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Managing the costs of commitment ceremonies and weddings


Managing the Costs of Weddings and Commitment Ceremonies

Getting a firm grasp on your finances is the first step

Are you and your one-and-only ready to say “I do”?  Weddings and commitment ceremonies demonstrate you commitment to one another.  But just because you are ready to tie the knot doesn’t mean that you need to break the bank to do so.  Some weddings in the United States now cost upwards of $30,000, but you don’t need to spend this amount in order to have the day of your dreams.

A good place to begin wedding planning is to talk about your individual finances (if you haven’t already done so).  Be honest and transparent with the person you plan to spend your life with.  Include a review of your assets (savings and investments) and liabilities (student loans, car loans, credit card balances), as well as your income and spending habits.  It doesn’t hurt for each of you to order copies of your credit reports to make sure the information recorded is true and accurate.

Once you have talked about your personal finances you can begin to make a budget for your wedding or commitment ceremony.  Do you already have the money in savings?  If so, then you are well on your way to planning your special day.  If your savings come up short, then it is time to come up with a savings plan to reach your goal.  Your parents may contribute to the cost of your wedding and that’s great, but remember to be respectful of what amount they wish to contribute.  They may have loans from your education as well as other debt to repay and may also be focused on saving for retirement.

Out-of-the-box thinking can inspire a truly special day

Once you have a wedding or commitment ceremony budget you then need to decide how to spend it.  How do you want the day to look and feel?  Do you envision a ball-like atmosphere at a historic home or hotel?  How about a garden party with a tent draped in twinkly lights?  Or maybe a backyard party that feels like a family reunion?  And really think about the number of people that you want in attendance; the biggest factor in the cost of a wedding or commitment ceremony is how many mouths you have to feed.  After you have this vision and the guest list then you can begin the process of making your dream concrete.  Here are some general budget categories to consider:

Location, Food, Beverage, and Cake:  Where couples decide to hold the ceremony and/or reception oftentimes leads to the biggest outlay of cash.  One way to bring down the price is to plan to hold the ceremony and reception at the same place, and to be strategic about the location you choose.  Vendors that offer a package deal including the space, tables, chairs, linens, tableware and food could provide a significant cost savings over trying to piece together all of those different elements yourself.  A simpler menu can save money too.  Rather than a buffet (that tends to be expensive) opt for a plated meal with a chosen protein and a couple of side dishes.  Streamline the appetizers and bar too.  Rather than an open bar, offer a signature drink along with a few beer and wine choices.  The cake is another item where you can save money.  A moderately-sized decorated cake will still make a statement in the reception hall, while guests can enjoy pieces of cake that are baked in large sheet pans and held in the kitchen until serving time (really, it all tastes the same).

Flowers, Decorations:  Simple arrangements of local, in-season flowers will be more affordable than the wild Tahitian orchids you once saw in a wedding magazine.

Invitations, Postage:  In the electronic age few people expect to receive snail mail.  While a formal invitation is a nice thought, a simple version also has the same effect.  And if you a planning a more casual affair let the electronic invitations sail through cyberspace to their destinations postage-free!

Clothes, Hair, Makeup:  Today it is easier than ever to find beautiful frocks without a designer label.  Shop off-season to try to catch a deal.  Do you have a friend who is especially good at hair or makeup?  Enlist their services on your special day.

Photography:  Likewise, do you have a friend with Instagram-worthy photography skills?  Ask him or her to record the day.

Entertainment:  Rather than a band or DJ, create your own personal play list using a laptop or ipod. 

Event Planner:  Surprisingly, it may save you money in the end to hire a professional wedding planner as they have relationships with  venders and may be able to get discounts.  If you don’t hire a wedding planner, then remember to negotiate with the venders that you are working with (in a respectful manner, of course).  Many of them are small business owners and they want to do right by their customers if they can.

Miscellaneous:  Unless you have a ceremony that needs explaining (maybe you are uniting two cultures and want to educate one to the other, for instance) ditch the programs.  Most people understand what happens at a wedding or commitment ceremony.  Save some bucks and forget the party favors too – your guests with cherish the memories more than the trinket you send them off with.

Finally, consider having your wedding or commitment ceremony on a day other than Saturday, which tends be the most expensive day at many venues.  Having your event on another day of the week could certainly save your budget.

In the end you may choose to make your day super simple with a ceremony at the Justice of the Peace.  These are typically held in a courthouse and are civil marriage ceremonies.  You may be able to invite up to ten guests to witness your ceremony and you can wear what you want, from formal attire to t-shirt and jeans.  A low-key, yet festive, reception can be held afterwards at a local restaurant or at your home.  It’s your special day without spending a fortune and a lovely way to begin your life together.

Tools to Help

Anticipating Life Events


Cutting the Cost of Life Events

Learn More

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What You Can Do Right Now

Information is great. But taking small steps now can lead to big changes.
  • Today
  • Sit down with your partner and have an honest discussion about your personal finances.
  • Create a personal balance sheet and a cash flow statement for each of you.
  • Order your credit reports and read them for accuracy.
  • Talk about your vision for your wedding or commitment ceremony.
  • Next Week
  • Estimate the budget for your wedding or commitment ceremony.
  • Talk to each set of parents about their plans for contributing to the event and work that into your budget.
  • Use our tool “Anticipating Life Events” to create a savings plan.
  • In the Next Few Months
  • Meet with wedding vendors and negotiating prices. Use our tool “Cutting the Costs of Life Events” for some cost-savings ideas. And remember to be flexible and try to think outside the box, as both will help you to have a truly memorable event that won’t break the bank.