I just discovered this chart by mint.com on the cost of being a bridesmaid and yeesh! $1695!! I have to admit that I’ve never added up all the costs like this before, but in looking at this chart, it seems pretty accurate (and even conservative sometime). The second portion of the chart offers some advice (click to enlarge), which I’ll expand on. I think it’s always a good idea to combine the shower and bachelorette into one weekend. That can eliminate a huge chunk in travel fees, which is where you really get hit hard. When possible, it’s also nice to choose a location where you can all stay at someone’s house or apartment.
I also agree that shelling out for a big-ticket wedding gift isn’t necessary. A personal gift or small item from the registry is fine. The bride and groom want you to be there for the wedding and their priority is your presence, not your presents.
I’d also advise brides to make getting your hair and makeup done optional, or at least shop around for good prices. If the bride wants to spend more on her hair and makeup (and why shouldn’t she?), she could bring in a lower-cost hair stylist or makeup artist to work with her bridesmaids. You can also cut down on costs by using a dress rental service like Little Borrowed Dress or Rent the Runway, or by choosing dresses with lower price tags.
Of course, this is a touchy subject. I think no bride wants to feel like she’s costing her friends a lot of money. And no friend wants to complain about the cost because we want to make our bride happy and make her day as beautiful and special as possible. Try to approach the issue with delicacy and remember that you’ll want her to do the same for you when it’s time for your big day.