Ditch the Fancy Wedding: Save a Fortune (and Your Marriage)

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Receiving a piece of mail that wasn't a bill, a jury duty summons, or an offer from a credit card company used to be an exciting occasion for me. These days, it's usually painful and expensive. Now that most bills are handled online, only two things come in the mail for millennials: birthday cards and wedding invitations. Anyone serious about saving money wouldn't want to be responsible for the latter.

Millennials -- as a generation -- are in debt. This is a well-known, over-analyzed, consistently reported on fact. To be more specific, the average millennial carries about $29,400 in student loan debt, according to a New American Foundation's Student Debt Review. That's only $1,047 more than the average wedding budget, reported by a 2013 survey from The Knot and WeddingChannel.com.

Strictly based on the numbers, it's fiscally irresponsible for an average millennial to have an average wedding. But let's start at the beginning.

The Engagement Ring

The road to financial ruin begins with the ridiculous tradition of spending several months salary on a diamond engagement ring -- now costing an average of $5,431, according to a 2013 wedding survey by TheKnot and WeddingChannel.com. Diamond engagement rings became popular around the time the average millennial's grandparents were coming of age. Two generations later, we're still compelled by the unforgettable slogan the N.W. Ayer and Son ad agency penned for De Beers: "A Diamond Is Forever."

A diamond may be forever, but a marriage built on materialism and debt sits on shakier ground.

Creating the Guest List

After the ring is on the finger and the engagement is announced on Facebook (so that it's official), the happy couple must sit down to draft the guest list. With help from their parents, of course. Suddenly, third cousins the groom has never heard of get added to the list while the bride tries to talk her parents out of inviting their next-door neighbors from 15 years ago.

Perhaps a wedding should focus instead on the two people committing to each other -- a gathering of the couple's closest friends and family, instead of a convention that requires them to carry a cheat sheet to keep track of all the guests' names.

The Invites

The wedding industry is probably single-handedly keeping specialty paper suppliers in business. While most industries are pushing toward going paperless, your relatives may shame you if you dare to defy convention and mail merge an e-card wedding invitation.

Ignore their condemnation in favor of free.

Sure, it's exciting for about 30 seconds for the guests receiving that classy-looking piece of snail mail. It's more exciting to pocket the average $453 that it costs to send traditional invites.

The Ceremony and Reception

A public declaration of love combined with a dinner for nearly 150 people (remember that over-long guest list we were just talking about?) runs couples $18,408 -- the price of the average wedding according to The Knot and WeddingChannel.com.

Simply signing a marriage certificate or holding a small ceremony followed by an intimate dinner or potluck could save a couple tens of thousands of dollars. Or just eloping.

Undoubtedly, weddings are fun and provide both the guests and couple with lifelong memories. But are those memories really worth starting out your married life deep in the red?

What Else Could Be Done with All That Money?

  • Pay off or make a sizable dent in your student loans

  • Pay off or make a sizable dent in your credit card debt

  • Put a down payment on a home

  • Furnish a new home

  • Invest for retirement, future children or simply to capitalize on compound growth

  • Buy a car (or two)

  • Create an emergency fund

  • Take a vacation

Your Wedding Doesn't Last a Lifetime. Your Marriage (Hopefully) Does

After the cameras finish clicking, the last bite of cake has been consumed, and your drunk uncle stumbles back to his room, the wedding is over. The marriage, hopefully, lasts a lifetime. But sometimes, it doesn't, and while you're thinking about that, consider this: Money-related arguments and financial stress are consistently reported as the top reasons for divorce. It stands to reason if money problems can split up a once-happy couple, it's not merely practical, but a potential marriage saver, to ditch the expensive wedding and focus those funds on building your future together.

Erin Lowry writes for DailyFinance on issues relating to millennials, money and personal finance. She's also the blogger behind Broke Millennial, where her sarcastic sense of humor entertains and educates her peers. Popular posts include: