Keeping Your Wedding Costs Under Control

Wedding season is here!  Thanks to my pair of early birds I watched part of the Royal Wedding on TV yesterday.  The extraordinary event came with an estimated $2.7 million price tag not including security.  What really stood out to me though was the bride and groom.  They have traditions of course, but it looked to me like they could have been the only people in the room and it wouldn’t have mattered.  With the average American wedding costing $35,000 I wonder if that is becoming less of the point?

American Weddings

There is no Royal Family in the United States.  We don’t have Princes or Princesses but I’d argue that is exactly what people shoot for when it comes to their wedding day.  It was never what I imagined for myself.  My parents eloped in the late 70’s and spent a week on my dad’s boat for their honeymoon.  They will be celebrating 40 years next month and marriage is a lot of wonderful things, but it isn’t a fairy tale.  There was no “wedding budget” set aside for me or my sister.  That might have been a good thing when it came to keeping my budget in check.  Spending other people’s money is a lot easier than your own.

Looking at the Numbers

The average household income in the United States was $59,000 in 2016 according to the census bureau.  The average house costs $200,000 – which may seem like the deal of a lifetime depending on where you live.  Most of us watch enough House Hunters to realize that is true even if we live in the Northeast or California.  A $59,000 salary equates to about $28/hr for an average 40 hour work week.  The average 6 hour wedding (ceremony + reception) costs about $5833/hr considering the $35,000 average.  I don’t know many people who are making that kind of money, do you?

Always a Bridesmaid

My heart goes out to my clients and friends who tell me how many weddings they are in every year.  Some seem to be living a scene from the movie 27 Dresses.  Being in a wedding these days costs a small fortune – about $1000 or more depending on how extravagant the hair, dress, makeup, shoes, registry, and bachelor/bachelorette party is.  No one really seems to be enjoying this except for maybe the bride or groom who has had to pay similar amounts for other friends who married before them and believes it is “their turn”.

When you plan the wedding it is important to consider the financial side of things, not just the emotional ones.  Are you asking your friends to go into debt to celebrate YOUR big day?  Does everyone need to wear an expensive dress or get their hair and makeup done professionally?  Did you choose your wedding party for their ability to take a good picture or because you love them?  Looking for ways to cut costs can be done easily if you let go of the reins a bit.  Maybe let them choose a dress (or jumpsuit) they like in your chosen color since not everyone feels good in the same style dress – or any dress. You could also have them to rent a dress to save money since they probably will never wear it again anyway.

A Little Help FOR Your Friends

My bachelorette party was affordable and one of the best nights I’ve ever spent with my girlfriends.  My best friend made some appetizers, everyone met at my apartment and we all headed to a bar in Cambridge to dance.  People showed up that I hadn’t seen in years.  Friends from college, high school, family and colleagues came out.  I believe the reason it was so great was that no one had to spend a dollar more than they would on a typical Saturday night out unless they wanted to.  My out of town friends all were welcome to sleep over.  The floor, couches, beds were cramped but no one seemed to mind.  No one went “resenting” me for making them spend a lot of money.   We just had fun – plain and simple.

My Case for the “Micro Wedding”

When I got engaged I knew that a big wedding was not for me.  First of all, I didn’t have the money for it and the money I did have I wanted to spend on something else.  Ever since I was a kid I dreamed of owning a colonial style home and starting a family of my own.  We lived in a house like that when I was very young and I missed it when we had to move away.  That was my big ticket dream and it doesn’t come cheap.  My husband also didn’t have dreams of a gigantic wedding and understood how stressed I get when money gets tight.  Happy wife, happy life and nothing makes me unhappier than financial stress.

How We Cut Costs

I traveled extensively for work at the time and had racked up quite a bit of Marriott points and airline miles.  Half of his family lives on the West Coast and I had to conduct an audit of our Hawaii office that year.  We decided to get married out there and invited about 25 people to attend.  Luckily for us,17 were able to come and celebrate with us.  I was able to cover our hotel stay and my parents room with points. Also, I set flight fare alerts well in advance to get the best price for people flying out of different airports.

We got married on a Wednesday in July which saved us money.  It also worked out fine since everyone who was there was on vacation.  A destination wedding also gives people an easy out if they can’t afford to come.  There are a lot more than 25 important people in my life (about 50 went to my bachelorette after all) but I wanted to keep it really small.  I wanted everyone at my wedding to already love us – meeting new people on one of the biggest days of my life was not appealing to me.

My “flower” budget was low since I just needed a bouquet and centerpieces for 4 tables.  The setting in Maui was so naturally beautiful there wasn’t much else required.  We got a few sashes to cover the chairs and the restaurant had pretty outdoor lights already up.  My brother in law officiated the ceremony for us and we didn’t have an official wedding party due to the size.  Everyone was welcome to wear what they wanted to – and everyone looked great.  We had a DJ but I think my husband told him every song to play so we probably could have cut that and had an iPod set up to the speakers instead.  I made cute invitations on Shutterfly which was fool proof even for my non-crafty self.

 Saying Yes to the Dress

I yell at the TV during this show the way super fans do when they watch sports.  Nothing makes me crazier than when a bride says what her “budget” is and then ends up with a dress costing thousands of dollars more.  I had a $300 wedding dress budget.  When I went to look I only chose dresses at or below that price.  When more expensive ones were brought to me I told them no thanks before trying them on.

Don’t let people manipulate you when you have a budget – and this goes for things other than weddings (hello real estate and vacations).  Make sure they respect your budget and you will feel better about your purchase.   I found a beautiful dress that came in under budget.  When people hear “wedding” it is like instant permission to jack up the costs. You don’t have to accept it – but you have to speak up! 

The Big Day

Remember, your wedding day is one day of your life.  It can be one of the best days without being insanely expensive or stressful if you follow some rules.

  1. Know what really matters to you and cut back on the rest (ex. If you love photography spend more on it and then cut back on the food or flowers if they don’t mean as much to you)
  2. Control the guest list – focus on the people you love and if you feel like you are inviting people to make other family members happy try to cut back (unless they are paying for a lot of it – in that case you may need to deal with it or decline the $ and go small)
  3. Think about your future – Does the thought of going into debt to get married makes you break out in a cold sweat? Talk to your partner about it.  Plenty of divorcees are still paying off their big day.  I don’t know if paying for my wedding in cash helped my marriage – but it sure as hell didn’t hurt it.
  4. Don’t turn into groom/bridezilla – Do a temperature check with the person you trust the most in your life. If your best friend or sibling tells you that the costs are getting a little out of hand calm the #$@ down and reassess the situation.  You don’t want to ruin friendships because you got too demanding and carried away with the planning.  You are not royalty, after all.
  5. Don’t be a sucker – Shop around and negotiate like crazy to get what you want.  I didn’t hire a “wedding” photographer – I hired one that usually shot surfers and athletes on the island.  She had the skills and price that worked for me!  Also, make sure people respect your budget and if they don’t go ahead and walk away.  Work with people that want to help you and not just themselves.

Did you have a fairy tale wedding or something else?  What would you recommend a bride, groom or guest do to save some money this season?  Did you love the Royal Wedding as much as I did?  Leave your thoughts in the comments!



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