How to save for a wedding

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You probably know that weddings aren’t cheap even if you’ve never been married before. There is the cost of the venue, the music, the caterer and much more.

According to the wedding site The Knot, the national average cost of a wedding in 2019 in the United States was $33,900 (a number that also includes the cost of the engagement ring).

Prices, of course, vary depending on the location of your wedding. For example, a wedding in New York City will cost an average of $83,000, while a wedding in St. Louis will cost $24,000, per The Knot’s analysis. But no matter where you hold your nuptials, it’s worth asking how much you should put aside for your wedding and what steps you need to take to succeed in saving for your big day.

Calculate a realistic budget

To start saving for your wedding, create a budget ahead of the occasion. First, pick your non-negotiables — the expenses that will mean the most to you.

“What are your top three most important purchases for your wedding?” said Michael Dickey, co-owner of the financial coaching firm Fiscal Fitness Phoenix. “These are non-negotiables and are the top priority when creating your budget.”

You may, however, want to think twice about spending most of your budget on the venue.

“We see so many couples exhaust the majority of their budget on a venue and not have enough financial resources left over to hire their vendor team,” according to Lee Dyson, owner of the Hey Mister DJ wedding entertainment service. “Make sure you understand exactly what your venue provides and includes — catering, lighting, sound system, tables, chairs — as these additional hard costs really add up fast.”

As a general starting point, Dyson recommends that the combined costs of the venue and catering should comprise no more than 30 percent to 50 percent of your total budget. You’ll need the rest to pay for a wedding planner, flowers and invitations.

Make room for surprise expenses, too. They’re inevitable.

“As a planner, I can’t tell you how many times people sign a contract and then say ‘oh, we didn’t know about that fee,’” says Jessica Dalka, owner of Chicago Planner Magazine, a hospitality industry publication, and an event planner.  

Having a “just in case” buffer can also come in handy if your guests are a little more celebratory than anticipated. “I once did a wedding where 100 people racked up a $6,000 bar tab during their reception at a high-end restaurant,” Dalka says. “Once everyone sobered up, I can assure you that dealing with a major, unexpected expense after the wedding was not fun for anyone.”

Establish a date

To make your savings goal more feasible, you will want to give yourself as much time as possible to save up for your wedding.

Here, you will also want to schedule a “financial date” with your spouse-to-be to create a realistic savings goal that includes how much you should save per month and whether you need to make some changes to your spending to hit these goals.

“Sit down at a table with your laptops, log into all your accounts, and start sharing,” says Lauren Anastasio, CFP at SoFi Advice.

“Do you really need a parking garage for the car you share, or can you park it on the street?” she says. “Can you agree to bring your lunch to work? Then crunch those numbers and put that toward your shared goal.”

If there are specific cuts you just can’t make, it’s fine. Just make sure your partner knows. “If you’re not willing to give up your wine club membership, that’s okay, but you want to be transparent with your partner about it to avoid resentment,” Anastasio says.

As you budget for your wedding, get specific and plan for payment deadlines for services, like a band or caterer. While your wedding may still be months away, certain bills will arrive ahead of the big day and you don’t want to be caught off guard.

Where you keep your wedding fund is just as important as the wedding venue

Where you keep your wedding fund is also important to consider. You have options.

You can park your money in traditional savings accounts and money market accounts that offer you competitive interest rates to help you grow your savings faster. You may also want to consider a certificate of deposit (CD) if your wedding date is a ways away.  In exchange for locking your money away for a certain amount of time, a CD may pay more interest than a savings or money market account.

Whatever account you choose to park your savings, experts recommend keeping your wedding fund separate from your overall savings.

“Weddings are a big enough expense that it may be a good idea to open a separate savings account either with your future partner or individually, depending on how you both have decided to handle finances,” according to Chicago Planner Magazine’s Dalka.

Importantly, whatever money you put into your savings account has to be on-hand, not hypothetical money that you’re expecting as a wedding gift. “You never know if that family member may suddenly experience financial hardship and have to rescind or lower their initial offer,” she says.

Bottom line

As expensive as weddings can be, couples shouldn’t put off saving for the big day. With a plan in place, you can set yourself up for success. Just remember, that the event is only a day. You will want to start your marriage on strong financial footing.

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