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By Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP®, Rutgers Cooperative Extension, [email protected] 

Personal Financial Management (PFM) program personnel often counsel military families about the financial implications of lifestyle transitions. This includes the decision by a service member to get married and the expenses involved with planning a wedding and honeymoon.

When a couple decides to marry, they also agree to merge their financial lives. This includes paying joint debts and household expenses, deciding who pays the bills, and filing income tax returns jointly. Often, a husband and wife bring to the marriage different values and family influences related to money and have different spending habits. One spouse might be a disciplined “saver” while the other makes frequent impulse purchases.

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The first financial challenge that many married couples face is the cost of the wedding itself. According to The Knot, the average cost of a wedding in 2016 was $35,329, excluding the honeymoon. A major decision is who foots the bill: the bride and groom or parents and a married couple together.

Below are seven recommendations to share with service members who are planning a wedding:           

  1. Choose a Frugal Venue– Reduce the cost of getting married by taking aim at what is generally the largest expense, the reception. Consider holding it at a less expensive location (e.g., at home with a party tent or at a rented lodge, firehouse meeting hall, college campus building, library, or outdoor park pavilion instead of at an expensive hotel or catering hall).
  2. Choose an Off-Peak Time– Reduce the cost of a reception by holding a wedding in the late fall instead of the summer. The timing of a wedding reception and honeymoon can have a big impact on their cost. Another way to cut costs is to hold a wedding on a Thursday evening instead of a Saturday afternoon.
  3. Choose Less Expensive Meal Options– Reduce the cost of a reception by serving a buffet instead of a sit-down meal or a sit-down brunch instead of a dinner. Another low-cost option is a baked potato bar or foods prepared by the couple and their family. Limited liquor options instead of an open bar (e.g., wine only or a couple of kegs of beer) or non-alcoholic beverage only receptions will also reduce expenses considerably.
  4. Skip the Fancy Cake– Reduce this expense by substituting a nice dessert that is served right after dinner for a wedding cake. Another option, instead of an expensive tiered cake, is a fake cardboard tiered cake with a small top cake layer to cut for photos and a basic sheet cake to serve to guests.
  5. Follow “The Rule of Three”- Compare at least three providers of every wedding product or service (e.g., gown, gifts for the wedding party, DJ, photographer, reception hall, and honeymoon). Attend free or low-cost bridal shows to efficiently shop around for wedding-related products and services.
  6. Do Your Own Flower Arrangements– Purchase inexpensive vases for centerpieces and silk flowers for centerpieces and bouquets at a craft store (e.g., Michaels, Hobby Lobby, and A.C. Moore). Another alternative is for bridesmaids to carry something other than a bouquet (e.g., inexpensive lanterns or candles).
  7. Avoid Using Credit– 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. Otherwise, you’ll be paying for your wedding for decades. For example, $20,000 of expenses with 3% (of the outstanding balance) minimum payments on an 18% APR credit card, will take 24 years to repay this debt and cost almost $20,000 in interest charges.

The Kansas State University Extension fact sheet With This Ring…We Plan! has additional information about planning a beautiful, but frugal, wedding.

Join us Tuesday, August 28, 11 a.m. ET for the second webinar in the Family Finances series, Financial Planning for Life Events. RSVP here.