Can You Afford To Get Married?

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Cupcakes and cookies on a table

Cupcakes and cookies won’t cost as much as a big wedding cake, and they’re just as delicious.

You may not be able to afford the wedding of your dreams. You may not be able to afford the wedding of your mother’s dreams. You may feel like you can’t even afford to be a guest at someone else’s wedding.

But you can afford to get married—even if you have student loans.

A marriage license and a trip to City Hall or the chapel don’t actually cost that much. It’s the big party that goes over budget. But there are ways to do it on the cheap without feeling like you’re cheaping out.

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I don’t just mean looking on Pinterest for DIY wedding decorations, although that will save you some cash too. I mean changing your attitude about what a wedding means.

The bridal industry loves to quote the price of an average wedding at about $25,000. But remember, giant celebrity weddings are included in that kind of figure. Most weddings cost a lot less. Mine was under half that, and we could probably have gotten it lower if we really tried much more. Here’s what worked for us:

1. Keep it small and plan quickly: Fewer people and less planning time means a small affair. We thought of it as a large dinner party rather than a small wedding. We managed to keep it under 60 guests.

2. Know your priorities: Everyone’s got one thing they think is most important. For us, it was food. We cut way back on the invitations, the dress, the ring, the entertainment, the transportation, the wedding party … everything but food and drink for the guests.

I know one couple who wanted lots of friends at the wedding, so they set up a big tent out in the country, did all their own decorations, and had the groom’s college roommate’s band play the reception. The band was awful and the food was forgettable, but everyone had a great time.

3. Pay for it yourselves: If it’s your money on the line, you’ll find it a lot easier to pay for what you want, and not pay for what you don’t want. If someone’s parents are paying the bill, they’re also calling the shots.

Bucking Expensive Traditions

We also saved money by skipping out on some traditions we didn’t feel especially attached to. You may find it hard to give up on some things, but try to remind yourself that no wedding can have the whole shebang.

Cake: Almost any other pastry costs less than a four-tier wedding cake. Some people do regular cakes, or cupcakes or cookies or selections of pastries. We opted for pie.

Ring: The pressure to buy a diamond, and to buy a big one, is immense. But the diamond engagement ring was largely invented by the diamond cartels and their ad agencies in the 1930s. Consider a beautiful ring that’s not a diamond—you can find great value in sapphires and rubies these days.

If you must have a diamond, consider practicality before you go for the biggest one you can afford: AskMen points out that a big solitaire is actually kind of hard to wear every day. In fact, I know one woman stopped wearing her ring when she accidentally scratched her daughter’s face with it. My wife still wears her ring, but it’s a low profile setting. Not coincidentally, we paid less than a thousand for the engagement ring and matching wedding band.

If you do want a diamond, shop wisely, and look to estate sales and vintage stores, where diamond rings sell for a fraction of their original price.

Clothing: Wedding dresses are absurdly expensive. A good party dress tends to be cheaper and looks just as nice. Dresses in with prints or in colors other than white are especially useful, because you can wear them again. Grooms look as good in a suit as in a tuxedo, and will find they can wear them on more occasions—like job interviews.

Managing Money for a New Couple

Of course, the cost of the wedding isn’t the only reason people say they’re afraid they can’t afford to get married.  And if you’re reluctant to get married because you have cold feet and are just using the cost as an excuse, we can’t help you.

But if you worry that you and your sweetheart have different amounts of student loan debt, or fear that your debt will hold your partner back, check out these articles on couples and finance:

Are you planning a wedding on a small budget? Tell us about it in the comments!

(Photo: thingsarebetterwithaparrott)

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