Planning a Wedding on a Budget

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By Jason Alderman
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 a 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:
This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It’s always a good idea to consult a legal, tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to you and about your individual financial situation.
Views expressed are the personal views of the author, and do not represent the views of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, its employees, its members, or its clients.