Getting married is an expensive undertaking. Of course, you could skip all of the pomp and circumstance and just head to a courthouse in Iowa, New York or Massachusetts courthouse. But if you plan to have any sort of party with friends and family, food, drinks, music or flowers, you had better plan on spending thousands of dollars. The average cost for a wedding in 2010 was about $24,000, according to The Wedding Report, a research company that tracks wedding spending and consumer trends. Wedding industry giant The Knot estimates that the average wedding costs a whopping $27,800.
Gone are the days when the father of the bride proudly picked up the entire tab for his daughter’s wedding. Even for straight couples, it’s now common for both families as well as the couple themselves to pitch in to pay for the wedding. And we can only assume that lesbian brides and brooms can count on less financial support from their families – whether because mom and dad don’t support same-sex marriage or because parents don’t know what etiquette to follow when two ladies are tying the knot. I’m fairly certain that my own father thought his singular consolation prize for having a gay daughter would be that he wouldn’t have to foot the bill for a wedding. (Surprise, Dad! I’m getting married after all!) I’m already preparing myself for the many tense conversations that I’m sure will ensue when my dad learns how much a wedding actually costs. I expect his reactions to be pretty similar to those of Steve Martin in Father of the Bride.
Whether or not you have your family’s financial support, chances are high that you and your fiancé will pay for at least part of your wedding. There is endless information out there about how to reduce the cost of your wedding bill – from trimming your guest list to getting married during an off-peak month. But there’s not whole lot of advice on how to save up the money you will inevitably end up spending on your own wedding. To fill that gap, here’s my advice.
Start saving before you get engaged. It might seem a like you’re putting the cart before the horse, but if you and your girl have been together for a while and would like to get married one day, start saving now. Set up a joint savings account at an online bank like ING Direct and start putting a small amount from each paycheck into that account. If you’ve already got a little slush fund, you’ll feel a lot less financial pressure when you do officially get engaged.
Forgo holiday and birthday presents for one year. Most people get married at least a year after their engagement, which gives you 12 months to sock away money for the big day. Make an agreement not to give each other gifts for birthdays, Christmas or Hanukkah, Valentine’s Day, your anniversary or any other occasion that typically requires a present. Instead, put that cash into your wedding fund. I’ll admit skipping gifts for a year isn’t the most romantic in the world, but think of it this way: You’re going to be spending the rest of your life with this person, so you will have many, many years to shower her with birthday presents and Christmas gifts. For just one year, make your dream wedding your gift to one another.
Put any unexpected money straight into your wedding fund. If you get a raise or a holiday bonus (do those even exist anymore?), put it directly into your wedding fund. It’s cash you weren’t expecting, so you won’t even miss it. Same goes for gifts from family. When mom asks what you want for Christmas or your birthday, tell her you’d love deposit to your wedding fund. If she doesn’t like to give cash as gifts, then ask for something you need for the wedding, like a fancy new pair of shoes or a certificate for pre-nuptial spa treatments.
Trim your food bills. Butch, femme, gay or straight, I don’t think there’s anyone who doesn’t want to drop a few pounds before they walk down the aisle. Your wedding will, after all, be the most photographed day of your life and you want to look your best. Start bringing your lunch to work, and instead of going out to restaurants or ordering take out, start cooking healthy meals together at home. These little changes can add up to big savings, and you’ll lose weight at the same time.
Scale back on date nights. I’m not advocating that you become a boring old married couple before you’re even married. I think spending quality time and experiencing new things with your lover is the key to maintaining a lasting relationship. But, we’re in a recession and there’s plenty of cheap entertainment out there. Use a Groupon when you go out for dinner or save a few bucks by seeing a matinee. Better yet, pick up a bottle of cheap wine and stay in and play a game, which will cost you roughly $10. It will be easier to cut your entertainment expenses knowing that the money you save will be used to pay for things to make your wedding day even more special.
Reduce unnecessary bills. A lot of people will tell you to cancel your premium cable to save money. I love watching TV, so this is a budget cut I’m not willing to make. If you’re like me, look for other ways to reduce your monthly expenses. Maybe you can switch to a cheaper cell phone plan or wait a little longer between hair appointments. The easiest way to save money is to cancel all of those pesky subscriptions that automatically debited from your account every month. If you haven’t tracked your Weight Watchers points since last summer or used that credit monitoring service in a year, cancel those subscriptions today, and start putting that money into your wedding fund.
Defer vacations. I love to travel, but I know any time I get on a plane, I can plan to spend double the amount I budgeted for a trip. It just happens. So, if you’re getting married in the next year or so, put your travel plans on hold. You’ll be busy enough planning a wedding. Plus, you have the vacation of all vacations to look forward to – your honeymoon! So, you won’t miss those couple of weekend getaways, but the money you’ll save by not taking them will definitely come in handy.
Spend less on entertaining. I love to throw parties at my house – big summer barbeques, holiday tree-trimming soirees, elaborate dinner parties, fancy brunches – you name it – and I can easily the equivalent of one month’s rent on a party. But since I got engaged, I’ve decided to scale back on parties in preparation for the biggest party I’ll ever throw: my wedding reception. I’ll miss hosting parties for the next few months, but I figure pre-wedding festivities like an engagement party, shower and bachelorette parties will give my fiancé and me plenty of chances to celebrate with our family and friends. I’ll resume my hosting duties once I’m a married woman, and they’ll be even better thanks to all of the serving platters and champagne flutes I plan to put on my gift registry.
Ante up. What’s your strategy to save money to pay for your wedding?