Be my bridesmaid, but don't go broke
February 11, 2013 8:58 AM   Subscribe

How can I tactfully let my bridesmaids know I'm happy to help them pick up the tab? I'm getting married this summer, and have asked seven close friends to be bridesmaids. They're all wonderful, good friends, and they all like each other and me and everything is harmonious, except that there is a SERIOUSLY WIDE income disparity among them (everything from full-time student working part-time at a coffee shop to a stay-at-home wife of a zillionaire). I am definitely on the higher side of the spectrum, but it is very important to me that I be mindful of my friends' bank balances.

So far I've tried to be sensitive to their varied spending power in a number of ways: They're picking out their own dresses and shoes (at whatever price point they like), I'm covering hair and makeup and pre-wedding spa treatments, and I've emphasized that their standing up there with me counts as a present and they should not get me a gift. So far it's been without incident or awkwardness, and everyone has been very gracious. HOWEVER, we haven't yet reached the showers-and-bachelorette phase of the process, and from previous experience I know that's when the major outlays tend to happen — even when you try to keep it on the cheap, you're still talking a couple hundred bucks per person, which is a meaningful amount to someone living on student loans.

I trust my friends to bow out if they feel they can't afford a certain event or situation (it's come up in the past with friends' weddings), but I also would prefer to have them be with me rather than not come because they can't afford to attend. (It's another matter if they don't want to join because they're sick of me or sick of wedding events or whatever—and I also trust them to clue me in if that's the case.) So: Is there a way I can tactfully mention to my maids that if they find themselves in a sticky situation, I am happy to help them cover their share of a [dress/party/dinner/whatever]? I don't want to offend, but I also want my friends to understand that I don't want to put them in the poorhouse.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'd just make the offer individually to each whenever a big-ticket event comes up, rather than doing a blanket "if for any reason you need help, let me know". Or if you're sure someone can't pay, just say you're paying...all my bridesmaids were poorer than me and we ended up just reserving them their hotel on the night before the wedding and giving them the info, making it a done deal. And I paid for my whole bachelorette party, because I knew nobody else there could spare the coin.

Don't be surprised if some of them opt not to come to things rather than having you pay. Everyone knows weddings are expensive to put on and these are your best friends, who won't want to be a burden.

Finally. You don't need to have a shower or bachelorette party at all, and neither of them need to cost each participant hundreds of dollars. If you're worried about making the less well-funded among your friends feel like they can participate, why not insist that you keep things at a price point where they can participate? People somehow manage to get married anyway on very low incomes.
posted by town of cats at 9:06 AM on February 11, 2013 [9 favorites]

You sound like a very nice bride. I'd send out an email to all of your maids:


I am beyond thrilled that you'll be standing up with me on my and Dino's special day. I know weddings can get out of hand and I'm sure that mine is no exception. You are my closest friends and I want you to enjoy this, rather than having it be a burden. To that end I wanted to let you know that a Bridesmaid Fund has been set aside to help you defray the costs of some of the wedding festivities.

So if you want to attend some of the parties, but are finding the costs prohibitive, let me know and we can dip into the fund so that you can be a part of the fun!

As for the showers, please know that I'd love for you to attend, but I have NO expectation for you to contribute to the potlach. Trust me, I registered for all that stuff only to prevent my more gift-challenged friends and family from giving me a statue of a lady with a clock in her stomach. Honestly, Dino and I have planty of household stuff.

I am truly sincere when I say the best gift I am receiving is the gift of your presence during this exciting time in my life.

As always, since we're such good friends, I will trust you to let me know that if you have to sit through one more wedding party, planning lunch, shower or dress selection, that your head will explode. I get (BOY do I get it). But, if the only thing keeping you from attending an event is dough, please know that we've got it covered.

Thank you again, you guys are the BEST!


The Bride.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:08 AM on February 11, 2013 [57 favorites]

I like the bridesmaid fund idea since dipping into that sounds less like asking for a handout.

I also wonder whether you could recruit one of your wealthier bridesmaids to be your ally in this - keep an eye out for when someone seems stressed, look for opportunities to 'buy this drink' or subtly subsidize a contribution, cover a cab ride, etc, and then let you know so you can pay her back. These things go easier among people at similar income levels. I think you do need someone who will be there 'in the action.'
posted by Salamandrous at 9:17 AM on February 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

Do you have an assigned "head" bridesmaid (maid/matron of honour, best lady, whatever her title is)?

It should be this head bridesmaid's responsibility to coordinate the shower/bachelorette part of things so it should so be her responsibility to make sure that anyone who is feeling a financial crunch gets taken care of appropriately.

If you don't want to make the money thing a point of discussion with the entire bridal party, I'd send most of the info in Ruthless Bunny's script to your head bridesmaid and make sure that she knows who in the wedding party she should follow up with.

You sound like you are doing all the right stuff to be considerate bride (letting them pick their clothes, paying for hair/makeup etc.) any kind of bridesmaids fund stuff would be an awesome addition.

Congrats and good luck!
posted by sparklemotion at 9:29 AM on February 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm the maid of honor in a wedding right now with the same situation. Some people have plenty of money, and others are really struggling. For the shower we decided to keep it modest (as our bride requested) and then have people volunteer to contribute what they could in the form of food, activities, or decorations.

Our bachelorette party will have a "scholarship fund". People will contribute what they can and the the fund will quietly cover the rest. The fund is really made of credit cards belonging to the people in the party with means, applied at events on a rotating basis. This way no one is counting money, and no one is extended beyond what they can pay. It's possible that someone will take advantage, but no one will be covering a check that they can't afford.

So, talk to your maid of honor. She'll be planning a lot of events and have quite a bit of control over what things costs and how much of it will be passed on.

Have fun!
posted by Alison at 9:43 AM on February 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

I suggest you watch the movie Bridesmaids - this issue was a big part of the plot.
Yes, its a comedy, but it's funny because so much is true.

I really don't think "a fund" is a good idea. I would be too embarrassed to ask for help, regardless of where it came from. Either pay for things yourself for ALL the bridesmaids or let each pay their own way - you can do both depending on what it is - but don't do anything "special" for one or the other that is public knowledge. The whole idea of sending out a blanket communique could cause more trouble than it is worth trying to avoid. If individual situations arise, deal with them quietly so as not to embarrass anyone.
posted by NoraCharles at 10:00 AM on February 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

When I was a bridesmaid my kind and beautiful bride simply said she was paying for the dress, and ordered it. I'm not sure I could have asked for help from the fund.
posted by walla at 10:00 AM on February 11, 2013

As a bride that had an income disparity among bridesmaids, let me offer in my advice.

You want your bridesmaid to be truthful to you, but let me warn you that pride will often get in the way of many communications between you and them. I had one bridesmaid say that she could afford all the bridesmaid costs and could pay for her flight to come see me at the wedding, but in the end, she couldn't afford it and balked. I don't blame her, and I don't think you should blame your bridesmaids if something similar were to happen, because being a bridesmaid is like a dream come true, and dreams and wishes tend to mask reality a little bit. Luckily, with my one bridesmaid that balked, I was able to figure out a plan and pay for her to come here, but it was still a last minute thing that I wish I didn't have to worry about.

My advice is to not wholly rely on your bridesmaids being truthful to you. Pride is often an issue, and you need to be sensitive to that. Likewise, some bridesmaids may not want to go on the bachelorette party for financial reasons, and they may give you an super lame excuse (unrelated to money) so they don't have to go. Being the awesome bride that you are, you just need to accept it and move on. It's not worth the drama and stress that it will ultimately cause you if you decide to plead and offer them money so they can come to these events. You have feelings, but they have feelings too, and you need to be sensitive to that.
posted by nikkorizz at 10:09 AM on February 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

You sound like a lovely bride and awesome friend.

I disagree with Ruthless Bunny's approach, although I think the email is beautifully worded, because sending everyone that kind of email could lead to embarrassment. It becomes common knowledge that at least one person might have trouble paying for stuff, when perhaps the person(s) would rather that not be something addressed so publicly.

A group email also makes it awkward for an individual person to come forward, because who wants to be the first person to ask for help?

Ideally, then, I don't think you want the onus of having to come forward put on the women who are financially strapped. They may already be feeling awkward, no need to add to that awkwardness. It never hurts to be tactful, right?

So I'd chat with each woman individually, and offer a lifeline for her to grab for specific expenses. For instance: "Okay, we have shoes and dress and makeup, etc. covered. Now, X is throwing a bachelorette party for me, and it looks like that's going to be at this spa that costs Y dollars--I feel weird about that. It seems like a lot; no way I could afford that when I was a student. Would you maybe let me pitch in, so it isn't a thing?"

If you have a maid of honor let her know that, in the event the women want to throw you a shower or bachelorette party, you'd like to keep the budget at a reasonable level, no more than X dollars for each of the other ladies. That's a perfectly reasonable request.

If the MOH is financially challenged herself, you could also maybe ask some of the other bridesmaids individually, "Hey, could you take care of X for me? I'd really appreciate it," so that your MOH isn't paying for too much, without making it obvious and potentially embarrassing her.
posted by misha at 10:25 AM on February 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

Congratulations! Not only with your happy occasion, but also with your good sense.
When I was married, I deliberately had the whole thing be kind of down-home/relaxed in style, so no one felt outside or outdone. At the time, I was doing well, while several of my friends were still students. Also, my grandparents really wanted to spend big money, but I got that channeled into stuff people didn't think of as expensive - we were on a boatride, and we had a pre-wedding dinner at a fancy place for the family and close friends, since many came from afar. The actual reception was at an inexpensive, somewhat kitschy place, but granpa brought real champagne.
As for the shower and bachelorette parties, I just said no, loudly and unmistakably. I did go out with my friends, but treated it exactly like any other night out with the girls.
posted by mumimor at 10:45 AM on February 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

I was a groomsman last summer (different price realities I understand, but still). Groomsmen were flying in from up to 3000 km away for the wedding. When the bachelor party was held, it was in his hometown about 300km from the wedding, a week before the wedding*. So I think only half the groomsmen could make it - ahead of time he told us that he wouldn't be offended, the wedding was the important point and all that.

Similarly, in a group email update he sent us, he said this:

don't have a lot of previous wedding experience prior to this so the cost entailed for you guys is more than i expected. drop me a line if you want to talk about it and we will work something out, my first priority is getting all kinds of good people in one place.

Which I thought worked pretty well. And randomly when I was talking to him around the same time he apologized for the outlay.

A lot of it depends on your bridesmaids. He knew our individual situations and may have reached out more directly to some (I don't know), and he knew that we would talk to him if we had troubles. You'll know if you need to reach out to anyone individually, and just keep emphasizing that you care more about their presence than them spending money, and can help them if needed.

From what I understand, his wife did two bachelorette parties - one in their current place of residence a few months before, and one a day or two before in the wedding-town. That seems to have worked.
posted by Lemurrhea at 10:48 AM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree with the people who say pride is going to get in the way of anyone asking for a financial bail-out, no matter how nicely and sincerely you offer it.

Honestly, I would a) cover some blanket costs myself, for all bridesmaids, and present it as a fait accompli (eg dress or the bachelorette accommodation), and/or b) quietly ask the MOH to plan a very low-key (ie inexpensive) bachelorette, and/or c) ask that there be no shower.

I understand that you still want to enjoy the traditional pre-wedding festivities, but in your position I'd want to prioritize making my friends comfortable.
posted by Salamander at 10:49 AM on February 11, 2013 [7 favorites]

An issue I can see arising with a "bridesmaid fund" is that it put the responsibility on the bridesmaid to ask for help, and could cause conflict between friends. Bridesmaid A has to worry about asking for help while comparing her financial situation to that of her friends, Bridesmaid B grumbles about Bridesmaid A not being able to afford the her share of the shower when Bridesmaid A has bought herself X and Y this year.

Showers and bachelorette parties are optional. You could ask the MOH to plan very low-key, low-cost events (potluck shower in someone's backyard, etc.). It might be tacky to plan and pay for your own shower--it's a gift-giving occasion after all--but perhaps that's something you could do. It seems like most of the showers I've been to are thrown by the bride's family, you could talk to your family about keeping things low-key, or you helping to off-set costs by paying for things yourself without making your friends feel uncomfortable.
posted by inertia at 11:08 AM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree that Ruthless Bunny's letter is worded kindly and tactfully. However, on thinking about this a bit more, I think whether you send a letter and establish a bridesmaid fund or not will depend on what your priority is here. I agree with others (from past experience of my own) that there is no easy way to ask for financial help, even if a blanket offer has been made, especially when others clearly don't need that help. This is extra-true considering the often-existentially-rough circumstances that weddings can present. Expect that at least one of your friends will be embarrassed to ask for financial assistance with what pretty much amounts to a gift-giving gesture toward you. Also expect that at least one person might be too embarrassed to admit said embarrassment.

So, like I said, I think how you handle this will depend on what your priority is, and you have a couple of options. Is your priority to have all of your bridesmaids participate in the events you've chosen regardless of their financial situation, while minimizing their discomfort or embarrassment when possible? (your comfort first)

Or is your priority to share your prewedding and wedding events with all of your bridesmaids in a way that will be comfortable and non-embarrassing for everyone? (their comfort first)

Both sides have a good argument. It's your wedding and you have a right to have a special thing. But is it worth making these people who are special to you uncomfortable along the way? I'm reminded of the aforementioned movie Bridesmaids, where the bride rode up front with her well-to-do friend in first class while lamenting that the broke friend in coach would not allow her upgrade to be subsidized ("out of pride"). It was hard to watch, and made you really embarrassed for the broke friend. It would have been much more graceful, I think, if the bride had paid for everyone's upgrade as a rule, or everyone had ridden coach together. I figure you can do one of three things:

- Let each bridesmaid pay according to her ability for events that you have chosen, then expect them to ask for "scholarships" to your event as needed
- Pay everyone's way to your events so no one is placed in the awkward social position of being either unable to participate or forced to ask for a handout
- Plan events that everyone can afford to participate in, regardless of their means. This means doing something...well, affordable.

I was raised by polite folks, and so as a rule I think it's the nice thing to do to place the comfort of guests (especially beloved guests) to your special event above pretty much all else. So when I faced the same situation you did at my wedding, I had a sleepover and spa party in a swank hotel suite that my family and I booked for my bridesmaids and close lady friends. Everyone had a blast, no one had a to buy a thing, and the expensive and non-expensive bottles of champagne the ladies brought were noted together with zero awkwardness.

You sound like a very sweet, considerate, and caring bride, and you should feel good about thinking this through with your friends' feelings in mind. I know you will handle this in a kind way! Best wishes to you on this exciting and happy occasion.
posted by anonnymoose at 11:39 AM on February 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

Sorry, I missed this typo--"noted together" should be "enjoyed together".
posted by anonnymoose at 11:44 AM on February 11, 2013

I don't know if you're planning this or not, but don't let your rich friends organise bachelorette etc party. When you have been rich for a while, it's very easy to either completely forget how much something costs to poor people, and/or think you've remember but have actually forgotten.

If they have the means in terms of time or whatever, ask one of the poor people to make bookings if you're not doing it yourself. Additionally, be super clear, like, "I don't want any more than $50/$30/$whateversy-a-head, so something that fits in that budget." Also, try to pick things where you can "scale up". E.g you can't get a salad when everyone else is having nine course degustation; try to have events where you can spend more or less money at them without it being a big deal.

Broke friends will be much more comfortable with you self-selecting something they can afford, than asking for a hand out, promise. Best of luck, you sound like a very good friend.
posted by smoke at 1:53 PM on February 11, 2013 [5 favorites]

I think it's tough and you should definitely pay for as much of everything as possible. Tell your bridesmaids not to bring presents to showers etc. Also how would the fund work? Would you be asking the other bridesmaids to contribute? That could definitely get awkward fast, with some of them subsidizing others. Avoid. When my friend had a very expensive wedding her family paid for the bridesmaids dresses and I would assume all dinners etc. When I was a bridesmaid, we bought shoes at payless etc but that was many years ago. I know you are trying to be sensitive and that's great. But single broke friends don't love showers etc on a good day so please don't expect them to fund them- have your mother throw it instead. Can your sister or something host a bachelorette party? I guess I am not a good wedding guest but really asking someone else to spend more than 100$ total on your experience is a bit much (IMO).
posted by bquarters at 1:59 PM on February 11, 2013

I would recommend that your bachelorette party be a low key evening with your girlfriends. Let's get real, who the hell wants to running around town with some dumb-assed list of things you need to "accomplish" before you get married?

I love the idea of a hotel room with DVD's, wine and maybe nail polish. Or perhaps your Zillionaire girlfriend can host at her palacial estate.

Trust me, as your wedding approaches, you don't want to be fooling around with craziness.

My bachelorette was me, my sister and my girlfriends going to The Cheesecake Factory for cocktails and dinner. It was perfect.

If you're concerned about folks being able to afford different things, the best way to control it is to keep the things low key.

But I'm the person who brought her wedding in for under $5,000 (including my dress and a suit for Husbunny)
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:26 PM on February 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

This is where you have a MOH who possesses certain qualities (a high earner who was once a poor student and is full of grace and tact) or a second-in-command with those same qualities and a frank discussion.

You tell your MOH you want to have a day/night at restaurant/stripclub/spa which is $40 per head. This is $10-20 more per head than you would expect the students to spend. You are kicking in $10-20 per person behind-the-scenes. Your MOH says to everyone "I have pre-booked this venue for a group rate, please everyone get your $20-30 to me in advance or on the day so I can settle up the bill at the end, drinks are on you." Towards the end of the day/night either you or your high-earning MOH says "This is a great night--last round is on me, so go crazy!" You have had your perfect night, funded it behind the scenes, the students know what they're on the hook for going in and get a bonus drink at the end of the night. A few years from now when they are the high-earners you will reveal your secret and they will get the joy of playing Santa Claus when it's their turn.
posted by K.P. at 2:56 PM on February 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Skip the fund, and the debauched trip to Vegas. Find something you can do locally. Go out dancing one night or ride a roller coaster or take a midnight cocktail party to a gorgeous overlook (I have no idea where you live, maybe you can go ride the Cyclone at Coney Island) or go with KP's suggestion.

Shower-wise: tea or brunch at someone's house means there's room to help cook, to organize games, to buy a case of prosecco, but it all feels a lot more equal. You can even ask for something specific -- a recipe, say -- that will give everyone a way to bring a thing without buying stuff.
posted by amandabee at 3:14 PM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I honestly don't think I would volunteer to an already stressed bride that I'm unable to afford stuff. I would probably make up an excuse to skip things. If I were you, the bride, I would try to cover the costs. If that's unreasonable, and it may be, are there more well-off MOH/bridesmaids that might cover with you? Then to invite events you could say "it's all taken care of, all you need to bring is yourself--and maybe some pocket money for drinks!" So you buy dinner, they get their own drinks at a bar afterward, or you just have a tab open at the bar, or whatever.

In my group of friends we will often among a few of us split big bills, not making a big deal of it, to avoid another folks (grad student and younger friends) feeling burdened. A few years ago I was one of the ones not picking up the bills, and felt okay about it because it was done easily and simply without fuss or attention to anyone.

There could also be a thoughtful way to be fairy godmother-ish around the clothing and shoes as well. (If you know they love a certain brand and know their size, see if you can pick up a pair of shoes in your wedding color and say "these were on mega sale, thought you might want them for the wedding? No biggie if not, I can return them.." or something...?) I would brainstorm with the more well-off ladies in your bridal party. Make it nice and thoughtful, and the moment it feels like charity when you're planning, take a step back :)

You are awesome and I wish all brides were as understanding and wonderful about this stuff!
posted by manicure12 at 6:08 PM on February 11, 2013

I like the email, but I do think that maybe speaking to friends individually is the way to go. Agreeing with those who mentioned people are embarrassed to accept help, and it's a touchy topic, but I don't think it's an insurmountable one.

The friends who I've had successful conversations like this with (giving AND receiving) were instances where you emphasize that it's something *you* want to do and it makes you feel good to do it. You want them at every event and you want to ensure they can enjoy it just as much as you without putting any undue financial strain on their lives. I'd also emphasize that you really hope they will take you up on your offer, especially if the alternative means not coming, and that they trust you enough to let you do this and not worry about it making anything weird between you. Remind them this is a huge moment in your life and it won't be the same if they aren't there.

Basically just speak from the heart and hopefully your friends can learn the art of gracefully accepting a gift.

posted by amycup at 8:34 PM on February 11, 2013

As somebody who had a mini-freakout the other day about how I'm going to afford being a bridesmaid in a friend's wedding, let me just say Thank You for being so considerate!

Just want to nth that offering the fund is very sweet but will make many feel embarrassed. I don't think I could take a bride up on that offer, unless the fund was paying for everyone.

I agree that for the shower and bachelorette party, you need to get your MOH on board with keeping costs low for everyone. Additionally, it would be really great if you work something out with her that people who don't participate in an event won't be expected to pony up money. I live on the other side of the continent from where the shower/bachelorette party will likely be taking place, and there's no way I can afford to fly to those as well as the wedding. But I'm concerned that the bridesmaids who will be participating will expect me to kick in money (and I know that at least some of them have pretty expensive tastes). I just don't know if I can afford that. It would be so awesome if the bride laid down a law saying that people not participating do not owe, and that she would cover any deficit. So, maybe suggest that to your MOH? I would suggest also trying to keep up on what's going on between the bridesmaids, and making sure that no one is feeling pressured to pay more than they can afford.
posted by imalaowai at 10:21 PM on February 11, 2013

I was in a wedding where the bride let us all know early on that she had a bridesmaid fund and was covering dresses and hotels across the board. It was perfect and thoughtful. No fuss, no issues.

My sister and I each had bridesmaids and friends who couldn't afford everything wedding-related; we just paid for certain things for them. Again, no fuss no issues. We also made lots of wedding items optional (hair, makeup, choose your own dress from a handle of pre-selected options ranging from $50-200). My husband had a debauchfest in Vegas for his bachelor party and just paid for a few of his friends.

I disagree that you should do a low key bachelorette party if you and at least some of your friends would like a night on the town. As long as you tactfully subsidize your other friends, it should be fine. My bachelorette parties was one of the highlights or my life. We played no games but roughly 20 of my friends were assembled for a silly day of wine tasting at $35 pp - we all got deliciously tipsy, enjoyed a drunken dinner at like 6 PM and were in bed by about 8 PM.
posted by semacd at 7:04 AM on February 12, 2013

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