This guest post is part of the Yakezie Blog Swap on wedding expenses. Emily and Kyle are graduate students in North Carolina and have been married for two years. They blog at Evolving Personal Finance (http://evolvingPF.com/).
On your wedding day you celebrate the bond between you and your spouse and look forward to your future together, and you want to remember it fondly. To that end, people spend ridiculous money – the average wedding in the US now costs in the neighborhood of $27,000. My wedding was no exception; there are several things we did well and several I would have changed. In this post I’ll talk about why I think wedding costs are so high and some strategies to get the best value possible.
Why Do People Spend So Much on Weddings?
How do people end up spending tens of thousands of dollars on a single party?
First, the bride and groom expect a lot from the experience.
- big guest list – invite everyone who has ever been important to you
- having and doing all of the wedding traditions expected by family and friends
- throwing a great party for the guests
Second, the wedding industry wrings money out of you.
- many vendors will charge extra for their services just for weddings
- as you are only planning a single wedding, you 1) are inexperienced in planning large events and therefore don’t know the players and price points and 2) have no economies of scale to negotiate with
- websites like The Knot inflate expectations with their insane lists
My husband and I wanted to serve a BBQ buffet dinner at our reception (our local cuisine). My mother was very concerned that a buffet dinner, especially of BBQ, would not be nice or fancy enough. She was concerned about losing face in front of her friends.
What are some strategies for keeping costs down?
The most impactful tip I can give to couples planning their wedding (with a budget) is to prioritize. List the top three or five things that are most important to you and focus your money and energy there. For the rest of the components of the wedding, find ways to get them done with the least expense and effort possible.
Our top priorities were maximizing the number of people with whom we could celebrate, quality photographs of the entire experience, and lots of buffet-style food. Our non-priorities included music/dancing, invitations/thank-you cards/programs, and attire. We were able to find creative solutions to accommodate these priorities (http://evolvingpf.com/2012/04/five-money-saving-moves-from-our-wedding/).
Of course not everyone will have the same priorities – that’s what makes every wedding unique. Maybe your priority is ease of planning and you want to use a one-stop service or hire a wedding planner. Maybe your priority is a certain venue with personal meaning to you. You likely can’t regard everything as very important and stay within your budget so identify early on the things that matter most.
Secondly, I recommend that you anticipate your guests’ expectations of a wedding and then selectively choose if you will meet them. Wedding spending can get out of control when the bride and groom lose sight of their priorities in the face of everyone else’s expectations. Think of all the components that you might associate with a typical American wedding reception – the bridal party arriving in fancy cars, a full meal, table visits, champagne toasts, open bar, dancing, the cake-cutting, the bouquet and garter toss, a grand send-off. Guess what? You don’t have to do all those things – or any of them! But consider preparing your guests if their expectations are going to be quite out of line with reality so that they are not disappointed.
For instance, my husband and I chose not to serve alcohol at our wedding. There were several reasons for that choice, and one of them (fourth or fifth in importance) was cost savings – we’d rather include more people than serve alcohol to a smaller number of attendees. Because many of our guests (like my parents!) thought that you could not have a wedding without alcohol, we put an FAQ page on our website informing people that it would be a dry wedding.
Thirdly, while keeping your priorities in mind, be flexible in how you achieve those priorities. You may have a solution in mind that turns out to be too expensive and you will have to exercise your creativity to achieve the same result in a different manner. Don’t necessarily set your heart set on a certain venue or band or flower mix – consider why you want it and look for options that will also fulfill those desires if your primary choice doesn’t work out. For example, the venue we booked for our wedding reception in North Carolina was a natural sciences museum, which was amazing. However, booking a similar venue for our California reception was prohibitively expensive. When we considered what excited us about our NC venue we realized that it was a very fun and non-boring reception space. To make our CA reception more fun without relying on the venue itself, my husband and I played The Shoe Game as one of the highlights of the reception.
Finally, realize that time equals money. You can save money by DIYing many elements of your wedding, but it will take considerable time and energy. Involving your friends and family in the execution will rely on their generous donation of time as well. If time is more scarce than money, consider outsourcing the tasks or even planning. If my husband and I had longer than a 5-month engagement, we could have found more creative ways to save money, but getting married faster was more important to us.
How can we pay for a wedding?
How do people manage to pay tens of thousands of dollars for weddings when the overall savings rate in the US is so terrible? Pessimistically, they probably don’t pay for all of it in cash but may go into debt. However, if you are determined, you can pay for a wedding with cash. Weddings don’t happen overnight; you have months or in some cases years of time to save up. It is important to decide on a spending limit so that you have a specific amount you are trying to save up as this will help you plan your saving strategy (but make sure your budget is 10 or 20% less than your spending limit).
Acknowledge the parties who are contributing financially and figure out at what level each party will contribute. If you can’t meet your sketched-out budget, decide if you are going to save more money, cut back on the wedding, or both. Repeat until the two match (with buffer room).
Remember that to save more aggressively you can either earn more or cut back on spending. It’s easier to save for something fun like a wedding than to save for many other necessary but less flashy goals in life. If you take on a part-time job the work is more bearable because you can easily imagine what you are working for, and if you cut back on your normal spending the sacrifices don’t seem so great. If you do make these changes, do your best to keep them up and apply them to other financial goals after your wedding. Now that you know what you are capable of, think of what else you can accomplish!
Your wedding should be a wonderful, special, unique day in honor of you, your new spouse, and your community. But please keep in mind that the wedding is only the flashy, public start of a marriage. The best decision we made in advance of our wedding was to invest time in a premarital counseling program; I recommend this for every couple considering or preparing for marriage. When deciding how much money to spend on your wedding, consider how it will impact your future together in terms of debt repayment, saving for a down payment, and other goals. Your wedding is one of the most important single days in your life, but it would be foolish to jeopardize your long future together due to lack of preparation or overspending. But with careful consideration of your priorities and some creativity, you can get great value out of your special day!
What were/are your priorities for your wedding, and what elements did you cut or deemphasize? Did you employ any creative solutions to meet your priorities?
- How Do I Budget For A Wedding? (celebritynetworth.com)
- Top 8 tips for making your wedding more eco friendly (greenerideal.com)
- Creating a Memorable Wedding Reception (denainacenter.wordpress.com)
- How to Save Money on Your Wedding (frugaldad.com)
- What’s Included in this All-Inclusive? (vipdestinationweddings.wordpress.com)