What to Do When You Can't Afford the Bridesmaid Dress

Jen Glantz is a "Professional Bridesmaid" and the founder of Bridesmaid for Hire. She's the author of All My Friends Are Engaged and frequently wears old bridesmaid dresses to the grocery store and on first dates. For her column for Brides.com, Jen answers a fellow bridesmaid's burning question:

I was asked to be a bridesmaid in an upcoming wedding for a friend of mine. I really couldn't be more thrilled to take on the role. Except, it's starting to hit me, that it's really expensive—just booking a flight and hotel room for her wedding is pounding my budget. We recently were told we may have to buy bridesmaid dresses that are going to cost around $200; I can't afford that at all. What do I do? Should I back out of being a bridesmaid because I can't say yes to the dress?

The "Will you be my bridesmaid?" questions started popping up in my life when I was in my early 20's. Aside from living at home at my parent's house and working a job where I had to clock in and out every day, I wasn't making enough money to afford to eat out for lunch five times a week, let alone be a bridesmaid. So I was faced with a situation: turn down the role of a lifetime for a person who meant so much to me. I saw other people do this all the time; they would say no because of money. Because the other bridesmaids or the maid of honor would tell them that they had to spend more money than their bank account currently held and I never thought that was right.

The main job of a bridesmaid is to support the bride, who is someone who has meant something so wonderfully beautiful to them in the past and most likely, in the future. There shouldn't be a dollar amount attached to that.

So here's what I recommend: be very upfront with the bride and the bridal party about your budget. Encourage this conversation early on—even if it feels awkward at first (chatting about money sometimes does). Work with the whole bridal party on setting how much everyone can spend for each event and even the dress. The earlier you do this, the better. That way, when the bride is deciding what kind of dresses for the bridesmaid to wear, she can know in advance how much the bridesmaids are willing to spend.

Let's say it's too late for that—she's already selected the dress that she's asking you to wear. That's okay. There are ways to make it work with your budget. If the dress is costing you around $200 new, search online and try to find it cheaper at a different store. Chances are, you could save close to 40 percent by finding it used online. You can even see if one of the bridesmaid dress rental companies have it. You should never have to say no because of money; with a little research and a conversation or two, you can make it work.

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