How to throw a budget wedding—without starting any family feuds
According to a recent survey by wedding site The Knot, the average price of a wedding in the U.S. has shot up to $35,329. With the average salary in this country hovering around a similar mark of $39,000 a year for 24- to 35-year-olds (the mean marrying age is right around 28), and many boomer parents still cash-strapped from the Great Recession, footing the bill for a wedding that costs as much as an entry-level BMW often simply isn’t possible. But you don’t have to go broke to say your “I do”s. This is how Meredith, 28, and her husband, Andy, 27, managed to pull off a beautiful, budget wedding.
What was your financial situation when you started planning your wedding?
My husband and I had both put ourselves through college and had lots of student loans. Thankfully, we didn’t have other debt, like credit cards. But we were coming into a very difficult job market in the wake of the Great Recession, and even had to take on roommates. We came from lower-middle-class backgrounds, so our families could not afford to pay for the wedding. So, for the most part, we ended up having to figure out how to pay for our entire thing. We were pretty determined to make it the best wedding possible, despite the limitations, but we were not going take out loans and put ourselves in further debt to live up to some kind of weird fairy-tale standard.
Did you have any conversations about what was expected and what was realistic?
Trying to be creative, we had originally suggested having a very small wedding on a cruise ship. Just our families. Which was, for our parents, the most blasphemous thing we could’ve suggested—and not in a religious way. My mother-in-law had tears in her eyes when we told her, because she wanted a whole bunch of people to see us get married at a big traditional wedding. So I was like, “Okay, what else can we do?” Every time we’d come up with something new and out of the box, they were resistant to it.
But we were determined to do this on a budget and save for it. When we told my mother-in-law and my mom that we were cutting our cable to save money for the wedding, they looked at us like we had three heads. Like, “You’re crazy. Who gets rid of cable?” Us. We ended up saving $200 a month.
Planning and paying for our own wedding was definitely a “learning how to communicate with family” exercise. After a ton of back and forth, we ended up having it at a historic seaside carousel near our hometown in Connecticut—so basically a carnival beach wedding, where we supplied the food and booze—which was a compromise everyone was happy with in the end.
Did you make any other nontraditional moves that raised concerns?
I didn’t want a bridal shower, which is another thing that slightly upset my mother and my mother-in-law. I was like, “I don’t want people showering me with stuff—I’ve got all the stuff I need.” I figured instead we could actually have a party that helped contribute to the wedding, so we ended up having a stag and doe (or Jack and Jill) party to raise money. I was honest with my family and friends. I said, “Listen, I’ve got a lot of student debt, and I want to have a great wedding. Would you like to donate something?” We sold raffle tickets for donated items like booze and blenders, and family and friends came together and had a great time. I think we raised about $5,000, so about a third of what the wedding for 150 people ended up costing us. Without the stag and doe, we would’ve been in trouble.
What was your background with money like and how has your take on money changed?
My family just wasn’t good at that type of stuff. They never told me what credit card debt was about and how not to get into it. And financial aid was like this golden ticket into college. No one ever said to me, “You’re going to be paying that back for a long time.” Planning this wedding actually helped me and my husband learn how to ask tough money questions of ourselves and others. For instance, I asked the venue, which usually requires a lump-sum down payment, if we could make installments in the year-and-a-half walkup to our wedding, and they said yes. There are often other ways to do things if you ask. It’s just a matter of starting those conversations.
Did other friends follow your thrifty lead when they decided to get married?
We’ve had a lot of friends get married since, and a lot who had come to our wedding did things nontraditionally. It allowed them to see what other possibilities could be instead of seeing things in this very narrow tunnel of options. I saw them have beautiful weddings that I think were more creative and individual to them.
So did you end up taking on more debt from the wedding?
After all the wedding gifts were counted, and all the bills were paid, we broke even plus an iPad. It’s funny to think, “Oh, we got an iPad for our wedding!” But we didn’t have any extra debt.
(Quotes have been edited for style and length.)