Money Talks: One friend got married, the other was her maid of honor

Tiana and Latesha have been friends for almost 20 years. So Tiana, naturally, served as maid of honor in Latesha’s wedding — an opportunity that cost her nearly $3,000.

When you add up the numbers, Tiana’s spent nearly $15,000 on her friends’ weddings in the past four years. Are these celebrations worth it? How can an engaged couple ensure that their wedding party isn’t asked to contribute more than they can afford? What kinds of conversations should brides and bridesmaids be having to help them communicate honestly about their finances without ruining the friendship — or the wedding?

Welcome to Money Talks, a new series in which we interview people about their relationships with money, their relationships with each other, and how those relationships intersect.

Our first installment features Latesha Lynch Neely, an Atlanta-based marketing manager and graphic designer, and Tiana Fernandez, a program coordinator at an Atlanta news station. They co-host the podcast Let’s Talk 30, and here, they get candid about what it means to participate — both financially and emotionally — in such a big event for a friend.

The following interview is lightly condensed and edited for clarity.


How did the wedding planning conversation get started? Was it a surprise, or did both of you suspect that wedding planning would be incipient?

Tiana: When [Latesha] asked me to be her maid of honor, she created this beautiful box with all of our pictures and lights inside; it lit up when you opened it, and it said “Will you be my maid of honor?” Of course I said yes!

Latesha: I’m a millennial, so obviously I had to do [a wedding party] proposal. I’m also a marketing manager and a graphic designer, so creativity is obviously going to happen. [My fiancé and I] were engaged for, like, two full years, so this was not in any way a surprise. We planned the wedding itself for probably nine months as well.

You wanted to do a lot with this wedding, and you had the budget to match. How did that planning take place?

Latesha: The good news is that my husband, unlike myself, is a saver. He had been planning for all of this for his whole life, basically. He saved all of these points and miles, like Amex points and hotel points through Starwood Hotels. We had two honeymoons, and he had enough points and miles to fly to two different countries — we went to Mexico and Bali — and we flew with Delta, first class for the first trip and upgraded seats for the second trip. We didn’t do anything that left [debt] on credit cards, we actually paid for everything in full and he got the points! He’s a very smart saver.

My parents didn’t do the “saving for their daughter’s wedding.” They had given me money before [during a period of unemployment], and they were all “that was your wedding money.” So we paid for the wedding ourselves.

How much did that end up costing you?

Latesha: Now that I’m looking at my total (that I know of; he did not tell me how much his tux and all of that cost), $48,750 was where we ended up. We got married here in Georgia, and that’s probably cheap compared to other states!

Tiana, how much did Latesha’s wedding cost you — and how did that compare to other weddings you’ve been in?

Tiana: Well, I’ve been in several weddings. Like, eight over the past four years. So I’m very used to the process of being a bridesmaid and how much you’ll have to pay for it. Usually you’re at least required to pay for the dress, and you also contribute to whatever bachelorette weekend the bride plans. A bachelorette night in the movies looks like it’s just one night, but nowadays a bachelorette is a real vacation.

Usually it’s the dress, the bridal shower, and the bachelorette, but Latesha didn’t have a bridal shower — thankfully! I would have loved to, but it did save on some costs for sure.

I probably ended up spending around $2,700 for this wedding, but usually the cost is around $1,500 depending on whether you’re a bridesmaid or maid of honor. Since I was maid of honor, I took on a lot more of the costs.

So with eight weddings in the last four years, that’s well over ten grand! Fifteen grand, maybe. How do you budget for those?

Tiana: You kind of don’t! I’d like to say that it’s an absolute honor to be part of someone’s special day, but it does get very costly. With Latesha it was a different story because she was my best friend. I’ve known her for years, so I expected to be in that price bracket for her anyway. That wasn’t an expense for me.

There are some weddings I’ve been asked to be in that I probably could have said no to, but like I said, it really is such a special day for someone having the wedding and for them to ask you to be a part of it is a great thing. So you kind of make it work — I mean, credit cards — and then you just pay it off slowly!

For the last three weddings, the dresses were the most expensive part. The trips were actually not too costly, because they were in Savannah or somewhere close.

I was going to ask about travel, because it’s not just the cost of the wedding, it’s also vacation days. How many days did you take off from work for Latesha’s wedding?

Tiana: I think I just took off two days for the bachelorette, and then the wedding was on Labor Day weekend, so I didn’t have to take off any additional days.

Latesha, in addition to your own wedding, have you also been buying dresses and doing bridal showers for other people?

Latesha: Thank God I’m not that friendly! We have a very close group of friends, but one of them was married before I met them, and I went to another good friend’s wedding but wasn’t part of it because we’d just recently met her. So I haven’t gotten to be a part of that stage. Tiana isn’t married yet, so I know that’s definitely going to happen, and I have a couple more friends who might get married someday, so I’m guessing those will be mine! Planning this wedding — I didn’t even realize that this stuff adds up so fast.

Have either of you had to say no to someone who wants something in a wedding, whether it’s a bride asking a bridesmaid to buy something they can’t afford, or a parent or relative who wants something in the wedding that the bride and groom didn’t want or didn’t budget for?

Latesha: I actually had to say no to my husband! He wanted all of these things — we were going to rent a fancy car that, everywhere I looked, was thousands of dollars. It was for one day, to get this fancy car that was for, like, the video! Things like that.

For the wedding venue, leading up to the wedding we were traveling to all the [potential] venues all over Georgia, we went up to Jekyll Island, we stayed there for a few nights to check it out! You have to pay for all of those things! Those costs add up so, so much.

[Latesha later confirmed that the trips to the venues cost $600, which was not included in her $48,750 total.]

So I had to say “We don’t need to have our wedding out here. Think about our family, who now have to travel four hours, which means they probably have to stay overnight.” Just thinking about those costs — we rented villas for the bridal party and our parents, we rented a hotel for our parents, paying for those things, he wanted to rent three villas instead of just the two, and I was like “We don’t need a third villa, there’s not that many people.”

Our parents, we kept them in check. We were like “this is not your wedding, you guys didn’t give us any money so you don’t have a say.” I wasn’t about to have all of those things stress me out, so just telling everyone no upfront, “you just show up when I ask you to and taste the food and be quiet!”

Tiana: If you catch the bride in the early stages of planning something that may be too costly, I find that if you tell them no in the beginning stages, where they’re going over things, being like “think of how much people have to pay.” Thankfully, I’ve been in weddings with really nice people as brides, so they’re more receptive to receiving that kind of criticism without taking it personally. It’s an expensive thing to be a part of, but most brides are receptive when you’re, like, “that might be too expensive.”

In a bride’s mind, this is such a special, incredible day. So you have to walk that fine line of “I’m in support of you having your dream wedding, but also, I need to eat.”

Have you experienced situations where the relationship has gotten worse after you’ve said no to something, or has it all worked out in the end?

Tiana: Personally, I haven’t experienced a bad situation with saying no, but every single wedding I’ve been in, there’s been at least one bridesmaid who’s dropped out. For whatever reason — they could have been pregnant, they could have not been able to afford the festivities, there could have been a scuffle before then.

Weddings will sometimes bring out random stress that you didn’t even know you had, and you realize that some of your friends maybe weren’t there for you in the way that you thought they would have been there for you.

With Latesha’s wedding, there was a bridesmaid that dropped out, but it was because she had a trip [so] there wasn’t any bad blood there. But I have been in weddings where there has been a very tumultuous breakup between the bride and a bridesmaid. Like, they no longer speak.

Latesha: Like she said, one of the bridesmaids dropped out pretty early on. I had already bought my bridesmaids’ proposal boxes, so I had to re-order all the stuff and make another one for the new girl, like “I love you too! You’re also special! Here’s a box!” But I’m still friends with both of them. We have good attitudes about things.

We didn’t have to have many conversations about money, making things awkward, because we were all very considerate about one another.

Tiana: I think this has a lot to do with our age. If this had happened in our 20s, it would have been a whole different situation. First of all, we wouldn’t have had as much money. Number two, friendships are just different. In your 30s, you have a more established friendship where it’s, like, you have put in years at this point. So it’s just a totally different situation.

Latesha: You’re definitely going to be more honest and upfront. There’s no sensitivity at this age. You’re kind of like “Look, girl, come on now. You know I have a mortgage and a kid. I am not paying for this trip. You can choose something else, or I’m not coming.” And they’re like, “I get it! I have bills too.”

If you have a compelling story about how money comes into play in one of your relationships — whether with a partner, a friend, a sibling, a coworker, or what have you — we want to hear about it! Email alanna.okun@vox.com and karen.turner@vox.com with a little about yourself.