Money Health

How to Avoid Wedding Debt

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Congratulations on your engagement! Now that you and your partner have decided to tie the knot, it’s time to sit down and start planning the big day. But first, you should know that the average wedding in the U.S. costs around $34k.

While this might tempt you to put your wedding expenses on a credit card and deal with them later, starting your marriage with a heavy load of wedding debt could put undue pressure on your relationship. Here are some steps you could take to make sure your special day doesn’t leave you in the red.

1. Decide what kind of wedding you want to have

The first step is for you and your fiancé to create a vision for the wedding you want to have. Do you imagine an intimate affair in your parents’ backyard, or are you looking for something more dramatic? Do you want a live band playing all night, or would you prefer a playlist piped through rented speakers? Would you like to invite every person you know, or to keep it to a select group of friends and family? It’s important to get on the same page so you can effectively prioritize and allot money for each of your budget items.

The location of your wedding typically has the biggest impact on your budget. Venues in major cities can be expensive, as vendors are priced at local rates. But smaller, more remote places can also be pricey since travel and accommodation costs can add up quickly.

Deciding when to have wedding can also impact your budget. While you may want a giant bash with 300 people 6 months from now, it might be more realistic to do something smaller if you can’t wait. Or, you can wait another year to give yourself enough time to save up for the elaborate affair of your dreams.

2. Determine how much you can spend

The next and most crucial step to avoiding wedding debt is figuring out the numbers. You can view this as the first series of financial choices you’ll make together as a married couple. How much do you actually have to spend? Have you been socking money away in a “future wedding” account for the last decade, or did you just start saving? How much can you realistically save between now and your anticipated date?

Are your families contributing to your wedding costs? Having the money conversation with your parents can be intimidating, but once you’ve discussed what, if anything, they are able to contribute, it’ll be easier to create a realistic budget. Some parents can give a lump sum, and others prefer to cover a specific budget item, like the venue or catering. And many aren’t be able to contribute financially at all. Regardless, it’s important to be clear about what you and your fiancé can expect from them when you sit down to make your budget.

3. Figure out how you’re going to spend your money

Once you know how much you can spend, you can figure out how you’re going to spend it. Make a spreadsheet that accounts for every single item, large or small, that you will need to pay for. Then, allocate realistic amounts for each of them. Inevitably, there will be small things that arise unexpectedly, so it’s also good to allocate a portion of your budget for miscellaneous items and fees.

This is also where you need to set priorities. Maybe you have your heart set on a specific venue, and don’t care so much about what the food is like. Or maybe food is the most important thing for you, and you’d be happy to set up in a park with a minimal permit fee. Additionally, if you’re a great planner with a lot of experience, you might be comfortable coordinating everything yourself. But if you’re not, hiring a wedding planner might be worth the cost in order to avoid that stress.

Only you and your future spouse can decide which elements of your wedding are most important to you. Below are examples of budgets at different price points.

Budget $5000 $15,000 $25,000 $30,000 $50,000
Venue Mom’s backyard: $0 Hip art gallery: $1000 The church you grew up in: $500 + historic local house for reception: $3,000= $3,500 Catholic cathedral in town: $1,500 + all-inclusive restaurant for reception:
$12,000 = $13,500
All-inclusive hotel/resort venue: $20,000
Catering Buffet from a local café for 60 people: ($15/person = $900) + disposable dinnerware ($200) = $1,100 Full-service catering for 100 people: $50/person = $5,000 Buffet catering for 150 people (caterer has dining ware): $25/person = $10,00 Included in the venue expense Included in the venue expense
Booze From local discount store, served by your cousins: $400 Catered open bar: $1,200 Catered open bar: $1,800 Included in the venue expense Included in the venue expense
Planner D.I.Y.: $0 Day-of-coordinator: $1000 Wedding planner: $2000 Wedding planner: $2500 Included in the venue expense
Invitations Custom e-vites: $50 100 D.I.Y. laser printed: $250 for type, paper, envelopes, & ink 150 Print-on-demand service: $350 200 Pre-designed letterpress: $1,000 300 Custom designed letterpress: $2,500
Photography A friend, as a gift: $100 for thank you gift Local art school student: $500 Less experienced photographer: $850 Professional photographer: $2,500 Premium professional photographer: $7,000
Music Ipod + rented PA system: $200 Mid-level part-time DJ: $450 Jazz quartet: $1,300 A local band: $1,200 Experienced professional DJ/MC: $2,000
Attire Secondhand dress + alterations: $600 + suit: $350 = $1150 Sample sale dress + alterations: $1500 + suit: $500 = $2000 Vintage dress + alterations: $1000 + suit: $400 = $1650 Dress + alterations: $2000 + suit: $500 = $2500 Dream dress + alterations: $10000 + rented tuxedo: $400 = $10400
Flowers Purchased from wholesale florist, assembled by friends and family the day before: $250 A florist friend who gives you a deal: $600 Paid for by your sister as a gift: $0 Local florist: $1200 Venue’s premium vendor: $2000
Rentals Tables, linens, and chairs for the backyard: $300 Tables & linens (the gallery has chairs): $250 Cocktail tables & linens (available existing seating): $300 Included in the venue expense Included in the venue expense
Hair/Makeup Do it yourself: $150 for supplies A friend who will give you a deal: $200 Department store makeup counter: $150 Professional hair & makeup: $300 Professional hair & makeup: $500
Miscellaneous $600 $1,200 $2,500 $4,000 $5,000
Total $4,300 $13,650 $24,400 $28,700 $49,400

5. Get quotes

Once you’ve made your initial budget, it’s time to get quotes from vendors. There are many resources online for finding appropriate vendors in your area, and it’s a good idea to get multiple quotes from a variety of vendors in order to ensure you’re getting the best price.

It’s also important to consider the details when getting these quotes. Does the caterer provide silverware and dinnerware, or do you need to provide your own? Does the venue already have tables and chairs, or do you need to rent them separately? Do you want a full-service florist, or do you want to buy flowers from a wholesaler and spend the day before your wedding making your own arrangements with your friends? D.I.Y. solutions can be appealing, but sometimes the labor involved is too exhausting or the cost of the project isn’t much less than hiring a professional. Make sure you’re fully aware of what you’re taking on when you decide to do it yourself.

6. Re-adjust your plan

After you do the legwork to get quotes for different aspects of your event, it’s time to reevaluate. Have you found a caterer you love, but the per-person-price is over your budget? Maybe it’s worth it to cut your guest list down a little in order to afford the food you really want. If you’re clear on your priorities, you can find the right items to trim back. Communicate with your chosen vendors and make sure you’ve made all the necessary adjustments before you sign any contracts.

Budgeting doesn’t have to ruin the fun

Budgeting for your wedding might feel scary at first, but it can save countless headaches, as well as precious funds. Not having a clear picture of how much you can afford can easily lead to overspending, a large load of wedding debt, emotional stress, and marital strain. If you and your future spouse approach your wedding budget with transparency, you can start your life together on the right foot and have a great time on your big day.

Start wedded life with a money guide

Whether you’re newlyweds or celebrating 20 years together, learning how to deal with debt, money, and planning for your future is crucial, and can take a little stress out of your relationship. At Freedom Debt Relief, we’ve developed a simple to follow guide to help you find the tools you need to move toward a better financial future. Get started by downloading our free guide right now.

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Kate Robinson Beckwith is a freelance writer who loves to use her way with words to help people get a better understanding of their finances. She lives in the Bay Area where she spends her weekends taking in culture, making books, and hiking with her husband and her goofy three-legged pitbull mix.