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The excitement of getting engaged quickly turned to stress and anxiety when we started to discuss paying for our wedding.
I was 24 years old and my soon-to-be bride was 22, so we didn’t have a lot of money to spare as young college graduates.
Saddled with thousands of dollars in student loans didn’t help, and we knew we’d be receiving limited financial support from our families.
We knew we’d have to be creative to pull off the wedding, but we didn’t realize the money lessons we’d learn would last a lifetime.
In Hindsight, Receiving Little Financial Support Was A Hidden Blessing
This year, my wife Kayla and I are celebrating our 5 year wedding anniversary, which has given us the perfect opportunity to reflect back on what has made the biggest impact on our marriage.
While many factors and events readily come to mind, we both agree that receiving little financial support for our wedding was the best thing that could have happened to us and our marriage.
The limited financial help from family was enough to reserve the venue, but we were on the hook for everything else.
That means the food, music, wedding dress, invitations, flowers, decorations, alcohol, cake, etc. all needed to be paid for by us.
Throw in the fact that we have a HUGE extended family locally and you can probably understand why we started to worry.
The Average Wedding Costs A Small Fortune
Young people are graduating from college with insane amounts of debt. Naturally, as college graduates begin their careers, they turn their attention to the other milestones in their lives, such as getting married and starting a family.
Since the majority of people getting married tend to be relatively young (under 30), many depend on their families for financial support to cover wedding expenses.
So how expensive are weddings?
Estimates show the average wedding cost in the United States is about $34,000. With such a high price tag, it is no surprise that many couples hoping to have their dream wedding struggle to turn it into a reality.
The good news is that with hard work and a little creativity, you can create your perfect day without breaking the bank.
We Didn’t Always Have Financial Discipline
After graduating from college, Kayla and I were not necessarily disciplined with our finances, but we still managed to pay all of our bills and even started to make additional payments on our student loans.
Even though we both had entry-level jobs, we kept our monthly expenses extremely low by living in a college house with five other roommates.
I think this gave us a false sense of financial security and made us feel like saving money was way too easy. It’s funny how everything seems so easy when you are young. We weren’t even aware of financial automation at that point, either, and how powerful that can be.
What we didn’t account for was the fact that as you grow and evolve, so do your needs and desires. While living in a small house with several roommates was fun, it was not sustainable long term.
Inevitably, that meant moving out into our own space with more room. Our monthly rent tripled while our income remained the same. We were not saving for retirement and if you would’ve asked us “what is an IRA?”, you would’ve been met with a blank stare.
Despite that, life was comfortable. We had everything we needed and even most of the things we wanted (other than more free time!).
Our relationship was growing even deeper and I was 100% sure that she was the one. I carefully planned my proposal and I was over the moon when she said YES!
Being Accepted To Medical School Only Added To Our Financial Stress
Then, just 6 months after getting engaged, I started medical school. This added another layer of complexity to our wedding planning.
Medical school limited the time frame of when we could get married and the associated school and moving costs cut into the savings we had.
We decided to get married during my summer break between my first and second years. That would be the only realistic opportunity with guaranteed time off until after graduation.
Starting medical school meant that we both needed to survive on a single income for the next four years, all while taking out a crazy amount of loans to cover the medical school tuition.
It also meant moving into a small apartment to save more money. (Note: single medical students typically take out loans to cover both school and living expenses, but we chose to live off of a single income and only use loan money to cover school expenses).
Our four years of medical school also turned into five when I decided to do research for a year, and I graduated with over $200,000 in student loans, but that’s a story for another day.
Because of my school schedule, we had a pretty limited window of time when we could get married. This helped us narrow down the venues as some already had those dates booked, despite that it was 14 months out.
Wedding Planning Forced Us To Start To Budget
The cost of a wedding venue can vary greatly from place to place and not every venue provides the same services and accommodations. We were both the first of our families to plan a wedding and we experienced severe sticker shock.
We didn’t realize it at the time, but this is when we first learned how to budget.
We created a spreadsheet to keep track of all of the expenses and the quotes from the different vendors: the venue, the bakery, the photographer, the DJ, and the florist.
We still use a spreadsheet today for our monthly budget!
While we were fortunate to get some help from my wife’s parents, ultimately, it would be our responsibility to finance the majority of our wedding.
We were young and nervous about being able to cover the costs without acquiring even more debt, and there were times that felt like the wedding would never happen.
Paying For Our Own Wedding Forced Us To Get On The Same Page For Our Long-Term Financial Goals
With no significant savings up to that point and no other sources of income, we sat down and thought of possible ideas to make our dream wedding a reality.
It was during these discussions that we both felt motivated and got on the same page regarding our goals.
It also helped us to create our habit of sitting down together regularly to talk about our monthly budget, future goals, our dreams, or anything else that comes up.
While it seems like common sense to have open lines of communication in a relationship, this really forced us to open up and discuss tough subjects on a regular basis.
Despite pinching pennies whenever possible, we still needed to make extra money fast. I picked up a job at the medical school library. It was the perfect job for a medical student. I could squeeze in time to study between helping students check out books.
Aside from working at her full-time job during the day, Kayla looked for extra work from home jobs.
She was able to find a job transcribing financial documents for a sales manager. She would bring home large boxes full of documents and enter them into an online database.
While it was not fun work, it was easy for her to do and it didn’t interfere with her full-time job. Kayla got a second part-time job at a local gym, where she worked night and weekend shifts. When you’re saving for a wedding, every penny counts!
This turned us into serial side hustlers and today I run a personal finance site to bring in extra income and help others.
This Experience Helped Give Us Perspective To Focus On What Matters Most
We also learned to focus our time and energy where it mattered.
Instead of obsessing over every tiny detail, we did our best to keep the big picture in mind and setting wedding priorities.
One example that comes to mind is chair covers. Our venue provided upholstered chairs that didn’t match our wedding colors. While we initially considered renting chair covers, we simply could not justify paying nearly $500 to cover every single chair.
After talking about it more, we also realized that when we think back on our wedding day, chair covers would be pretty low on the list of things we would remember.
Serendipitously, we had a friend who owned a few chair covers, so we asked her to borrow 10 of them to use at the head table.
We knew the head table would be featured in several photos, and you can’t beat borrowing 10 chair covers for free.
Flowers and decorations also have the potential to drain a large portion of money from your wedding budget.
Kayla scoured Pinterest and Google to find creative DIY alternatives to expensive decorations. We bought vases, photo frames, candles and other decor from IKEA. We purchased seasonal peonies from a local farm and our florist was kind enough to agree to use them without an additional charge. We simply paid a fee for her to store, deliver and set up the centerpieces.
In the end we spent $300 for flowers and we thought they looked like we spent 10x that. Win.
We Tapped Our Network For As Many Of The Vendors As Possible
We have attended weddings with live bands, and while they provide a great environment, it is very costly.
Fortunately, we knew someone from our high school who was starting a DJ business and gave us a great deal.
He was a young hard-working guy just getting into the business and really went the extra mile to ensure that everything went off without a problem.
$500 including tip for 7 hours of solid music was an incredible value. The other DJs we spoke to locally were at least $2,000 and this was in central Minnesota.
In addition to the actual wedding day, there are other expenses that many people forget to budget for.
One of these expenses is the rehearsal dinner. In order to cut costs, we limited our rehearsal dinner to immediate family, the wedding party and international guests (I was born abroad).
Rather than renting a space or making reservations at a fancy restaurant, we opted to host our rehearsal dinner at Kayla’s grandparents’ home in their garage.
Hosting the event at her grandparents’ beautiful home not only saved money, but it was very meaningful for us, as we both have made many wonderful memories there. We enjoyed food catered from a low-cost, local restaurant and purchased our favorite tres leches cake for dessert.
Picture a laid-back summer BBQ cookout in a rural setting. With the garage door open it felt like we were on a patio. It wasn’t glamorous but everyone loved it.
We Optimized For Meaning Over Glitz And Glamour
By being creative in making our dream wedding a reality, we learned how to focus and work together to achieve a financial goal.
We continue to use the skills we learned in every aspect of our lives and we are saving money like crazy. We are fortunate to live in a time when there are so many resources available to help people save money.
From Kayak for flights to Contacts Compare for the cheapest contact lenses prices, there really is no excuse for not saving money.
Although we worked tirelessly to reduce our expenses and save as much as possible, we learned a very important lesson.
Sometimes in life, no matter how bad you may want something or how hard you work, you may not get it.
We really wanted to have a videographer to record the wedding, but we simply could not afford it. We chose to spend a little more on a photographer instead of compromising on the quality of the photographer to get video.
Since almost everyone at our wedding had a smartphone, we ended up with more videos than we could have ever imagined.
My brother’s best man speech even made it to YouTube and got thousands of views.
Could we have taken out a loan to cover the photographer we wanted and have a videographer? Sure, but we didn’t want to accrue more debt.
Living within your means is a vastly underestimated skill. It was not something we had thought about before getting married, but planning our wedding seared it into us.
Buying things you can’t afford with money you don’t have is a recipe for disaster. No marriage, especially a new marriage, needs the added pressure of exploding debt. Especially credit card debt with interest rates that can ruin your finances.
Our Wedding Set The Tone For Our Marriage And How We Plan And Make Decisions
We didn’t have the foresight to understand how the lessons we were learning in the planning process would shape our future, but in hindsight, it laid the foundation for our marriage.
By sticking to our budget, living within our means, and getting creative to solve issues that may arise (financial or otherwise), we, as a couple, can conquer anything together. We continue to apply these principles every single day.
This year, we welcomed a beautiful daughter to our family. In many ways, preparing for a child is similar to preparing for a wedding.
You have a big date on the calendar and work tirelessly to make sure everything is ready. A big part of that is making sure the finances are in order. Hospital bills add up quickly, even with a good insurance plan.
As our lives continue to change, we will continue to prepare for the future with the skills we have honed over the past 5+ years. With a well laid out plan, one can be prepared for anything.
We regularly use a retirement calculator to make sure we are staying on track. It’s also a great motivator if you find yourself beginning to deviate from your plan!
Once you realize how important it is to plan for retirement, you’ll be glad you started.
As you venture forward with your wedding plans, just remember that it’s okay to not have that $30,000 wedding. In fact, it can be a blessing to foot the vast majority of the bill yourself. Not only will you learn valuable money lessons along the way, but you'll also start your marriage off on the right financial footing.