bridesmaids with bouquets in front of faces
Rebekah Jackson Photography

Truth: being asked to stand by your best friend on one of the biggest days of her life is an honor. Also true: being a bridesmaid is stressful, expensive and often, a recurring responsibility. Bridesmaids spend about $1,200 per wedding, but can quickly add up to nearly $2,000 when you factor in travel, showers, alterations, gifts, and more. But on top of the dip in your savings, friendships are often tested during this period, as brides-to-be battle stress, family drama and financial issues of their own.

Even so, if you want to be part of the wedding party, you should not only know what you’re getting yourself into and be confident you can afford the cost and ride the ebbs-and-flows of wedding planning, but also learn how stand your ground when it’s needed. Though you might not want to say ‘no’ to ever request from your bestie bride, there are certain instances where it’s warranted and ways to navigate your bridesmaid responsibilities without being disrespectful.

Here, women who have been bridesmaids several times share their strategies for saying "no":

Be really honest if you can’t afford to be a bridesmaid.

Though Alexis Farah has been asked (and accepted) to perform bridesmaid duties eight times, she says that truly thinking about your decision to join the party is an important first step. If you’re not 100 percent sure that you can fulfill the role and be there for your friend, you should feel empowered to decline the invite - kindly. And don’t just pass the torch without offering to do something else instead. Why? Since the bride considered you close enough friends to extend the invite, she wants you involved in her wedding in some form or fashion. “Honesty is the best policy when refusing a bridal party invite, but offer an alternative role that may offset the disappointment. Try this, ‘I'd love to be a bridesmaid but my wallet is saying otherwise. How about I coordinate the eats at your bridal shower instead? Or, something else you're good at - doing the calligraphy for place cards, creating an itinerary for the bachelorette party, keeping an eye on the drunk relatives, whatever it is,” Farrah suggests.

Work with other bridesmaids.

Even though tradition says that the maid of honor takes care of planning the bachelorette party, three-time bridesmaid Kate Winick says the best way to say ‘no’ or to bargain for a better deal is to not go through the bride herself. While it might tricky, if the MOH decides to complain to your pal, when the bridal party works together to figure out a solution that works for all salary ranges, you can enjoy more of the wedding festivities without sweating over your credit card build.

“I try to just stay calm and remember that this is an investment in a friendship, and let that guide when I say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ If it's an expense that promotes bonding and time together, like the bachelorette or the shower, I always say ‘yes’, but try to work with the other bridesmaids to control costs by making sure to book early, planning to buy booze and bring it instead of buying all our drinks and so on,” she suggests.

Ask the bride what she expects.

If your friend who used to spend hours chatting aimlessly on Gchat with you as you collectively count down the hours until happy hour is now a stress-case who doesn’t respond to a single text, you might worry about asking her something that might ignite further anxiety. But seven-time bridesmaid, Amanda DaSilva says the best way to understand what the bride expects out of you, what she needs and what doesn’t bother her very much is to talk to her. This is even more important if your bestie has gone silent.

“If your bride isn't communicating her expectations of you, then just ask! If you're not able to participate fully, just say something! If you think it's better to keep any personal details aside when communicating with a bride, it's not! I can promise you, from experience, your very dear friend, the bride, is more likely to get upset because you didn't say anything to her than whatever it is you're keeping from her for the sake of the wedding,” DaSilva says.

Speak up for yourself—and prioritize your health.

You love your BFF but you might not like her so much as a bride in the middle of wedding planning. Even well-intending and usually level-headed women can become a bit frantic when it comes to finalizing the details of her day in the limelight. An anonymous bridesmaid who has participated in four weddings and turned down two invites, says her decision to walk away was the need to prioritize her health.

“One was an instance where I was being screened for cancer and was told her wedding was more important, and the other told me that purchasing the dresses was more important than my own personal bills. You just have to be able to self-evaluate and remember to care for yourself, too. If you feel at any point that you are losing yourself or are being treated poorly, it’s time to walk away to try to save the friendship,” she says. “Yes, it is the bride's big day, but you were friends before she was a bride and I think that needs to come first in a bridesmaid situation. So, delicately and privately talk to the bride. Let her know that you value the friendship and don't want to cause any damage by being a part of the wedding party, but are happy to be there in any way you can. It probably won't go so well, to be honest, but you have to be true to yourself. After all is said and done, they always turn around and realize that the wedding was not bigger than the friendship.”

If you’re going to say no, say no to the bachelorette party.

Six-time bridesmaid Joanna has agreed to be a bridesmaid with a caveat that she might not come to every pre-wedding event. While the shower is something you should try your best to make, she says that cutting the cost of the bachelorette party can save on finances significantly. “I've said ‘no’ to any bachelorette parties that involve plane fare. Most brides that have vacation bachelorette parties will also have a second low-key night. It's totally fine to just attend that. And honestly? No one can fault you for saving money, especially if you are giving in other ways, like helping the bride de-stress on her big day by taking some responsibilities off her plate.”

Consider what you can save money on that won’t impact the friendship.

What is your friend looking for on the morning of her long-awaited wedding day? That her bridesmaids are happy, coordinated with the theme of her wedding and ready to smile for those photos. But what they might not care about, too much? If you go with the makeup artist she hired or if you do your own makeup, achieving the same result. Winick says that if saving a bit on day-of festivities will still achieve the same emotional result, then she tries to see if the bride is fine with the alternative solution.

“I do my own makeup in the same room as the other girls who are using a makeup artist. I always make a point of reassuring the bride that I will be there and that it won't detract from her day in any way. In general, though, expect to spend more than you want to and try to budget extra. Once you're fully committed, it's mostly smile and swipe,” she says.