What happens when friends are consumed by wanting their bachelorette parties to be picture perfect at any cost? Credit cards are maxed out and debt rises. Instagram wedding envy wins the day.
The cost of bachelorette parties is ever growing, with weekend wedding festivities at destination locales now the norm. Millennials are even going broke to attend, and I'm one of them.
A recent survey from Credit Karma found that about 1 in 3 millennials have gone into debt to attend a bachelor or bachelorette party. Among them, 36 per cent were more than US$500 ($730) in the red.
It's not only bachelorette parties that are cash drains. A third of people who have been attendants in a wedding in the past two years have incurred debt and regret the money they spent. Some people are even declining invites to be in wedding parties because of the costs they will incur.
The pressure to afford lavish nights out and trips away is exacerbated by the need for everything to be Instagrammable. Gone are the days when a night out on the town, complete with stripper and penis straws stuck into a cocktail bowl, will suffice. My own experience as a friend of the bride featured a long weekend in Spain from my home in Clifton, England, with an itinerary packed with VIP yacht trips, exclusive booths in glamorous nightclubs, a luxury villa and afternoon teas at high-end restaurants.
I'm a 28-year-old Welsh woman, and an impoverished writer. But what was I going to tell one of my oldest and dearest friends — No? — I just sucked it up and did what I could to make it work, alongside paying for my master's degree.
The costs were increasing from the original agreed-upon budget, which was a couple of hundred dollars for a villa, plus airline tickets. But when it comes to social media, it's not just about creating experiences. There seems to be no problem now with asking friends to fork out hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars because on the other end you'll feel the instant and addictive gratification of a like. Hashtag blessed.
"Social media is normalising expensive bridal traditions, like destination bachelorette parties," said Stefanie O'Connell, a New York-based money expert who focuses on millennials. She is also the author of The Broke and Beautiful Life: Small Town Budget, Big City Dreams (Coventry House Publishing, 2015).
"If our point of comparison was limited to our own social circle — the people we live near and work with — we'd naturally be comparing ourselves to people with means somewhat similar to our own," O'Connell said. "But because of social media, our point of comparison has shifted."
People now look at pictures of others who might have incomes 10 to 100 times what we have, she said. But we don't see that in the pictures. We just see the trips and the dresses and the gifts, and so it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking, well that's normal and I should have that, too.
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The expenses for a wedding don't end with the bachelorette parties, because soon enough there is the actual wedding. I was asked to book two nights at a hotel, the night before and of the wedding.
Since I wasn't granted a plus-one, I had this cost to cover solo. I told my friend the bride that I couldn't afford both, so I would probably just be booking one.
She said she understood, but that if I was only booking one, it should be the night before because she had plans for the bridesmaids. This would leave me with the task of getting home the night of the wedding, from a city I lived hours away from.
Wearing matching "Squad" pyjamas with 11 bridesmaids I'd never met, for the sake of a perfectly filtered, faux candid photo of us throwing our heads back and laughing, didn't seem worth what the room would cost.
So how could I say no to a friend I've known since we were 16, without becoming persona non grata? Stay tuned.
It seems I'm not alone in this predicament. A recent survey by CompareCards, a division of LendingTree, found that 58 per cent of bridesmaids and 61 per cent of maids of honour felt pressured to spend money on bridal party-related expenses and say the financial pressure strained their relationship with the bride. The survey also said 43 per cent of groomsmen and half of those who were the best man, said they also felt the strain of being in a wedding. And the survey said 37 per cent of people — I wish I had been one of them — have declined being in a wedding because of the costs.
O'Connell says: "I'm not going to pretend that you won't feel awkward having conversations with your friends about money, but that doesn't mean those conversations are not worth having. What should really make us uncomfortable is the idea of going into debt simply to avoid some social awkwardness or to keep up appearances."
Here is some of her best advice:
• If you're in a position where a friend is demanding a lot from you financially, take a step back and run the actual numbers.
• Once you know what you can actually afford, reframe the conversation around that, rather than making it about what you can't do.
• Find the overlap between what he or she is planning and what you can afford to partake in.
— Remember you don't have to attend every event, even if you're in the bridal party.
— If things then start to spill over what was agreed upon, it's easier to simply say: Sorry, that's not in my budget.
In my case, everything broke down. I was uninvited to the long bachelorette weekend in Spain, and told, via WhatsApp, that I was no longer a bridesmaid. This left me US$675 in the hole for what I had already spent on a trip I was now banned from, including a non refundable airline ticket. Also, I used a credit card that needed to be paid off.
I was promptly removed from the multiple WhatsApp groups dedicated to planning. But, honestly, I was relieved not to have any more notifications about pretzel-shaped pool inflatables.
I was handling it all just fine, because the internet was on my side. A quick Google search of what I thought was a unique problem, brought tons of results of similar experiences and forums where many people detailed the bridezilla behaviour of friends and family.
A friend told me the same happened to her. She asked for a mere extension on paying the deposit for the bachelorette festivities and was cut off and kicked out of the group chat.
Kate Kaplan, a therapist who works with anxious brides in Los Angeles, says there's a reason for all this: "The internal pressure to have their special moment, and not miss out on any experience, sometimes blinds brides to the experience of those around them. It causes unrealistic expectations, and a sense of personal entitlement. They feel like it's their moment to shine and everyone else should spend money, too. It's just become the norm and societal expectation."
This brings us back to social media. "They want to create the perfect Instagrammable wedding moment," Kaplan said. "It pulls them further from reality, and more into a fantasy world, built on unrealistic expectations."
Weddings are becoming increasingly social — in the digital sense, that is. They have hashtags, with guests asked to use them when posting wedding photos. I attended one like that. The Wi-Fi password was printed out and placed around the venue, with a reminder of the relevant tags and channels to encourage social activity.
Nowadays you can even stream your wedding on Facebook Live at the Chapel of Love in Las Vegas, and Palms offers a package called "Our Wedding Looks Perfect — On Instagram" for US$250. The description says it "includes an hour in the chapel to capture the perfect pictures for all of your social channels."
For my own wedding, I'm not going to go big. O'Connell tells me she is opting for a bridesmaid-free affair herself.
My childhood sweetheart and I agreed on our first date that we would wed in Las Vegas, by Elvis. We still talk about that as a viable option — the only snag is the unhappy parents.
Written by: Rhiannon Picton-James
Image by: Tala Safie
© 2019 THE NEW YORK TIMES