How to Avoid Going into Debt for a Wedding

Weddings are significant and important milestones in every society and culture. They celebrate and solemnize the marriage vows that unite a couple, and often their families, in many different ways – communally, religiously, economically. In the past, a wedding might even have served as a public ratification of a treaty between two great powers.

While few modern weddings double as affairs of state anymore, there is no denying that they are still usually celebrated with a certain amount of pomp, circumstance and, quite often, extravagant expense. The bottom line is that for most people in most lands, weddings are still occasioned with a certain expected amount of conspicuous consumption. But with careful planning and a detailed budget, the happy couple don’t need to start their lives together with additional debt.

Wedding Costs in the United States

In 2012, the average U.S. wedding cost approximately $27,000, and that’s not counting the honeymoon. New York is the country’s most expensive city in which to wed: The average cost to tie the knot in the Big Apple is close to $66,000. West Virginia offers the least expensive nuptials, with an average cost of $14,000. In 2011, one-fifth of all American weddings cost more than $30,000. The median income in the United States is around $45,000.

Traditionally, American weddings were expected to be financed by the father of the bride, but that custom has changed radically over the years. Today, the bride and groom themselves pay for approximately 60 percent of all wedding costs, while the bride’s parents kick in about 21 percent and the groom’s parents shell out somewhat less.

Wedding expenses can include: the venue – which usually accounts for half the budget and averages around $200 per person – musicians, a wedding planner, a florist, a photographer, invitations, decorations and favors, a cake, a limousine, and perhaps also a rehearsal dinner and the rings.  And of course there’s the bridal gown. According to a survey of 18,000 brides who were married in 2011, the average cost for a wedding dress was $1,100.

Busting the Budget

A recent survey by Brides magazine revealed that 91 percent of couples set a budget for their wedding, but that 32 percent overall wind up spending more than planned. “Destination weddings” — which take place at some distant, often-tropical location — are even bigger budget busters. Seven in 10 couples pay for their weddings with savings, but 30 percent use credit cards for all or part of the tab.

Most experts in the field caution young couples against going into any considerable debt for their weddings, advising them not to add any more financial obligations to the credit card and student loan debt that many of them already carry as they enter into marriage.

They also point out that since financial matters are most often at the heart of marital disputes, adding the stress of excessive debt to a new relationship is a terribly risky proposition – the first year of marriage is hard enough. Also, going into debt for a wedding may entail putting off buying a house or car, or even starting a family.

Plan Ahead to Avoid Debt

Wedding planners agree that there are many ways to cut wedding costs:

Avoid the Peak Season

Whatever the peak wedding season is in your area, try to schedule an off-season date. You’ll have more negotiating leverage with venues, catering, musicians, etc.

Cut the Guest List

You don’t need to invite everyone. A smaller affair is generally more intimate, and always costs less.

Consider Food Options

A buffet dinner is more expensive than a sit-down meal, but a buffet lunch or mid-day hors d’oeuvres are even cheaper options. You can save a lot of money by being creative with food planning.

Downsize the Parade

Gifts for the wedding party, the rehearsal dinner, bouquets and boutonnieres, and for some, bridesmaid dresses and tuxedoes, all cost money. Limiting the number of attendants will cut expenses.

The fact is, there is no correlation between the cost of a wedding and the success of the marriage.

Facing Debt After the Wedding

Unfortunately, even after the best parties, there looms a morning after. The pressure to overspend on a wedding can push a newly married couple into debt, forcing them to confront grim financial realities as soon as they return from their honeymoon.

Hopefully, they both possess enough knowledge about managing a budget and paying down debt to begin their married life on a firm economic footing, as there is nothing about wedding debt, per se, that is different from any other financial obligation. Borrowed money for any purpose must eventually be paid back.

Should a couple have difficulty in managing their wedding debt, they need to consider whatever available options provide the most beneficial remedies in their particular situation. Debt settlement and debt consolidation are two ways in which debt repayment can be achieved, allowing young couples to get on with their lives and futures together without the worry and strain of unmanageable debt.

Bill Fay

Bill “No Pay” Fay has lived a meager financial existence his entire life. He started writing/bragging about it seven years ago, helping birth Debt.org into existence as the site’s original “Frugal Man.” Prior to that, he spent more than 30 years covering college and professional sports, which are the fantasy worlds of finance. His work has been published by the Associated Press, New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Sports Illustrated and Sporting News, among others. His interest in sports has waned some, but his interest in never reaching for his wallet is as passionate as ever. Bill can be reached at bfay@debt.org.

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