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How to be a frugal bridesmaid

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(Read caption) A bride and groom walk through a crowd with arms raised after being married in Washington.

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It's the question every frugal woman in her mid-20s secretly dreads. The question that, if answered affirmatively, will likely result in thousands of her hard-earned dollars down the tube, an ugly dress stuffed in the back of her closet, and a potentially strained relationship with one of her best friends. That question? "Will you be a bridesmaid in my wedding?"

Let me preface this with the fact that I actually love weddings. Free food! Uncles breaking it down to Beyonce on the dance floor! But those are perks of attending a wedding. Being a part of one is usually a lot less fun. And it's not because every woman turns into a bridezilla the moment she gets a ring on her finger (most don't), or because running around in full makeup and uncomfortable heels all day is exhausting (it is).

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The real reason I'm not the biggest fan of being a bridesmaid is that it's a job that costs a LOT of money. According to a nationwide survey of more than 20,000 brides, the average bridesmaid spends a whopping $1,695 for the privilege. For someone who's just gotten to a point in life when paying rent doesn't completely bankrupt me, that is a lot of money to justify spending on someone else's big day.

But despite all that, being able to stand next to one of your closest friends on her wedding day is an amazing feeling. Here's my advice for getting through it (relatively) financially unscathed.

Don't say yes if you can't afford it.

Be honest with the bride if you know you can't afford to be a bridesmaid.

If you crunch the numbers and realize it's just not going to work, there's no shame in saying no. Sure, the bride might be disappointed, but it's much better to be honest with her from the very beginning than take on a bunch of extra costs you can't afford to pay for. A good friend will understand, and you can offer to be an usher or attendant in lieu of being a full bridesmaid. If she's angry with you, she's probably not someone you want to be spending money to support anyway.

Only take on what you can handle.

You don't need to go to every wedding-related event to be a good bridesmaid.

Being a bridesmaid means a lot of events to attend, plan and execute. If you live out of state, it might not be possible for you to attend the engagement party, the bridal shower, the bachelorette party AND the wedding. Again, be honest with the bride about this. Tell her you want to be a part of her big day, but that you can only afford to attend a select number of these events. The last time I was an out-of-state bridesmaid, I just came to the bachelorette party and the wedding, because I couldn't afford to fly back and forth four separate times.

Don't volunteer to host the shower when you can barely buy groceries for one. Don't say you can afford to buy several round-trip plane tickets when you're two months behind on your car payment. There's no shame in being honest, and again, any true friend will not begrudge you for this.

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Give the bride frugal dress options.

When you sign up to be a bridesmaid, you're signing up to buy whatever dress the bride wants you to wear. It can be a gamble, but most brides don't want to bankrupt their bridesmaids by choosing a $600 burlap sack as their dress of choice. So while you need to be prepared to drop some money on this gown, you can try and steer her towards some less expensive options. Rent the Runway, the designer dress rental site we mention far too often on this blog, has some amazing options for bridesmaids, many of which start around $30. Other stores with budget/rental bridesmaid dresses under $100 include:

Also, a lot of brides are choosing to give their bridesmaids a color scheme and let them pick out their own dress at their own price points. This makes for some dreamy variety in the wedding pictures, and helps bridesmaids who want to stay on budget buy something they can afford. Show her some pictures of cute mismatched dress schemes and maybe she'll bite! If not, let her know your ideal budget and cross your fingers.

Sell your dress when you're done.

Without fail, every bride will tell you that there are TONS of places you can wear your bridesmaid dress after the wedding is done. And she might totally believe this, but it's usually not the case. If the dress she picks is not something you see yourself keeping in rotation after the wedding, sell it online! It might be just the thing for yet another frugal bridesmaid, or it could be perfect for someone else's senior prom or formal work event. Here are a few sites and apps to use if you want to make a little money back and free up some storage space in your closet:

Use points and miles to book your flights.

Brad's Deals Content Marketing Manager Rebecca recently saved $600 while attending a destination wedding, and a good chunk of those savings came through using AAdvantage miles to book her flight out. If you don't already have a good travel rewards credit card, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard is having a great promotion right now that gives new cardholders who spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 90 days a $400 travel reward bonus.

Travel rewards can be tricky if you're new to them, but once you get the hang of it, using them can save you hundreds of dollars on travel costs every year. Check out our travel section to find great deals on travel cards and flight discounts and get tips on how to maximize your travel rewards.

Also, make sure you book your flight well before you're going to be taking it. According to a 2016 TIME article, the prime time to book a cheap flight is anywhere from 112 to 21 days before the trip. Use Google Flights to track prices and trends, and buy when they're predicting an upswing in cost.

Know when you have to (and when you don't have to) give a gift.

If you don't have to travel to get to the pre-wedding events like the engagement party, the bridal shower and the bachelorette party, you're going to have to put together a gift budget. I'm of the opinion that bridesmaids and groomsmen are not required to spend a lot on gifts for the happy couple, as they're spending their time, money and energy on helping out the bride and groom put together the wedding. There are many different schools of thought on this, but most of the etiquette columns I've perused on this subject agree that bridesmaids and groomsmen don't HAVE to give wedding gifts if they've already spent a significant amount on being in the wedding.

I'd say buy an inexpensive but thoughtful gift for the engagement party and/or shower, and on the day of the wedding, gift the bride something handmade and meaningful, like a framed photo of the two of you. I helped my cousin write her wedding vows when I was her bridesmaid. On the morning of her wedding, I gave her a copy of them on card I'd hand-made out of some pretty, fancy paper. They looked nice enough for her to hold during the ceremony, and they're a special momento that she can hang on to for years to come. If you still feel weird not getting them something off the registry, go in with a few other bridesmaids on something so you don't have to spend the full cost of a gift.

Learn to do your own hair and makeup in the months leading up to the wedding.

This is an expense many 'maids don't take into account until the day of the wedding, but if the bride is having a team of hair/makeup artists come to her hotel room to get her ready for the big day, she might expect you to get yours done as well. Usually this runs at $100 or more, which is a needless expense if you know how to do it yourself. Ask the bride what kind of hairstyle she'd like you to have at the wedding. Unless it's some kind of fancy up-do, you can probably recreate it yourself with a little bit of practice.

As for makeup, if you're a novice, I recommend finding some YouTube artists who can recommend products to use and take you step-by-step through the process of creating the perfect smokey eye or pink pout. It might be tricky at first, but like anything, it gets easier and easier the more you try and do it. Take a few hours every weekend and play around with your curling iron and makeup bag. You might be surprised at what you can accomplish yourself.

This article first appeared at Brad's Deals.