A big wedding isn’t everyone’s dream. A couple’s vision of the perfect day could be a quick courthouse ceremony with close family and friends or an intimate elopement for two versus a large fairytale wedding with all the bells and whistles. It all depends on what’s best for you as a couple and your financial future. Skipping the lavish “I do’s” and going with something more intimate can be a perfect middle ground for you to have the wedding you’ve dreamed about and a solid financial future to help you achieve more together as a couple. Unexpected hurdles caused by COVID-19 have forced couples to reconsider their nuptials. There are many ways to still achieve an amazing celebration, even in the most difficult times.
To help you navigate these decisions, we evaluated how finances play a role in relationships and included tips to downsize your nuptials or save money while wedding planning. We also compared common wedding costs against alternative investments that certain couples might deem more valuable. Committing to your partner doesn’t have to break the bank – there’s always a way to strike a balance.
Reasons Why Money Matters ... Matter
There is a silver lining for those couples who are considering a smaller celebration – lower spending on your wedding and ring can be an indicator of a longer, happier marriage. A 2014 study discovered that there is evidence of an inverse relationship between the money a couple spends on their wedding and ring and the length of their relationship. Some of the main findings include:
- Exorbitant costs on an engagement ring were associated with a decrease in marriage duration for males.
- High spending on wedding costs was inversely related to marriage duration among females.
- More modest wedding spending showed a positive relationship with marriage duration in male and female respondents.
- Honeymoons, regardless of cost, were also positively associated.
Weddings are personal and have many emotions and traditions tied to them. We’d like to make it abundantly clear, we are not saying that a big wedding is a negative thing nor does it have a direct tie to the trajectory of your relationship, these studies just suggest that it can be a factor or indicator for some couples.
Being on the same page financially isn’t just a convenience, it has been proven to be a vital part of a successful marriage. Financial disagreements or fundamental differences repeatedly show up in studies on the top reasons for divorce. Finances can be a vehicle of stress for any individual but in a relationship, this can be compounded, especially if there are kids’ well-being at stake.
Having fundamental disagreements about finances or lying to your partner about them can send couples down the wrong path. This includes everyday money decisions and long-term financial choices like prioritizing a wedding or a house. The same study indicated that financial problems were in the top five most-cited issues for divorce, along with lack of commitment and infidelity.
Many newlywed couples have other financial goals that they’d like to achieve in the near future, like buying a house. Planning and paying for a wedding at the same time can put a lot of strain on a relationship. But there are benefits of working through challenges together. Some couples successfully plan their dream wedding and buy their house simultaneously, which may sound stressful, but it’s doable and also a great way to learn to work better as a team.
9 Ways To Use Your Fairytale Wedding Budget To Live Happily Ever After
Planning your financial future together starts long before you’ve tied the knot and should continue long after the honeymoon is over. The most expensive wedding in recorded history was the union of Princess Diana and Prince Charles who spent $48 million tying the knot in 1981 ($135 million in 2020).
While you might gasp at that price tag, the average wedding cost is nothing to scoff at: $33,900 as of 2019. Since modern-day weddings can eat into couples’ savings, we looked at some of the expenses that play into that grand total cost.
To help illustrate the real costs of a wedding, we’ve compared them to other financial milestones or goals. We’ve also included firsthand accounts of people who downsized or skipped a wedding celebration completely. The nine wedding elements we cover below totaled $32,510 and they are all things that you can likely achieve at a lower price.
1. Starting A Family
Starting a family with your partner is a huge and exciting new chapter of your lives – but it comes with a large price tag. As of 2018, delivering a child in the hospital, vaginally or through a C-section and insured or uninsured, costs on average $10,808 (see breakdowns by state). Beyond that, you also have to factor in child care, toys, clothes, furniture and other items your baby will need – these costs vary widely by family. The average cost of raising a child is $233,610 (for a child born in 2015), not including the cost of college. If you’re curious about how much you might spend per month try a baby cost calculator.
Wedding Savings Tip: To save on your venue, consider either booking in the off-season of your area or getting married on a family member’s property.
2. Purchasing A Home
A huge part of the “American dream” is purchasing a house. It’s not just an old romanticized notion, it’s a real investment opportunity. Investing in real estate is one of the top avenues to grow your wealth. Not only is it recommended that you pay a down payment, but home loan specialists will also evaluate your debt-to-income ratio when you apply for a mortgage. The median monthly mortgage payment is $1,566.
Wedding Savings Tip: If you feel like you can take on the wedding planning up until the big day, consider just hiring a point-person for the actual day or having your type-A friend jump in and help out with the organization. The wedding dress (average cost of $1,600) is another place where you can save – consider going vintage or renting for your big day.
3. Paying Off Debt
Student debt and credit card debt plague the U.S. and keep many people from achieving their financial potential. The average debt per person in the U.S. is $38,000 (as of 2018) with credit card debt making up 25% of all debt. As of 2017, the average student loan debt per borrower was $37,172. Depending on your payment plans and interest, the average monthly payments can be anywhere from $231 (per month for 20 years) to $382 (per month for 10 years). Using your savings to consolidate and pay off your debt will have a huge positive impact on your overall financial health.
Wedding Savings Tip: Consider skipping favors altogether. Or if you feel the need to offer a favor, set a dollar number you're comfortable with spending and make a donation to a favorite charity on behalf of your guests.
4. Renovations And Additions
Renovations and home additions are a great way to build home value and improve your quality of life. The costs vary widely by location, room, square footage and the materials used – see some averages here. Two renovations that add the most value to a home by room are the kitchen and the bathroom. About $10,000 can get you a high- to mid-range bathroom renovation and a low-range, modest kitchen renovation.
Wedding Savings Tip: The average cost of catering per guest is $70 and considering that the average guest list includes 131 attendees, food can generate a whopping cost of $9,170. Try trimming down your guest list or looking into more cost-effective food options to save.
5. Traveling Together Or Living Abroad
Many couples dream of traveling together. Saving money on your wedding costs can leave more budget for a memorable honeymoon or another trip. The average honeymoon costs $5,000 ($2,500 per person), which is on top of the average $33,900 cost of the wedding. Some couples might go above and beyond for their honeymoon while a typical summer vacation trip runs people closer to $1,979 per person.
Wedding Savings Tip: You can cut floral costs by going with more inexpensive flowers or mixing those in with a few pricier blooms – for example, some flowers that typically cost less are chrysanthemums and baby’s breath.
6. Emergency Funds
It is recommended that everyone has an emergency fund in case of a rainy day or unexpected costs. The recommended emergency fund can be calculated by taking your monthly expenses and multiplying them by three. The average American’s monthly expenses are $5,203 (as of 2019), making the average recommended emergency fund $15,609. Of course, having more than the recommended amount put away never hurts.
It’s important to note that the aforementioned average cost is based on the average household of 2.5 people. Yearly costs for raising a child can cost, on average, $12,980 per year ($1,082 per month). Every couple has different circumstances and costs of living so it’s important to sit down and figure out your spending with your partner.
Wedding Savings Tip: Many brides enjoy engagement rings that stray from the traditional diamond-studded ones. Simple bands, lab-grown diamonds or other precious stones can be a unique and more cost-effective way to ask, “will you marry me?”
7. Higher Education
Many couples want to advance their education, whether with a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, associate degree, etc. Tuition costs vary by institution and your state residency status. Additional costs to consider are application fees and course fees, like reading material and required equipment. In the 2018–2019 school year, the average costs for course materials were $415 and average tech and school supply costs were $527.
Wedding Savings Tip: Consider hiring talented musicians from a local college or having a musically inclined friend take over DJ duties. As a reminder, you should never expect someone to perform for free, but friends and family may offer discounts.
8. Retiring Early
The FIRE movement's (Financial Independence, Retire Early) plan isn’t only achievable for those with high-paying tech jobs. If you plan well and play your cards right, you could enjoy an early retirement. Many Americans aren’t well-equipped for retirement and need much more set aside (varying by desired retirement age and way of life). You can invest in your future together by putting more into your 401(k) and other investments. To save for retirement, Fidelity recommends that you save at least 15% of your annual pretax income. The median household income in 2018 was $63,179, and 15% of that is $9,476.85. This, of course, is a very rough estimate. If you’re looking to retire earlier than your mid-60s, you’ll want to save and invest more.
Wedding Savings Tip: Forgoing fancy wedding transportation, like a stretch limousine, is a great way to free up your budget – in this case, it’s about the destination and not the journey.
9. Starting A Business Together
The costs associated with starting a business include equipment, incorporation fees, payroll, rent, insurance fees and more. The cost of starting a business varies widely, so it’s best to calculate your own startup costs and consult with experts. Very few new businesses turn a profit in their first couple of years, so it’s a good idea to have a nice savings cushion as well.
Wedding Savings Tip: Save money on your cake by ordering a smaller display one and then using a sheet cake of the same flavor to serve your guests.
Tips To Get On The Same Page Financially
Finding the right financial balance as a couple can be difficult. Below we cover some tips to help you get in sync.
- Have an open discussion about financial goals and find out what things are most important to each other
- Figure out where you’d like to see yourselves in 5, 10, 20, 40 years
- See which things you can and can’t live without (i.e. vacations, investment properties, retiring early, etc.)
- Don’t just talk big picture, also talk day-to-day spending habits
- Keep each other in the loop, like if you feel your priorities shifting or you want to make a large purchase
- Meet each other halfway and work toward compromises
The bottom line is to compromise, communicate well and not make large financial decisions alone, especially regarding things like buying a house. Take “The Office” for example – Jim got away with buying a house without Pam’s knowledge, but in most nonfiction relationships, that would cause a huge issue. Compromise is crucial in a relationship. If your partner is dreaming of a large wedding and you’d rather knock it out at the courthouse, see if you can find a middle ground or other ways to save along the way.
Tips To Create Your Royal Wedding At A Pauper Price
Every couple is different and has unique dreams and goals. We wanted to provide some quick money-saving ideas so you can create the wedding you envision.
- Support local vendors: It’s important to support your community. It’s also more cost-effective and eco-friendly to shop locally rather than importing goods for your celebration.
- Rent when you can: Certain items that you’ll only use once are better off rented than purchased.
- DIY wedding elements: If you’re feeling crafty, put your talents to good use to create personalized elements for your wedding at a fraction of the cost.
- Get help from friends and family: If you have talented friends (photographer, officiant, baker, etc.) who could help you out, consider reaching out to them. Don’t expect them to provide services for free, but they may offer a nice discount or do it as their wedding gift to you.
- Choose greenery over flowers: Greenery creates a fresh look at your wedding and is far less expensive than flowers. You don’t have to go completely flower-less – maybe use them in the bouquets but not the table arrangements.
- Consider getting hitched in the “off-season”: Certain vendors will offer discounts during the “off-season,” which varies depending on your location.
- Separate your funds by category: This isn’t a money-saving tip, but rather one to keep you from going overboard. Keep your wedding budget separate from other funds to avoid cutting into your other financial goals (like emergency or down payment funds).
There are so many different ways to save money on your wedding. Sit down with your partner and decide what to eliminate, cut back on or keep. You may be surprised at all the excess costs you can trim off that neither of you truly wanted in the first place.
Once Upon A Time: 9 Real Couples Tell Their Tales
Every couple has a tale to tell and we wanted to share some stories of people who cut back on their wedding or skipped an elaborate affair altogether. Below are their stories and their self-estimated savings. It just goes to show that everyone has different expectations, goals and reasons – you should do what is best for you and your sweetheart.
Chapter 1. An Unexpected Adventure
- Narrator: Suzanne Yost Hinckley
- Decree: Content Creator at Clear Design, blog
- The Big Day: Sentimental and intimate ceremony
- Estimated Savings: $10,000
- Couple’s Achieved Goals: Higher education and living expenses
“We decided to have a small wedding. We had 10 people there plus the two of us. We couldn’t get married in our original venue, so we ended up getting married in the house we first met 3 years ago. It was unexpected but sweet. We decided to go ahead with getting married on our intended date because actually getting married was the most important thing. We learned that though a big party would be great, it’s not essential.
“We got a lot of money back from our honeymoon, venues, etc. We ended up taking a honeymoon in a remote location and we’ve been able to use some of that money to help with apartment deposits and my husband’s applications for medical school.
“We knew we truly loved each other because we decided to get married no matter the circumstances. It has honestly been a blessing to our new marriage.”
Chapter 2. Long Distance Priorities
- Narrator: Jo-Ann Biyani
- Decree: Creator and Curator of The Wedded Millennial
- The Big Day: Courthouse nuptials with a future celebration
- Estimated Savings: $12,000
- Couple’s Achieved Goals: Transatlantic relocation
“As much as my husband and I loved the idea of having a grand wedding with friends and family, we decided against doing so when we finally set the date. We had been dating long distance between Canada and Europe, and we planned to finally have my husband relocate to Canada shortly before the wedding.
“We hoped the money that would have been spent on a big wedding would help us get on our feet and settle down, especially after a big move. It was a tough decision to make at the time, but we have no regrets. By being open and honest with one another about our goals as a couple and what forgoing a traditional wedding would mean for our future, it allowed us to step into our new marriage on the same page. We ended up spending less than $1,000 to tie the knot, allowing us to save over $12,000 which we had initially budgeted for our big day.”
Chapter 3. A Big Family, COVID-19 And Silver Linings
- Narrator: Nicholas A. Battaglia
- Decree: Attorney and Owner of NAB Legal Marketing
- The Big Day: Small, religious ceremony and a bigger reception in the future
- Estimated Savings: $15,000 – 20,000
- Couple’s Achieved Goals: Building a new home
“The only better relief after proposing was knowing that she did not want a big wedding either. We both don’t like being the center of attention. However, I have a large, Italian family which means most birthday parties are the size of most other family’s weddings. There was a fine balance we had to strike.
“We planned to invite 70 – 75 people and receive about 60 – 65 people in upstate New York. Then came the coronavirus known as COVID-19 ... the talk of a second wave left us very concerned our wedding could become a virtual wedding with us sitting on a couch, a priest on his couch and our families streaming the event. The idea of flying in loved ones without a vaccine available was also a no-go (especially since some have health complications) ... Canceling our wedding was no easy feat – physically, emotionally and financially.
“We decided to have a small, religious ceremony and then have a reception in 2021. It won’t be the wedding that either of us dreamed of but we could not be happier to have our dream wedding to our perfect spouse and other half, in a church, with our closest family right there with us.”
Chapter 4. Young But Wise Beyond Their Years
- Narrator: Ashley Dicarlo
- Decree: Creator and Curator of PrettyPassive.com
- The Big Day: Married while her partner was serving overseas
- Estimated Savings: $15,000+
- Couple’s Achieved Goals: Paying off student debt, several honeymoons and purchasing a home
“My husband and I (of 7 years now) completely skipped a wedding primarily because we ‘rushed’ into things, military-style. We were married by proxy while he was stationed overseas and neither of us attended the ceremony. Also, our parents weren’t going to help us pay for it.
“We considered postponing a wedding but both preferred to save the money for our future home. I was deep in student debt as well. We took several honeymoons instead, bought a house shortly after, completely avoided wedding debt.
“We don’t feel like we missed out on anything, and we’re both happy we didn’t bother trying to rush a big expensive tradition. Now we’re looking forward to returning to one of our favorite destinations with friends and family (including our kids) for a big anniversary celebration. I love the idea of including our kids in our ‘big day’ and we couldn’t have done that if we forced a wedding way back when.”
Chapter 5. Power Couple With Their Eyes On The Prize
- Narrator: Emily Stork
- Decree: Finance Lawyer
- The Big Day: No wedding, maybe a vow renewal in the future
- Estimated Savings: $10,000+
- Couple’s Achieved Goals: Opening a business, buying a house and having children
“My wife, Gladys, and I decided to forgo a wedding because first, we both hate event planning and generally don’t like big parties (and it is really hard to have a small wedding as further explained below). Secondly, we did not think it would be worth the stress and time because we are busy with a lot of other things (opening a business, buying a house, having children). Thirdly, it saves us mid-five figures. We are planning to invest that money into our fitness studio in Denver.
“We were initially planning to have a small wedding but we discovered that It is hard to downsize. We are really happy to be married and both of us are happy with our decision – if one of us wanted to do the wedding, we would have done it.
“We may do a renewal of our vows in the future or a smaller celebration dinner with just family. I do wish that everything associated with weddings was not so expensive. Millennials are struggling financially due to graduating college into a recession with a ton of student debt so having a wedding at the current cost may be cost-prohibitive for some of them.”
Chapter 6. It’s About Celebrating Our Love
- Narrator: Brenden Heffernan
- Decree: Writer and Editor at Dunk or Three
- The Big Day: Mountain-side courthouse elopement
- Estimated Savings: $5,000 – 10,000
- Couple’s Achieved Goals: Adding to savings
“My wife and I skipped a big wedding, took a trip to the mountains of North Carolina, and got married at the Buncombe County Courthouse, which is a beautiful building. It was perfect.
“There were several reasons we decided to get married this way, but the main one was how little my wife and I like being the center of attention. The thought of every friend and family member with their eyes on us during a very romantic and intimate moment seemed like a nightmare to both of us.
“The wedding we would have had would not have been big, so the reception would have been fairly modest, but thousands of dollars are nothing to sneeze at, so saving that and not burdening our parents with those expenses made us feel better.”
Chapter 7. An Unexpected Bun In The Oven
- Narrator: Hannah Lewis
- Decree: Co-Creator and Curator of The Beard and The Baker
- The Big Day: Personalized park celebration
- Estimated Savings: $15,000
- Couple’s Achieved Goals: Family expenses and travel
“My name is Hannah Lewis and I am one-half of the food and lifestyle blog, The Beard and The Baker. We got engaged and were planning a wedding with about 150-plus guests at a fairly pricy venue in Columbus, Ohio.
“As we were rethinking our big wedding, we had a surprise pregnancy! Our original wedding date would have been about 4 weeks after our daughter was due to be born so it was to Plan B. We decided to plan our wedding in roughly 8 weeks and downsize tremendously with a guest list of 42 people, which felt more right than our initial plan.
“We removed the fanfare and parts of weddings we didn’t love by skipping the dancing but added personal touches like being married in a park and having one of our best friends marry us. Oh, and of course, having fried chicken as our main course for the wedding dinner. In the end, we saved at least $15,000 by adapting our wedding, which allowed us to have financial flexibility on our honeymoon and for the impending birth of our daughter.”
Chapter 8. It’s Not Where, But Who You Marry
- Narrator: Dave Bowden
- Decree: Founder of Irreverent Gent
- The Big Day: Intimate backyard ceremony
- Estimated Savings: $40,000
- Couple’s Achieved Goals: Buying a home
“I got married last year to the love of my life, and we decided to forego the big wedding in favor of an intimate ceremony with family in my grandfather's backyard.
“After Michelle and I got engaged, we started making our guest list and looking at venues. Our list quickly ballooned to more than 200 people and it became clear there was no way we could do a wedding like that for less than $50,000. We were hoping to move out of our condo and into a house within the same year, so spending that much money on a party seemed like too much.
“That forced us to really think about what we wanted from our wedding day. Our obvious conclusion: all we wanted was each other. We both agreed that we'd be happy going to city hall and getting married any day of the week, as long as we were pronounced husband and wife.
“Ultimately, we decided on something slightly bigger and only invited our immediate families – we had an intimate and wonderful celebration as a result. We probably saved about $40,000 doing it that way, but more importantly, we got to have the wedding we really wanted.”
Chapter 9. Happily Ever After: 20 Years Later
- Narrator: Karen M. Ricks
- Decree: Head Chef at OurKitchenClassroom
- The Big Day: Intimate elopement
- Estimated Savings: $10,000
- Couple’s Achieved Goals: Traveling the world together with their son
“This month, my husband and I are excited to celebrate 20 years of marriage! When we got married back in 2000, we knew that it would be logistically impossible to bring together all of our friends and family from all over the world to celebrate with us and we had no desire to start out our lives together by plunging ourselves deep into debt for a party. We also felt that it was important to establish each other as the number one priority moving forward, rather than the desires and expectations of others around us.
“My husband and I eloped, and it is a decision that we have never once regretted! We saved over $10,000 and used our money to travel. We cruised around Western Europe for a couple of weeks, drove cross country in the U.S., and deepened the bonds of our relationship which is even stronger today than ever before. We also realized just how much we enjoy traveling together and have spent most of our married lives exploring the world! It is a gift we feel privileged to share with our son."
What Will Your Next Chapter Be?
A large wedding may not be the right choice for every couple, but for some, it’s worth it. In the end, it’s your celebration and your big day (no matter the actual size of the wedding). If you’re looking for advice on your financial future as a couple, talk with a home loan specialist who can set you on the right path to achieve your dreams, both big and small, together.
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