The recession might have made frugality cool, but there is still one area where overspending is practically required: weddings. And as Kristin Wiig made clear in the movie Bridesmaids, the bride's attendants, who are often expected to host parties, buy dresses, and travel for both the wedding and celebratory events in advance of the big day, often face the steepest price of all.
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The cost of gifts has also ballooned as weddings have become more elaborate and guests feel compelled to spend as extravagantly as their hosts. The WeddingChannel.com recently reported that it costs more than $1,600, on average, to serve as a bridesmaid.
Part of the reason for the growing pressure on wedding guests is that when couples and their families spend thousands to make a day perfect, they want to make sure everyone else is in tip-top shape as well. "Your bridesmaids are like your back-up dancers," says Rebecca Mead, author of One Perfect Day.
Adds Katherine Jellison, author of It's Our Day and a professor of history at Ohio University: "It's all part of a larger phenomenon that we have convinced ourselves of—that if we don't spend a lot of money on something, it's meaningless."
To save their budgets, wedding guests and participants may need to scale down their efforts. That may mean declining invitations from anyone other than best friends or relatives. Guests often put pressure on themselves to buy the Waterford crystal set or china pattern on the couple's registry, when the bride and groom are expecting their friends to choose the $40 set of martini glasses. Participants may also need to assign themselves new roles. "If you feel you can't afford to be in the bridal party, be upfront about it right away," suggests WeddingChannel.com senior editor Christa Vagnozzi.
The bride and groom can help ease money worries by organizing group discounts for hotel rooms and local activities and even hiring a stylist for a few hours so each member of the bridal party doesn't need to pay for her own hair and nails, says Michelle Preli, editor-in-chief of Brides.com.
Perhaps one of the biggest favors a bride can do for her attendants is be realistic. Telling guests that a destination wedding is affordable because it doubles as their annual vacation has become the new bridal fib, replacing the one about bridesmaids being able to rewear their dresses, as Katherine Heigl's character is repeatedly told in the movie 27 Dresses.
So why don't bridesmaids unite and cast off their (matching) chains? "They submit," Mead says, "because they're happy for their friend. And statistically, bridesmaids are going to be brides themselves in a few years," and they'll want the favor returned.
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For those looking to cut back, here are five ways to spend less on weddings:
1. Just say no. It may sound harsh, but sometimes it's the best solution. Ask yourself if you'll still be friends with this person in 10 years. If the answer is no, consider responding with a polite decline.
2. Stick to one celebration. The National Endowment for Financial Education points out that guests are often expected to attend not only the wedding, but also a bachelor or bachelorette party, bridal showers, and engagement parties. If you end up going to more than one, NEFE recommends sticking to cheap gag gifts for the bachelor and bachelorette parties and giving joint gifts with friends for the others.
3. Rein in presents. While registries often include $400 china sets, there's no need to buy something beyond your budget, says NEFE. Gift cards for the couple's favorite store can be just as welcome.
4. Negotiate with the happy couple. This may not be a popular idea, but if the bride wants her attendants to wear a $200 dress, plus shoes and jewelry of her choice, she may need a reality check. Similarly, meeting up for a bachelor party in Las Vegas may not be possible for the groom's friends who already have to travel to the wedding.