Saying ‘I don’t’ to debt: How to save money for a wedding without breaking the bank

Bride and groom standing together at their wedding reception, giving a toastImage: Bride and groom standing together at their wedding reception, giving a toast

In a Nutshell

With a little bit of planning, you might be able to save enough money to pay for your big day. Using cash for your wedding can help you avoid high-interest debt, improve your negotiating power with vendors and give you and your spouse practice managing your finances together.
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If thinking about paying for your big day scares you more than the thought of committing to someone for life, you’re not alone.

According to a 2019 Credit Karma survey, 21% of Americans have gone into debt to pay for their wedding. But it’s not a given that you have to resort to credit cards or loans to fund the wedding of your dreams. With some planning and discipline, you might be able to set aside the money you need to pay for your big day — no borrowing required.

In this article, we’ll show you why saving up for your wedding is a good idea, how much you should save and where to keep the money until you’re ready to use it. Depending on how much you can save and budget, you could still have a memorable day at a price you can afford.

Why should I save for a wedding?

If you have your heart set on being surrounded by family and friends when you say “I do,” it’s going to cost you. The average wedding price tag in the U.S. was an eye-popping $28,000 in 2019, according to a Knot survey. When you’re spending that kind of money, there are many reasons to consider saving for the big event instead of taking on debt.

Wedding items Average cost
Wedding dress $1,600 (dress and alterations)
Tuxedo (rental) $200–$350
Flowers $1,500–$3,500
Reception venue $2,000–$10,000
Photographer $1,150–$3,000
Wedding cake $500

Your financial health

It’s easy to get carried away when you’re planning a wedding. Brides- and grooms-to-be can get sucked in by the allure of designer wedding gowns, pricey flower arrangements and expensive wedding venues.

If you don’t have enough cash to cover all the potential costs, it can be tempting to fund your wedding with a credit card or personal loan. But that’s a risky proposition because it’s not unusual for both options to have double-digit interest rates. If you don’t have a plan for repaying what you borrow, you could still be paying it off for a number of years.

You can use our debt repayment calculator to see how long it could take to pay for your wedding. Continually paying off debt can make it difficult to save for other goals, such as buying a house.

A bigger budget

If you rely on credit cards to fund your wedding, you’re limited by the line of credit the card issuer offers. If you opt for a personal loan, you need to choose a loan amount and term that keeps your monthly payments manageable. But when you save the cash you need ahead of time, you’re only limited by how much you can save, which may give you a bigger budget to work with.

Negotiating power

If you’re upfront with service providers on your budget, they may be more willing to work with you on price. Some might agree to give you a discount or other deal such as upgrading their services without upgrading the cost, while others may be willing to compromise on details. Just be sure to get everything in writing, so there’s no confusion about what you agreed to.

It’s good practice

Working with your soon-to-be-spouse to save for your wedding is a good dress rehearsal for when you’re married. It gives you an opportunity to work together to prioritize the things that are most important to you, create a budget and develop a plan for meeting your savings goals — all important skills for after you tie the knot.

How much should I save for a wedding?

The amount you need to save depends on multiple factors, including …

  • How much you anticipate your expenses will be for things such as the wedding venue, photographer, flowers, food, invitations and music
  • How much, if anything, you’ve already saved that you can use to pay for the wedding
  • Whether family members will be chipping in to cover some of the costs

Estimate expenses

First, you need to figure out the grand total for the day. To get started, think about the type of event you want. Do you want a destination wedding with a handful of close friends and family, a casual backyard ceremony or a lavish affair at the swankiest hotel in town?

After you sort that out, you and your partner need to decide on a budget. If you’ve never planned a wedding, you may not have realistic expectations about how much things cost, so be prepared for sticker shock. Getting quotes from multiple venues and vendors can help give you a more accurate estimate of what it will cost to make your dream a reality.

Figure out how much you need to save

If you estimate your “all-in” budget to be $30,000, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to save that much between now and your wedding day. If you have family members or friends who want to help cover some of the cost, it’s important to have a frank conversation with them as soon as possible to find out how much they want to give you, so you can plan accordingly.

If you and your partner already have some money set aside that you plan to use for wedding expenses, that will also help reduce the amount you need to save.

Create monthly savings goals

Once you know the total amount you need to save, it can help to break it into smaller monthly goals. Let’s say your parents and your partner’s parents each give you $5,000, for a total of $10,000, and you have $7,500 to put toward the wedding.

That means you need to save $12,500. If your wedding day is 10 months away, you need to set aside $1,250 a month until then to pay for your wedding without using credit.

Now it’s time to decide where the money will come from. Will you each get a side gig to cover the cost? Maybe you’ll cut back on spending in other areas and use the money you save for the wedding? It’s important to discuss what will work for both of you and choose something that’s achievable.

Where should I keep savings for a wedding?

Wedding savings should generally be kept in a lower-risk account that’s easily accessible leading up to the big day, so you can easily pay for the venue, caterer, photographer and other expenses. Consider an account that offers the liquidity you need and, if possible, gives you a chance to earn some interest on your savings.

Checking account

If your time window for saving is short, an interest-bearing checking account is probably your best bet. On the plus side, it’s easy to deposit money into a checking account. And when you need to make a purchase, put down a deposit or pay off a balance, you simply write a check, swipe your debit card or withdraw cash to cover the expense.

On the downside, interest rates on checking accounts are typically low. But if you only have a few months until the big day, you’re not likely to be earning much in interest.

Savings account

If you have more time until you walk down the aisle, a savings account might be a better choice. With options including Credit Karma Money™ Save, it’s easy to make regular deposits, and interest rates are typically higher than with a checking account.

On the downside, a savings account may come with higher minimum deposit requirements, or you may be required to maintain a higher average daily account balance. In addition, you’ll have less flexibility when you need to pay for wedding expenses because you’re often limited on the number and types of transactions you can make with this account.

Short-term CD

If you have a longer runway until you tie the knot, you might want to consider a certificate of deposit, also known as a CD. Interest rates on CDs are tiered based on the term, and you typically earn higher rates on longer-term certificates. But many have early withdrawal penalties, so if you need your money before it matures, you might have to pay a fee.

To open one, you need a lump sum deposit, and you may not be able to continue adding to it as you save more.  

It’s worth noting that in the current environment, rates for short-term CDs and money market accounts are similar. So if the big day is less than a year away, it might not make sense to tie up your money in a CD.

But if you have a year or more before your wedding, it might be worth considering. If you decide to get a CD, make sure it’ll mature around the time you have to start paying for wedding expenses in order to avoid early withdrawal penalties.  

Individual vs. joint account

No matter where you decide to stash your wedding savings, you need to decide if you want to get an individual or joint account.

If you opt for an individual account, only one person will be able to make deposits and withdrawals, which might be okay if one person is handling the bulk of the wedding planning. But if you’re sharing the responsibilities, an individual account will likely make it harder to get things done.  

A joint account is convenient because both people have access to it and either one can make deposits or withdrawals. With this type of account, it’s easy for both partners to track how much you’re saving and how much you’re spending. But if you decide to end the relationship before you get married, untangling joint finances can be messy.

Next steps: 5 high-impact ways to cut wedding costs

Even if you’re able to save up all the money you need to pay for your wedding without resorting to credit cards or a loan, you don’t want to pay more than you have to. After all, money you save on the wedding can be used for your honeymoon or to achieve your longer-term financial goals when you’re married. Here are five tips to help you save on wedding expenses.

  • Trim the guest list. Reducing the number of people you invite can significantly decrease the cost of your overall budget, saving you money on the venue, food, drinks, favors and invitations.
  • Pare down food and drink options. Instead of a traditional sit-down dinner, get creative with your food options. You might be able to slash your budget by opting for a buffet or getting a local restaurant instead of a caterer to provide the food. Same goes for the beverages. Considering skipping the liquor and offering beer and wine only. Or choose just one signature cocktail to share with your guests instead of an assortment of top-shelf liquor.  
  • Consider off-peak timing. The day of the week you get married can affect the price you pay. Saturday evening weddings typically cost top dollar. To save money, consider a Friday evening or Sunday afternoon affair. The time of year can also influence the price. Consider foregoing peak wedding season and opting for a less popular time to get married.
  • Rethink your invitations. Engraved custom invitations on cotton fiber stationery with foil stamping may look nice, but they can cost thousands. If you don’t want to spend that much on something that’s going to end up in the trash, consider going digital, and you’ll spend only a fraction. There are many websites where you can get your wedding invitations printed for a few hundred dollars, such as Minted, Shutterfly or Zazzle.
  • DIY it. If you’re crafty or have friends and family who are, you might want to make your own bridesmaids’ bouquets, boutonnieres and centerpieces. You can also DIY your music for the reception. Instead of a pricey band or DJ, bring your iPod or set up a personalized playlist on Spotify to dance the night away. 

About the author: Jennifer Brozic is a freelance financial services writer with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree in communication management from Towson University. She’s committed… Read more.