The approach of the traditional wedding season got me thinking about not only the incredible planning it takes to pull off a dream wedding but also the incredible cost.
Let's face it: Weddings support a huge industry of planners, caterers, bakers, florists, dress designers, destinations -- you name it. And they all can come with a pretty hefty price tag. Don't get me wrong; I'm all for having the best, most beautiful wedding you can imagine. But I'm not for getting into debt that you may be stuck paying off for years to do it.
Traditionally, it was the parents of the bride who picked up the tab. (I know of a retired mom who went back to work to pay for her daughter's wedding!) But today, with the prevalence of couples waiting to get married until they're set in their careers, same-sex marriages and second marriages, that tradition may be the exception rather than the rule. If you're planning a wedding, chances are you're also closely involved in paying for it, even if you do get parental contributions.
So how can you avoid wedding-sticker shock or wedding-cost remorse? I think it comes down to using the same financial principles to plan that you do for your other financial decisions. Here's what I suggest:
--Start by thinking about what's most important to you. Before you focus on the specific cost of your wedding, you and your future spouse should talk about your values, both personal and financial. What's most important to you? Don't be pushed into thinking you have to have a certain size or style of wedding. This is your day, and it should reflect what's important to you. Small and simple can be just as meaningful as large and lavish. It all depends on what you want -- and what you can comfortably afford. And, of course, you both have to agree on it.
--Put your wedding in the context of your future goals. A wedding is just one of a long line of financial decisions you'll be making together. You may want to buy a home, start a business or fund a child's education. Would the money you spend on a large wedding now be put to better use later? I recently heard of two instances in which a year after the wedding, the couple wished that they had that money for a down payment on a house. Writing down short-, medium- and long-term goals is a basic financial exercise. If you haven't already, I suggest you do this now so you can determine where the cost of your wedding fits into your bigger financial picture.
--Create a realistic wedding budget. Once you've agreed on the general type of wedding you want, get specific. First, decide on the maximum amount you can spend. (Ideally, that would be an amount you actually have access to -- not one you’d put on a credit card.) Then create a line-item budget. Put down everything you can imagine, from big-ticket items like venue and catering right down to postage for invitations. Don't guess. Research and get real numbers. This might be the time to make a list of "must-haves" and "nice-to-haves,” as I always suggest for a monthly budget. That may give you some room to negotiate as you make specific decisions. Plus, it would be wise to add in a contingency percentage for good measure.
--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 can do wonders in helping you stay on top of each purchase as well as the growing total amount. By keeping the numbers constantly in front of you now, there will be fewer surprises later.
--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 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 her portfolio?
According to The Knot 2017 Real Weddings Study, the national average cost of a wedding is just over $33,000, but that number can vary tremendously depending on where you live and the type of wedding you want. Whatever your budget, you can have a fantastic wedding by being true to your own values, staying on top of the details and remembering that it's the memories your wedding creates, not the amount you spend, that's most important.
If you can't do it without pulling out the credit cards, make sure you have a realistic payment plan worked out well in advance. The last thing you want is to have the memories of your dream wedding clouded by debt that could turn the first years of your marriage into a financial nightmare.
Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz's weekly column, "Ask Carrie," can be found at creators.com.