It’s June, officially the most popular month for weddings in the U.S. Unless you’re already married, it’s a good time to start thinking about how you’ll pay for your eventual Big Day. Starting your marriage off on solid financial footing is pretty important, but too many couples start out with thousands of dollars of debt from their weddings. That’s not just unwise, it’s unnecessary. It’s possible to make your vows in front of friends and family, throw a great party, and create memories that will last a lifetime, even on a shoestring budget. You just need to plan in advance. Here are three things you and your partner can do to ensure that your wedding stays affordable.
1. Start Saving ASAP
This means you! Even if you’re not engaged yet. Even if you’re not ready to propose.
There’s no way around the fact that weddings are expensive (but not as expensive as The Knot and other players in the Wedding Industrial Complex want you to think!). Just as with big-ticket items like a house, a car, or your child’s education, establishing a dedicated savings account far in advance is the way to go. Set up automatic contributions. Whenever you have extra money at the end of the month, transfer it to the wedding account. When you get cash gifts, put them in the wedding account. Tax return? Wedding account.
You usually only have one or two years to save for your wedding, and you have to write several big checks throughout the planning process, so keeping your funds in a liquid, high-yield savings account is often the best choice. It’s just too easy to fall into the wedding equivalent of lifestyle creep. Credit cards are usually a bad idea (no matter how good your points) — I have known only one couple who got married in the past 5 years who didn’t go over-budget.
2. Base Your Budget on Reality
Chances are, you have an idea about what kind of wedding you want. Put that aside for a moment. First, consider what kind of wedding fits your budget.
When my wife and I started talking about maybe getting married, we tried to figure out how much we could afford. It was harder than we thought! There isn’t really a good rule of thumb for weddings, the way there is for figuring out how much you can afford for a house or a car. We ended up working out a hard number by asking our parents what they’d be willing/able to contribute. With $1,000 each, we had a baseline. Then we looked at our savings. We had a healthy emergency fund, but finances were tight. Ultimately, we decided we could save $500 per month for a year, plus take another $2,000 from our current savings. $10,000. Modest, but doable.
Next, we picked a budget guide that felt right to us. We reviewed The Knot, Offbeat Bride, A Practical Wedding, and a bunch of other blogs, but ultimately decided to start with the template from Real Simple. We went through it and adjusted for factors like being a lesbian couple (nix renting a tux, add money for another bridal outfit), not wanting bridesmaids, and just not caring that much about flowers. That approach lets you look at reasonable guidelines, identify where you’ll have slack, and think about what is important enough to you to spend extra. That way, you can have the wedding you want without starting married life in debt.
3. Be Prepared for Temptation and Last-Minute Expenses
I mentioned that all but one of my recently-married friends ultimately busted their budget. We certainly did. Our $10,000 wedding turned into an $11,500 wedding, with the overrun hitting both our 3 month emergency fund and my credit card. I don’t regret most of the things we decided to spend extra on (except flowers). But every time we wanted to spend more than we had budgeted for, we had a conversation about it. Before you write that check, talk to your partner about it. Ask yourselves:
- What does this add to our experience? How does it improve our guests’ experience?
- Will this help us create or preserve beautiful memories?
- Do we both want this enough to go over budget or is it just one of us? Can we compromise?
- How will we pay for this and how much will it really cost, including interest?
There WILL be things you can’t plan for that require last-minute spending. For example, our officiant backed out three weeks before the wedding because he accidentally double-booked. One friend had a car accident while picking up relatives at the airport (no injuries, thankfully). There was a major problem with the cake. There will be something. And you’ll probably throw money at it to avoid piling on stress at the last minute. The more prepared you are to face temptation calmly, the better off you’ll be when something comes up.