Saying ‘I Don’t’ to Wedding Debt
Wedding bells are ringing, but that doesn’t mean your wallet has to be left stinging! We originally wrote this article in 2014, and as we went back to compare more recent costs, there was not a huge difference in expenses between 2014, 2019 and 2021. Wedding planners have warned expenses in 2022 are higher than the national average of recent years. That makes the present time the perfect time to plan on a budget.
Wedding costs in 2014 averaged $29,858.1 In 2019 and in 2021, the average wedding cost was $28,000.2 2020 -being the outlier year that it was- came in at an average cost of $19,000.2 It may be hard to understand how the average bill can get that high so often, but the wedding industry is good at getting you to splurge a little here and a lot over there.
Budgeting and planning are key components to making your wedding affordable. Being smart with your finances doesn’t have to keep you from having the wedding of your dreams, it just means that you’ll be able to continue a happy, financially secure life long after your nuptials.
It’s easy to get caught up in the tradition of a big, fancy wedding. After all, many of us spend years dreaming of what the day we finally say “I do” will be like. We imagine our friends and family talking about our wedding day for years to come and memories of music, food and laughter stored fondly in our hearts. But we mustn’t forget the real reason we get married: to share a lifetime of love and partnership with our spouse. Shifting the lens through which you see your big day can make planning a budget-friendly wedding much easier.
Michelle Singletary, personal finance columnist for the Washington Post, warns that “unless you have no debt, you can’t afford to spend much on a wedding.”3 Beginning your married life as burden-free as possible will make your future, both financially and personally, much simpler. While a wedding only lasts a day, debt can perpetuate for many years to come. This is why planning, budgeting and being frugal are so important when planning your wedding in order to avoid bridal bankruptcy.4
Say Yes to the Dress
First things first, let’s talk dress. The average bride in 2014 spent $1,281 on a dress they only wore once.5 In 2021, the average wedding dress cost was $1,800.6 Being the frugal fashionista that we know you are, we knew you would surely enjoy some helpful tips to finding the perfect dress that won’t break your bank. The sentimental option to save on dress-expense is to opt for the “something borrowed” route. If your mom, sister, cousin or friend is willing, wearing their old wedding gown can drastically decrease your wedding spending. Simple alterations to make the dress your own, such as adding beading or embellishments will cost next to nothing in comparison to purchasing a new dress. If borrowing isn’t an option, fear not! There are still plenty of other ways to find the perfect dress and still meet your financial goals. The internet is flush with wonderful secondhand wedding dress vendors- from classified ads, to clothing resale shops.
Many boutiques offer gown rentals that are a fraction of the cost of purchasing. This is even an option to consider when making selections for bridesmaid or mother-of-the-bride dresses. Straying from tradition can also allow you some more financial freedom. Look into the availability of alternative fabrics for your dream gown. A cheaper fabric that is just as beautiful can make your financial burden much lighter. Don’t be ashamed to look at department or outlet stores for cheaper selections or even opting for a white bridesmaid’s gown that can be used as a much more economical wedding gown. When it comes down to it, just remember, the sooner you start shopping and comparing, the better chance you have to find the right dress at the right price. And as always, simpler really is better. Your fiancé loved you pre-coffee and pre-makeup. He’ll love you in any gown you choose.
Avoid the Marriage Markup
When making wedding plans, experts suggest using the “W” word sparingly when working with vendors. Not using the word wedding when getting quotes for venues can reduce the price up to 30 percent.7 However, wedding planners and venues are familiar with the trick of couples who try to avoid calling their “party” a “wedding” in hopes of saving some money. In the wedding industry’s defense, they say that the quality of deliverables are different for a wedding, rather than for a family reunion, so for them, being forthright about the intention for your event will help you get the desired result that you are likely expecting.8
When it comes to the reception, there are so many options to consider. Entertainment and food can be the most costly aspects to your wedding. When it comes to choosing a venue for your wedding and reception, price can be tricky. This is when having your creative-thinking cap on will come in handy. A unique and finance-savvy option is to host your reception at your favorite restaurant. Not only will you have most of the work done for you, but you’ll also save on fees for plates, utensils, chairs and napkins. If that’s not enough to convince you, most of these places have free parking as well.9
If a restaurant reception is too far off the beaten path for you, catering in foods from your favorite restaurants could offer great variety, savings and sentimental value. This idea comes from our own founders, Travis and Kelly Terlau, who decided that bringing in their favorites bites from their favorite date spots made for a great crowd—and wallet—pleaser.
Timing your wedding accordingly can help avoid large expenses on a reception. If you opt for a time like early or late afternoon, you can get away with simply having cocktails and finger foods rather than serving a full meal.
Eat, Drink and Be Married
When it comes to drinks, there are several options to consider. An open bar can be one of the most money-draining expenses when it comes to spending for your nuptials. Often, your options for beverages are limited by the venue you choose. You may be restricted by your venue to using an in-house bartender or one list of restricted caterers, which usually means there is a higher cost to your food and beverages.
If you plan to have an open bar, serving only wine, beer and soft drinks, with a champagne—or even cheaper, a sparkling wine—toast included will reduce cost dramatically.10 You may also want to consider having an open bar for a limited time, then making it a cash bar for the rest of the event. Splurging on top-shelf liquors will also create a major drain on funding. Make sure your priorities are straight before committing to spending a fortune on your friends’ libations.
Don’t Sweat the Sweet Stuff
Now you’ve got to decide on the cake and other finalizing details. The bill keeps adding up, but there are ways to keep it from skyrocketing. A popular trend among weddings lately has been serving wedding cupcakes. Instead of investing in a large, expensive cake, you can opt for choosing a smaller cake to cut with your groom and serve cute cupcakes to your guests.11 Choosing a standard option for your cake rather than creating a custom design can help save a few bucks if you do decide on getting a large, traditional cake. As your topper, choose non-toxic flowers or a small family heirloom rather than an expensive custom cake topper. This will not only save you money, but it will add a unique sentimental value to your cake.12
Odds and Ends
To finish up with your money-saving tricks, you’ll want to opt for less expensive music options. This could mean using your own playlist during cocktail hour then a local live band for the reception, hiring a student or friend to DJ, or even asking someone you know to perform during the ceremony as a gift.13 You may opt for placing disposable cameras on each table during your reception and allowing your guests to be your wedding photographers. You can also opt for being your own make-up and hair stylist or enlist your BFF whose makeup always looks great to doll you up for free. Using local and in season flowers can allow for some extra spending room as well.14 The key to saving money on a lot of these little details is to think outside of the box—challenge your money-saving self!
There’s no right or wrong way to save money when it comes to wedding planning. You can go for the extreme frugality route and DIY most of your planning or you can simply opt for a few alternatives here and there to save a dollar or two. It’s all up to you and what works best for your financial situation.
Seeking advice from a financial planner can help you and your family as you plan for the day you tie the knot. Income planning, budgeting, and leveraging assets for large expenses—especially emotional purchases, like weddings—is all part of sound, lifelong financial planning. Having an impartial financial advocate can help your family make choices that reflect all parties involved.
If you’re looking for more wedding planning tips, check out this Brides.com article of the top 19 websites and apps that will simplify the wedding planning process. Now get out there and make that wedding happen—without going broke!