Money 304: Big Decisions – Getting Married

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Money 303: Big Decisions – Cars

Keep a few things in mind when invited to a wedding

Getting invited to a wedding may incur some significant expenses

  • You’ll need to pay for gifts from their registry
  • You may have to pay for valet parking
  • If the wedding has alcohol, you may have to pay for drinks
  • A formal wedding requires a formal outfit
  • If you’re part of the wedding party, you’ll usually have to pay for the matching outfit

Missing a wedding doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a terrible friend

Be honest with the bride and groom if you can’t afford to go to the wedding

  • Let them know as soon as possible
  • Don’t blame their choices or make it seem as if you’re a victim
  • Offer something else, like helping plan or dinner after the honeymoon

Make weddings more affordable

At one time weddings were small affairs in a family’s home, and the trend is swinging back that direction

  • Don’t buy into the hype and propaganda that a lovely wedding is vital
  • Weddings last for one day, but wedding debt can last for years

Eloping is no longer taboo and is extremely affordable

  • If you want an affordable celebration with many people, elope and then hold a large wedding reception

Before starting, prioritize what you want with your partner

Make a list of must-haves

Most wedding costs come from paying for others’ labor

Set a budget, stick to the budget, and try to lower the price for everything

Stay organized across the whole wedding with a checklist and itinerary to keep track of the budget

Keep the budget in mind through the entire experience

Food, beverages, and venue should be around half of the budget

The most significant budget expense will be for services

  • Take advantage of the bridal party’s, friends’, and family’s talents
  • During the consultation, don’t look too trusting to the service providers
  • Look for sales and discounts by signing up for vendor newsletters and following them on social media
  • Request discounts for referrals, feedback or bundled services
  • Anything can be bartered or haggled over, and don’t be too accommodating to the service workers
  • Some vendors are willing to travel for no cost, so don’t restrict options to local alone

Look at the fine print on each of the contracts

  • There are sometimes termination clauses, hidden costs or special conditions

Borrow whatever decorations and items you can from others

Create as many of the decorations as you can

Shop around and compare prices for everything

  • Most stores give enormous discounts on discontinued items
  • When hunting for anything, don’t bring up that it’s a wedding during negotiation to pay a fraction of the cost

If you know other couples getting married, try sharing costs by coordinating weddings with them for the same day at a different time

Save on wedding and engagement rings

There’s no rule about a 1-month or 6-month salary

The salary amount rule was a De Beers corporate marketing campaign from a few hundred years ago

Rings weren’t a marriage tradition 300 years ago

In fact, diamonds also have no intrinsic market value

Buy rings with cash

Cash makes haggling easier

Buying the rings allows less liability coming into the wedding

Be up-front with your fiancee about how much you will spend

Learn and research the importance of the 4 C’s

Cut (its shape)

Carat (how large it is)

Clarity (how pure it is)

Color (its hue)

Don’t shop with mainstream diamond retailers

Companies with catchy slogans mark their prices up significantly

Consider cost-slashing alternatives

Lab-grown diamonds are hard to distinguish from mined diamonds

The diamond’s setting can be a cheaper metal without any visual difference

Moissanite (silicon carbide) is brighter than diamonds

Manage the number of guests

Keep the size of the bridal party to a reasonable level

Cut down on the guest list to save on everything

Group people into categories to quickly trim the guest list

Invite people currently in your life (i.e., they know your fiancee)

Make clear-cut invitation list rules to prevent the list from growing too large

If a venue gives a per-person discount above a certain number of guests, do the math on it

Make affordable wedding invites and stationery

Email the save-the-dates or use an online RSVP system

Try a video save-the-date

If you insist on paper, get the right materials

Order thank you notes from the same place as the wedding invites if you can get a bulk discount

Look for stationery package deals

Instead of magnets or other elaborate invitations, send save-the-date postcards

Save on postage and paper with single-page or trifold invites

Upgrades like colored ink and foil stamping can significantly increase the cost

Make invites, menu cards, and escort cards yourself

  • Practice calligraphy for the envelopes instead of hiring a calligrapher
  • Use laser printing or thermography to make stationery yourself

Proofread over and over to avoid wasting paper

Instead of paper programs during the ceremony, make one large one at the venue

Try an unconventional registry

Set up a honeymoon registry with Honeyfund

Have guests give toward the down payment on a house instead of gifts

Make multiple registries to allow choices for the best product deals

Save on the bachelor/bachelorette parties and bridal shower

Plan the events in advance

Limit the party to a one-day event

Instead of a fancy event do something more fun like paintball, go-karts, stand-up comedy or a spa day

Bring food yourself and have the event at home instead of at a hotel

Cut costs on flowers

Check to see if the venue is already decorated to save on flowers and other decorations

Buy only the most photographed flowers and DIY the rest

Be careful when buying flowers

Use more greenery than flowers and include non-florals like lanterns, fruits, and vegetables

Avoid buying flowers on high-demand days near Easter, Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, and prom season

Buy the flowers wholesale and then pay a florist to arrange them

  • Go to a flower farmer instead of a florist
  • Save on florist’s fees with more straightforward arrangements (e.g., avoid cascades)

Swap out expensive flowers like peonies for less expensive ones like roses

  • Carnations are very affordable and fill in a bouquet
  • Buy flowers that are in season and local
  • Stick to only one or two kinds of flowers

Supplement your flowers

  • Grow succulents and other flowers yourself to use as displays and favors
  • Use artificial flowers instead of real ones
  • Hollow out fruits and vegetables for inexpensive vases
  • Have mismatched arrangements to fill in any gaps

Reuse flowers

  • Make the ceremony flowers for the cake table
  • Combine bridesmaids’ bouquets into a centerpiece or for the bar and escort table

Decorate affordably

Shop off-season for decor – black vases after Halloween and pink vases after Valentine’s Day

Get decorations at big-box department stores


Get larger tables to use fewer centerpieces and tablecloths

Go sparsely on centerpieces

Opt for non-plant centerpieces

  • Gather branches and put them in vases
  • Frame artistic photographs or personal photos
  • Place shells, candelabras or dessert

Make centerpieces yourself

Place settings

If the atmosphere allows it, try wooden silverware

Avoid assorted stemware to get fewer glasses

Skip individual place cards or printed menus on guest tables

  • Alternately, print the guest’s names onto the menus
  • Some venues print menus for you

Place disposable cameras on the tables to cut down on photography costs


Place a handwritten note and a bulk-purchased bottle of wine instead of a large welcome bag

Buy the favors in bulk or with a wholesale deal instead of with vendors

Give out one favor per couple or double the favors as escort cards

Make wedding favors or favor packaging yourself

Give useful favors to avoid waste from people leaving them

Skip wedding favors and place a bowl of candies in the center with a notice

Make the wedding cake the favors

Instead of favors, give a card indicating that you’ve donated to a charity with a certain amount

Find more affordable photos, videos, and music

Ask the venue if they have any preferred vendors you can get a deal with

Get a less expensive photography package

Talk to former brides to see if a smaller photography package is a good idea

Cut down on the photographer’s billable time

  • See if assistants can be cut out from the package
  • Give out disposable cameras and have the guests take photos for you
  • Make a contest online for the best guest’s photo submission

Find a more affordable photographer

  • Look on sites like Craigslist
  • If you can’t afford a good photographer, find a good photographer’s associate shooter that charges less
  • Consider hiring a photography or film school student
  • Keep the videographer around only for necessary video work
  • See if a professional videographer will edit amateur footage

Cut down on their features

  • Ask for digital-only photography and print them later yourself
  • Try to get a photography and video bundle instead of hiring different services
  • Opt out of video and photo editing and do it yourself

Cut down on music expenses

Cut down on how much you’ll need the band

  • Book an extra hour than you’ll expect to compensate for potential overtime charges
  • Hire the music for both the ceremony and reception
  • Make a limited engagement of the reception alone and play a recording for the ceremony
  • Stay local to avoid the band’s travel expenses

Get a smaller band

  • Hire a string quartet from a local music conservatory or a classical music teacher
  • Scale down the band’s size and use staging tricks to give more presence
  • Hire a singer who also plays an instrument instead of a group
  • Hire a DJ instead of a performer
  • Get an entry-level DJ or hobbyist
  • Have friends email song requests to you and make a playlist
  • Set up a karaoke machine

Save on wedding outfits and stylists

Keep in mind that a wedding dress only has to look good for several hours, so quality isn’t as relevant as appearance

  • Bridal store samples are often in excellent condition
  • Designers hold annual sales or sample sales
    • You can save a lot on a wedding dress at a sample sale
  • Price compare with a discount gown retailer
  • Try renting or borrowing a dress
  • Try buying a dress through an online auction
  • Secondhand dresses are usually only worn once
  • Check out trunk shows for dresses
  • Adorn a plain dress with a simple sheath, vibrant sash, wrap or piece of jewelry

If you want to be original, don’t get a traditional dress

  • Convert a standard dress into a wedding dress
  • Look at independent designers for wedding dresses
  • If the dress isn’t a priority, consider a white bridesmaid’s gown or off-the-rack white gown

Get or make the dress nearer to the wedding date

Buy shoes from outlet malls or discount department stores

Allow the bridesmaids to have mismatched dresses with a color and style requirement

Get an affordable hairstyle

  • Hire a recommended student from a reputable cosmetology school
  • Find a hairstylist friend who can help out as a wedding present

Choose the right wedding venue

If you are a member of a community organization or know someone who is, you might have access to the group’s venue

  • Military venues
  • Colleges
  • Churches
  • Community centers

Avoid conventional locations like nice hotels or mansion courtyards

Look at a package deal to combine the wedding, reception, and honeymoon venue

Find a naturally beautiful venue to cut down on decorating

Make the venue for the reception the same location as the ceremony to avoid billable vendor travel time

Look at a non-traditional venue that may need tables, toilets or a kitchen brought in

  • City-run spaces like zoos, civic gardens, and parks
  • Historical sites
  • Favorite restaurants
  • Somewhere personally significant
  • Rural areas not marketed for weddings

Make a more laid-back atmosphere like a picnic or brunch

Avoid seat rentals with a standing ceremony, but leave a few seats for the elderly or frail

Avoid decorating in a hurry by showing up at the venue a few days before the wedding

Make a memorable and affordable wedding ceremony

Wedding rehearsals

Make the rehearsal dinner a shrimp boil to cut down on utensils

Have afternoon tea, brunch or backyard barbeque instead of a rehearsal dinner

Make the rehearsal dinner a casual and social group activity

Make the wedding day less expensive

Get a Day-Of Coordinator instead of a Wedding Planner

Double the photo booth as the guest book by buying a digital camera or camera instant printer and getting a volunteer to run it

If you’re not religious, make the officiant  a friend willing to get ordained for the occasion

Instead of rice use fabric poms, bubbles, sparklers or flower petals

Set the wedding date correctly

  • Set a date during the off-peak season like November, January, March or February outside of Valentine’s Day
  • Setting a nearer date makes weddings easier to keep simple
  • Setting a far-off day allows you to take advantage of seasonal sales
  • Instead of Saturday, set it on Friday or Sunday, or even consider a weekday
  • Set the wedding in the afternoon instead of the evening
  • Make a daytime reception and serve lunch or brunch instead of dinner
  • Make the event last three hours instead of five or six
  • Make the reception after the honeymoon to make a more casual and affordable experience

Stay on time throughout the wedding day to avoid the service workers incurring overtime charges

Save on food


Try getting food from food trucks instead of formal catering

Instead of an official caterer, get catering from culinary schools

Try to negotiate children’s meals out of the service cost


Instead of a five-course meal, cut it down to a three-course one

Skip the dinner table bread basket

Avoid more administrative work from RSVP either-or selection preferences with an entree duet

Serve one meat entree with less expensive secondary options

Substitute expensive food ingredients for cheaper ones

Limit the attendees’ options to cut down on preparation time and costs

Serve fun and affordable comfort foods like barbecue chicken, mac and cheese, and corn

Skip the meal altogether and make it an appetizer, tea and snacks reception or a candy buffet

Create a potluck wedding instead of wedding gifts


Have the attendees serve themselves instead of having servers

Serve a buffet instead of a sit-down multi-course meal

Keep boxes to store the leftover desserts


Skip the champagne toast, use non-alcoholic sparkling cider, or use whatever the attendee is drinking

If the guests don’t drink much, ask for alcohol as it’s used instead of a flat rate

Offer beer, wine, and a signature cocktail or just beer and wine instead of a full bar

Bring store-bought alcohol to the venue

Add plenty of non-alcoholic beverages to lower alcohol costs

Create a few signature cocktails instead of pre-mixed drinks

Cut down the bar to a few hours during the event

Leave bottles on the table instead of a bar

Have servers pour wine instead of bottles on the table

Cut out drinks entirely


Don’t go to a wedding cake specialist

  • Hire a baker, an online vendor or go to an ethnic bakery

The top layer is traditionally for the couple’s one-year anniversary, which means it can be taken out

Use one cake/filling flavor to avoid the varying cost from different types

Use unstacked instead of tiered cakes

Use simple cake styles to cut down on decorating costs

Use cheesecake instead of traditional wedding cake

Use buttercream or cream cheese frosting instead of fondant

Keep the add-ons simple and add the finishing touches yourself

Decorate with fresh flowers instead of sugar flowers

Skip the exotic fillings like guava and mango and use seasonal fruit or no filling

Make cupcake wedding cakes instead of one big cake

Change the cake out for a dessert buffet with pastries, cakes, brownies and other sweets

Order a small one or two-tiered cake and then supplement with a huge sheet cake hidden in the back

Save on wedding transportation

Get a limousine instead of a stretch SUV

Have as few stops as possible for the limo driver

  • Have the whole party meet to be picked up at one location

Have the wedding party drive themselves or hire only one bridal car

Get rid of the limo altogether

  • Hire a private chauffeur to drive your car
  • Have a friend drive you

Make an affordable honeymoon destination

Plan out the vacation well in advance to save on costs

Be open to original and unique honeymoon escapes

Make the honeymoon a road trip or a camping trip

Book the vacation to a less common destination or at a nearby location

Pick an off-season locale to guarantee more savings

Pay attention to where you are going and what you will have to pay to use a bank card, especially overseas

Learn more about planning the most affordable vacation (more on this later) and how to enjoy vacations (more on this much later)

After the wedding

Sell the things you’ve purchased that you don’t need, especially things that will go out of style in a decade

As you consolidate your possessions with your spouse, sell anything you have duplicates of

Make a joint bank account together and make it the primary paycheck cashing account for both of you

Start looking into the future life you’re planning together!

Next: Money 305: Big Decisions – New Baby