The bachelorette party has escalated.
Referred to in the UK as “hen parties,” modern-day bachelorette parties evolved out of their male cousin, the bachelor (or “stag”) party. Up until the 1960s, the female equivalent of this male rite of passage was a mere bridal shower, where guests bestowed housewife-ready gifts upon the bride. But as women gained more sexual freedom, those gifts got raunchier and bridal showers morphed into nights out on the town. With the advent of Chippendales in 1979, male strip shows became a popular destination for female bridal parties, and by the 1980s a more raucous celebration had become the norm. In the past few decades, bachelorette parties have exploded into a lucrative arm of the $300 billion global wedding industry.
Today, like so many Instagram-fueled evolutions in cultural norms, bachelorette parties are more intense than ever: long, expensive, and full of photo opportunities. They’re an endless Instagram stream of swan floats in infinity pools in Cabo; chartered sunset yacht cruises in San Francisco Bay; party bikes powered by boozy brunches on the streets of Nashville, Tennessee; and line-ups of women clad in custom swimsuits—”BRIDE TRIBE”— in front of crystal-clear Caribbean waters. Bachelorette parties toting gigantic cut-outs of the groom’s face dominate bottle-service club nights in Las Vegas. Some luxury services are catering to these motivated, spendthrift hoards with special packages, while others are instituting “no bachelorette party” rules to keep them away entirely. Meanwhile, millions of sisters, cousins, college roommates, and lifelong best friends are footing the bill.
In 2018, the average US bachelorette party attendee spent $537 on the whole affair, including travel and gift costs, according to wedding site The Knot.
And that’s just your typical party. According to WeddingWire, nearly a third of bachelorette parties last three or more days, and nearly 40% of attendees who flew to a destination bachelorette party reported spending over $1,000. Alex Miller, founder of UpgradedPoints.com, pegs the average cost to attend a destination bachelorette party in the US at at $1,400. It’s no wonder New York City subway ads extoll the virtues of having “a safety net for things like being asked to be a bridesmaid” or Instagram posts snipe about wedding season as “the time of year when you must forgo all your free time, vacation days, and any savings to celebrate a couple whose great love story started with the groom sending a ‘u up?’ text.”
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Myka Meier, an etiquette coach and founder of Beaumont Etiquette (she also does etiquette training for New York’s swanky Plaza Hotel) has a few helpful tips for planning a great bachelorette without breaking everyone’s bank.
For bridesmaids in particular, a bachelorette party is just one in an array of wedding-related costs, which can also include travel and gifts for an engagement party, a bridal shower, and the wedding itself, plus a bridesmaids dress. All those expenses add up, and many women who attend destination bachelorette parties in particular find themselves foregoing personal vacations or other luxuries, or worse—taking on debt. According to Credit Karma, the top reasons people report going into debt to attend a bachelorette are a sense of obligation and not wanting to seem broke to their friends.
It often gets lost in the shuffle, but it’s better for everyone if brides, or whoever is chosen to plan the event, takes into account attendees’ occupations, spending comfort levels, and willingness to participate before booking anything. And remember that costs are relative: A $400 hotel room might be reasonable to some, but budget-breaking for others. “Be sure to send around an estimated budget to the group ahead of time for input,” Meier says. “Do not purchase any big group ticket items without approval of those you will be charging first.”
Giving attendees options of high-priced and less expensive activities can help gauge how much everyone is willing to spend. Alternating an all-night blowout bar crawl with meals cooked at the party’s home base and cheap activities such as karaoke, bowling, or playing games will help cut costs. And if a destination bachelorette party is a must, cities such as Los Angeles, New York City, and San Francisco will drive up the total cost. So consider locales where the cost of living is cheaper, such as Austin, New Orleans, or San Diego.
Remember: Even if the bridal party isn’t getting bottle service on a rooftop club while staying in a $3,000 per night villa on the water, you will make worthwhile memories, toast the lady of the hour, and still have plenty of envy-inducing fodder for your Instagram.
WeddingWire reports that 30% of all bachelorette parties involve some sort custom gear created for the event so, at the very least, scrap the bespoke sashes, t-shirts, and banners and invest that money elsewhere.
“Before you say yes to attending a bachelorette party, make sure [you] understand big ticket items may be on a group budget,” says Meier. “Pending the group, it is also common for the bachelorette party to chip in to cover the cost for part or all of the bride’s trip, so be sure to take that into consideration.”
While the onus shouldn’t be on the bridesmaids to speak up if they can’t afford something—no one wants to be that person who feels like a stick in the mud because activities, lodging, or airfare falls outside their budget—it’s important to set financial boundaries. Meier says that being honest and upfront is the best approach if a bachelorette falls outside your budget. For those that simply can’t afford to attend a destination bachelorette, she advises offering to send a bottle of champagne to the table during dinner or to chip in for a portion of the gift or activity for the bride.