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Too broke to be your maid of honor

  • Story Highlights
  • As economy gets tough, more women may reconsider being maid of honor
  • Bridezilla expects bridal showers, bachelorette parties, co-ed Jack and Jill party
  • Bridal coach: Detail expectations early and if concerns rise, compromise

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By Liane Yvkoff
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(LifeWire) -- The TV no longer sits on a moving box, but she's still using filing cabinets as end tables. Desiree Jacobsen graduated from college years ago, so why does her apartment resemble a dorm room? It's hard to save for the finer things when you've had to shell out money to be in five weddings in one year, three times as maid of honor.

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Some maids of honor have gone deep into debt rather than disappoint a friend who expects a lot.

"I shop at the Salvation Army quite a bit to save money," says Jacobsen, 26, a medical editor in Dallas.

Being a bride's maid or matron of honor is a distinction many women cherish. But it doesn't come cheap.

It can easily cost a woman $1,000 or more for the honor of standing beside the bride on her big day, according to TheKnot.com, the leading wedding Web site.

On top of the traditional expenses of wedding attire, transportation and chipping in for a gift from the bridesmaids, maids of honor can wind up hosting bridal showers, bachelorette parties and even the co-ed Jack and Jill party -- often footing the bill entirely.

Expectations are reaching bridezilla proportions, a trend Anna Post, spokeswoman for the Emily Post Institute and great-great-granddaughter of the etiquette authority, attributes in part to the extensive coverage of celebrity weddings on television and in style magazines. Video Watch etiquette tips on attending wedding events »

Many bridesmaids are left torn between maintaining a friendship and breaking the bank.

Tough to say no

When Sarah de Maintenon, a 33-year-old real estate agent in Syracuse, New York, agreed to be her best friend's maid of honor two years ago, the economy was good and houses were selling like hot cakes.

But the currently slow real-estate market means that money has become tight as the big day -- scheduled for October -- slowly approaches.

"I seriously just didn't know. I thought it was just a bachelorette party," says de Maintenon of the events she was expected to throw and attend. Her distress over the destination wedding sent her seeking advice online. The advice she received was simple, but effective: Talk to her friend and be honest about her situation.

"I contemplated telling her I couldn't do it, but I couldn't break her heart," she says. "I was afraid it would cause an argument ... I didn't want to ruin her wedding day."

Jacobsen hasn't skipped a wedding, but she did once skip the pre-wedding bridal portrait, which she would have had to travel out of town to participate in, because she was short on money and vacation time.

"She was upset with me for a little while, but it quickly blew over because I started planning for her bachelorette party." When feelings get hurt, Jacobsen says, she tries not to take it personally. "It's usually because of the stress of the wedding."

Etiquette rules vs. reality

Is all this necessary? Are brides asking too much of their friends?

Post says that contrary to popular belief, the bridal shower isn't the maid of honor's obligation. Traditionally, a close friend would throw a bridal shower for the bride, and sometimes that person is also the maid of honor. But expenses can be agreed upon in advance and shared by the entire wedding party. And though there may be multiple parties thrown for the happy couple, Post says, the maid of honor is not required to go.

"That's not true," claims Kim Bohnert, a 32-year-old teacher in San Francisco. She's served nine stints as maid of honor and considers herself an expert bridesmaid.

She insists that the entire bridal party -- especially the maid of honor -- is expected to attend all parties and shell out for a gift each time.

"It definitely adds up," says Melissa Bauer, spokesperson for TheKnot.com. Bauer ticks off some of the major expenses: about $300 for a dress, $50 to $200 for shoes, $40 to $60 for accessories, $50 for a shower gift and another $100 for a wedding gift. Then there are the parties.

"The big thing now is destination bachelorette parties," Bauer says. "Some people might do it local, but regardless, you're [often] footing the cost for the bride [to attend]." The cost of traveling to an out-of-town party can add several hundred dollars to the tab, Bauer notes -- to say nothing of the cost of traveling to the wedding itself.

Going for broke

Whether popular wisdom requires such a commitment or not, there's a very real limit to what women can afford.

Bohnert agreed to be her cousin's maid of honor, even though she was maxed out on her credit cards, and the many expenses included a $500 Sae Young Vu dress. "I'm still in debt because of it," she says.

Ma'ayan Geller, a part-time student and assistant physical therapist in San Francisco, was glad to hear her friend wanted to be sensitive to the financial constraints of her wedding party. But when Geller, one of the bridesmaids, suggested a cheap Las Vegas package for the bachelorette party, the bride gave her the boot, saying she wasn't being serious enough about her commitment to the wedding.

"I had already bought the dress -- close to $300 -- which was a lot for me at the time," Geller, 23, remembers. "I think it could have been done in a better way."

Geller still attended the wedding, partially because all her friends were there and also because she wanted to support the bride, "although the friendship kind of ended after that."

Making it work

In Post's experience, a wedding is a collaboration, and the wedding party often tries to find a solution that works for everyone. "When something difficult arises, I've seen brides put on the brakes rather than force something on someone," she says.

Jeri Kadison, a bridal coach in New York, says communication is key: Detail expectations early, and if something sounds too expensive, compromise and brainstorm other ideas, she advises.

"It's the bride's responsibility to be compassionate and considerate," she says.

That strategy worked for de Maintenon. She and her bride talk almost every day. Instead of renting a restaurant, they're having a barbeque. Instead of renting a beach house, they're all staying with a girlfriend.

It's also OK to say no, Post says. "You can decline. Just do it early."

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De Maintenon recently declined when one of her best friends asked her to be the maid of honor, and her friend wasn't upset.

"She knows that I'll do anything else to help out in any way."

LifeWire provides original and syndicated lifestyle content to Web publishers. Liane Yvkoff is a freelance writer in San Francisco

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