Calling my best friend to say I couldn’t be a bridesmaid in her wedding was one of the hardest calls I’ve ever made. I knew there was a small chance she’d never talk to me again, but the wedding costs of being a bridesmaid were adding up faster than I could sign the checks. I should have calculated the numbers before saying I could do it, but I got so wrapped up in the moment — you’d think I was getting married — I couldn’t say no.

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She was my seventh close friend to get married within the past few years and I was just out of college. After sinking a ton of money into three of those weddings, I had to start being a little smarter with my finances. With that said, I was sure I could afford to be in my friend’s wedding… until I got a job offer overseas.

Now, instead of flying from New York to Missouri, I’d have to fly from Taipei to Missouri. My flight out jumped from $300 to $1,400 and while I wasn’t flat broke, I had to bow out. Here are some things to consider if you’re on the fence of being a bridesmaid:

Set your budget boundaries

I now know that I have a limit to how much I am willing to spend on a friend’s wedding. For me, it’s half a month’s pay. At the time of this wedding I was making $26,250 a year after taxes (the glamorous life of a writer). So if I had my handy-dandy wedding equation at the time, I would’ve known I wasn’t willing to pay much more than:

$26,250 ÷ 12 = $2,187.5

$2,187 ÷ 2 = $1,093.75

I think that’s a very reasonable, if not heinous, amount to spend on a wedding that isn’t yours.

Unexpected costs

There are a lot of unexpected costs related to a wedding and these often trickle down to the bridesmaids as well. Before I found out I was going to move out of the country, here were some unexpected costs that popped up with my friends wedding (and other weddings before it):

Chipping in for parties: In previous weddings I wasn’t expected to pay for events that I didn’t attend, but for this one the Maid of Honor wanted everyone chipping in regardless of attendance. Here are some costs from her wedding:

  • Bachelorette: $100 per person
  • Bridal shower: $60 per person
  • Gifts: $120 (three parties plus wedding at $30 per party)

Tailoring: I always forgot to add tailoring for the bridesmaid dresses. Because these dresses tend to have high-quality material, the cost to get them hemmed or taken in will usually be a little higher. I’ve paid around $30 to $40 for tailoring.

Accessories: Some brides give their bridesmaids necklaces and other accessories as gifts to wear on the wedding day. One thing to consider is whether or not you’ll be wearing matching shoes. I’ve had to buy matching shoes for two weddings and the cost was between $60 to $90.

Cab fare: So you bought your flight out, but have you considered getting around? Since I was living in New York at the time of all these weddings, I would usually grab a cab to the airport and back home after the wedding. I tried to coordinate with other out-of-town bridesmaids to carpool to the wedding and hotels so my cost was usually kept to around $100 per wedding.

Hair and makeup: My makeup routine is usually just applying eyeliner to whatever rubbed off during my sleep and I once found a dreadlock in the back of my head. Needless to say, my friends usually wanted to me to have my makeup and nails done before the wedding. A lot of brides also cover this cost, but not always. You can typically opt out to have your hair and makeup done, but it does suck to sit on the sidelines when your best girlfriends are getting pampered. You should set aside $30 to $75 for hair and make up.

Total cost of unexpected additions: $585, and this doesn’t include airfare, hotel and cost of the bridesmaid dress.

Alleviate some of the expenses

Before you say no, see what costs you will and wont have. There are plenty of tricks to saving on being a bridesmaid, but you need to know what your expenses will be first. For one friend’s wedding, her parents generously covered half the cost of the hotel room and bridesmaid dresses which greatly alleviated some financial strain. I’ve also been in weddings where all bridesmaids split the costs of gifts. I’ve been in weddings where brides cover the cost of hair and makeup and made accessories optional. It depends on the bride.

This, of course, is a tricky subject to approach but chances are other bridesmaids are wondering the same thing. I personally don’t think you need to involve the bride with conversations about costs, but it’s totally acceptable to approach the maid of honor. Most of the time, bridal parties are very understanding with different people’s finances. If you are honest about how much you can spend, they’ll most likely be understanding.

Or you’re like me and you don’t like to talk about your finances with other people. In this case, you’ll have to work harder to get exact numbers and figure out what you will be spending far in advance.

Don’t be pressured into a decision, but make one quickly

One of the other bridesmaids told me our friend would never forgive me if I couldn’t be in her wedding, so I said yes when I really couldn’t afford it. A couple of weeks later I had to say no, which made it so much harder, but guess what? My friend totally understood, because she is truly a good friend. It’s very important to make the decision as soon as possible so your friend can begin making alternative plans.

Saying no in the best way possible

Ideally, it’d be best to take your friend out to lunch or dinner as soon as possible. If you aren’t in the same city or state, then call her via Skype. It’s best to do this face to face. If you take the time to show how important this decision is your friend will be more likely to understand. You should be honest and explain that you cannot afford to be a bridesmaid. If she’s a friend worth having she’ll understand.

By the way! You should still try to go to the wedding, just not as a bridesmaid. I couldn’t make it to the wedding because of my job in Asia, and I’ve regretted it ever since.

If you can’t make it to the wedding, make sure to take some extra time into getting a thoughtful gift. You should always budget for a gift. I usually spend around $100 when I am not a part of the wedding. Here are some thoughtful gifts under $100:

  • Offer to get their wedding rings engraved: $25-$100
  • Cooking class for two on Groupon: $5o
  • Framing their wedding invitation: $50
  • Couples massages with deal: $65-$85

Or just send a check. Although usually giving money for special occasions might be interpreted as lazy, many married couples want to pay off the expensive wedding-related costs. But you should definitely send a gift to your friend even if you can’t make it.

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