For many couples, weddings are the biggest celebration they’ll plan in their lifetime. Between choosing the venue, bridal party, clothes, food, decorations, food and entertainment, it’s normal to feel excited and overwhelmed at the same time. Unfortunately, many couples also find themselves stressed and uncertain as they try to figure out how to foot the bill.
While it’s tempting to rely on credit to pay for your big day, the resulting debt could start your marriage on the wrong foot. We’ve broken down the basics about wedding debt and ways to keep costs down.
How Much are Americans Spending on Weddings?
Wedding prices vary depending on factors like the location, food choices and size of the guest list. ValuePenguin reported the average cost of a wedding in 2020 was a whopping $20,300. While this number is $4,400 lower than 2019’s average wedding price, it’s still a big investment!
The expenses aren’t limited to the ones getting hitched — wedding party members can expect to spend a sizable amount of money as well. Between travel costs, attire, gifts and pre-wedding parties, bridesmaids and groomsmen can expect to spend up to $1,000 per wedding.
Unfortunately, non-wedding party guests aren’t immune to the costs either. A study conducted by The Knot found the average cost of attending a wedding in 2019 to be somewhere between $185 (for a hometown wedding that didn’t require travel) and $1,440 (for a wedding trip that required airfare).
Why We’re Spending So Much on Marriage
If weddings are so expensive, why don’t more people skip the pomp and circumstance? Some couples skip the ceremony and reception altogether, opting for a simple courthouse union or a modest elopement. Others think “micro,” turning a shoestring budget into an intimate ceremony with a small celebration at home or in a restaurant instead of splurging on a more traditional reception.
As for those who want a larger affair, outside influences and the pressure to keep up with peers can put a strain on their budget.
“The amount couples spend on their weddings is exorbitant these days, but brides and grooms and their families fork over the cash to make these once-in-a-lifetime events unforgettable,” wrote Consumer Savings Expert Andrea Woroch. “There’s also some FOMO that impacts a couples’ budget and planning, especially for those in social groups who are all getting married around the same time, wanting to keep up with what others are doing. From Pinterest-perfect wedding decor to Instagram-worthy destinations, there are so many outside factors that impact a couple’s wedding decisions and often cloud their judgement, leading them to spend more than they intend or really need to.”
Amy Maher, head of product strategy at Wedfuly, notes that the wedding industry has normalized excessive spending and wedding debt over time. “Once you get into the planning phase, many couples have sticker shock initially,” she explained, “but then get worn down by the pressure of trying to create the perfect day, trying to please their family, or trying to live up to unreasonable societal expectations.”
COVID-19 Wedding Spending Trends
Wedding costs and stresses aren’t a foreign concept most. For 2020 and 2021’s engaged couples, however, the COVID-19 pandemic caused plenty of stress as they worked to adjust their plans.
Fortunately, love and savings prevailed: couples who decreased their guest list and opted for “micro weddings” benefitted from paying less per head, and those who opted to “delay the date” got extra time to save up for their rescheduled celebration.
Although it’s becoming safer in the U.S. to host weddings as case numbers are trending downward, the effect the pandemic has had on guest lists seems to be sticking around. Aly Rennels, CHSP and sales and event management professional, noted that guests are checking “no” on their RSVPs more frequently than they may have pre-2020. “Typically as wedding coordinators, we expect 20-25% of the invited guests to say no,” she explained. “With events just recently opening back up, we are seeing more guests politely decline invitations.”
Wedding Loans and Credit Cards – Worth the Risk?
As the potential for big expenses looms on the horizon, some couples may consider taking out a personal loan or getting a new credit card to help cover their wedding expenses. While yes, taking on new credit and making on-time payments can help build your credit history, we don’t recommend turning to loan products for the big day.
In addition to starting your new chapter together in debt, getting a personal loan for your wedding can lead you and your partner to spending far beyond what you can comfortably afford to pay back later. It can also make it harder to qualify for new loans in the future, like a mortgage, especially if you fall behind on payments. All of these cons not only affect your personal finances, but they can put unneeded strain on your relationship.
Is Wedding Debt Worth It?
With so much pressure to plan the “best day ever,” is spending beyond your means for your wedding worth it? According to married couples, it’s complicated.
A 2019 poll conducted by MassMutual revealed that while 81% of married Americans said they have no regrets on what they spent on their wedding, 1 in 10 wished they put some of what they spent on their wedding towards another financial priority. These feelings seem to occur more often with younger generations, as the same poll showed Generation Z and millennials (18%) wishing they diverted some of their wedding funds elsewhere vs. Generation X (15%) and baby boomers (4%).
While the final decisions on how much will be spent on their nuptials will be left to the couple, we recommend avoiding wedding debt. If you have future financial goals in mind, such as home ownership, raising children or starting a small business, playing catch-up on wedding payments can hold you and your new spouse back.
Whether we’re willing to put money towards our own weddings or not, a large number of couples are attempting to at least keep their guests’ budgets in mind. In the same MassMutual poll, 57% of married Americans said they considered the financial impact of their wedding on their guests while planning, with women twice as likely taking the costs into account than men.
Ways to Save On Your Big Day
Luckily, there are many ways to celebrate your marriage while keeping costs low. If you’re struggling to keep your wedding budget in check, get back on track with these tips:
Keep the Guest List Small
One thing that many engaged couples quickly discover is how high wedding bills climb when more people are added to the guest list. If you can’t bear to exclude someone (or if your parents are pressuring you to invite everyone who’s known you since birth), take a page from COVID couples and go virtual.
“The absolute best way to save money is to have a small and intimate wedding,” recommended Amy Maher. “You can avoid cutting your guest list by having only your nearest and dearest attend in-person and having your extended guest list join via a virtual component.”
Wedding party size can also drastically affect your overall costs for both the couple and your groomsmen and bridesmaids. Consider saving your money (and theirs) by keeping your parties small.
If you have a knack for crafts, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and DIY! The internet is filled with tutorials on how to make beautiful faux floral arrangements, centerpieces, signs and invitations. While you’ll still need to foot the bill for the supplies, homemade pieces are typically more affordable and easier to customize.
Music is another area of wedding planning that can be fun and easy to handle yourself.
“At my own wedding, we made a playlist on Spotify Premium and asked a musically inclined friend to fill the role of DJ,” noted Financial Coach Seth Connell. “He didn’t charge us anything, and that saved us nearly $2,000 alone.”
If you opt for being a DIY disk jockey, consider adding a “song requests” section to your RSVPs so your guests can suggest their favorite reception-worthy tunes.
Thrift and Borrow
Why shell out extra for something because it’s brand-new when you can buy or borrow something nearly-new? Keep an eye out for wedding deals at second hand stores, as well as the following websites:
Lean on the Talents of Your Loved Ones
Photographers, bakers, musicians, officiants, florists, tailors and crafting gurus: it’s likely that you and your spouse-to-be had a handful of skilled wedding guests in mind when you began the planning process. Utilizing a friend or family member’s free or discounted services not only adds an additional layer of personalization to your big day, but it can help you save major cash.
Before you start asking, it’s important to remember that no one owes you their time or talent. Labor is labor — if your boss demanded that you do extra work for free, you likely wouldn’t be too happy about it either. If you choose to ask a loved one for their service, be ready to hear their work rates or “no.”
If they agree to help and say “this one’s on me,” that’s great! You should next follow up with an offer to pay for any supplies they may need to deliver the final product, like ingredients, sheet music or craft supplies.
Go “Off Season”
Most brides and grooms prefer to be wed when the weather is the nicest, often aiming for Saturdays between late spring and early fall. Venues know this too, and will typically charge more during their peak wedding season.
“Be flexible!” recommended Aly Rennels, who coordinates weddings and catered events in the Chicago metro area. “Off season months and days are always going to allow more room for pricing negotiation. Always ask about discounted periods— you might even get some incentives!”
Keep the Big Picture in Mind
Between all of the planning, choosing and coordinating, it’s easy to lose focus on the end goal and what’s absolutely necessary for your wedding. Aly Rennels advises her couples to skip on any extras that aren’t truly necessary.
“Focus on the aspects of the wedding that your guests will remember in a year,” Rennels writes. “Your guests won’t be able to tell you what color linen you had, but will always remember a great night with family and friends!”
Remember that your wedding isn’t about pleasing everyone, looking impressive online or spending a fortune. At the end of the day, it’s a celebration of love and commitment to your partner. Lucky for you and your spouse-to-be, true love doesn’t cost a dime.