What If Wednesday: Bridesmaid in Hawaii


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In the What If Wednesday series, we transport to a hypothetical alternate-reality and watch life play out. And we do it on Wednesday, because alliteration.

You’re perusing Facebook (at work… shhh!) one fine Wednesday morning when you see the news. Martha (or Jenny, or what have you) is engaged! Yes, the I’m never, ever, ever getting married! Martha. You’re surprised you hadn’t heard the news already since you two are close friends (although not quite bestie status). And then your phone begins ringing, and it’s — you guessed it — Martha. After you quit screaming excitedly into the phone, she gets down to the nitty gritty. Will you be a bridesmaid? But of course! And it’s settled, and you’re feeling so very, very happy for dear Martha.

But then the realities of bridesmaid-erdom set in. Martha has lovely, but expensive, taste. The dress she’s chosen for all the bridesmaids to wear is going to cost you $300. And that’s on top of your plane ticket and hotel room for the wedding, which is taking place in Hawaii. And there’s one other teensy-weensy problem: you’re in the process of paying off debt. You’re on a tight budget, and every extra cent is going toward paying it down. And suddenly the idea of being a bridesmaid is causing your stomach to churn.

So which will you choose? Being a good friend and being a bridesmaid or staying focused in paying down your debt?

Our Response

This one’s a toughie. Martha is a dear, dear friend. Actually, I’ve never known anyone by the name of Martha, but she sounds pretty great. Johnny and I talked it over, and, unfortunately, Martha is going to have to find another bridesmaid to take my place. When we were paying down our debt, an expense like this would have been a huge detour on our path to becoming debt free. Like a six-month detour.

If Martha had been a bestie, we’d probably figure out a way to make it happen. But as is, she’ll just be receiving a really high-tech Crockpot in the mail from yours truly. We promise we’re not terrible friends, but you have to draw the line somewhere.

Now it’s your turn to spill the beans. Good friend getting married in Hawaii. Pricey bill. Do you accept the role of bridesmaid/groomsman over slaying the Debt Monster? 

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38 Comments

  • Reply Becky @ RunFunDone March 12, 2014 at 9:15 am

    I agree! But the funny thing is that I had a destination wedding. I was surprised at how many people came! My.maid of honor tried to step down for financial reasons. I paid for 1 night of hotel, dresses, and shoes for all my girls. I paid for my maid of honor’s flight as well in order to ease her financial stress. It was kind of annoying though. I wish she’d just said “no” from the beginning, rather than saying “yes,” but then trying to step down after I’d already bought her dress, shoes, and planned on her being there.

    • Reply Johnny March 17, 2014 at 11:30 pm

      It sounds like you made the choice a little easier on your best gals. I don’t think it’s expected to pay for anything really, so good on you for making the destination wedding a bit more palatable and affordable.

  • Reply Kasey @ Debt Perception March 12, 2014 at 9:17 am

    I’d immediately say no to Hawaii friend. There’s just no way I could afford it. I had to back out of being a bridesmaid for a bestie a couple years ago. She wasn’t picky about the dress, just had to be the right color, needed to find boots to wear with it but I just couldn’t afford the cost of transportation and lodging. She was getting married on NYE at an expensive ski resort in Oregon. The only thing she offered to help with was earrings, but I don’t even have pierced ears. I felt horrible backing down but I just couldn’t justify going further into debt to be in a wedding.

    • Reply Johnny March 17, 2014 at 11:34 pm

      That’s gotta be tough. We haven’t been confronted with this one, but we would have done the same thing. Just because it’s a special circumstance doesn’t mean it should completely break every financial rule you’ve set for yourself.

  • Reply Michele March 12, 2014 at 9:35 am

    I agree! if you are planning on going to Hawaii it should be for your reasons and when you can! We went for our honeymoon this past summer and it is not cheap even if you are deal finder and penny pincher!

    • Reply Johnny March 17, 2014 at 11:35 pm

      Which is why we still (grrrrrr) haven’t made it out there yet. It’s on our bucket list though!

  • Reply Rob March 12, 2014 at 10:20 am

    I hear so often about all these “destination weddings” and, sure they’re a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the soon-to-be-newlyweds, but often they involve everyone who, at the very start of their adult lives, can least afford the significant expense. So I’d decline and instead suggest that they elope, with the promise that I’d send them a nice cheque which could be used towards the purchase of their first house (or some other worthy goal) – a gift that keeps on giving perhaps. Not as romantic perhaps but much more practical for the long haul.

    And, add to the thought, what if “Martha” and her hubby don’t last long in marriage – perish the thought but divorces are on the upswing – do you then ask for your wedding contribution money back? Fat chance in u-no-where, eh? :-)

    • Reply Johnny March 17, 2014 at 11:37 pm

      Haha. Martha better be issuing refunds if that’s the case! But I do like the idea of starting one’s marriage off practically, instead of pretending that life revolves around 5-figure parties where everyone dresses like royalty.

  • Reply andee March 12, 2014 at 10:29 am

    Yeah I would have to decline her request. If it were a family member I would do it, but otherwise I’d pretty much say no. I’ve had the worst experience being a brides maid once and it totally scared me for life. I’m glad I’m getting to a point where anyone who would ask me to be a brides maid is already married : )

    • Reply Johnny March 17, 2014 at 11:38 pm

      That’s definitely a perk of getting older, yeah? :)

  • Reply Miranda March 12, 2014 at 10:47 am

    Welp. Oddly enough I have been in a very similar situation. Except Martha’s name was Chad aka my husband’s lifelong best friend (been best bros since the 8th grade). The wedding was in Vegas. We were in the middle of paying off our debt and while we weren’t thrilled about the additional cost, we made a budget (and actually stuck to it in Vegas of all places) because we ultimately knew we’d regret not being there for our friends on their big day. We went and had a great time/made memories/procured hangovers/etc and we’re happy we did so.

    Now if the situation had been slightly different (a good friend instead of a known-forever/potential Godfather to our children/call if you’re ever in jail/best friend), we might have had to re-think things. If we were close to the end of our debt snowball, we’d probably be more likely to find a way to make it work (cheapest flights and hotel possible/talk to the bride about the cost of the dress/etc.) but if we were just beginning to pay things off it would probably be a no-go.

    Also, this might sound really crass, but I’d also have to consider the ‘divorce factor’. Maybe this is rude but I’d probably turn down the offer if I thought good ol’ Martha would be walking down the aisle with a different dude in just a few years or so. =)

    • Reply Johnny March 17, 2014 at 11:41 pm

      Haha. I’ve never even considered the divorce factor, but you’re totally right. When we were researching wedding gifts for another friend’s wedding a few years back, there was a whole section on protocol for divorced friends. Basically, if you gave them something for their first wedding, don’t give one for their second. I’m down with that.

      • Reply Miranda March 18, 2014 at 9:23 am

        What? I’ve never heard that rule before but I like it as well.

  • Reply jane savers @ solving the money puzzle March 12, 2014 at 11:01 am

    Destination weddings are all the rage in my part of Canada. Everyone leaves our rotten Canadian winter and flies to an all inclusive Mexican resort for a week of wedding fun.

    That is what is supposed to happen. What really happens is a lot of hard feelings when people can’t afford the trip and the people getting married and their immediate family act hurt and angry.

    My girlfriend would not pay to go to her good friend’s daughter’s wedding and there were hard feelings for over a year.

    One of my health care clients, a low income senior, was un- invited to a wedding shower for a niece. My client, who was crying as she was telling me the story, could not afford the $1,200 for the trip and was cut out of the pre-wedding festivities because the family felt slighted by her inability to attend the wedding.

    • Reply Johnny March 17, 2014 at 11:45 pm

      Geeez. That’s terrible! I just can’t imagine having the gall to “invite” people to any event that would require thousands of dollars to attend and then act offended if they said no. This might be your special day, but don’t pretend like it’s that important to anyone else.

  • Reply Brian March 12, 2014 at 11:12 am

    I would probably politely (as possible) say while I am honored that they thought of me to be a part of their special day, I cannot currently afford to make such a trip at this time. Then depending on how good a friend they are, I might say something cheeky like “I’ll just catch your next marriage.”

    • Reply Johnny March 17, 2014 at 11:46 pm

      Haha. Hopefully that good friend would stay a good friend with a line like that.

  • Reply Mrs PoP March 12, 2014 at 11:20 am

    Ugh. I hate weddings. Mr PoP is going to be a groomsman for his childhood best friend this fall and I know we’re going to end up paying out the nose to have an absolutely terrible time at a wedding that we think is fairly ill-advised. Awesome, right? But I have to just grin and bear it…
    At least when my best friend got married and asked me to be a bridesmaid it was on the low end of the cost spectrum ($1000 for travel, dress, hotel, gifts, food, everything). I know we’re not going to get off that easy with this one.

    • Reply Johnny March 17, 2014 at 11:49 pm

      How did this “let’s pretend we all have money for one day” tradition get started? What a terrible, terrible way to set families and friends back financially. Best of luck with Mr. PoP’s upcoming wedding (bill) on the horizon.

  • Reply Anne March 12, 2014 at 12:53 pm

    For a good friend I’d decline., Martha would have to do without me. For someone I’d consider asking to be a godparent one day I’d probably stretch to make it happen, but I might be going alone and sharing a room with another bridesmaid or family member to cut costs.

    We’re getting married next month and live far away from most of our friends and family who are dispersed pretty well themselves. Plenty of people can’t make it, and we totally understand- it’s a big cost to fly somewhere. I also bought the bridesmaid dresses and asked the girls to wear whatever silver shoes they want, the hotel we’re recommending is very reasonable (under $100/night), and since it’s where we live they knew about the travel when they accepted.

    • Reply Johnny March 17, 2014 at 11:51 pm

      Now that’s a wedding done right. Good for you two for making it affordable and understanding if friends/family couldn’t make the finances work to attend. And congrats on the soon-to-be big day!

  • Reply EcoCatLady March 12, 2014 at 2:31 pm

    Well, this is an easy one for me because I’m not a big fan of fancy weddings in general. So I’d pass.

    I know I”m cynical, but in my experience the fancier the wedding, the quicker and nastier the divorce. I totally understand people wanting to share an important moment in their life, but I just think the whole “wedding industry” has blown this stuff WAY out of proportion. What ever happened to having a nice potluck in your backyard?

    If you want to go to Hawaii, great – go there on your honeymoon, but don’t drag everybody else half way around the world and guilt them into some sort of spend-fest just so you can validate your relationship or live out your fairy tale fantasies. Did I mention I’m cynical?

    • Reply Johnny March 17, 2014 at 11:52 pm

      Hahaha. Best comment of the thread. Thank you.

  • Reply Melanie March 12, 2014 at 2:40 pm

    I wish I had know in my earlier 20s that declining was an option. I also wish I had lived on a budget like I do now! Instead, I was so excited to be “chosen,” I didnt even question the costs…until the costs started rolling in, and I started to feel financial pressure, set aside goals of mine for the wedding costs, etc. I think it’s very important for people to really THINK before agreeing to be in someone’s wedding party. Let’s just say, if I knew now what I knew then… 😉

    On the bright side–I AM going to Hawaii next month, all expenses paid, with my Mom! She recently sold our family home that she lived in for 31 years, and always wanted to take us once the house sold. Yay!

    • Reply Johnny March 17, 2014 at 11:54 pm

      Such a great point. It’s certainly an honor, but it shouldn’t feel like a financial death sentence. If you’re as good of friends as the groom/bride says you are, they should understand if you can’t make it.

      Congrats on the Hawaii vacation! So, so jealous. High five to your mom for making it happen!

  • Reply Nicole March 12, 2014 at 3:15 pm

    Based on the info you’ve given, I think I would pass. I would definitely crunch the numbers before giving an official decline, but I live on the east coast and the flight alone would be crazy. If it was a best friend or sibling, I would make it work though.

    Now, if I was a bride who wanted that kind of wedding I would a) only have one attendant whom I would help financially as much as possible, and b) keep the guest list very small/ not be offended when people couldn’t go.

    • Reply Johnny March 17, 2014 at 11:56 pm

      The real key is what you mentioned in the second paragraph: brides/grooms need to be accommodating, thoughtful, and accepting if guests can’t make it happen. While it is their special day, that doesn’t mean it’s special enough for others to jeopardize their financial wellbeing.

  • Reply Hollie March 12, 2014 at 5:28 pm

    I think I would have to pass. If it was a local wedding, it wouldn’t be as big of deal but with airfare, hotels, ect, it makes it to be a very expensive trip. My best friend yes but probably not for many others.

    • Reply Johnny March 17, 2014 at 11:57 pm

      That’s the thing — there are SO many costs that it’s easy for a destination wedding to run in the thousands of dollars. And that’s just ridiculous.

  • Reply Emily @ evolvingPF March 12, 2014 at 6:36 pm

    Do people who have destination weddings really have attendants?? I thought they were so tiny attendants would be superfluous.

    I’ve never been in paying-off-debt mode, but I have turned down weddings I had to travel to when I was really strapped, so I think I would decline. In my life now, though, I’d almost certainly say yes because my husband is dying to go to HI. :)

    • Reply Johnny March 17, 2014 at 11:58 pm

      If the wedding coincided with a vacation we’d been meaning to have, perfect. Otherwise, no thanks.

  • Reply Michelle March 12, 2014 at 10:07 pm

    I was a bridesmaid in my best friend’s wedding-in London. She’s English! It was worth it but I did decide to hustle like a rock star before and after to balance out the expenditures. I am happy that I went…but this year I will be staying close to home for most of the year :)

    • Reply Johnny March 18, 2014 at 12:00 am

      And that’s the example of attending a destination wedding done right. Unfortunately, for every one of you, there’s 10 “we’ll figure out how to pay for this later” peeps. Super jealous you were able to go to London.

  • Reply Tarynkay March 13, 2014 at 8:59 pm

    I might just be having trouble imagining being close enough friends with someone to be asked to be a bridesmaid and NOT absolutely having to go to that wedding, but I think I would go. But I do not have loads of medium-level friends- I have acquaintances and then very close friends. I picture this as an issue that might come up if you had lots of sorority sisters, that kind of thing? I have skipped two weddings because of (somewhat unexpectedly) bringing our son home and I really regret missing those.

    On the other hand, an old college friend of my husband’s invited us on a week-long Indian wedding/Serbian wedding cruise. It was sort of insane- his friend is Indian, working in London, and was marrying a Serbian supermodel. I don’t even know. We totally wanted to go, but couldn’t figure out how to manage it with a baby. He had not communicated with this friend in years (other than really casual Facebook) so I did not feel bad not going. We would have gone if it weren’t for the baby. It definitely wasn’t in the budget, we still would have gone. Maybe it is good we didn’t, the glamor probably would have scorched our eyebrows off.

    As a side note, I do not regret attending weddings where the couple ultimately divorced. I also do not regret the many small appliances, etc purchased for these ill-fated unions. Part of marriage is uniting two families/communities and the role of the families/communities is to be as supportive of the union as possible. I guess part of this is that I know that many people did not predict that my husband and I would “make it” since we got married at age 22. It will be thirteen years this July and we have now outlasted both of the toasters we received as gifts.

    • Reply Johnny March 18, 2014 at 12:05 am

      Haha. Your Serbian supermodel wedding sounds like an incredible premise for a movie. You should probably write the script and start shopping it around.

      Congrats to you and husband. Joanna and I also married young (22 and 20), much to the dismay of many friends and family. You have the right attitude though on supporting people in their unions, regardless of the assumptive outcome.

  • Reply Little House March 14, 2014 at 10:05 am

    Many years ago a cousin I hadn’t seen since we were children asked me to be a bridesmaid in her wedding. At first, I said yes. But as the wedding grew near, I didn’t have the funds to travel clear across the US and participate in all the wedding activities and I wasn’t willing to go further into debt to do it. I felt horrible, but I had to bail a month before the wedding. I still feel a tinge of guilt because of that, but honestly it would have been a horrible financial decision. We also didn’t speak for many years (not that we had really spoken before she announced her engagement) but we are now on speaking terms.

    • Reply Johnny March 18, 2014 at 12:08 am

      The emotions and feelings of wedding attendance are rough. I’d like to think it’s unwarranted, but in the bride/groom’s minds, this is their one special day, so it’s easy to see why selfishness clouds their judgement and don’t stop to think why those people might not be able to attend.

  • Reply Daisy March 14, 2014 at 7:06 pm

    As somebody who is getting married this year, I would be pretty heart broken if a close friend didn’t come to my wedding, but then again, I would not have a destination wedding because it does exclude a lot of people and it’s unfair to the rest.

    I wouldn’t just say no if I were in the bridesmaids shoes. I would try to talk to the bride, tell her what my situation was, and come to a mutually acceptable solution.

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