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 toast Image:

In a Nutshell

Just like with a successful marriage, saving up for your dream wedding often means learning how to compromise. We have some tips to help you save money ahead of time, cut down on costs, and come up with a game plan to pay off post-wedding debt.

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Are you more worried about committing to wedding debt than to your future mother-in-law? If you’re stressing over how to save money for your wedding day, you’re in good company.

The average American wedding now costs more than $40,000, according to a 2018 survey by the publication Brides. With couples spending so much, you may think that taking on debt is the only way to pay for your big day. But if you start saving for your wedding well before you head down the aisle, you might be able to start your happily-ever-after with fewer bills.

Read on for advice on how to save for your wedding — from what to consider months in advance to planning for the first bills of your married life. Without further ado, here’s what to think about before (and after) you say, “I do.”


  1. Consider the costs — and ways to save on them
  2. Start planning early
  3. Commit to a budget
  4. Make a plan to pay off any debt you incur
  5. Enlist help from friends and family

Consider the costs — and ways to save on them

About one in five Americans (21%) have gone into debt to pay for their wedding, according to a Credit Karma survey. Even more eye-popping: 25% owe at least $10,000 in wedding bills.

But even if you have grand expectations for your big day, your dream wedding doesn’t have to be a debt nightmare. In fact, you can save a chunk of money right off the bat by prioritizing your ceremony must-haves and trimming the nice-to-haves as you go.

Let’s run through some common wedding costs and how you might be able to cut back without skimping on fun.

Invitations

Custom invites can cost a lot, especially if you’re planning a larger affair. A typical set of 100 wedding invitations can run between $5,000 and $8,000, according to an article from Brides.

Pricing can depend on the kind of paper and printing you choose (for example, cotton fiber and customizable letter pressing is on the more expensive side).

Pro tip: Consider going the digital route instead of spending on full-stock paper, calligraphy, printing and other higher-end invitation costs. Skip the fancy stationery store and head to a website like Shutterfly, Minted or Etsy, where you’ll likely find invites in the sub-$1,000 range. And if you really want to save, you can always go paperless and send email invitations.

Venue

You don’t have to give up your dream venue to save some cash. Consider the following:

  • You may score a discount if you hold your wedding on a Friday, a Sunday or even a weekday.
  • Prices also tend to drop on off-season dates, depending on the region.
  • See about bringing in your own vendors if they’re more affordable than those that come with a venue as a package.

Another option for smaller weddings is to rent a vacation home that can double as both the ceremony and reception site.

Pro tip: If you loved the college you attended, consider using the on-campus chapel. Alums may get discounted rates, and the nostalgia comes free.

Food and drinks

Buying drinks for all your guests can cost a ton — but you might not like the idea of a cash bar, either. If you want an open bar, you can keep a lid on costs by skipping the top-shelf liquor, and by selecting just one red and one white wine option to serve with your meal. You may even be able to buy wine by the case and return any unused bottles to the vendor for a refund (just check with the vendor first, of course).

You can get creative with your food options, too. Rather than a sit-down meal with personalized options, consider catering family-style. And, if you have a friend or family member who’s a grill master, asking them to pitch in for a truly special meal as a gift could save you thousands.

Pro tip: Hold your reception during daylight hours. A nice sparkling wine and morning cocktails can significantly cut down on your beverage costs. An added bonus: Lunch is often cheaper to cater.

Photography and music

Rather than spending thousands on professional photos and a live band, go for the secret weapon in your pocket: your smartphone.

Ask wedding guests to snap and share their favorite moments. You can easily gather the digital photos and create a wedding album on your own.

As for music, you can get your groove on with personalized playlists on Spotify. If you’re already paying for a premium Spotify subscription, you’re probably only spending around $10 or less for the service. If you’re not, sign up for a free trial period and then decide whether you want to keep it before the trial ends.

Pro tip: Ask guests to contribute music ahead of time for hours of fun on the dance floor.

Flowers and decorations

If you’re crafty, you can save by going to your local flower market to buy flowers in bulk instead of hiring a florist. If you’re not up to the task yourself, chances are you have a friend or family member with the green thumb — and the enthusiasm — to help.

Pro tip: Choose a venue with design or decorations that already match your style so that you can spend less on adornments.

Start planning early

As you start saving for your wedding, getting super-organized will help, too. Consider separating your wedding fund from your regular household budget. Both big and small expenses can add up quickly — and they can be tough to keep track of. A separate account makes it easier to see how much money you’ve spent for the wedding and how much you have left.

Where should I put my wedding savings?

Starting your savings early means you have more time to build up your wedding fund — but it also helps to make the most of the money you’re saving. A high-yield savings account can help your money grow over time with compound interest. A traditional savings account, on the other hand, will typically accrue minimal interest — not the best strategy, particularly if your event is just months away.

You may have seen certificates of deposit, or CDs, advertised as a way to save. We generally don’t recommend going that route for wedding savings. CDs come with restrictions on when, or how, you can access your money, which can be a problem when you’re dealing with vendors that need to be paid ahead of the big day. With a high-yield savings account, you can access your money (up to a monthly limit) while earning a higher rate of interest than a traditional savings account. So as long as you keep track of the withdrawals you make, high-yield savings is likely the better option.

Commit to a budget

Once you have an idea of your costs, setting your budget should be a top to-do.

When figuring out your wedding budget, it’s important to be realistic. Set priorities and track spending diligently. One free wedding-specific app to consider is WeddingHappy, which helps you track open and completed tasks while tying items to your wedding budget.

Keep in mind that your household expenses may affect the amount you can save for your wedding as well. Try to trim day-to-day spending that’s not necessary so that you can add more money to the wedding pot. And don’t forget to give yourself some cushion, if possible.

Make a plan to pay off wedding debt

Paying with money on hand is usually the best way to go for any purchase. But for a big expense like your wedding, that doesn’t mean you have to avoid loans or credit cards altogether — though we don’t recommend carrying a balance on a credit card if you can help it.

If you’ve built up some credit card debt while paying for your wedding, you may be able to turn to another card to help you pay it down. A balance transfer credit card with an introductory 0% APR on transfers for a limited time might be a good route to consider. Just be aware that balance transfer offers do come with some risks, and if you make a mistake you could be hit with interest charges you might not have expected. Before applying for a balance transfer card, think carefully about whether you can pay everything off within the intro period, and make sure you’re clear on all of the card issuer’s terms and conditions.

A wedding loan (a personal loan that you spend on wedding expenses) may be another option to consider if you can qualify for the amount you need. But this is only a good idea if you have a solid plan for paying it back. Even a low-interest, fixed-rate personal loan can become a big problem if you can’t afford to repay it.

Get help from friends and family

They’re already excited to celebrate your wedding — so why not ask for wedding help from friends and family? Whether it’s contributing time or pitching in to cover costs, getting friends and family involved could be a great way to save.

When you approach your loved ones about helping, have your budget ready to share — it can make talking it through a little easier. It can also help you prepare for any questions they might have. You might even want to give them your budget to look over so that they can volunteer where they want to chip in.

You can also try a peer-to-peer fundraising platform such as GoFundMe.


Bottom line

Wedding expenses add up fast — and if you don’t anticipate and plan for how to cover and pay back costs, the financial pressure could haunt you after the honeymoon.

To help reduce or eliminate wedding-related debt, communicate clearly and often with your partner and vendors. Set realistic expectations and a budget you can stick to.

And if you think some debt from your wedding is unavoidable, don’t despair. Mapping out how and when you’ll pay it off is key. Remember, the longer you carry a debt, the more you’ll pay in interest — and that’s money you’ll probably want to spend elsewhere once you start life as a married couple.

Learn more tips and money-saving tricks by reading the Credit Karma Guide to Finances for Newlyweds.