It’s OK to Say No to Being a Bridesmaid – Here’s When and How to Do It

Bridesmaids holding bouquets
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When one of your friends is getting married, it can feel like an honor to be asked to be a bridesmaid.

But with great honor comes great responsibility. (That’s how that saying goes, right?)

In the case of being a bridesmaid, though, that usually means financial responsibility.

And while you may think money is no object when it comes to the nuptials of your nearest and dearest friend, your bridesmaid budget might not stretch quite as far when the bride-to-be is neither a close friend, nor a particularly dear one.

So here’s something you may need to hear before we head into the thick of wedding season: It’s OK to say no to being a bridesmaid.

“But how?” you ask. “Won’t my friend/cousin/roommate/coworker/running buddy/dog groomer hate me if I don’t spend thousands of dollars to support her on her big day?!”

Well, maybe — but a true friend really shouldn’t. At least not as long as you plead your case correctly.

The Cost of Being a Bridesmaid

The typical bridesmaid’s bill will vary, but it’s not unheard of (and in fact, it’s common,) for a bridesmaid to pay upward of $1,000 to stand beside a bride on her big day.

According to figures published by WeddingWire in 2017, the cost of being a bridesmaid averages a whopping $1,200 but can quickly rise to as much as $1,800 before all (vows) are said and done.

Wondering how in the world the experience of standing by your dear, sweet friend can cost you more than a month’s rent?

Here’s a breakdown of the average costs for bridesmaids.

Dress: $208 (Need it altered? Add another $70.)

Shoes and accessories: $120

Hair and makeup: $132

Travel and accommodations: $320

Bachelorette party, bridal shower, etc.: $400 to $800

Total: $1,180 to $1,650

And that’s before incidentals like airport food or post-wedding brunch.

Yeah, being a bridesmaid is expensive, so it’s not a financial commitment you want to enter into lightly.

What to Consider Before You Say Yes to the Bridesmaid’s Dress

There’s no black-and-white answer to the question of whether you should agree to be in the bridal party no matter what your relationship with the bride is. It’s a personal choice, and it shouldn’t be made without some real consideration.

Jen Glantz, founder of Bridesmaid for Hire and author of Always a Bridesmaid (For Hire), says some life situations simply have to take precedence.

“Before you say yes, have a conversation with yourself and ask, ‘What’s going on in my life that would make it hard for me to be an extra good friend during this time?’” Glantz advises. “If you have complications in your personal life, financial life or work life, then you might want to say no.”

If you’re on the fence about whether to stand with the bride on her big day, here are some things to consider that may help you make your decision.

What’s Your Relationship to the Bride?

If the person asking you to join her up front on her wedding day is a close friend or relative, it makes sense that you’d want to honor her any way you can.

But if the bride in question is an old college friend who didn’t bother to keep up her end of the friendship, or a new acquaintance who just needs bodies up there next to her, you’re under no obligation to pay hundreds — or thousands — of dollars for her to say “I do” in a ceremony you’re not really invested in.

Also, remember that you someday may be (or already were) in the bride’s position.

If that were the case, would you (did you) ask this bride to do the same for you? Would you ask this person to spend several hundred dollars to stand beside you on your wedding day? If not, then you probably shouldn’t feel like you have to do the same for her.

Why Is She Asking You?

Consider why the bride is asking you to be a part of her wedding party.

Is it because you’re actually good friends and she couldn’t imagine her day without you? Or is it because she heard you were super helpful or generous (with your time or money) throughout the last wedding you were in? Or because she needs just one more person to round out her wedding party?

You might be a backup pick (or a backup to the backup pick) — and if that’s the case, it would be a real bummer to spend over $1,000 to support someone who doesn’t really care about you.

Will Your Friendship Survive?

Listen, I’m not saying you should base your entire (financially consequential) decision on whether your relationship will survive the fallout, but it’s important to consider all the angles here.

Would your relationship survive unscathed if you were to say no to being a bridesmaid? Would you be heartbroken if your relationship didn’t survive? Is the friendship valuable enough to hold on to if an honest conversation about your finances and your need to sit this one out could do irreparable damage?

Glantz has seen plenty of bride-bridesmaid relationships turn sour because of wedding-related demands. “Being a bridesmaid is a true test of any friendship,” she says. “If you can make it down the aisle without feeling resentment toward the bride, your friendship is strong and resilient.”

A true friend (one you’d want to keep around, anyway) would understand your financial predicament and wouldn’t hold it against you in the future.

Do You Have Other Life Situations That Will Keep You From Being Fully Invested?

There are some circumstances that just have to take the top spot sometimes.

Are you going to be nine months pregnant on the date of the wedding? Are you in the process of buying a home, allocating every last cent to the down payment and closing costs? Do you already know you’ll need to buy a car sometime this year? Does work require you to travel often, or with little notice?

A lot of scenarios may prevent you from making a time or financial commitment.

“Being a bridesmaid can get expensive and be a major time sucker,” Glantz says. “Oftentimes, brides forget that their bridesmaids have their own lives going on, which means they can’t always do everything and anything that’s asked of them.”

If you have situations that will keep you from being a good friend and bridesmaid as the wedding date approaches, you should make that information very clear before the bride gets into the thick of stressful wedding preparations.

How Much Will It Cost You, All in?

Before you decide on a firm “no,” check with the bride or the maid of honor to see what kinds of activities you’ll be expected to participate in.

Are there things you can skip? Do you have to be at the bachelorette party? All three bridal showers? The lingerie shower? The spa weekend? Post-wedding debrief brunch?

If you really want to be able to honor your friend on her special day and if you have enough money for a dress and shoes but not for three shower gifts and a bachelorette party, see if you can participate without the full bill.

No Hard Feelings

Glantz said she has seen brides “fire” their bridesmaids or maids of honor because they couldn’t afford to throw a bridal shower or a bachelorette party up to the bride’s standards — and that’s not a situation you want to set yourself or the bride up for because it can (and will) breed resentment.

“A lot of times,” Glantz says, “relationships can be tainted because of expectations that go south.”

So if the goal is maintaining your relationship with the bride without creating any ill will, you need to balance your desire to be there for your friend with your desire to keep a handle on your finances, even if that means excusing yourself from the majority of wedding festivities.

The bottom line is this: You don’t want to end up resenting your friend for her hand in your credit card debt — but you also don’t want her to resent you for bowing out in a less than gracious fashion.

How to Say No to Being a Bridesmaid

So you’ve gone through the considerations above, agonized over your pro and con list and finally decided to risk disappointing someone (ugh).

Now it’s time to figure out how to say no to being a bridesmaid.

Step One: Ask for Time to Think

You don’t have to make your decision right away — especially if it will depend on a few financial details.

Let the bride know you’ll need to check your schedule and, using honesty from the get-go, your budget. This will set the groundwork for bigger money conversations later on, letting the bride know you’re having — or choosing — to be financially conscious.

If you’ve already agreed to be a bridesmaid and now need to go back on your commitment, your situation is a little more precarious. If you’re too close to the wedding date, you might just have to suck it up if your decision to bail would cost the bride (or the rest of the wedding party) more money. If the wedding is still a significant amount of time away, you might still be able to excuse yourself. Just follow the rest of these steps to make it as painless as possible.

Step Two: Ask to Meet in Private

Rejection of any type stings, right? So try not to “break up” with your bridesmaid duties in front of a crowd. Instead, ask the bride-to-be to grab coffee with you and talk about it when there are fewer people around.

And yes, you should actually meet up for this part. If you’re seriously nonconfrontational, it might be tempting to bow out over text so you don’t have to see the disappointment on the bride’s face.

This is a bad idea.

“Text message can leave too much room for miscommunication,” Glantz says. Because of the lack of ability to convey tone or emotion, it can be easy for text conversations to be misunderstood — and an already difficult conversation could spiral out of control.”

Step Three: Be Straightforward, Firm and Polite

Be kind, but be honest.

If you make up excuses, your friend will pick up on your lie and be more offended than if you simply told the truth. Don’t make assumptions about the bride’s intentions or feelings, and stick to expressing your own point of view.

Glantz suggests saying something like, “I’m honored you asked me to be your bridesmaid, and I really want to be there for you, but right now in my life I have X thing going on, and I don’t think I can give 110 percent as a member of your bridal party. I still want to be there to support you and would love to help with other tasks.”

Let the bride-to-be know you’re excited about her big day and that you still want to be there for her in whatever way you can, but that you have to be realistic about how far you can stretch yourself and your budget right now.

Step Four: Present Alternatives

Glantz advises presenting alternative ways you could be involved in the upcoming events.

Offer to help the bride with any DIY elements or miscellaneous tasks that need to be done before the big day, or see if there is a way you could be meaningfully involved on the wedding day itself — but in a role that requires less financial responsibility.

You could read a poem during the ceremony, Glantz suggests, or wear a coordinating color that sets you apart as an “honorary bridesmaid” even if you’re not standing up next to the bride.

If the bride still wants you to join the bridal party at the bachelorette party, consider attending as a guest — but be clear about your role so you won’t be expected to plan (or fund) the event.

Made of Honor

There are a few possible outcomes to this conversation, but more than likely, the bride will understand your situation and encourage you to either attend as a guest or participate in bridesmaid-like activities without the financial commitment.

Besides, saying no doesn’t mean you’re abandoning your friend on her wedding day, Glantz says. It simply means you have to find alternative ways to honor and support the bride.

“You’re not doing anything wrong by saying no,” she says. “In fact, you’re doing a lot right because you’re taking the friendship and relationship seriously and doing what is best in the long run.”

If you blindly head into bridesmaidhood without considering finances, there’s a good chance you’ll end up ruining your relationship with the bride indefinitely — either by refusing to buy a $500 dress, or by charging that dress on a credit card and silently fuming as you hold your debt against your friend for months (or even years).

By gracefully bowing out of your role as a bridesmaid, you’re ensuring your ability to protect your friendship — and your finances — and you’ll be able to celebrate your friend’s marriage with her for years to come.

Grace Schweizer is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.