How to Not Go into Debt When Planning a Wedding
Anouare is a seasoned writer, editor and content strategist who started her career as a lifestyle journalist before stepping into leadership roles at publications such as AskMen and Goalcast. From editorial strategy to content marketing and project-management, she has tackled various challenges in digital media and discovered her passion for mentoring others in the process. She loves a good money mindset book and believes you can create your dream lifestyle by being yourself.
At a Glance
You said yes to forever. But before saying I do, make sure your wedding doesn’t come with a massive side of debt. According to a recent survey by Zola, this year 70% of couples are spending more on their wedding than they had planned. Plus with the average cost of weddings increasing in 2023, overspending and debt can happen quickly. However, it’s also possible to avoid debt when planning a wedding. Here are some tips, including:
Expected wedding costs in the U.S. in 2023
According to a new report by Zola, couples getting married in 2023 should expect to pay around $29,000, up slightly from 2022’s average of $28,000. This is largely in part to couples increasing their guest count from previous years, as well as inflation and economic changes.
Keep in mind the average cost depends heavily on how many guests you have: Weddings with 50 or fewer guests will pay an average of $15,000, while those with more than 200 guests may pay $40,000 or more.
Zola’s report also estimates the national average wedding expenses for services in 2023, based on a total budget of $29,000:
- Venue: $6,500 to $12,000
- Catering: $6,500 to $10,000
- DJ or band: $2,000 to $7,000
- Photographer: $3,500 to $6,500
- Videographer: $3,000 to $6,000
- Flowers: $2,500 to $6,000
- Transportation: $700 to $1,200
- Cake: $600 to $900
- Hair and makeup: $550 to $850
While these expenses add up quickly, there are options for covering them such as savings, credit cards, and wedding loans.
How can you go into debt while planning your budget?
Planning a wedding is such an exciting time but creating a “dreams come true” day can quickly lead to overspending, often creating a debt spiral that can be difficult to overcome. Being aware of the top ways couples can go into debt when planning their wedding can help you plan for and avoid them.
1. Not setting a realistic budget
When dreaming of your big day, it’s easy to get carried away. However, it’s important to be realistic about what you and your fiance can afford. Doing this before you start spending any money at all can help ensure anything you book or buy falls into that budget. Otherwise, it can be easy to quickly and significantly overspend when booking a venue and vendors.
You should also set an absolute maximum limit. It can help you prioritize what’s most important and determine the percentage of budget to allocate to everything you need. As you track your spending, be cognizant of how close you’re getting to that maximum so you can adjust as necessary.
2. Booking a venue that doesn’t include anything
Many popular types of venues are considered “raw” spaces, meaning you must bring everything in yourself (including food, alcohol, rentals, decor, etc.). These separate costs can add up quickly and be very expensive. Consider booking a part-inclusive or all-inclusive venue that includes food, alcohol, staffing, planning, rentals, and more in the price. These may seem more costly up front, but you’ll likely save in the end.
Related: Average Cost of a Wedding Venue
4. Inviting too many people
Larger weddings cost more. Having more guests means a larger venue (which means more decor), more food, more alcohol, and more rentals. While it’s easy to want to celebrate this milestone with all of your family and friends, setting a limit to the number of people you’ll invite can help you save.
5. Not hiring a wedding planner
Hiring a wedding planner costs money, but they can also help you save money. Not only will they help keep you on track with your budget, they also know ways to create your perfect wedding day without overspending.
6. Splurging on one thing
Spending too much on one thing means cutting the budget for others. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the details or get carried away with getting the perfect dress, the best food, or the most elegant decor. However, keep things in perspective. For example, you’ll only be wearing the attire once and most guests don’t remember decor. Also consider what’s more important. Would you prefer more decorations, or a better photographer? Do you need the best and most expensive photographer, or are there ones just as good but less well-known, therefore less expensive?
When creating your initial budget, assign percentages to the different items and stick to those. That way, you’ll be able to better see where you may have to sacrifice if you overspend.
Wedding planners’ tips on avoiding wedding debt
“The No. 1 reason couples go into debt while planning a wedding is because they haven’t gotten clear on exactly how much they are able and willing to spend prior to embarking on the planning process. No one should spend their entire savings on a wedding day or go into debt to have a wedding,” says Jessica Bishop, founder of TheBudgetSavvyBride, a site that helps couples plan weddings without debt, and best-selling author of “The Budget-Savvy Wedding Planner Organizer.”
“If you don’t start with a plan or what I would call a ‘Bridal Blueprint,’ you’re not only going to exceed spending, but you also may end up either settling around the vendors that matter or sadly not be able to afford them,” says celebrity wedding designer and media personality Samantha Goldberg.
Most couples start off with good intentions and then end up taking out loans or using credit cards to pay or wedding-related expenses. Here are some tips to avoid common pitfalls and still end up having a wedding that you love.
1. Identify priorities and stick to them
First things first, identify priorities–and stick to them. Goldberg always starts off the planning process by asking both the bride and groom to make a list of what is most important to them. It’s about separating the non-negotiables from the nice-to-haves and setting a budget accordingly.
“There is nothing worse than having to cut back on the vendors that matter long-term,” she says. Start with what matters the most and avoid hiring all vendors at once so you can take your time and negotiate. It’s always smart to meet with each vendor so you can understand which one is the most likely to put you into debt or take away money from another important area. Anticipating expenses ahead of time can help you decide what to invest in and what to cut back on.
“Rely on vendors to walk you through what can be affordable. They work with couples all of the time to try and make a relationship work. Meaning, they want the business and it’s OK to discuss your budget goals with more established vendors on what you wish to have,” adds Goldberg.
2. Consider an intimate event
Perhaps you are enthusiastic about inviting all your extended friends and family. Maybe you also dream of a luxurious experience. But don’t write off the idea of having a smaller wedding so you can create that luxury wedding feel without financial stress.
“Going into debt for a wedding means delaying your other financial goals and dreams beyond the big day,” says Bishop.
“Avoid paying off your celebration for years to come by setting a reasonable budget for your personal financial situation. Don’t plan a wedding outside of your means. If you want a luxurious wedding feel but don’t have a huge budget, consider an intimate microwedding and up the glam factor without increasing your cost.”
3. Do not assume gifts will offset expenses
And no, it’s not safe to assume that gifts–aka cash–will offset wedding expenses. “I assure you, the debt only increases with this thought process,” says Goldberg.
Focus on budget distribution instead of wishful thinking. If you do decide to use credit, Goldberg recommends a rule of thumb: making sure you can pay it off within 30 days. “This is an area that needs to be watched over to ensure you don’t fall into the wedding debt dance of paying off Peter to pay Paul,” she says.
If you play your cards right though, you could end up using credit card points to pay for honeymoon expenses.
Read more: How much money should you give for a wedding
4. Track everything in a spreadsheet
The best way to avoid getting carried away is tracking everything carefully. Those little extras quickly add up.
“Planning a wedding without debt requires patience, commitment, and dedication to your goal. I suggest keeping a thorough spreadsheet of all your expenses so you can evaluate and balance along the way,” suggests Bishop.
5. Don’t get married during peak times
Considering the time of the year and the day of the week when you get married can save you thousands, according to Goldberg. “You don’t need to have millions to have a beautiful day remembered by all. Having a wedding during peak times may hurt you instead of giving you the ultimate experience at a less busy time.”
Plus, with many people now working remotely, you won’t be as likely to experience pushback from guests about having your wedding on a Thursday, Sunday, or even Monday.
6. Save on decor
You can also save a lot on decor without much sacrifice. Choose florals that are in season. And rent items from a florist as opposed to buying things such as vases and candles, says Goldberg, which can cut your price by 25-30%. Another creative solution is hunting for used items.
“I have found many bridal sites that offer you gently used items, which you can have a designer transform into something else. This can save you over 50%! Try CraigsList, Facebook Marketplace and some of the known wedding sites such as The Knot,” says Goldberg. The best part? Many times, the items actually end up being brand new.
Facing debt after a wedding
Even with careful budgeting and planning, it’s possible to overspend on your wedding. It’s easy to let the pressure of having a perfect day get to you and cause you to be more flexible with your spending than you should. In some cases, this means entering your new marriage with debt.
If this happens to you, there are ways to recover. The most important thing is to create and maintain a daily budget and pay down the debt as fast as possible. If you have credit card debt, this should be prioritized since interest rates are higher. Then, pay off any wedding loans you may have.
Consider using debt payoff methods like the snowball method or the avalanche method. You can also look into debt consolidation options depending on other types of debt you may have. The most important thing is to prioritize getting rid of the debt so you can celebrate being newlyweds debt-free.
According to some experts, a few things you can avoid spending money on include personalized party favors, multi-part or fancy invitations, photo booths, printed programs and menus, a champagne toast, extravagant decor or florals, late-night snacks and anything overly trendy. While you can spend on these if you’d like, not doing so can help you save.
Unfortunately, about ⅓ (or 33%) of couples go into debt for their wedding. This number has decreased from nearly 50% in 2019, but is still a significant number of newlyweds entering their marriage with debt. However, going into debt can be avoided by carefully creating and sticking to a budget.
Related: Do People Go in Debt for Wedding
Weddings are expensive, making borrowing money seem like a good idea. This means going into debt for a wedding is definitely a possibility, but according to financial experts, it’s not worth it. Starting a new marriage in debt can be tricky, and you’ll likely end up paying more than you borrowed anyway due to interest and fees.
Related: Wedding Debt Horror Stories
This depends on how much you borrow and how aggressively you choose to pay it off. Wedding loan terms can range from 12 to 48 months or more, but most couples who take out loans for weddings try to pay them off within two years to avoid racking up too much interest.