For couples hoping to tie the knot, a wedding is often their first major shared expense. But with a typical wedding costing $35,329, according to The Knot 2016 Real Weddings Study, the special occasion can quickly devolve into an overspending nightmare.
However, keeping your wedding cheap might be the best way to ensure future marital bliss as a couple. In fact, one study suggests that marriages are more likely to last longer if they start with cheap nuptials.
Bottom line: Don’t let the pressures you’re facing now overshadow the future you want to build together. Here’s how to properly manage the financial planning of your wedding to secure (not sabotage) your life together.
1. Earmark your wedding fund
If you’re getting married, you've probably already started sharing expenses, budgeting as a couple, or otherwise combining your financial worlds.
In your conversations about money, add regular discussions about your biggest and most urgent upcoming expense: the wedding. You can (and should) start working on this even before popping the question.
For instance, each partner can review their savings and assets to decide what could be freed up to help cover wedding costs. Most couples have months to plan and pay for a wedding — use that time to your advantage to save more.
“We set a preliminary budget based on how much we'd be able to save over the course of a year,” said Michael Galvis, a colleague and friend who got married in 2016. Even better, re-adjust some budget categories to free up cash from each paycheck that you can add to the wedding fund.
2. Hammer out your wedding budget
Once you have a general idea of how much in savings and monthly cash you can use toward a wedding, it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty of planning out a wedding budget.
“After my husband proposed, the first thing we did was talk about how we envisioned our wedding,” Galvis said.
They dove right into the costs and “put together a spreadsheet that broke down wedding costs.” Here’s how you can do the same.
Set up a system to track wedding costs. With your fiancé, set up a shared file (physical or digital) to plan for, track, and re-adjust wedding expenses.
Research wedding costs and compare options. From the venue to the wedding attire all the way down to napkins, you’ll want to budget and plan for each cost.
Decide on spending for each expense. Discuss what’s important to each of you and what isn’t, and allocate funds accordingly. The venue is easily the most expensive part of each wedding, for example, costing over $16,000 on average, per The Knot. Opting for a backyard wedding or cheaper venue can be a simple way to curb costs.
- Figure out how much you can pay for using your current savings. Then, figure out how much you can pay for out of your monthly budget, and how much you might need to borrow.
“We made changes to make the wedding fit within our budget,” Galvis added. “For example, we found that disposable champagne glasses for our 100-person wedding would easily cost us $70 or more. We decided the cost wasn't worth it. People could drink out of regular glasses at a much lower cost.”
3. Discuss wedding contributions with family
Parents, family members, and other loved ones are often involved with planning and paying for your wedding, reception, or related events.
Although it can feel awkward to ask for details about what they plan to pay for, it’s information you’ll need to know as you work out your wedding budget.
Here are some best practices for conducting these conversations.
Be sensitive and gracious.
Make it clear that you’re not demanding help, but simply on a fact-collecting mission that will help you plan your wedding. Be conscientious of your family member’s financial situation when discussing how they might be able to help out.
Ask for a specific commitment.
Get a dollar amount of what they are willing to contribute, or a wedding expense they want to cover. That way, you can input it in your budget and know exactly what you’re working with.
Discuss when and how the family member will offer financial help.
If your parents plan to cover the luncheon, for instance, they might send you a check and have you arrange it. Alternatively, they might prefer to pay the venue directly. Talking through the logistics and timing will help both you and your parents plan for these wedding costs.
Consider contributions beyond cash.
For example, your parents might have hotel or airline points stocked up from credit card purchases. They could potentially offer these up to you and your fiancé to help fund your honeymoon.
4. Manage existing debts wisely
Many couples hoping to pay for wedding costs out of pocket might feel held back by the debt they already have. Payments on credit cards, car loans, and student loans can eat up hundreds of dollars in a monthly budget.
However, before you consider taking out a personal loan to pay for your wedding and adding yet another debt payment, look for ways to modify your existing debt.
You might want to start with your credit cards, which can carry some of the highest interest rates and cost you the most. If you consolidate credit cards into a personal loan, which usually will have a much lower rate, you can pay less in interest on this debt.
Credit card consolidation allows you to choose a loan length that will result in affordable monthly payments. You cancalculate personal loan payments based on different terms and rates to see the potential impact.
You also might look into refinancing your student loans, car loans, or similar debts. Refinancing gives you the chance to originate a new loan with terms that better fit your current focus on planning and paying for a wedding.
5. Look past the wedding date
Lastly, a wedding is a life-changing event. You and your spouse-to-be will be joined together for the rest of your lives — officially, legally, and financially.
That means, for better or for worse, your marriage will affect some of your money management. You and your significant other should take some time to review your finances and understand how they might change after the wedding.
For example, couples will need to decide whether to mix their funds and share all accounts, or whether to keep some money separate. After marriage, you’ll also need to decide whether to file taxes jointly or as individuals.
Marriage can also affect student loan repayment. If you’re on an income-driven repayment plan, for example, your payments might need to be adjusted to take both your and your spouse’s income into account. But, if you’re hoping to refinance student loans in the future, many lenders will only consider your income on an application — not your spouse’s.
Planning a wedding can feel like a whirlwind enterprise. By having a solid budget and financial plan in place, you can keep your finances (and spending) in check.
Plus, consider how much more enjoyable your wedding will be if you can relax, knowing that you can afford to pay for all the fun and look forward to a financially sound marriage.
Editor's note: Due to the pandemic, some of the general wedding planning advice we share may not be applicable or possible due to restrictions on events. Please adhere to all current regulations and stay safe and healthy! Get more resources for planning a pandemic wedding here.