There may be a few wise savers out there, but most couples don’t go into their engagement with wedding savings to pay for their big day.
According to the 2021 Behind the Wedding Budget Study, 40% of couples start saving once they get engaged, but most are also juggling other savings goals like buying a home and saving for retirement. They may also be dealing with financial constraints like student loans and credit card debt.
A clear, realistic budget can help couples balance all of these financial needs. In a year when wedding planners report venue, food and rental prices sometimes more than doubling over the prior year, a budget and willingness to make sacrifices may be more important than ever.
Average Cost of a Wedding
Experts note more couples, particularly older millennials, are paying for their weddings out of their own savings rather than asking family for help. Traditionally, one family pays for the wedding day and the other handles rehearsal dinner costs. These costs can vary widely, from the small fees couples pay for a courthouse wedding to more than $100,000 for a large event.
On average, weddings cost $19,000 in 2020, according to the Knot’s annual survey of thousands of couples. This is a significant decline from 2019 costs, and this average was likely affected by the coronavirus pandemic, which pushed many couples to downsize or cancel large weddings. The 2019 national average was $28,000.
Define Your Wedding Budget
The first thing Mindy Rossignol, owner and lead planner at Private Weddings and Events in New Hampshire, does with a couple at the outset of the planning process is prioritize. She asks couples to rank categories on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the lowest priority and 5 being the highest. These categories might include flowers, food and music.
From this point, couples can begin to build a budget. And according to Rossignol, it’s critical that couples do this step before booking venues or vendors for the wedding. This process involves isolating what’s truly important to the couple.
“I say, ‘OK look, you do not have enough money in this category for a band, so where do we want to pull from?’ Say we pull from flowers. You’re going to lose a few extra arrangements,” Rossignol says. “We work out the full budget before we start booking anything because that’s where a lot of people get into trouble. They’ll go book their dream venue and realize they spent 70% of their budget and don’t have enough money left over for everything else.”
For those couples who are receiving help from families, that money may not be enough to cover all expenses. Rossignol says it’s common to see couples receiving help from families while saving themselves for a particular high-priority item like a band instead of a DJ, which would be much less expensive.
“When they come to me and I break down that budget and they realize they can’t afford something, then they have a year to save,” Rossignol says.
Reduce Monthly Expenses
Whether the wedding is a few months or a year away, couples can cut back on other forms of spending leading up to the wedding.
This might mean reducing dinners out, vacations and other discretionary expenses. Making little sacrifices for a short period can mean more options when it comes time to choose between the seated, five-course meal and the buffet.
Some additional ideas for cutting expenses might include canceling cable and replacing it with a lower-cost alternative, shopping in thrift stores or sale racks and reviewing your credit card bill for unused or unwanted subscription renewals such as gym memberships or streaming services.
Increase Income With a Part-Time Job
Picking up a bit of extra work on the side or seeking a raise from an employer can help get couples where they need to be to afford their wedding.
These days, it’s easy to find gig work through companies like Uber or DoorDash, and couples can also consider weekend or night shifts in industries like restaurants and hospitality to supplement their income.
Know When and How to Invest
While saving for a wedding, couples are also balancing other financial goals — most commonly a first home purchase. Money set aside for weddings, home purchases and other big expenses that are more than three years out should be invested, according to Michelle Brownstein, certified financial planner and senior vice president of the private client group at Personal Capital.
“The first step is having a plan. A lot of investors and savers are good savers but bad investors. They’re really good at not spending their money but they’re not so good at having their money work for them,” Brownstein says.
She says a surprising portion of young investors keep much of their money in cash rather than investing it. According to a 2021 Personal Capital report, investors in their 20s put about 28.4% of their assets in cash — a higher percentage than any other age group except retirees in their 80s and 90s.
This can be a mistake when saving for a big expense, Brownstein says, as even a conservative investment strategy is powerful in helping young couples reach their savings goals. She says typically the further away the purchase, the more risk investors should take.
[Read: What Debt to Pay Off First?]
Be Willing to Make Big Sacrifices
If the wedding of your dreams is truly your top priority, it may be time to make a few big sacrifices.
Those might include taking on a larger mortgage or putting wedding expenses on a credit card, both of which Rossignol says may be the case for some couples. Others might forgo a honeymoon or temporarily reduce retirement savings, however unadvised by financial planners the latter option may be.
Together, couples must decide how far they’re willing to go.
“For many couples, budgeting and saving for a wedding, a new house, family planning, or any of those milestone moments can be one of the most exciting — and sometimes stressful — times in their lives,” Jeffra Trumpower, senior creative director of WeddingWire, said in a press release. “Despite that occasional stress when planning for these moments, the reality is that most couples don’t need to choose between the practicalities of life and celebration — it’s all about finding a unique financial balance.”
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