A few weeks ago my mom and I were on the couch watching “Say Yes to the Dress.” My mom marvelled at the dress budgets that flashed on the TV screen, starting at $3,000, and increasing comically as the show progressed. But the prices didn’t seem real, especially since someone else was going to be paying for it—the bride’s parents. That was a foreign concept to me.
I elbowed my mom jokingly, “Hey mom, where’s my $3,000 for a dress?”
She looked at me like I was a piece of gum on her shoe.
In my mom’s culture, saving up for your kid’s wedding is not a thing people do. Growing up, I always knew I’d be on my own if I ever wanted a wedding.
But weddings are infuriatingly expensive. In 2016, the average cost of a wedding was $35,329. With costs like that and no one to have your back, it’s easy to start feeling down on your luck. Extreme options start running through your head:
Do I elope on a beach or go to city hall?
Do I have to settle on a generic, cheap-looking, forgettable wedding?
Do I go into credit card debt to have the kind of wedding I want?
Hell, do I find a rich guy to marry who can front the entire bill?
Then less-extreme thoughts:
I guess I could scramble and save once I get engaged. But scrambling and saving isn’t really my bag.
I guess I could whine and complain about why it’s my parents job to bankroll my wedding. But I don’t want to make my mom cash out her retirement fund.
So, for those of us who are on our own, how do we afford the kind of wedding we want?
We do what we always do. We plan AROUND our circumstances.
How I Saved $10,000 for My “Someday” Wedding
Every month for five years, I had $170 automatically transferred to a savings account, nicknamed Wedding Fund. I set up the automatic transfer one day, and then I moved on with my life. When it comes to personal finance, I know that the small, consistent wins add up over time. Proof: A few years ago I looked one day and saw I had managed to save up $10,000 for my future wedding.
I was sure about one thing for my “someday” wedding: As someone who loves design and style, I did know that when the time came, I’d want my wedding to be my version of “nice”, and that would cost money.
But there were some major unknowns:
When I started saving, I didn’t have a boyfriend at the time, had no idea IF I would ever marry, and had no desire to save dream wedding dresses or decor to my Pinterest account.
But I wanted to give myself options. Because if I didn’t, who would?
Time Is Not on Your Side
Universal truth: Engagements POP UP OUT OF NOWHERE. Do you know anyone who knew exactly when they were going to be engaged? Me neither. Weddings are a major life event that a lot of people do, yet it seems like no one ever plans for it.
Let’s compare the savings timeline to other life events:
Retirement: $1,000,000 – 40 years to save
Buying a house: $20,000-$40,000 – 5 years to save
Wedding: $10,000-$20,000 – 18 months to save
Wedding savings can be as much as a down payment on a house, and yet you have less than HALF the time to save for it. Most people plan for long-term things like retirement or mid-term goals, like a down payment on a house. But even though 2 million people get married each year, saving ahead for weddings seems to get the shaft.
Why is that?
Maybe it’s because there’s a stigma against people who think about their weddings before they’re engaged. We’ve all seen the rom-coms. These characters are viewed as presumptuous, overly romantic, or a desperate loser. Then you have people creating secret wedding Pinterest boards because no one wants to be judged for even THINKING about a wedding when it’s not a sure thing. With this kind of negative thinking, it’s no wonder people wait to save until AFTER they’re engaged. But waiting to save can result in things I personally wouldn’t want to do: scrambling to save, funding the wedding on credit cards, or delaying their engagement for years.
Being practical about how you’re going to fund your wedding is not desperate. It’s plain smart.
The Benefits of Saving Ahead of Time
When you save up your own money ahead of time, you’d be amazed how so many problems seem to melt away. Like:
- Being able to set your wedding date as early as you want (pending the venue’s available, of course)
- Having more creative control over your wedding. Let’s face it: when someone else is footing the bill, they have a say in how you spend their money. I’m someone who has laser-specific tastes, and having a third person weigh in on decisions would have been a bad scene.
- Starting off your marriage feeling empowered about your money, not stressed or controlled by it
Breaking Down the Math
You need to start saving for your wedding, as of yesterday. But how do you figure out how MUCH to save? I wanted to spend the least amount of money to pull off the kind of wedding I wanted, so my number was $10,000. Then I divided the number of months I wanted to save, which was 60 months, or five years.
Let’s check out an example:
If you want to save, say $12,000, which is these do you think is harder to do?
Starting at age 22, having $200 automatically put into your Wedding Fund account each month for 5 years
Waiting to save until you’re officially engaged at age 27, and eating ramen every day to save $1000 a month for a year
It’s a lot less painful to save smaller amounts over a longer period of time, than larger amounts in a shorter amount of time.
If you think $170 a month sounds like a lot to save, then try this on for perspective: my mom made $12 an hour, raised two happy kids, and saved more than $200 every single month. Most people are blowing that amount in some way that isn’t meaningful to them. Take a good hard look at what you’re spending your money on and make sure every dollar spent aligns with your values and goals. If not, considering allocating those misaligned funds to the Wedding Fund. Even if you save $100 a month, that’s $100 more than you had before.
I know there’s some 22-year-old reading this, thinking, ‘But I’m not getting married for another 5 years at least; heck, I don’t even have a boyfriend! This doesn’t apply to me at all!’ Or: ‘I don’t want to look like a crazy person!’
First off, you don’t have to tell anyone you’re saving for your wedding. It’s that simple. Second, people who worry about looking like a crazy person are not the ones who get ahead. Since I saved ahead I’m going to get my artful flowers and a venue in an expensive city. I planned for it, and now I’m going to get mine.
Setting Up a Separate Savings Account
For savings accounts, or any bank account really, I recommend online banks over brick and mortar ones. When you use online banks, it makes it harder to raid your stash in a moment of weakness. I like using Capital One ING bank, but another option is Ally Bank. Ugh, setting up yet ANOTHER account? I know, but it’s super easy, I swear.
The best feature of these bank is that you can set up mini accounts, or sub-accounts, so that you can earmark money for all of your goals. For this account, give it a nickname. Mine was Wedding Fund. The psychology of naming the account is that it makes your goal more real, and helps you focus on the end goal.
There is literally ZERO downside to saving up for your wedding before you’re engaged. For some people, it’s a non-issue, because they know they’ll have family help. But if you’re like me and you ignore this, you’re denying Future You the freedom to have options. Do it now. And if you decide to skip the wedding, guess what? You’ve now got yourself a head start on a down payment on a house. Or money to quit your job and travel the world. Or the first year of child care all set.
So, what’s it going to be?
Married friends, how did you save up for your wedding?