We all have dreams: buying a home, driving off the lot in a new car, taking a trip around the world. For every major life milestone, there are real people out there who've made it happen. In “How I Paid For It,” these financial rock stars share how they accomplished their most challenging money goals — and what they learned from the experience.
Here, LearnVest copywriter Rita Brodfuehrer shares how she and her fiancé are planning the wedding of their dreams, without sinking their finances.
This summer, the unthinkable happened. My boyfriend asked me to marry him! Somehow, after years of fruitless dating, I’d managed to find a guy who was caring, funny and not living in his parents’ basement or harboring a secret Tinder addiction. I still can’t believe my luck.
After a few days of engaged bliss, however, the reality of paying for a wedding sank in. According to The Knot, the average national cost of a wedding is around $35,000. We live in New York City, where getting hitched can easily cost twice that. I’d always assumed expensive weddings were due to hand-painted invitations or live swans roaming the reception. Turns out, it’s not the frills that are expensive. It’s the necessities.
Providing food and drinks for 150 people is no joke, not to mention finding a dance floor big enough to accommodate the wide berth everyone will have to give your Aunt Jenny after her third gin and tonic. Many outdoor venues don’t include tables and chairs, so you have to rent them separately. And music? If you don’t want to hear the “Electric Slide” at your wedding, be prepared to pay up.
The sky-high price tags quickly overwhelmed me, and I began to lose sight of why we were doing this in the first place. I even suggested scrapping the party and heading to city hall. But, after taking a moment to reflect on the bigger picture, my fiancé and I decided that getting married was something we wanted to celebrate. We’d just have do it a bit unconventionally.
With this revelation, we set about planning a wedding that suits us, from our budget to our personal style. It hasn’t always been easy, but we know we’re going to have a great time without ruining our financial future. Here’s how we did it.
1. We had an honest discussion about money.
We talked about how much we could put toward a wedding and set a budget. It narrowed down our options and helped head off uncomfortable situations at the pass. My parents told us how much they wanted to contribute and stressed that a wedding isn’t worth going into debt for. It was slightly mortifying, but ultimately helpful, because it opened a dialogue and gave us direction.
2. We picked our non-negotiables.
My fiancé and I care about food, booze and music, and we have a lot of friends and family, so that’s where we put our money. We went minimal on almost everything else. Our invites are mostly digital (see also: free), we aren’t having a big wedding party and the only flowers will be the ones in my hands.
3. We sought out new businesses.
Our venue just opened, so it wasn’t as expensive as more established event spaces. Our invites and website were designed by a friend who just opened an Etsy shop and our photographer is a close friend who began his own company. Young professionals are often as skilled as their more experienced counterparts, but they may be willing to charge less for a chance to build their portfolios.
4. We booked during the off-season.
In the Northeast, peak season is generally April to October. These are the months where your tan will be at its best, but they’re also significantly more expensive in wedding world. We’ve attended winter weddings recently, and they’re really fun. You get to rock long dresses and furs and, really, what else are you doing in February besides watching “Breaking Bad” (again)?
We chose a Friday in March and a venue with a retractable ceiling. If it snows, I don’t have to worry. If it’s nice, we can literally raise the roof.
5. We’re (trying) not to sweat the small stuff.
The big day isn’t even here yet, and already some minor things haven’t gone to plan. The first wedding dress I fell in love with was way over budget. Our guest list is so long we had to nix plus-ones for our single friends. And one of my best friends, a talented makeup artist, is taking an important test the morning of our wedding day and won’t be able to do my makeup as I’d hoped.
I’m sure these aren’t the only things that won’t go our way. At an event with so many details, there are going to be ones you can’t control. But, what I do know is that I’m marrying the love of my life, and there will be plenty of cocktails, so it’s going to be the best day ever.