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Putting Together a Great Wedding on a Budget

The Huffington Post logo The Huffington Post 16/03/2016 Nathaniel Sillin

With the average price of an American wedding over $31,000, it's no wonder this special occasion can easily become a financial hardship.
The Knot, a wedding planning and publishing company, reported in its recent Real Weddings Study that the average American wedding cost $31,213 in 2015, not including the honeymoon.
But before panic sets in, remember that these findings don't have to be a guide for your own spending. In short, for couples planning future nuptials, there are many ways to make the big day affordable without giving up the magic.
Before the wedding, it's important to know if you're financially compatible. Review your financial information, including current spending, savings, investment and credit status. The benefit to this due diligence is determining your ability to discuss money--and money mistakes--openly and honestly to build a solid financial foundation for a lifetime.
Once you know where you stand financially, address the wedding and its costs. First, remember that weddings shouldn't be competitive events. One of the biggest cost drivers in weddings--indeed, in many family parties that bring together large groups of people--is focusing on what the Joneses are doing. Get the Joneses, your rich cousin and anyone else who had a flashy wedding out of your mind so you can start planning an event that's truly right for you and your partner.
Then it's time to set a savings target with a realistic budget. If you want to get married fairly soon, realize you'll have less time to build a wedding fund. Start by making a general list of everything you might want in a wedding, and then adjust your vision to meet what will actually be in the bank by that time.
How can you tackle all the items on your list? Start prioritizing. Do you need a band or can you put together a great playlist on your handheld music player and then hook it up to a great speaker system? Are you content with your brother's photography and videographer skills, or is it a better idea to hire a professional team? Can you afford a restaurant or banquet space, or have the wedding and reception at home? Depending on the number of attendees and the size of the home, getting married at a friend's or family member's property is mostly free space with the potential of significantly lower food and beverage costs. Still, don't neglect the insurance issue. Large parties may present the risk of physical damage to the property and liability costs if someone is hurt at the event. Your insurer might insist on a special rider to cover a wedding, so make sure to budget with that in mind.
One way to cut costs is to consider off-dates, off-times and off-venues. Though wedding season is more year-round than it's ever been, wedding prices still tend to be highest throughout the warm months. Also, Saturday nights are still number-one for prime wedding and reception scheduling. Keep in mind that January and February might be good months to negotiate party deals at restaurants because their lucrative holiday season is over. Also, holding a modest onsite wedding and reception on a weekday can potentially save considerably on food and big-ticket alcohol spending because guests generally need to get to work early the next day.
Price per head is another consideration to make. Cutting your guest list is still the oldest wedding tip in the book for a reason. More guests means more overall spending. Of course, it can be the toughest line to hold based on how friends and loved ones feel about being part of your ceremony.
What about gifts? If you're accepting gifts, make it valuable for you and easy for your guests. Couples can forego showers and gifts at the wedding in favor of online registries that raise funds for bigger spending goals the couple have, such as funding a dream trip, equipment for a shared hobby or even particular charities or causes. A donation rather than a present means is easier on guests, too--nothing to buy or wrap.
Finally, give serious thought to traditional wedding alternatives. On the spending side, weddings at City Hall are tough to beat. Depending on the municipality, you can either schedule ahead or show up with local license and ceremonial fees as the only costs involved. There's no need for expensive wardrobe or other trappings. Also, consider planning a surprise wedding. Having a wedding at a party--even a regular holiday party you host where family and friends already know to gather--requires little more than a legal officiant and whatever food, beverage, entertainment and decorations you want to provide. An unannounced wedding literally eliminates all pre-wedding costs related to invitations, showers and parties, and you can give your guests a break on gifts.
Bottom line: An expensive wedding isn't a problem--as long as you and your guests can afford it. But if you plan, there are ways to have your cake and financial security too.
Nathaniel Sillin directs Visa's financial education programs. To follow Practical Money Skills on Twitter: article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a legal, tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to you and about your individual financial situation.

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