The Broke Person’s Guide to Getting Married

You want to start your marriage off on the right foot, and racking up thousands of dollars in debt on your wedding is … the wrong foot.

Here comes the bride,

all dressed in white.

She’s saddled with debt,

and it’s making her upset.

Yes, a wedding is a joyous time but that joy comes at a price. Literally. Weddings can easily cost tens of thousands of dollars, and unless you have a lot of money (or you’re able to work out some sort of sponsorship deal) you might need some help cutting costs to make your wedding more affordable.

Are you and your partner are on the same page?

Before you and your partner start making any plans, it’s important to know what you each want and what you are and aren’t willing to compromise on. That sort of communication can be important even before the wedding planning begins.

“Planning a wedding means creating patterns the couple may follow for the rest of the marriage,” explained Tina B. Tessina (@tinatessina), Ph.D., psychotherapist and author of How to Be Happy Partners: Working It Out Together. “Purchasing the wedding ring is a major financial decision for a young couple, and it really needs to be a negotiation process, where the couple talks frankly about money, dreams, and expectations.

Popular culture emphasizes the groom surprising his fiancée with a ring and a proposal, but in real life, it doesn’t work best that way. He needs to know what she wants since she hopefully will wear the ring forever. They need to talk about it, and look at rings together, and discuss the budget.

“The important, practical selection/decision they need to make together, and then they find a way to add the romance, surprise, and fun. If the couple is planning to buy a house or furniture, they may choose a less expensive ring, knowing as they become more successful later on, they can upgrade.

“To make him guess what kind of ring she wants or to leave her stuck with wearing his choice every day, even though it’s not the best for her (maybe her work makes a stand-up solitaire dangerous, or she just prefers a different style) doesn’t make sense.

“If they want to preserve the surprise aspect, they can cruise some jewelry stores together, so he can find out her size, and what styles she likes, and then he can come back alone to actually make the purchase. But staying within a reasonable budget is essential.”

According to Tessina, these same principles should also hold true for the wedding itself.

“Spectacular weddings, with gowns costing thousands and lavish receptions, are being promoted by the wedding industry for obvious reasons, but couples should think about their own real-life situation,” she said. Wedding planning creates a microcosm of a couple’s future life together, including relating to in-laws and extended family, making financial decisions, and blending their separate lives.

“These are the first days of the rest of your marriage. Because this is a mini-preview of your whole life together, and you have an opportunity to learn to work together under pressure. An engagement that feels as if both of you created it together is the first step to creating a successful marriage. This is a great time to learn to manage money — if you start in debt, you’re beginning a dangerous pattern.

“Unrealistic expectations are a pitfall, and the biggest problems are money differences, family issues, and guest problems. To reduce the stress of a wedding, discuss beforehand with your spouse what you do and do not want. Once you are clear with each other, then discuss with other family members who may be involved, especially if they are covering the costs.”

Save the (affordable) date.

Once you’re on the same page as your partner, the next step is actually choosing when the wedding will be. And the date you choose can make a big difference when it comes to price.

“Holidays and Saturdays during peak season are our highest venue rates,” cautioned Katie Elder, owner of the upscale wedding venue Overlook Barn (@overlookbarn), located in the mountains of North Carolina.

“Couples can save thousands from our venue fee (literally 50 percent off) by choosing an off-season non-Saturday. We are seeing almost half of our weddings being held on a Friday, Sunday, or other non-Saturday of the week!”

Location, location, location.

If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a thousand times: different wedding venues come with different price tags.

“The venue is often the biggest expense for a wedding,” warned Leslie H. Tayne Esq. (@LeslieHTayneEsq), Founder and Head Attorney at Tayne Law Group (@taynelawgroup). “Some of the most popular venues can be incredibly pricey. However, by considering other options, you may be able to find a beautiful venue that’s less expensive.

“Or you can hold the wedding in a non-traditional venue, such as on a beach or in a backyard. However, be sure to account for the costs of renting tents, tables, flatware, lighting, etc. if you’re not using a traditional venue.”

Some locations may even allow for lowered costs on other expenses.

“You can save lots of money if you choose a naturally stunning location for your wedding ceremony and reception because the more beautiful the location, the less you will have to do to decorate it,” advised Kevin Begola, owner of Titanium Buzz (@TitaniumBuzz).

“Consider low-cost outdoor wedding venues. You may get married in a public park or garden or have a simple ceremony on the beach where the beauty of nature may make extra decorations unnecessary.”

Flower power.

Even if you do still pay for extra decorations, you can try to keep costs under control.

“Pinterest is a gold mine of dream floral arrangements and bouquets, but very rarely do they tell you how much those things can cost,” explained Christian Stewart of Do Better Financial. “I chose what I thought were simple and inexpensive arrangements, only to find out my favorite flowers had to be shipped from Chile. Whomp whomp.

“I talked to my decorator, and she suggested white hydrangeas with fresh fruit which looked amazing. I had a similar conversation with my florist, and she too nailed it! The moral of the story is to find vendors you can trust, give them your vision and budget, and then trust them to execute.”

Eat, drink, and be merry.

Another expensive budget item? The food and the drinks! But you’d probably have some pretty angry guests if you skip those aspects. Still, you can save money on the libations without sacrificing too much in terms of quality.

“Choosing a venue that allows couples to bring in their own alcohol is also a huge money saver,” suggested Elder. “Couples can literally go to their local big club store like Sam’s or Costco and get bulk pricing on alcohol rather than a major upcharge that other venues charge. Just remember, it’s always best to hire professional bartenders for safety and sanity during the reception.”

And food?

“Food is one of the most expensive line items for a wedding, so even a modest guest list can really break the bank,” advised Stewart. “Who knew millennials’ love affair with brunch could actually save you money and on your wedding no less?!

“We saved at least a couple thousand dollars by choosing a brunch instead of a lunch menu, and by having our wedding early in the day. Having your wedding on a weekday is also a good way to trim the guest list without seeming like a jerk for not inviting someone.”

Maybe you’re not a brunch person. Never fear. There are other ways to save on food.

“Choose a venue that allows you to bring in outside catering,” recommended Elder. “Venues that provide catering add a major upcharge to those services. By choosing a venue that allows outside catering, couples can save thousands. They also get more flexibility with the type of food they want and don’t have to go high-end. Choosing a buffet style is a great cost saver as well.”

Take advantage of your friends (in a nice way).

Who amongst us hasn’t gotten by with a little help from our friends? Just be sure not to actually take too much of an advantage of them, despite the title of this section.

“You can save a lot by hiring people you already know,” offered Begola. “Consider asking your friends and family members to get involved in your wedding and use their talents and skills. Choose people you can trust and make sure they actually want to help out. Don’t expect them to work for free and even if they don’t ask for a payment, you should give them a nice gift to say thanks.”

And of course, if you really want something done right…

“There are so many aspects of a wedding that you can do yourself: invitations, décor, floral arrangements,” listed Tayne. “Some couples are more comfortable doing more themselves than others. If you’re not comfortable doing something yourself, perhaps you know a friend or family member who specializes in a certain area who can help you out, either for free or at a lower price than you would normally pay.”

Shop smart.

Even if you take all of this advice into account, you’ll still have to do your own research to find the most affordable options to create your dream wedding.

“Do your research and take time to explore and compare all the options when it comes to venue, photography, catering, flowers, etc.,” advised Begola. “If you don’t do it, you can’t be sure that you are getting a good deal. Gather quotes to get an estimate of your overall cost before booking any vendor. If you are purchasing items for your big day, shop around and look for coupons, discounts, and sales.”

And a little haggling may be able to go a long way.

“Often there are costs involved in a wedding that you may be able to negotiate for a lower price, especially if you are using one provider for multiple aspects of your wedding,” Tayne explained.

“Unexpected costs may crop up as well, and you may be able to negotiate those. Negotiate everything. Every vendor has some room so, although I am not a fan of disclosing your budget, I suggest that you show them what you want and then work backward and negotiate. Depending on your line of work you may even be able to barter.”

Alright, now get to planning! We’ll be standing in the back, ready to catch the bouquet! To learn more about how you can save money, check out these other posts and articles from OppLoans:

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Kevin Begola created Titanium Buzz (@TitaniumBuzz) from ground zero and is expanding the business further. They’ve worked for more than 10 years to create the men’s wedding bands that help express their clients’ personalities. He also purchased an old historical building that now houses the online offices as well as a men’s store called Bridge Street Exchange in Linden, MI.
Katie Elder owns Overlook Barn (@overlookbarn), an upscale wedding venue on top of Beech Mountain, North Carolina. Katie’s first foray into the wedding industry was when she and her now-husband were engaged. In searching for their own wedding venue in the mountains of North Carolina they decided to purchase and renovate a family barn to turn it into their dream wedding venue. Their wedding in 2015 was the first wedding to kick off the Overlook Barn venue. Since then, Overlook Barn has hosted over 125 weddings, received numerous awards, and been featured in highly respected wedding publications! Katie and her husband David live in North Carolina and have two young boys that keep them busy and happy.
Christian Stewart is the founder and lead financial coach of Do Better Financial. She has always been interested in money, from saving for her first car at age six to buying her first mutual fund at 18. This passion lead her to get a Finance degree from Texas A&M University, but a lack of planning also meant student loans. She was introduced to the concepts of budgeting and the debt snowball shortly after buying her first car and proceeded to pay off $32,000 in debt in only 27 months. She founded Do Better Financial to empower people to take control of their finances and start winning with money.
Leslie H. Tayne, Esq. (@LeslieHTayneEsq) has nearly 20 years’ experience in the practice area of consumer and business financial debt-related services. Leslie is the founder and head attorney at Tayne Law Group (@taynelawgroup), which specializes in debt relief.
Tina B. Tessina (@tinatessina), Ph.D., (aka “Dr. Romance”) is a psychotherapist and author of How to Be Happy Partners: Working It Out Together.

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