 6 Months or Less
It's My Wedding Too: A Novel

For my bridesmaids,
Jill, Jen, Pam, and Madison

When you hear those words, Will you be my bridesmaid? from the newly engaged, radiant bride you love, you become pretty radiant yourself! It's so incredibly exciting to be asked into the bride's Inner Circle, to be named among the most important women in the world to her. Of all of the people she knows, she wants you to stand up with her as she takes her wedding vows and begins her new life. It's pretty fabulous to be named, and pretty fabulous to look ahead at all of the fun and glamour to come. Trying on designer gowns, planning a lavish and lovely bridal shower worthy of a photo feature in the top bridal magazines, throwing an unforgettable bachelorette bash, walking down the aisle with all eyes on you as the ceremony begins (and maybe you'll get the Hot Groomsman paired up with you!). This is where you have a lot in common with the bride: such dreamy, detailed plans to make, so many thrills in the months to come....
Well, maybe that's not your take on it. If you've been a bridesmaid before—perhaps many times before—you know that it's not always such a dreamy, effervescent time. After all, you know from experience that being a bridesmaid can sometimes mean dealing with a bride who transforms into a demanding drama queen, or Mean Girls antics from the other bridesmaids, and a list of "responsibilities" that grows every day. Right now, you might be more likely to down a margarita to calm your nerves than to celebrate the "thrills of the months to come." Especially since you know what being a bridesmaid can cost.
No matter which end of the spectrum you fall on, here's the reality : Being a bridesmaid costs money. Lots of it. Sometimes, lots and lots of it. Just take a look at this chart from the wedding industry survey site to see the national average expenses of bridesmaids across the country:
Bridesmaid Market Overview: In 2009, bridesmaids will spend an estimated $9.61 billion. Results from our recent bridesmaid study concluded there are an average 4.3 bridesmaids per wedding accounting for an estimated 9.53 million bridesmaids spending $9.61 billion. A single bridesmaid will spend $1,069-$1,269 on dress to travel.
The average number of times someone is a bridesmaid is three, which translates to well over $3,000 spent by each bridesmaid in her life.
• 10.93 percent of you have been a bridesmaid once (including now)
• 67.07 percent of you have been a bridesmaid between 2 and 5 times
• 14.90 percent of you have been a bridesmaid between 6 and 20 times
• 7.1 percent of you have been a bridesmaid more than ten times
And these are the national average figures, combining the sky-high prices of the Northeast with the more moderate prices of the South and the Midwest. If you're a southern woman, you might look at that $32 for a manicure figure and laugh in disbelief. If you're a New York City or Boston woman, $32 might get you very, very excited and Googling to see where you can get a manicure for that low price.
No matter how the individual expenses stack up per category for this wedding, you're looking at a cash outlay of about $1,000. More or less. And in this economy, with where you are in life—maybe just graduating college or still in school and eating Ramen noodles, recently married and buying your own first home, struggling to make ends meet in a frustrating and low-paying job that drives you crazy but you'd still hate to get laid off anytime soon—that's a lot of money to devote to anything.
"A thousand dollars? That's two rent payments," says one bridesmaid, whose bliss bubble has burst after a week of being named to a bridal party. "It's going to be tough to come up with that kind of cash."
"My boyfriend is already paying most of the bills in our apartment," says another bridesmaid. "He knows I've said yes to being in the bridal party, but I'm already anxious about each check I'm going to have to write for my friend's wedding."
And then there's, "There goes my ski trip!"
But of course, there's also this: "I know it's going to cost a lot, but the bride is so very important to me, and this is just a short time of stretching my dollars. So whatever she wants, I'll find a way."
Kinda want to smack this last one, don't you? That's the kind of breezy attitude tossed around by bridesmaids who aren't living from paycheck to paycheck, who have plenty of room on their credit cards, or who have parents who hand out cash like candy on Halloween. But the truth is, we all have that belief deep inside of us. We love the bride. We'd do anything for her. And we're trying to balance our money panic with a very real sense of, "It's worth it."
That's quite a seesaw, so get your Dramamine ready, because you're going to be swinging back and forth between the two—money terror and friendly benevolence—until the day you walk down the aisle ahead of her . . . and maybe for a few months afterward when the credit card bills start rolling in.
What you've got here, though, is a handbook of secrets that's going to cut down on your bridesmaid money terror. Way down. Way, way down. Because you get insider scoop on where to find fabulous bridesmaid's dresses for a fraction of the national average price. And expert advice on how to throw a stylish shower that only looks expensive, but really costs very little. And . . . get ready for it . . . the power to have a say in what you'll be spending.
That's right. Forget about that common misperception that the bride says what she wants and you whip out your wallet. You'll find out here how to get a strong say in what your expenses will be, no matter how big a Bridezilla you're dealing with. It's all in your timing and saying the right thing the right way at the right time. Pretty soon, the bride's on your side, welcoming your budget-friendly ideas, in the ultimate healthy relationship based on compromise and creativity.
You'll learn how to flex your budget muscles within the circle of bridesmaids, too, which can be a pretty scary place to be when you're the one with the money concerns and everyone else is ready to spend top dollar. Or if you have a control-freak Maid of Honor running wild with the plans and sending you emails of what you owe to cover your part of what she's gone ahead and planned. We've got that problem solved! You're going to find out how to thrive within the bridesmaid brigade, and probably be a dream come true to the rest of the budget-seeking bridesmaids, too.
You could probably count on one hand the number of bridesmaids who didn't have complaints about being pressured to spend more money than they wanted to . . . but they all walked their bridesmaid walk before this book came out. You're among the lucky ones, because there's now a money rescue book just for you. For the Brilliant Bridesmaid on a Budget.
You've got me as your guide and coach, and everything you pay half as much for is going to look like you spent three or four times the amount. I'm not sending you down the aisle in a crappy polyester dress—with giant butt bows and sequins—that they were giving away for $2 at an online auction, and I'm not going to let you plan a cheapo, cash bar, not-enoughfood bridal shower that gets the gossips'tongues wagging. I'm looking out for you. Everything's going to be beautiful.
And you can take that to the bank. Along with all the money you have left from your monthly paycheck.
Ready to get started? Let's go. . . .


No shopping for you until you read this! You might be so used to your favorite websites, thinking they're the best deals around, that you don't even know there might be a better way. Happens to all of us. Happily and thankfully, the Internet gods have come to our rescue with some great price-comparison sites, some you might know about and some might be new to you. It works like this: Let's say you're shopping for a great pair of shoes, since the sweet and considerate bride has allowed all of the bridesmaids to choose their own strappy, silver heels. You love Cole Haan heels, so you're ready to find the best price out there.
Just type the particular style and size of Cole Haan heels (all in quotation marks, so that the site delivers just what you're looking for and not 10,000 other partial matches!) into the following shopper's delight sites, and they'll show you which online source has the best prices going right now:
Wait, where's eBay? eBay is still a fabulous place to find bargains, and maybe your shoes are up for auction there right now. But professional shoppers say that eBay's new turn toward BUY IT NOW rather than auctions is cutting down on your odds of finding Ferragamos for $10. So by all means, check eBay. But use these price-comparison sites to give you the best chances of the fabulous find.
Here's a tip for your eBay finds: Seasoned eBay shoppers say that you can win great bargains by jumping into auctions that end late at night Pacific time, when many East Coasters have gone to sleep. And of course, they warn to be very careful to shop from authenticated sellers, to check for brand authenticity, to not trust photographs solely, to message the sellers to ask questions about the products, to check out feedback ratings and comments to scout out rip-off artists, and to shop securely. Timing mixed with smart shopping can get you those Cole Haans or those Ferragamos for $8.
eBay's New Competitors
If eBay's evolution means there may be fewer steals on the auction block, a flock of newcomers are quick on their heels to fill the void. Here are some auction sites that could be your next favorite bargain-hunting home:
• (Look for their sale "bonanzas," during which sellers put everything they're selling on mega-sale.)
• (Lots of BUYIT NOW, but you can make multiple purchases from different vendors with one checkout, unlike at eBay. So you can nab some savings faster.)


Before we get into each category of planning—and all the fabulous ways you can save—let me first do three cheers for coupons. And coupon codes, since so much of your shopping will be done online. If you think coupons are for grannies or for grocery shopping, then you can go ahead and pay full price while the rest of us get 15 percent, 20 percent, 25 percent or more off every purchase we make. How does 65 percent off sound? That's possible, too, with the right coupon at the right time at the right store.
Coupons are cool. And extremely smart for the budget-brilliant bridesmaid.
Throughout this book, I'll remind you to Google for coupons, or go to my favorite coupon websites where you'll find discounts at the top stores like Macy's, Bloomie's, and even at Target. But here's where I'll start your list so that you can bookmark them on your computer. Visit the following free coupon sites, and check back in twice a month to snag their new listings. Just be aware that smart shopping is always in order—don't sign on to paid coupon sites, and don't share any of your personal information anywhere. Those e-thieves are out there, quite clever in how they attempt to steal. I've used the following coupon sites to great effect, so here you go:
Tweeting for Coupons
Several Twitter-based coupon sources have popped up recently, with more popping up every day, so check out Redtagtweets .com and, two sites that search all of Twitter to locate the kinds of coupons you need.
And then there are gift cards. Check out to snag secondhand gift cards, which may have been traded in by someone who received a Victoria's Secret gift card for a birthday gift but doesn't wear lingerie or sweatpants with PINK written across the butt. These people trade their gift cards in to this site, they get some cash in return, and you get the $25 or $50 gift card for up to 40 percent off face value. The site is so big, it's attracted over 1,400 big-name retailers. Use that gift card to buy your dress from Nordstrom, or maybe give that $100 Bed Bath & Beyond gift card to the bride as her shower gift! She doesn't have to know you only paid $60 for it! Sweet savings.
And to close out our Day One session of savings-hunting, be aware that retailers go nuts with their coupons, freebie offers, and free shipping starting in October and going right through to January. So if it's that time of the year right now, even if the wedding is in late summer, it's never too early to shop for the bride and groom's gifts, or for the paper and craft supplies you'll need for shower invitations, favors, and other items. Just like the bride who's saving an impressive 50 percent to 75 percent on her wedding costs by planning her wedding in the smartest season with the biggest bargains, you're making the calendar work for you!

Part One
The Fun Begins

Before Anyone Else Knows
Here's one of the most surprising bridesmaid budget mistakes: spending too much on Day One to celebrate the bride and groom's great news.
The average excited bridesmaid—not fully aware of how much spending is to be done in the upcoming months—very sweetly and generously offers to host a celebration party. Good food, good friends, lots of wine and champagne—a mini-wedding, if you will! And when the party plans take off, it's very easy to overspend. By hundreds of dollars. "To do it right, we had to do it up," says one bridesmaid, who spent over $500 on catering and drinks for the party she hosted. "It was a blast, but I felt the debt impact immensely. It made it hard to budget for other purchases that came up quickly."
It's a wonderful idea to toast the upcoming nuptials and earn your stripes as a Dream Bridesmaid—and what bride wouldn't want a party with friends?—but there are other ways to celebrate that don't cost a fortune. Some cost nothing. Here are some alternative ways to start the bride's Big Wedding Season in style, or in sentimental ways, that still make her day:
• Dinner at your place. In place of the big group party, break out your favorite recipes and make a fabulous dinner for her and her groom. A relaxed couples' night may be the perfect start to your shared wedding planning experience, and isn't it better to spend $50 on all your menu prep and a bottle or two of wine than $500? Check out recipes at to get your favorite Food Network chefs'specialty recipes for inspiration, since making a meal means so much more to the bride because you invested time, effort, and ingenuity into the celebration.
• Get out in nature. This, too, can become your wedding planning season ritual, as you fulfill the bridesmaid role of listening to the bride, letting her talk about her ideas and feelings, wiping out wedding stress. Before the wedding plans get hectic, before her future mother-in-law starts to mess with the plans, you give the bride the gift of time alone with you out in beautiful scenery, which research shows is a natural stress-buster. And you rock as the bridesmaid who started it all. Now that's a good gift. And it costs nothing.
• Bring her to the family. If you've grown up together and she's like a second daughter to your parents, invite her to your parents' house and childhood home where you grew up and shared countless sleepovers and days by the pool. So many memories there! And a great time to reminisce and relax.
• Get a meaningful gift for her. It could be a pretty $5 journal from the bookstore, which you present to the bride for her to record what's going well with her wedding plans—a gratitude journal that will keep her balanced and will serve as a priceless keepsake. This is one of my favorite gifts for brides: a greeting card keepsake box. From now until the wedding day, she's going to receive tons of cards from her loved ones—engagement cards, bridal shower cards, wedding cards, love notes from her groom—and this collection is incredibly valuable. So with just a few dollars spent at the craft store, and maybe an hour of DIY time, you'll have a pretty box or lidded basket decorated with her favorite color of ribbon or pretty silk gardenias in which to store all of her cards. Your price: often under $10. And again, it's priceless to the bride.
And of course, one of the best ways to start the bride's wedding planning season, as well as your season in her bridal party, is to offer her your assistance in any way she needs, telling her never to be shy about asking for your advice or help. Today's considerate brides—the ones who don't get featured on sensationalistic television shows—worry a lot about burdening their bridesmaids, so they hesitate to ask for their time and assistance. But when you say, "Call me anytime," that bride is going to be wildly happy.


Okay, so here you are at the start of the wedding plans, celebrating the bride and groom's great news in a wonderful way to remember. Is this when you say, "Just so you know, I'm not made of money, so we're going to have to take it easy on the expenditures. No Jimmy Choos for me, okay?"
No, not just yet.
It's beyond essential that you communicate your need for smart budget choices as early in the process as possible, but timing is everything. You don't want the bride to go from elated to deflated (and irate) if she thinks the only reason you invited her over to your place for a home-cooked, gourmet dinner was to set ground rules with her about her wedding plans. Some brides really freak out at this premature revelation ... because that might have been what her mother-in-law just did, ruining an engagement celebration with a sourpuss "Don't get too excited, I'm not made of money" smack-down on her plans and dreams. No, you don't want to go there. Again, timing is everything.
So when do you bring up your request to keep expenses on the affordable side? The week after you celebrate her engagement news with her. You've got to get in there early, and a week later is often ideal. Because some brides—like me—start planning right away. I researched my bridesmaids' gowns before I even found my wedding gown, since I was trying to lock in on the color scheme for my wedding. I had six dresses saved to my Favorites file before my engagement ring felt normal on my hand. Early contact is best.
With timing covered, now it's time for how to say it . . . which is allimportant. In the center of most conflicts is this complaint from one warring party: "It's not what she said, it's how she said it." Some battles begin because of wrong phrasing that one person blew up into an insult.
Now hear this: You can't control how someone takes things. All you can do is lessen the odds that what you mean to convey comes with a tacked-on message that hits the bride in one of her deeply hidden raw nerves. For instance, she might have a deep inner wound that no one listens to her. She's a pleaser. She's always been the Go-To girl in her family, and her bossy older sister always overruled her. So throughout her life, she's always been wary of those who might tweak her plans, turning everyone into a version of that bossy older sister.Therapists and family counselors stand behind me on this one, with the reminder that you can't control how someone takes things. So that's why you have to be very careful here. Get it right, and you're in great shape for a season of the bride welcoming your brilliant budget ideas that still look elegant and upscale. Get it wrong, and you're the bad guy.
That's a lot of pressure, but you can do it. Here are some ways to bring up the budget issue:
In a phone call or in person, not in an email or text, you'll start by congratulating her again and telling her how excited you are:
YOU: "I have to say it again, I am SO happy that you and Mike are getting married. He's such a terrific guy, and your wedding is going to be such a fabulous day."
HER: "It's going to be perfect! We're looking at places right now . . . our wedding coordinator is taking us to a few different sites this weekend."
YOU: "Anything I can do to help?"
HER: "If you know of any great ballrooms that have an outdoor terrace for the cocktail party . . ."
YOU: "I do! I'll email you the links to a few amazing places I've been to. They're gorgeous, and they're not too expensive."
HER: "Ooo, that's great. We're trying to take it easy on our parents . . ." (laughs)
Okay, you see where we're going here. The door is open. The money issue is out there. And you opened the door by saying the places aren't too expensive.
YOU: "Yeah, money's a challenge for most people right now, so I hope you'll be open to my suggesting some ideas on how we as bridesmaids can do an amazing job for you without spending too much. I have this book with lots of recommended websites and resources to cut prices in half, and I wanted to make sure I had your okay before I suggested anything to the maid of honor or to you."
If she's quiet right now, it doesn't mean she's deleting your number from her cell phone, de-friending you from her Facebook, and drafting a "You're fired" email to you. Most people would just listen right now, taking it all in. Especially if they're sensitive to other people's input about the wedding.


On Sale
Dec 28, 2010
Page Count
256 pages
Seal Press

Sharon Naylor

About the Author

Sharon Naylor is the author of more than 35 wedding books, an iVillage Wedding expert and blogger, the host of “Here Come the Moms” on Wedding Podcast Network, the Bridal Guide budget expert with a new e-mail-a-day feature, a contributing editor to Southern Bride, a contributor to the top bridal magazines, a frequent guest on the “Martha Stewart Weddings” Sirius Satellite Radio program, a featured guest expert on such shows as Good Morning America, ABC News, Get Married, and many more. She has been featured in InStyle Weddings, Modern Bride, Brides, Bridal Guide, Hallmark, Redbook, The Wall Street Journal, Glamour, and many other top publications. She lives in Morristown, New Jersey.

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