There was a time when the parents were fully expected to foot the bill for a wedding. But with costs steadily climbing and many couples waiting longer to marry, this long-held tradition no longer seems to apply.
Many parents still pick up the tab, though financial responsibility increasingly is being shared — among the couples, both sets of families and even friends.
“Now it’s often a combination of everyone kicking in,” said Jim Shagawat, a financial planner from Paramus, N.J., who has helped families prepare for this big day.
There’s plenty to kick in for. The average spent nationwide for a wedding this year is estimated to reach $26,029, according to the Wedding Report, a research company based in Tucson. This compares with an average $25,764 spent in 2017 and $24,111 a decade ago. Costs are even higher in big cities. Last year they averaged $39,948 in the New York area, $29,846 in Chicago, and $35,742 in San Diego.
“The first question you have to ask is who’s paying for what, so the couple knows what they’re on the hook for,” said Barbara O’Neill, a financial planner and professor in financial resource management at Rutgers University. “You need to have this conversation with your parents.”
You’ll also need to establish a comfortable (and reasonable) budget and savings plan after setting a date, especially if you think you may be responsible for all or most of the bills. “Look for ways to reduce expenses or increase income, like maybe adding freelance work,” Ms. O’Neill said.
Money earmarked for the wedding should be kept out of aggressive investments. “Unless you’re more than five years away, you probably don’t want to be in stocks,” Ms. O’Neill said. Instead, consider a certificate of deposit, which offers varying maturity dates as well as better interest rates than money market or savings accounts.
Being flexible (and maybe frugal) can certainly help. There are many ways to save on cost, namely by shopping around or even negotiating with potential wedding vendors. You may also consider booking a venue outside the peak season, which runs from late spring through early fall, or on a day other than a Saturday, when prices are at their highest. Or, even opt for a buffet instead of a sit-down meal. (One of Ms. O’Neill’s favorite money-saving tips: “cardboard tiered cake with a small top-cake layer to cut for photos and a basic sheet cake to serve to guests.”)
And don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Instead of a fancy hall or event space, Eric Roberge, 38, and Kali Hawlk, 28, of Boston are having both ceremony and reception this June at a rented waterfront house on Cape Cod, where their families also are staying.
The couple is further trimming costs by buying their own alcohol and putting their parents in charge of the food. “We are figuring out how best to create what we want, not what society says we have to have,” said Mr. Roberge, who runs (no surprise) a financial planning business. “This is how much we can afford — or want to afford. We have to consider our other financial goals.”
Mr. Shagawat offers similar advice to his financial planning clients, and also bluntly suggests: “If you don’t think you’ll have enough money, you can always extend the date.”
For those of you who are unwilling or unable to change the date, or who happen to come up short at the last minute, here are some money-raising options to consider.
Wedding or Bridal Loans
Most financial advisers see borrowing of any sort as a last resort. But these all-dressed-up personal loans — unsecured, or without collateral — can cover all or part of the wedding and honeymoon. One big plus: The lending process is usually pretty quick, with borrowers often receiving funds the same day they apply.
“The money goes directly into a bank account, which allows you to disburse it as you need it and when you need it,” said Kristin Shuff, the senior vice president for marketing at Lightstream, the consumer lending division of SunTrust Bank.
Wedding loans come in all shapes and sizes, with fixed and variable interest rates, and with or without origination fees. The rates and terms are largely determined by credit worthiness — the higher your FICO score, the lower the cost. (A score of 750 to 850 is considered excellent; 700 is good.)
There are myriad lenders touting offers online, so you’ll do best to shop around. Loan offers can be compared on websites like LendingTree, which matches borrowers with lenders. Personal loans for weddings are offered there, up to $35,000. Bankrate also compares rates. (The average on a three-year, $10,000 personal loan is 4.29 percent for good to excellent credit, according to the site.) This compares with the average credit card rate of nearly 17 percent.
“This is a better value for consumers than putting everything on a credit card,” said Ms. Shuff of Lightstream, which offers personal loans at 5.49 to 14.24 percent; $5,000 to $100,000 can be borrowed for 24 to 84 months. The average loan last year, she said, was $16,630.
While personal loans are far better than carrying credit card balances indefinitely, they only work if you can comfortably afford the monthly payments. “The good thing is you have a fixed time frame to pay it off,” Ms. O’Neill said.
Credit Cards (Get the Perks, Repay Quickly)
Financial advisers may especially cringe at the thought of loading up cards with wedding expenses, especially if you’re in the habit of carrying monthly balances. But credit cards can be helpful if used wisely. They offer fraud protection, for one thing, and often provide perks likes bonus points or cash-back rewards.
“You have to be strategic,” said Kristina Whyte, a certified public accountant who is in an M.B.A. program at Yale, “and be willing to do the research and be very careful in terms of budget reassessing.”
Ms. Whyte, 33, and her husband, Philippe Milord, 39, an associate director for revenue data analytics at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, paid for most of their wedding and honeymoon in 2014 with plastic. Each used two cards offering zero percent interest promotions for 15 to 18 months, and increased the credit limits on them so they covered most of the $50,000 total wedding costs.
“We paid them off before they started accumulating interest,” said Ms. Whyte, adding that she and Mr. Milord cut back on daily expenses to make the pre-interest payments.
The couple also accumulated bonus points that helped cover a portion of their honeymoon to the Maldives. “We were all on our own,” Ms. Whyte said. “We paid for our bridal shower, engagement party, everything.”
But even she cautions against relying too heavily on credit cards. “I would only do this if you’ve been diligent in the past about paying off your balances. I hate paying interest!”
Ms. O’Neill agreed. “Do not put wedding expenses on a credit card unless you plan to repay the balance quickly and are just charging expenses to earn reward points,” she said. “Otherwise, you’ll be paying for your wedding for decades.”
Home Equity Loans, Personal Loans, 401(k)’s
If you (or your parents) own a home that has risen in value, you could easily tap into the equity to help pay wedding bills. The main risk: Default on the loan and you could lose your home. And, you’re tying up money that may be better used for longer-term goals, like paying for college or retirement.
There are advantages, though, to either a home-equity loan, which provides a fixed amount in a lump sum, or home equity line of credit, a.k.a. Heloc, which gives you access to a revolving credit line.
Like personal loans, they have fixed terms. But because the loan is secured, interest rates are generally lower than on personal loans or credit cards. According to Bankrate, they average 5.56 percent for a home-equity loan and 5.90 percent for Heloc. There may be other fees, however, like closing costs or account maintenance. Also, the interest is no longer tax deductible; the new tax law eliminated this longstanding feature.
Other potential borrowing sources may be retirement funds, like 401(k)’s. But here again, be cautious: Failure to pay it back in a timely manner could result in penalties and taxes, not to mention reduced retirement income. (Along those same lines, you can also borrow against a whole life insurance policy, though the death benefit is reduced if you don’t repay.)
“A wedding is a depreciating asset,” Mr. Shagawat said. “You don’t want a wedding to jeopardize your retirement or long-term success.”
Friends and Family Donate Here
Some couples have successfully turned to sites like GoFundMe and Indiegogo to raise money for their weddings.
“In this day and age, why not?” Ms. O’Neill said. “Couples are already doing gift registries online, including honeymoon registries. This is an extension of that.” (Some registries, in fact, offer cash options, like the Knot’s Newlywed Fund or the WeddingWire’s NewlyWish Fund.)
The big question, however, is how do you make requests for cash without sounding, well, tacky? “I’ve seen it done tactfully,” Ms. O’Neill said, particularly for couples saving for both a wedding and a home. “I’ve seen invites that say something like, ‘Our biggest financial goal right now is to save for a house. We encourage you to help us reach our dream.’”
Cliff Edge, 60, and Les Howell, 58, of Decatur, Ga., weren’t saving up for a new home, but they weren’t looking for any more toasters or silverware, either. They just wanted some help financing their modest wedding reception last year for about 100 guests; Mr. Howell is a semiretired writer and producer, and Mr. Edge works as a high school aide.
“We were pretty strapped for money, and we were determined not to go into debt,” Mr. Edge said.
The couple managed to raise $1,690 from guests and well-wishers via a GoFundMe campaign. (They got the idea from friends who did the same.) This helped pay for a good chunk of the $4,000 bill for their reception, which included a catered buffet of Greek delicacies.