Always the bridesmaid
Your bestie/cousin/sister is getting married! That’s fantastic! And you think that she’s going to ask you to be part of the wedding party. You are deeply honoured, but guilty too, because you don’t think you can afford it.
This means being honest about your concerns around money, and asking your friend about what her expectations around what sort of financial commitments there might be from you.
This includes things like clothing, showers, gifts, hair, make-up, bachelorette parties and any overnight trips.
As with all things involving human interaction, the best way to avoid hurt feelings is good, honest, open communication. Hopefully, you have the kind of relationship that allows you to talk that way (you probably do, if you’re asked to be in the wedding party).
Maybe you can squeak this into your budget if you can get a handle on the costs. Tell your friend what you think your budget might be.
If she’s cool with it, try to get involved early on with feedback, so that your own costs don’t balloon (in particular when it comes to the dresses- which will probably be your biggest expense).
If it’s just not going to work, perhaps there is another way you can be part of her wedding? Maybe you could read at the ceremony, emcee at the reception, or help with decorating. Offer up your home as a potential location for her bridesmaids to host a shower.
Just because you aren’t in the wedding party doesn’t mean that you can’t help with the wedding planning and tasks too. She can use all the help she can get. Make sure that she understands that your reasons are strictly financial for not participating as a wedding party member- and that you still want to be there to support her.
Tell her right away
Don’t put this conversation off. Even if you are full of regret, letting her know that you are unavailable as soon as you can is a huge sign of respect for her and for your friendship. She’ll need to move down her list to the next candidate, and you don’t want to put her in an awkward position.