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Millennials and Gen Z have long lagged behind other generations when it comes to tying the knot. But recent research suggests the tides may be turning. According to a 2020 survey by Pew Research Center, 40 percent of those between the ages of 23 and 39 were married or planning to marry, fitting as the median age for a first marriage averages around 30. But as inflation skyrockets, grand weddings have fallen out of favor. With the average wedding costing around $30,000 in 2022, many couples are opting to cut back on all the wedding bells and whistles.
Traditional wedding vs budget wedding costs
At a typical wedding, couples and guests are expected to pay top dollar on everything from flowers and venues to food and gifts. According to a recent Bankrate survey, this can cause a wedding to be as high as $50,000. For millennials and Gen Z who are both already starting off in more debt than previous ones, this is a cost too steep to bear.
While there are unavoidable expenses like the marriage license, there are a lot of places where you can pare down or switch for a more affordable option. After all, a smaller or more scaled back wedding doesn’t make it any less special. If anything, it could actually give you more breathing room to enjoy your big day without the nagging sense of worry over how you’ll manage to pay for it all.
Location and entertainment
Even for couples planning a nontraditional wedding, paying for a venue is often the biggest expense. However, this is an area where you can save big by getting creative.
To keep costs down, consider public spaces suitable for impromptu gatherings or spaces that could be rented for a short period of time. Depending on the time restrictions and permit rules, outdoor areas like a local or national park, a public beach, a friend’s backyard or even in all-inclusive resorts.
For example, Product Designer Ashley Lawton held her wedding in Jamaica on the beach. They planned a Sandals Resort vacation, choosing to splurge on decor and a sunset ceremony over the water. Afterwards, the wedding party of 100 guests enjoyed a picnic on the beach with a rented building and catering and alcohol included. All in all, she and her husband spent around $15,000 for the event – half of the average cost.
If creativity isn’t your strong suit, a classic courthouse wedding is a great budget option. It may seem a bit utilitarian to get married in this setting, but a beautiful, old courthouse will look great in photos, and many allow you to bring a small group of people to witness the ceremony. Even better, the cost — when factoring in the marriage license and civil service fees — can stay far under $1000, leaving you room to splurge on other factors, like the reception, your wedding outfits and photography.
Once you’ve nailed down a location for the ceremony, an inexpensive reception can be even easier to manage. If your card has a concierge service, you can reach out to them to help you plan a celebratory dinner. You can also plan a group activity to commemorate the moment or make use of venues you currently have access to, such as a bonfire or visiting a local attraction or amusement park.
“Always try to bundle where you can,” says Jessica Wise, a freelance wedding planner. “The more you book with a vendor, the more you save. Remember that everything is negotiable when it comes to wedding planning.”
Location is key, whether you’re just going across town or getting on a plane. If your hearts are set on a destination wedding, a travel credit card is a great way to cover it. Not only do most come with travel portals that can get you great prices on flights and hotels, some come with annual credits that could fully cover your flight or hotel, leaving you with one less bill to worry about. A good option for this is the Marriott Bonvoy Business® American Express® Card. The card gives cardholders automatic Gold status, which includes perks like room upgrades and free nights. It also has 39 airline partners where you can transfer points.
Catering is another area where couples can drastically cut costs with a little creativity. “Everyone wants to be there for the party, so why not jump right to it,” says Drew D., a newlywed from Georgia, who’s wedding was under $500. “We had fun and had good food. What more do you need out of it?”
More than anything, you want a solution that caters to the size of your group. For groups under twenty, having dinner at a beloved restaurant can be an easy and much cheaper option. You can also arrange for catering without telling them it’s a wedding reception so they won’t add an upcharge.
This can also potentially be where you earn the most rewards, as dining is often one of the most lucrative rewards categories. Cards like Chase Freedom Unlimited®* will be helpful, as it earns 3X points on dining and comes with DoorDash and Instacart memberships. You can order catering through services like Uber and DoorDash or directly from the restaurant to earn the largest pool of points. Takeout services can be useful in getting a cake, too.
Decor includes all decorative elements of your wedding, such as decorations, flowers, party favors and invitations. The savings here can be substantial because you may need a lot less than you think. Just by cutting out paper invitations alone can save you about $500, according to The Knot. “Anything you print on paper — nine times out of 10 — you don’t need and it will end up in the trash,” says Wise. A great alternative to this is evites, which can still be personalized without the high price tag.
The money you save on decor can leave room for splurging in other areas. Karleigh Presutti, a North Carolina CRM analyst, spent $2,000 for her courthouse wedding. Elopement was always the plan, and by cutting back only to the essentials, she was able to splurge on the details she really wanted, like flowers and photography.
For flowers and decor, buy in-season flowers and shop locally to receive better prices. You should also turn to your cards’ special offers. For example, you may find discounts on flowers through on brands like Teleflora through programs like Amex Offers, as well as cash back for purchases you’re going to make anyway. The flowers and other items you buy for the ceremony can also be repurposed at the reception. For example, lantern aisle markers and flowers can be used again as centerpieces.
To save while shopping for your decorations, Capital One credit cards give you access to Capital One Shopping, which has a great range of special offers and discounts from retailers. With the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card, you can also earn flat-rate rewards on all your purchases.
The key to keeping costs low with a wedding party is to limit your guest list to your most essential people. Your wedding is a day for you, so only invite people you truly want to share it with.
Be considerate of your wedding party’s budget by being mindful of what you’re asking them to wear and how much it might cost. A more casual dress code can save everyone involved a lot of money and reduce stress.
You can also save money by having a smaller group at the ceremony and opt to invite more people for your reception, or vice versa. Also, be understanding if people miss pre-wedding events or can’t travel to your wedding due to budget reasons.
What to do with the savings
Everyone wants their wedding day to be unforgettable. However, for most, it’s just one day, and saving money for future plans can have a bigger impact on your marriage. Those future plans can include anything from a dream honeymoon to a down payment on a house. By reframing your wedding day, not only can you save thousands of dollars, but you can earn cash back that you can then use to help celebrate your marriage or enhance your life.
“We are saving our money for our honeymoon,” says Presutti. “[O]ur plan is to spend 1-2 weeks in Ireland and Scotland.”
“We put it into our house. We bought a house that needed some work 6 months before we got married,” said Lawton.
Through scaling back, you get a chance to focus on what makes something special to you versus going through the motions of traditions, and there’s a lot of personal value in that. And while a nontraditional wedding may not be for everyone, it helps to think of the areas in which you can be more budget conscious.
*The information about the Chase Freedom Unlimited® has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.