Plan the Wedding of Your Means

The Millennial generation, on average, is waiting longer to get married than most previous generations. Maybe it is because we are taking marriage very seriously because we were children of divorced parents, or maybe we want to feel more grounded in our own lives before we work at a marriage. Whatever the reason, getting married later in life can also mean we are the ones footing the bill for our own weddings. In my experience, I wanted my wedding to be special, but one of the last things I wanted was to start my marriage in a mountain of debt for a one-day celebration. It was tough to keep that mindset as we planned our special day, but it helped us to make some good decisions. I’ve compiled a list of 5 things I learned from my experience that you should consider to keep from overspending for your wedding.

1)    Start with the budget. This one goes without saying, especially coming from me. Once you have your wedding date set, figure out how much you can save each month to cash flow your wedding expenses. Find out if your family can help financially before you set your final amount and expect to go over that “final number” by about 10%. Your wedding budget is going to guide most of the decisions you’ll make over the months leading up to your wedding. Consider using this free wedding budget tool from The Knot. They also have a free checklist available, so you don’t forget to get various tasks completed at the right time.

2)    Don’t be afraid to cut the guest list. Deciding who to invite to your wedding is important. You don’t want to offend family and friends, but you also don’t need to invite every person you’ve ever met. If your family is pushing you to add more and more relatives that you haven’t seen in years, don’t be afraid to push back a bit (unless said family is footing the entire bill). Push back gently and do so from a loving place. Also, remember not everyone you invite will be able to attend. A good rule of thumb is to expect about 85% of the people you invite to accept the invitation and show up.

3)    Invitations, just like greeting cards, are disposable. While you may want a stunning, one-of-a-kind invitation you can frame and keep around for years, remember the majority of the invitations you mail out are eventually going to be to be disposed of. This is one area of the budget where you can spend less, but still get something really special. If you have a warehouse membership to someplace like Costco or Sam’s Club, shop their online photo section for beautiful printed invitations that will fit just about any wedding theme or color selection. If you don’t have a membership, consider having your invitations printed by a website like Shutterfly or Vitstaprint. Or, if you want to buck tradition and not use paper invitations at all, consider using a free evite through a site like Punchbowl.

4)    Don’t skimp on the photographer or the DJ. We learned one of these lessons the hard way. Our DJ was fantastic. Keep in mind this person is going to be on a microphone in front of your friends and family for several hours at your reception. While you can find a DJ for cheap at most wedding shows, chances are, you won’t actually meet your DJ until a week before your wedding, and he/she may not be as professional as you would like. It’s worth it to spend a little more and get a reputable DJ that can help you plan ahead of time what you want your reception to sound like.

The lesson we learned the hard way was related to our photographer. I found a photographer that cost about 40% less than most of the others I liked, and let’s just say we got what we paid for. While the photos in his look-book were well edited and beautiful, it took us over 9 months after the wedding, plus the threat of a breach of contract lawsuit, to actually receive all our wedding photos. The professionalism was lacking on our wedding day as well, and there were a few shots he missed that I wish I would’ve gotten from the list I provided ahead of time. Spend the money for a good photographer since this is (hopefully) the only time you’ll ever have wedding photos taken.

5)    Flowers are pretty, but you don’t need to spend a fortune on them. One thing I wanted to splurge on for our wedding was real flowers. As you can imagine, I’m not a big spender, so when I priced out bouquets and flowers from several local florists, I was taken aback by the cost. I found that I could actually order some gorgeous arrangements from Costco that were delivered the day before the wedding in refrigerated boxes and stayed fresh and looked beautiful for our wedding day. And guess what, they cost about a third of what the florist wanted! Sam’s Club offers this service too. If you don’t have or want to purchase a membership to a warehouse store, consider your local grocery store chain’s floral department or even silk flowers to save on this item.

If you want more ideas on how to plan frugally, check out the practical advice in this article from The Simple Dollar. Planning the big day is supposed to be fun. Remember, you’re planning a celebration of how much you and your future spouse love each other. Don’t sweat the small stuff, and don’t expect everything to be perfect. Your guests won’t know if something doesn’t turn out the way you planned. Have a great time and don’t forget to include the honeymoon in the wedding budget!

Margaret Gooley, CFP®, Worley Erhart-Graves Financial Advisors