Planning a Wedding on a Budget
Should a dream wedding mean delaying a down payment on a home? That’s a tradeoff many couples make these days.
The Knot, a wedding planning and publishing company, recently released its Real Weddings study of average wedding costs for 2014, setting a national average price tag of $31,213 (not including the honeymoon). If the average cost of a U.S. wedding now tops $30,000, that’s a substantial sum for many couples to balance against other major financial goals. Despite getting married to my wife at family home 15 years ago, I still remember the sticker shock for all the wedding costs — a whopping $15,000 for the entire event from tux, dress, flowers, food and honeymoon.
Consider that the average price of a new home in America is now $200,000. A 20 percent down payment on that home would be $40,000. With the average price of a new vehicle at $32,500 and the average used car around $16,000, couples with on-road transportation needs might be tempted to trade in a wedding fund to replace one car — or two.
Couples can save considerable money through creative scheduling, direct planning and most important, treating their wedding as just one of many financial issues they’ll navigate in a lifetime. That’s why they might want to consider a little financial planning before the wedding planning starts.
At minimum, couples might begin with a first-time or repeat viewing of their current spending and credit status. A meeting with a qualified financial advisor can provide additional guidance on how the couple could handle all their money issues after marriage. Such big-picture financial advice might set a more realistic framework for wedding planning. After all, The Knot reports that more than half of weddings go over budget.
How can you keep it cheap while still enjoying an event of a lifetime? Here are some ideas:
Marry off-season. The most popular wedding months are now June and October, with longtime leader June losing a bit of ground. The most popular day to get married is Saturday and nighttime is the most competitive time slot for receptions. Consider a January wedding when the post-holiday rush is over — cold weather wedding venues are generally empty and priced to move. Weekday weddings have the potential added bonus of guests drinking less on a work night and weekend brunch weddings can be served buffet-style with more reasonably priced menu choices.
Consider alternative venues. Farms, barns, warehouses, art galleries and of course, family property can be cheaper venues for a wedding, but don’t stop your due diligence at catering issues. Insurance is a big issue — liability related to alcohol, food or other party-related risks may not be covered in the owner’s conventional homeowners or business coverage and the event may require the purchase of a special policy for the night of the event. Also, in many communities, party venues must be properly licensed and/or zoned to avoid fines or legal action.
Watch the extras. From flowers to photography, wedding cake to wedding planners, look for affordable options. If a venue will let you supply your own flowers and decorations, plan far enough in advance to comparison shop and do your own pick-up and set-up if possible. Consider professional photographers or skilled amateurs who meet your tastes and budget.
Consider an alternative online gift registry. You don’t have to settle for three of the same toasters anymore. Today’s couples can set up online gift registries that allow guests to directly fund honeymoon trips or specific expenses associated with the wedding.
Become your own wedding planner. If you are very organized and adept at pricing, negotiating and setting up all venue, food, service and entertainment aspects of your wedding, you’ll see significant savings. Just don’t let the workload overwhelm your big day.
Plan a destination wedding. If you have a tight-knit group of friends and family members who can afford to travel — or if you can pick up everyone’s bill — a destination wedding might turn out to be significantly cheaper option than an in-town wedding with dozens of guests, per-plate dining and entertainment. Resorts around the world and well-known domestic wedding/travel destinations like Las Vegas or Hawaii offer wedding packages that blend a ceremony and vacation getaway.
Be flexible. Spur-of-the-moment decisions may save money. If you have a venue in mind, put your name on a call list and see if you can negotiate a cheaper price if the venue has a cancellation.
Bottom line: As weddings get more expensive, searching for bargains and untraditional venues and services can help couples who don’t want their celebration to overwhelm other important financial goals like buying their first home.
Jason Alderman directs Visa’s financial education programs. To follow Practical Money Skills on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PracticalMoney
- The most important tip cited by many wedding experts is to create a budget plan before you purchase anything — and stick to it. Wedding experts Susan Southerland and Samantha Goldberg agreed that couples need to sit down and figure out exactly what their wedding “must-haves” are and how much they want to spend. “If they don’t have a level head and they haven’t started thinking, ‘Here’s what I can spend without getting into trouble,’ they wind up going with their heart and not sticking to it,” Southerland said. And, if you follow your budget, you shouldn’t have any problems with overspending. “If they have a blueprint, there won’t be a reason to feel like they’re going to go over, because they’ve been on this plan the entire time,” Goldberg said (download her wedding budget tracker here).
- By cutting the guest list, you can save exponentially on things like flowers, tables, and square footage, said wedding planner Marcy Blum. You’ll have a better event if you invite fewer guests, rather than eliminating services like an open bar and proper facilities. “It would be much better to cut the guest list than cut the wait staff. There’s no point in doing something halfway,” Blum said.
- Money-saving expert Kendal Perez offered this little-known tip: buy used gift cards from stores you’d like to purchase wedding items from at GiftCardGranny.com. When shoppers receive a gift card to a store they don’t like, they can sell the card on GiftCardGranny.com for less than face value — meaning you can buy the card and save up to 30 percent. For example, there are cards available from 1-800 Flowers, Tiffany, and wedding dress retailers like J. Crew. “It’s a different way to save money without having to shop sales, but if you can couple that with something on sale then you’re getting even more savings,” Perez said.
- Matthew Robbins, author of “Matthew Robinns’ Inspired Weddings,” cautioned couples against renting too many fancy items, and instead recommended mixing in just a few special pieces with items already included in your venue. For example, rent a unique water or champagne glass to add something special to the table, or use a simple cloth from the venue for the tables and rent a beautiful overlay or runner to dress things up. “Choose wisely and consider rental items as a special accent to embellish what your venue provides,” Robbins said.
- Holidays are more expensive, plain and simple, said wedding planner Yifat Oren. “You might think it’s easier for people to get time off work, but they’ll be spending more money all around on travel and accommodations, not to mention the challenges with availability during high season times,” she said.
- Sign up for all your potential vendors’ email lists and follow them on social media in order to get the first scoop on deals, contests, and freebies, said Sharon Naylor, wedding expert and author of “The Bride’s Guide To Freebies.” You’ll hear about clearance sales, “Pin It To Win It” contests on Pinterest, trunk shows and more deals you wouldn’t have known about otherwise. “If you’re following them and keeping a good eye on them, you can cash in on some great stuff,” Naylor said.
- Don’t feel like you need to spend money on things you don’t really need but feel like you have to have, said money-saving expert Kendal Perez. Skip wedding traditions that seem necessary, like programs and favors. “I don’t think I’ve ever kept a wedding favor. Those things are unnecessary expenses,” Perez said. “Make sure you’re planning the party you want and you’re not including things just because everyone includes them.”
- Vendors will sometimes give discounts to clients they enjoyed working with and, if you ask, may agree to give you freebies or substitutions, said wedding expert Sharon Naylor. But don’t forget to be nice! “You cannot be a steamroller and you can’t demand it and you can’t say, ‘Well, I heard you gave my friend a free [food] station so what am I going to get?'” Naylor said. “When vendors don’t like you you’re not going to get as many freebies.”
- There’s no rule that you must have a pricey dinner or cocktail hour for all of your guests, said wedding planner Xochtil Gonzalez. As long as you give guests something to eat and drink, that constitutes a party. Hire a food truck or consider holding a brunch on a Sunday afternoon. “If you know you have a fun crowd that’s going to dance no matter what if the music’s good and they’ve had a couple drinks, there’s no reason to force yourself to just have a nighttime party,” Gonzalez said.
- Instead of registering for kitchen supplies you don’t really need, wedding planner Samantha Goldberg said you can actually register for wedding items such as a videographer or upgraded room on your honeymoon. Many vendors will make cards you can put in your invitations explaining your request to your guests. “You’d be surprised — everyone pitches in here and there and suddenly you now have this money to have something you thought you wanted but weren’t able to afford,” Goldberg said.