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.

Painless Ways to Dramatically Slash Wedding Costs
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Ditch the Fancy Wedding: Save a Fortune (and Your Marriage)
A novel and innovative option for the modern, time-strapped bride and groom is a service called BrideRush, which offers discounted, date-specific wedding deals. BrideRush bundles the search, inquiry, and booking processes for a simplified and streamlined solution with a possible 30 percent to 70 percent discount. Owner Anita Malik refers to BrideRush as the "Priceline of weddings."
The average wedding dress costs roughly $1,100, according to WeddingStats.org, so thinking outside of the box can yield big savings. Consider a pre-owned gown from a vintage or consignment store. Preownedweddingdresses.com offers hundreds of designer dresses, with many priced at less than $300. On top of that, after your big day, you can even sell your dress back to them. You can also find used veils, shoes and jewelry on the site.

Both eBay and Craigslist also offer thousands of less expensive gown options. Bridesagainstbreastcancer.org sells gowns donated by designers, with all proceeds going to charity. Most gowns range from $100 to $800. Or consider borrowing a gown from a family member or friend.

- Shorten (or elongate) your wedding planning timeline to either nab last-minute deals or have the flexibility to lock in bargain rates at a later date.

- Consider a Friday or Sunday wedding instead of the traditional -- and expensive -- Saturday.

- Consider nontraditional venues, like city-run spaces, gardens, beaches and zoos, for inexpensive and beautiful wedding sites.

With the average cost of a full-service wedding planner clocking in at nearly $4,000, eliminating the planner is an easy way to shave money from your budget. Not having one will require legwork on the part of you and your spouse-to-be, but the savings are tremendous.

Avoid traditional evening sit-down dinners or buffets. You can save lots of money by hosting a daytime affair or cocktail reception. While you may hear some guests grumbling, you will save a healthy chunk of change.

Avoid an open bar and consider opting for wine and beer only. Or serve a signature cocktail instead. This lets you buy one or two types of alcohol, allowing you to buy in bulk and cut costs. Consider avoiding the pricey champagne toast altogether, and toast with your signature cocktail instead. It'll be more personalized and memorable.

The higher, larger, and more ornate the cake, the more money it will cost. Choose a lower, smaller, and simpler one for the ceremonial cake-cutting and photos, and stock the kitchen with a sheet cake. Guests will never know the difference, and it can save you a couple hundred dollars.

The average cost of wedding flowers is nearly $2,000, but by choosing one type of seasonal, local flower, you can take advantage of a cheaper, bulk order. Or consider using Costco or an e-retailer like freshroses.com, whose site allows you to buy wholesale flowers -- cutting out expensive middlemen -- for do-it-yourself centerpieces, bouquets, and boutonnieres.

You can find DIY ideas by perusing Pinterest or marthastewartweddings.com. No one attending your wedding will remember -- or care -- that you had homemade favors as opposed to expensive, store-bought ones. Consider commissioning an aunt or grandmother with a unique skill to make the favors, centerpieces, or cake. It'll be special and that loved one will probably feel both pleased and honored to help.

The pre-ceremony aromatherapy massage, professional hair and makeup, pricey bachelorette weekend in Tahoe, and three bridal showers are all completely unnecessary.
Invest in your long-term relationship instead.

With so much focus on the wedding day, consider parlaying some money into services that'll build a great foundation for your marriage, like couples counseling and financial planning. These investments in your future together have magnificent potential for enhancing the quality of your marriage.


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:
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