June 20, 2024

How to keep your wedding from becoming a debt trap

The average wedding costs more than $25,000, but yours can cost less with a bit of planning. Click here for great ways to save at the altar.

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How to keep your wedding from becoming a debt trap

Woman in wedding dress holds flowers

How much should a wedding cost? That’s a tough question to answer because, if you decide to tie the knot, it’s ideally going to be a top-5 best day of your life. You want to remember every minute of it. You want it to be as perfect as possible. And you’re willing to spend a bit of money to make it happen.

And so, a more helpful question might be: what can you do to spend less on your wedding and still make it a great day?

In 2019, the average Canadian wedding cost $189 per guest, and $22,000 to $30,000 overall

Those wedding estimates obviously took a dip from 2020 to 2022, but everything’s more expensive now, including weddings.

Are you prepared to take on debt for your wedding?

More money to work with could get you better food, a larger bar, a better band or a more elevated location. If you decide the occasion is worth going into debt and making interest payments for, decide with your partner how much debt you’re willing to take on. Settling on a number together will be good practice for the rest of your lives as a married couple.

Do you want to avoid taking on debt?

This could mean you might not have everything you’ve you’ve always pictured at your wedding. Or it could mean you get creative with your big day. 

If you’re into rolling up your sleeves and thinking outside the box to prevent your wedding from becoming a debt trap, keep reading.

Budgeting for your wedding starts with a guestlist

A report out of the United States found that over half (56%) of newlyweds went into debt for their wedding. The numbers in Canada are presumably similar and starting your new life off with more debt than you need isn’t a recipe for success in any economic time, much less during an affordability crisis.

After the euphoria of saying “yes” has worn off and you move from “we’re getting married” to “we’re planning a wedding,” your first order of business should be to set a budget.

The average yearly Canadian household net income in 2021 is $68,400. This puts the average cost of a wedding at close to 40% of a year’s intake. Can you and your spouse afford to spend 40% of your yearly income on your wedding? If not, what can you afford?

As you consider how much you’re willing to spend on your big day, it would be helpful to know what percentage of your money will go to each aspect of your wedding. The Knot, a popular wedding planning app, says these are some of the top wedding costs.

  • Venue: 37%
  • Catering: 28%
  • Band: 12%
  • Wedding rings: 9%
  • Photography: 8%
  • Flowers: 8%
  • Alcohol: 8%

This obviously doesn’t add up to 100%, because very few weddings will have all these items (i.e., a band or a DJ). The instructive part of this list is that it gives you a place to start your budgeting. 

For example, having your heart set on a specific venue will inform what you can and can’t spend on other aspects of your wedding. 

If your dream was to get married in a field in the middle of nowhere, your venue costs will go way down but you could afford a bigger wedding band.

On the other hand, if you only want to have your wedding at the fanciest hotel in town, you may only have enough for a junior DJ.

So, let’s go through the list above and look at some creative ways to save money and get everything you want from your wedding.

Picking a wedding venue

Before you pick a venue, you need to know how many people you’re inviting. And trimming people from that list can be tricky if you’re looking to save money, especially when parents are involved. Setting a few guest list ground rules could help the number from blowing out of proportion. 

There’s always a risk that some people will have something come up that means they can no longer make it to the wedding. Some have taken to charging no show wedding guests who cancel last minute and others have decided to charge their guests in advance to prevent no shows, although both practices are controversial. 

One popular approach for setting the right number of guests is to give each spouse a set number of non-negotiable vetoes: the more money you want to save, the more vetoes each person gets.

When you have your guest numbers, you can start looking around at venues. As you do, consider these options for saving money:

  • Find a venue that can accommodate the ceremony and the reception. No sense paying for two places if you don’t have to.
  • Have a morning wedding. The venue will be cheaper, and a coffee bar is less expensive than a booze bar.
  • Limit your search to venues that have tables and chairs so you don’t have to rent those.
  • Plan to get married off-season. Again, the venue will be cheaper. And the honeymoon escape somewhere warm will feel so much better.  
  • Look for venues that let you bring in your own food so you aren’t beholden to your venue’s food prices.

Planning your wedding menu

From taste to presentation, the food you serve at your wedding should reflect you as a couple — especially since more than a quarter of your budget will go towards it. But it also needs to be palatable to your guests. So, for example, if you and your spouse are into spicy food, your menu should have a bit of kick, but not too much.

If you managed to find a venue that lets you bring in food, consider these tips for keeping your cost per plate down:

  • Buffet instead of a plated dinner: Less staff required and more choice for your guests.
  • Fewer pre-meal appetizer options. Two or three choices is more than enough. Remember, fancy means more effort (and cost) to make. And filling means less room for the main course.
  • Simple dishes with local ingredients: A beautiful meal doesn’t need much. And if your caterer sources from the area, the food will taste better.  
  • Food trucks outside: They’ll generally charge you a flat fee for being there, and you can pare down their menu.

Choosing your wedding attire

At 7% of your budget, dresses and menswear are a big deal, and they make up so much of what will look great about your wedding photos. 

You can bring your tuxedo costs down substantially by renting them ($100–$200 to rent versus at least $1,000 to buy).

Saving money on a wedding dress is a bit more nuanced. You can rent a wedding dress if you want, which will cost between $50 and $600, depending on the dress — and you don’t have to spend money on something/somewhere to store it afterwards. But if you’d rather buy a wedding dress, consider these ideas for spending less on it:

  • Consider fabric: Silk and lace are beautiful, but costly. Synthetic and blended fabrics are less expensive and can be equally show-stopping.
  • Time your purchase: If you’re not fussed about wearing this year’s style, shop for your dress in winter and summer seasons when retailers sell their old stock and store samples at reduced prices to make room for new lines.

Shop online: You’d be surprised by what you can find on sites like Etsy, and how little you’ll spend for a beautiful dress.

Saving money with a little DIY

Certain aspects of your wedding generally require hiring professionals (photographer, caterer and officiant are a few of them). But you could absolutely take on other parts yourself and save a ton of money in the process.

  • Music: Instead of spending over $3,000 on a band or $1,700 on a DJ, spend a few days putting a killer playlist together, plug your phone into the venue’s sound system and you’re good to groove.
  • Table centrepieces: Instead of paying a florist close to $300 per table, you could order flowers in bulk from Costco and put the centrepieces together yourself.
  • Venue: If you have a home or backyard big enough to host your wedding, your budget opens up considerably.
  • Invitations: Instead of spending two dollars per invitation which, for a 200-person wedding, comes to $400, send an evite for much less. The information will wind up in everybody’s phone anyway, so this would be eliminating a step (and it’s better for the environment).

A final note about staying out of wedding debt

Furiously cutting costs throughout the planning process will ruin the magic and make you question the whole thing. To counter that, pick one little thing each that you and your spouse can both splurge on (within reason, of course). It’ll bring some levity to the number-crunching and give you something else to smile about years from now.

Do you have more questions?

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June 20, 2024

How to keep your wedding from becoming a debt trap

The average wedding costs more than $25,000, but yours can cost less with a bit of planning. Click here for great ways to save at the altar.

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