Paying for a wedding is one of the biggest expenses a couple can face. The average cost of a wedding in 2018 was more than $44,000, according to Brides’ 2018 American Wedding Study.
But getting married is about celebrating your future as a couple – not stressing over how you’re going to fund it. Whether you want an intimate ceremony or a 300-guest blowout, you can do it without starting off married life in debt.
Haley Paddock married her husband in 2017 in front of 106 guests in Southern California. Her family paid for about half of the expenses. “Other than that, we stuck with what we had in the bank, trying not to touch much from our savings,” she says.
Despite a nearly $10,000 price tag, Paddock and her husband were able to come away from the event debt-free. “Anything we put on credit cards was paid off before the day of the wedding.”
Stephanie Barbaran and her husband, who spent about $10,000 on their 70 guest wedding and honeymoon combined, used a similar strategy.
“We covered most of the costs with our savings and put some expenses, like the honeymoon tickets and reservations, on credit cards,” she says, noting that they charged around $1,000 to $1,500 to credit cards, which were paid off as quickly as possible.
However, the couple relied on existing savings to fund the wedding. “We cleaned out our savings, so we had to restart our savings from scratch as newlyweds,” says Barbaran.
How people pay for weddings
The strategy Paddock and Barbaran used to pay for their weddings is a common one – a combination of budgeting, borrowing, and gifts from family. “Funds come from many sources for today’s weddings,” says Shannon Tarrant, an Orlando-based wedding industry veteran and co-founder of wedding venue directory WeddingVenueMap.com. “Often times, it’s a combination of parents, families, and the couples themselves.”
On average, couples cover about 60% of their total wedding costs. The bride’s parents pay for about 21%, while the groom’s parents typically cover a bit less, according to debt.org.
However, couples are increasingly self-reliant when it comes to paying for a wedding.
“Lots of couples, especially those with established careers or who are a little older, are paying for weddings themselves,” says Leah Weinberg, owner and creative director of Color Pop Events, which operates in New York and New Jersey. “In these cases, funds can come from savings, credit cards, loans, or a combination of these methods.”
For example, a 2015 survey by The Knot and PayPal of millennial married couples found that close to half – 49% – paid cash as needed during the wedding planning process. More than half – 57% – of couples relied on borrowing via credit cards or financial institutions to finance their weddings, while 16% of couples borrowed the money from a friend or family member.
7 best ways to pay for a wedding
Of course, how to pay for your own wedding will depend on your personal financial situation and preferences. Here’s how you could afford the wedding of your dreams without sacrificing your financial health.
1. Set a realistic budget
According to The Knot and PayPal survey, close to one-third of couples came up with their wedding budgets right after getting engaged. “The first step is for the couple to create a detailed budget for the wedding of their dreams,” Tarrant says.
That’s what Paddock did. “Before we did anything else, we decided on a budget,” she says. “Our goal was $7,500 with flexibility up to $9,000. Setting the budget ahead of time laid the foundation for everything else.”
Barbaran wanted to keep her budget under $10,000, which the couple managed to do.
When it comes time to talk wedding budget, do it as a couple from the start. This ensures you’re both on the same page before you dive into more detailed planning.
Weinberg says you should start by deciding on your must-haves, maybes, and skips for the wedding. Prioritize what you and your significant other must have at your wedding, and budget for those first.
“Build your budget based on the absolutes and maybes, and take a look at that number. See how many months you have until the wedding, and divide the total budget by the number of months. That amount is what you need to save to make your wedding happen,” Weinberg explains.
2. Ask family and friends to chip in (when appropriate)
If you plan to have your family contribute to paying for a wedding, be sure to have a conversation early on about what that will entail. “So many couples I meet with say things like family is ‘helping,’ but they haven’t asked exactly what that means,” Tarrant says. “The couples need more specific amounts to see if what the family is chipping in, combined with what they can save and spend, can get them to their dream wedding.”
She points out that many of today’s couples have parents who lived and lost during the Great Recession. “Gone are the days where the majority of parents just hand over large sums of money that have been saved just for this occasion.”
Another consideration is making sure that those who contribute understand how the money will be used. “The conversation should include what the family is expecting the money to go toward, if anything, Weinberg says. For example, if your parents want to fund a traditional church venue, but you have your sights set on a rustic farm setting, it’s important to set those expectations ahead of time or risk some tension.
“If someone wants to sponsor a specific feature, such as flowers or cake, then you’ll know your budget for that component and understand what all you’re responsible for,” Weinberg adds.
Of course, not everyone has family they can ask to contribute to wedding costs. And some couples might choose not to in order to avoid any potential awkwardness. That’s perfectly okay! The point is, you should know whether family and friend contributions will factor into your overall wedding budget, and if so, exactly how much.
3. Save during your engagement
Usually, couples don’t face immediate pressure to fully fund a wedding. After all, you have an engagement to enjoy before tying the knot. Use this time to give your budget some breathing room and save up as much as you can.
“Couples need to make sure they have enough time between when they start planning and the wedding date itself to have enough to pay for everything,” Tarrant says.
If it looks like you’re going to come up short, consider extending the engagement to give yourself more time rather than taking on debt. That’s what Paddock was ready to do if necessary. “We wed within our means,” she says. “If we hadn’t been given the gift from family, we would have had a longer engagement and saved more.”
Tarrant notes that for couples who aren’t great at saving and sitting on the money (and she admits to being one of those people), it helps to ask your vendors if you can pay monthly leading up to the wedding rather than in one lump sum. That way, you aren’t tempted to use the money elsewhere.
4. Pick up a temporary side hustle
What if your wedding budget requires more money than you can realistically save in time? In this case, Weinberg suggested picking up a “side hustle” to save extra cash to put toward wedding costs.
For example, maybe you’re handy with crafts that you could sell on Etsy. Or perhaps you’re a wordsmith and could get paid for a few freelance writing gigs. If you have a decent car, driving for a ridesharing service is an easy way to make a few extra bucks.
The goal here is to make a bit of money on the side, not pick up a second job that makes the already stressful task of planning a wedding that much more taxing.
Think about this: An extra $250 a month in side income would equal $3,000 to put toward your wedding after one year.
5. Cut costs on lower-priority items
Remember those “maybes” on your list? Here’s where to skimp a little and reserve the big bucks for your must-haves. “You could consider reducing some of the details, such as a smaller wedding party, smaller bouquets, and centerpieces, streamlined drinks or bar service, reducing the guest list, etc.,” Weinberg says.
Barbaran, for example, reduced the cost of her wedding significantly by researching current permit laws. Back in 2010, any wedding ceremony on Malibu Beach required a $1,000 permit, but Santa Monica Beach waived the fee if you had fewer than 100 people with no tent or canopy. Fortunately, Barbaran and her husband wanted a small wedding. “And by having the wedding outside, we didn’t need to spend money on additional decorations.”
They also relied on local, small vendors for a lot of their wedding needs. “For example, we rented dishes and flatware for the dinner, a platform and chairs for the ceremony on the sand, and had the food catered by our favorite restaurant – all independent small businesses,” she says.
Paddock also found creative ways to cut costs. As experienced homebrewers, the couple was able to brew their own beer for the reception. They also hired a taco cart instead of having a fully seated meal and made their own cocktail hour platters and desserts.
6. Take advantage of credit card rewards
Just because you’re trying to avoid debt doesn’t mean you should avoid credit cards altogether.
Even if you save up your entire wedding budget in cash, it’s a good idea to charge the expenses to a credit card and then immediately pay them off.
For one, your credit card company may guarantee all of your purchases. That means if you worry about a small vendor going out of business or needing to dispute any charges, you have protection from your card issuer, Tarrant says.
Many credit cards today also offer lucrative rewards points and welcome bonuses for hitting spending thresholds within the first few months of account opening. By putting all your wedding expenses on a rewards card, you can earn enough points to offset your spending or even fund your honeymoon.
Keep in mind, however, that this strategy only works if you pay off the balance in full right away. If you allow your credit card to accrue interest month over month, you’ll quickly cancel out any savings. So if you aren’t 100% sure you’ll be able to pay off your credit card bill, it’s better to stick with cash.
7. Consider a personal loan
Finally, if you’re not sure how to afford a wedding without borrowing at least some money, there are relatively low-cost loans available.
Personal loans, which are sometimes marketed as “wedding loans,” are a form of financing that’s gaining a lot of traction lately. Online lenders Earnest and LightStream issue three to four times as many wedding loans today as they did a year ago.
These loans often advertise low-interest rates and easy, fixed payments. And it’s true — taking out a personal loan can be more affordable than racking up a big credit card balance. But keep in mind that the lowest rates are reserved for borrowers with excellent credit. Plus, personal loans often come with origination fees that can add to the long-term cost.
So if you do need to borrow money, keep it to a minimum, and consider how your credit score affects your options.
The bottom line on paying for your wedding
The best way to pay for a wedding is to set a realistic budget that won’t mean financial woes down the road. Remember, your wedding is a very important day for you and your families, and having a budget doesn’t diminish the significance of the day. Everyone will remember the abundance of love and personal touches, no matter how much money you spend.