When many couples get engaged and start sharing their happy news, they’re often met with an abundance of wedding planning questions and assumptions from their family and friends.
Between dodging queries about where and when the wedding will take place and tempering expectations of an invitation from even the most casual of acquaintances, the pressure starts early for many newly-engaged duos.
What starts out as joyful excitement quickly evolves into stress and worry as so many soon-to-be-wed couples are faced with the task of planning the big day. And that’s all before even beginning to consider or calculate how the heck they’re going to pay for it.
According to a recent article in the Washington Post, there has been an alarming increase in the number of loans being taken out by engaged couples who are planning to use borrowed funds to pay for weddings they couldn’t otherwise afford.
Lenders are marketing “wedding loans” specifically to happy, soon-to-be-wed couples. But with some loans bearing interest rates as high as 30%, these couples could be looking at paying off the big day (or the big debt, in this case) for years to come.
A survey of engaged couples by LendingTree estimated that 61% planned to use credit cards to help cover costs. While there are many perks and benefits to utilizing credit cards when paying for wedding expenses, it’s important to charge responsibly and pay monthly balances off in full to avoid falling into a similar trap of added interest.
Wedding-related debt isn’t the only upward trend when it comes to wedding spending. The Knot’s Real Weddings study reported the average American wedding clocked in at $33,931 in 2018, showing a slight increase from the previous year. It’s interesting to note that while the reported average cost of a wedding has risen to nearly $34K, half of the US workforce earns less than that per year. Though not directly correlated, it does give food for thought and begs the question: Why are people choosing to spend so much money on a six-hour party?
Couples are feeling the pressure to have a picture-perfect day
With the combination of media messages extolling how much a wedding costs, the stress of meeting expectations of family and friends, plus the need to be seen as #killingit on Instagram, couples are facing immense amounts of pressure to plan the “perfect” day.
When these external factors and influences are added up, it’s easy to understand why some couples may feel more money is the only solution to having an awesome wedding. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Instead of accepting expense and debt as the path to planning a great wedding, couples (and their families who are contributing to the wedding funds) should make a plan that works for them and is based upon their unique set of circumstances.
Take reports on wedding spending with a grain of salt
For couples who come across this information in their early wedding planning stages, it’s important to remember that the average figures do not represent the majority, and taking on debt for a wedding is certainly not the norm.
Though The Knot surveyed 14,000 couples for their report, the results represent less than 1% of the more than two million couples who tie the knot in the US each year. This fact doesn’t make the numbers inaccurate per se, but at least worth noting.
And while more couples may be using credit cards to pay for wedding expenses, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are carrying an interest-accruing balance. As long as statement balances are paid in full each month, you can reap major rewards with zero penalties in the form of added interest.
Couples can actually take advantage of credit card rewards by travel hacking for the honeymoon, or get extra peace of mind when paying for wedding services or purchases thanks to buyer protection, extended warranties and more.
Exercising due diligence, making savvy choices, taking advantage of rewards offers, as well as seeking out non-traditional alternatives will help couples plan a wedding they are happy with while avoiding the need for loans or lines of credit. In many ways, planning a wedding (especially on a smaller than “average” budget) is just the exercise couples need to develop lifelong skills for marital success like communication, goal setting, compromise, and teamwork.
The path to planning a wedding you can actually afford
I’ve spent the last 11 years helping couples plan beautiful, affordable weddings via my website, digital products, and my best-selling book, The Budget-Savvy Wedding Planner & Organizer. It’s absolutely possible to put together a nice event to celebrate marriage on a smaller budget than these reports might suggest.
In order to avoid taking on debt to pay for their big day, couples should:
- Get clear about shared values and financial goals for the future
- Decide what type of wedding they want to have
- Prioritize aspects of the wedding that are most important to them
- Set a wedding budget that is financially feasible
- Seek out alternatives to traditional wedding service providers
- Plan a beautiful day that’s authentically them, and fits within their budget
Before beginning the official planning process, sit down with as a couple and discuss your mutual dreams and goals—both personal and financial—for your future together.
This typically involves asking each other a ton of questions: Where does your wedding day fit into the big picture? What are your financial and personal goals for the next five years, 10 years, 20 years? Do you plan to make any major investments in the near future, such as buying a home, starting a business or growing your family? Are you working towards a major savings goal such as early retirement?
Defining your life goals and values not only helps you visualize your future life together but also essentially creates a family mission or purpose to guide you throughout your lives.
Decide what type of wedding you want to have
Figure out the who, what, where, when, and why of your wedding vision. Who are your non-negotiable attendees? What do you want to feel, see, hear, smell, taste, and touch on your big day? Where would you like to exchange your vows, and how soon from now? Why are you planning a wedding in the first place? Is it because it’s what you truly want, or out of obligation or to meet the expectations of others?
Have the wedding you want—an event that reflects your shared values and feels authentic to you and your partner. If you want to have the big fancy soiree and can actually afford it, more power to you!
Set a budget based on your unique circumstances
When setting your wedding budget, tune out the outside influences of average costs, Instagram-induced FOMO, and societal pressure. Focus on your unique set of circumstances to build a budget that is financially feasible for you given your timeline and various resources.
Consider your personal financial situation, any contributions from loved ones, and of course, those values you’ve defined for yourselves. Perhaps your financial goals and plans don’t align with dropping a large amount of money on a wedding, even if you can technically afford it.
While there are certainly hard costs associated with weddings, there are many ways to reduce expenses across the board. For now, keep the focus on what you’re actually willing and able to spend.
Prioritize the aspects of a wedding that are most important to you
The key to working within any budget is prioritizing what’s most important to you and allocating your funds accordingly.
As a guide, focus on the areas that make the wedding more meaningful, infusing personal details and heart into the event. That’s what truly makes a wedding beautiful, not monogrammed napkins that end up in the trash. Maybe you want to create that iconic reception exit photo surrounded by wedding sparklers but could care less about riding off into the sunset in a limo. Feel free to nix the expensive car hire and gather your guests to create your magical moment before hopping in an Uber. It really can be as simple as that!
Though each couple’s wedding priorities will be unique, the ultimate outcome is the same: you get hitched! The only truly required elements for a wedding are the couple, the marriage license and an officiant—all the rest is just extra.
Seek out alternatives to traditional wedding service providers
Finding wedding vendors, services, and suppliers through less-traditional channels is a great way to keep costs in check. It may take a little more time and effort to plan, but the process is worth it if it aligns with your vision for your day and your future with your partner.
Planning a wedding on a smaller-than-average budget typically requires a bit of creativity, strategic and savvy decision-making, and the willingness to think outside the traditional wedding box. From choosing an off-peak date to finding an off-the-beaten-path venue to host your event, to seeking out suppliers who don’t specialize in weddings, there are a plethora of ways to reduce your costs while still putting on a professional-looking event.
Buying a used wedding dress from a former bride, swapping out lush fresh flowers for silk arrangements you can rent and return, or opting for beer and wine over an open bar are great ways to majorly cut costs that don’t detract from the feel of the event. If you and your partner are up for the challenge, not only will you be more likely to save money, but you’ll also prove yourselves to be a powerful team, which establishes a deeper bond as you enter into your marriage.
Plan the wedding that fits within your budget
Do you want to let your wedding control your budget, or your budget control your wedding? Who has the power here—external pressure, or your overall guiding priorities and values? If you find yourself feeling pressure to overextend yourself in a certain area, come back to that original mission you set out upon with your partner.
One of the biggest challenges in budgeting is considering the expectations of the family who contribute financially to the wedding funds. It’s understandable to feel the need to respectfully consider their wishes, but take care not to push yourselves out of your financial comfort zone if those wishes infringe upon the future you and your partner have planned together.
Your likelihood of sticking to a budget is directly correlated to your ability to resist influence from outside sources. When the pressure feels like too much, bring your focus back to those guiding values and priorities to help you stay the course.
Say “I don’t” to Wedding Debt
In essence, a wedding is just a very special party that celebrates the first day of a lifelong commitment, but it’s not something worth going into debt for.
Because of the number of studies that cite finances as a leading cause of stress in a relationship, couples should make an effort to start their marriage off on solid financial footing. There is no need to start a marriage off with a hefty bill for a party you couldn’t actually afford.
No matter what amount you have to spend, there are ways to put together something truly special, personal, and meaningful to celebrate the start of your marriage with your soon-to-be-spouse that don’t involve getting yourselves into debt.
The simple truth is you can plan a wedding on whatever budget you’ve got. At the end of the day, all wedding expenses are completely optional – other than the marriage license that makes it all legal.
So let’s ditch the idea of taking on debt for a wedding because you want to be able to experience the best life has to offer without that burden.
Let your shared priorities and values guide your choices when it comes to your big day and every day after because the best stuff comes after you say “I do.”
This post originally appeared on the Budget Savvy Bride
Jessica Bishop is the founder of The Budget Savvy Bride, an extensive online resource to help couples plan a beautiful wedding they’re proud of on a budget they can actually afford. Jessica has shared her money-saving tips and planning advice with outlets such as GMA, BRIDES, Refinery 29, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Huffington Post and more.