It is approaching year-end and despite the difficult times brought on by a falling shilling and rising inflation, wedding preparations are, no doubt, in top gear as couples prepare to roll out that one splendid, memorable day that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.
But an increase in pop culture’s fascination with wedding shows, magazines, social media, and websites is putting pressure on many brides and grooms to walk down the aisle in a unique and memorable way.
This often obliges them to pass the cost of their big day — sometimes literally — to their team of bridesmaids and members of their wedding committees.
On the other hand, destination weddings have become increasingly popular in recent years.
And because of the excitement and the desire to impress, many couples are not mindful of the expense incurred by guests and wedding party members, who now have to include a plane ticket and possible accommodation, in addition to the other expenses.
Maximillah, an Information Technology expert in Nairobi, has participated in three weddings — two as a bridesmaid and one as a committee member. And according to her experiences, helping a friend to organise a wedding can be a costly affair.
“I have always been happy to be part of a friend’s wedding. It is hard to turn down your best friend’s request to be in her wedding ceremony. Some of them are my next door neighbours, others are former college mates. I was glad to assist them to settle down.”
However, her income did not exactly match the price tag of the designer bridesmaid dresses and shoes that the bride had chosen. When she got the email about the dress and shoes that she was expected to purchase, she was taken aback.
“The shoes cost Sh2,800 while the dress was Sh5,500. I was also supposed to pay for my hair to be done to match the other bridesmaids’ and get a manicure. This is before even taking into consideration the cost of a gift, the bachelorette party, and wedding shower,” she says.
Maximillah says being a bridesmaid is costly.
“You have to buy an engagement gift and help plan the bridal shower. And for some weddings, there is the bachelorette party, which you plan (and pay for) along with the other bridesmaids.
And if the wedding is being held somewhere fun or exotic, you have to arrange for your own travel expenses, which may mean hiring a limo or a flashy car.”
Maximillah is not the only bridesmaid who has felt the burden of wedding expenses. Weddings, which were once simply a special day in the life of a couple, have become the centre of a multi-billion shilling industry catering to the whims of brides who want to feel like princesses, if only for a day.
Cynthia*, a businesswoman in Nairobi, has also been a bridesmaid at four weddings. The first two brides she served were both reasonable and gracious with their requests, but the other two were not so easy to work with.
Her first bad experience came when her cousin’s fiancée cancelled the wedding less than a week before the nuptials. She informed the bridal party of the development via angry texts and emails.
Never mind that Cynthia had already bought a bridesmaid’s dress at Sh4,500 and a pair of shoes to match at Sh2,500.
“Other than the angry messages in my email inbox and phone, I never received an explanation or acknowledgement of the cancellation or even a ‘thank you’ note, after I dropped Sh7,000 for her special day. I felt that my efforts were not appreciated,” she says.
The wedding took place after five weeks and Cynthia had to buy another dress “because the previous colour did not match the new wedding dress.”
Cynthia has been asked by several friends to be their bridesmaid or join their wedding committees, but after her last experience, she said “no”.
She is firm that she does not want to participate in organising any more weddings.
She recalls an incident where a relative stated that anyone who “cared” about her wedding would find a way to finance a trip to South Africa, where the ceremony would take place. “I guess only about 10 people cared, because that’s the number that showed up.”
Mr Stephen Ngunjiri, a wedding planner in Nairobi, says that although being asked to serve as a bridesmaid is a great honour, some people take it too far because they want to impress others.
“Being chosen as a bridesmaid is a great thing. The bride wants you to play an integral role in what will be one of the most memorable days of her life.
However, many friends and family members have found themselves managing the unreasonable demands of a soon-to-be wedded woman who thinks that everyone should gladly give up a chunk of their time and money for her nuptials.”
Mr Manyara Kirago, a financial planner, says many bridesmaids do not realise how quickly the expenses can add up between the time the engagement is announced to the day their friends or relatives walk down the aisle.
If it takes a-year-and-a-half, you may not realise that you have spent close to Sh100,000,” he says.
And as the economy struggles out of the current slump, the price of weddings — and the cost of being a bridesmaid or a wedding committee member — is rising.
Brides are asking for more formal weddings with higher price tags. While many people would like to be involved in their best friends’ wedding, they cannot afford to spend all their savings on the big day.
So how do you break it to your friend or relative that you cannot be her bridesmaid or committee member because of the high cost?
“Be honest up front,” says Mr Kirago, the author of How to Become a Life-long Financial Success.
“It is important to be honest and if you try participate in it, you may end up using credit cards, which will put you in a debt trap.
You should never go into debt for a friend’s wedding. If you cannot afford to be in one, explain this to your friend or relative.”
He advises people who feel financially squeezed to try and turn down bridesmaid offers in person, but never during a wedding-related event.
“You can arrange for a cup of coffee with the bride or the groom, find time to talk outside work, but don’t ‘throw a fit’ about the expenses. Just tell the truth,” he adds.