At least once a week, I get somehow exposed to a situation where some wedding attendants are upset/confused/furious about the costs of being in a wedding. It's an unfortunate situation. Generally, when you're asked to be in a wedding, it is because you love the person or people getting married, and you want to support them. But unclear expectations about "who pays for what" can mean hurt feelings and unexpectedly empty bank accounts.
The ProblemUnclear expectations about what it will cost to be in a wedding are a problem. In most cases, there are two root causes of this situation.
First, what is customary for the bride and groom vs. bridal party to pay is very different depending on where you live, your social circle, and your cultural background. At one end of the spectrum, some people believe that the attendants should pay for anything and everything the bride and groom want. At the other end of the spectrum, some people believe that the bride and groom, and/or their parents are responsible for all wedding-related costs. Most people have a pre-conceived notion somewhere in the middle; maybe they think that the attendants will pay for their own dresses and shoes but the bride will pay for hair styling, for example.
Second, people have very different ideas about what is "reasonable" when it comes to wedding expenses. Even if you agree to be in a wedding expecting to pay for your own clothes, there is a big difference between buying a $50 dress and a $500 dress.
Combine these two factors, and the result can be frustration, resentment, and negative emotions on what is supposed to be a happy day.
The SolutionFortunately, there is a simple solution to this problem. When you are asked to be in a wedding, ask up-front how much money the bride or groom anticipates you will need to budget for all the costs. Chances are, they haven't even thought about this, so you may have to help them come up with an answer. This is a great time to talk with the bride or groom about realistic expectations and ways to keep the costs more reasonable. If you discover that the wedding is going to cost more than you can or want to spend, you can decline the invitation to be an attendant up-front and prevent hard feelings in the long-run.
When figuring out the cost of being a wedding attendant, consider these possible expenses:
Dress/tuxedo: what does the couple have in mind? How much are they thinking it will cost? Are there other options?
Shoes: Will they want everyone to have matching shoes, or fit in a particular theme, or just wear something they already own?
Hair, makeup, and nails: Does the bride envision a spa day, bringing in a professional, or will everyone do their own hair and makeup? Who will pay for what?
Bachelor/bachelorette party: What kind of ideas does the bride or groom have, and how do they imagine it will be paid for?
Shower(s): Will you be expected to host a bridal shower, and what will it entail? Cake and punch at a parent's house, or a sit-down lunch at a fancy restaurant?
Travel: Where will the wedding be held? How will you get there? Where will you stay? How many days will you need to be at the wedding location?
Child care: If you have children, what will you do with them during the wedding, shower, parties, and any other wedding events? Will you need a babysitter, and for how long? If you are travelling for the wedding, will you have to pay premium pricing for resort-area babysitting services?
Being in a wedding is rarely cheap, but knowing what you're getting into is an important part of the decision whether to be in a wedding. No one wants to fight with their friend, or spouse, or their bank, about the costs of being in a wedding. Like so many other things in life, frank conversation at the front end can result in a happy outcome.