Personal Finance | May 24, 2022

Say Yes to the Dress… But No to the Rest

Dear Carrie,

My boyfriend and I are getting married this fall. Between my fiancé’s student loans and wanting to buy a house in a few years, we're already pretty stressed. At the same time, I’m feeling a lot of pressure to have an “Instagrammable” wedding. Any suggestions for how we can do this without busting our budget?

—A Reader

Dear Reader,

Thank you for this timely and thoughtful question. According to forecasts I’ve read, you're in great company. A recent Wedding Report predicts there will be 2.5 million weddings in 2022, the most since 1984!

This is happy news for all the couples who are starting their lives together (many of whom waited for the pandemic to subside), but unfortunately not such great news for everyone’s budgets. When you combine the current rate of inflation with the added price pressure from competition for wedding locations, vendors and materials, weddings have become more expensive than ever. And as you mention, adding to this financial stress is the pressure to make everything look great on social media.

Take a step-by-step approach

So as tempting as it may be to spend lavishly on your wedding, I commend you for not losing sight of your other financial goals. And the good news is that you don’t have to. Despite all of the pricing and social pressures, you can still have a memorable and beautiful wedding without breaking the bank. Let’s take a look at some ways you can make this happen.

  1. Decide how much you can spend overall—Once you’ve thought about the type of wedding you want, determine the maximum amount you want to spend—all within the context of your other goals. Besides covering your student loan payments and saving for a house, what other goals do you have? List them along with when you want to reach them. For example, do you want to save for a honeymoon in three months? Buy a car in two years? Also, if you’re thinking about borrowing, make sure you have a realistic plan for paying it off. Credit cards can present an easy and convenient solution at the time, but can cause more problems down the road if not used wisely. 
  2. Create a line-item budget—Next, put down everything you can imagine from big-ticket items like venue, food and flowers right down to postage for invitations. Don't guess. Research and get real numbers. This is the time to identify "must haves" vs. “nice-to-haves" as I always suggest for a monthly budget. That will give you some room to make trade-offs as you make specific decisions. Be sure to include an overage percentage, as unexpected items always appear.
  3. Track your spending—I often talk about mindful spending, and a wedding is as good a time as any to put this into practice. The best way to keep costs under control is to keep track of every expenditure. A spreadsheet (or even a wedding notebook) can help you stay on top of each purchase as well as the growing total amount. By keeping the numbers up-to-date and in front of you, you’ll have fewer surprises later.
  4. Be creative—Sticking to a wedding budget doesn't mean you can't have everything you want. From online printing for invitations, to doing your own flowers, to a buffet instead of a served meal, to having friends and family take pictures, there are ways to cut costs and still have the beauty and style you envision. You just have to think creatively and not be afraid to ask. Does a friend have a large property that could be a perfect wedding venue? Do you know a novice photographer who would love to have your wedding in their portfolio?

Your wedding is for you, and no one else

A budget is essential, but planning a wedding is part head and part heart. Money aside, only you and your fiancé can envision the type of wedding that will be most meaningful to you. Don’t let yourself get caught up in someone else’s expectations or the image you feel is expected by social media. Your wedding should be a lasting memory for you, not an exercise in impressing anyone else.

Take care of your money, long-term

For many couples, planning a wedding is the first time they deal with financial issues together. So use this opportunity to flex your communication muscles and build your relationship. Listen to each other’s perspectives and be willing to make compromises.

Once you’ve taken the time to think about, plan and budget your wedding in the context of all your goals and your life together as a married couple, I believe you’ll feel great about whatever type of wedding you choose—whether that’s a backyard barbeque or a lavish party. Congratulations and best wishes for a long and happy marriage!

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