7 questions to ask yourself when planning a wedding

bride on a beach
CC BY 2.0 Jay Leal

Challenge the notion that you have to blow the bank account just to throw a good party. There are smarter ways of doing it.

Are you planning to get married this summer? If so, now's the time to start thinking about how you plan to pay for this milestone event. The average wedding in the United States costs more than $32,600, according to the Knot. Sure, it's supposed to be one of the best days of your life, but that's one heck of a lot of money to spend at a time in life when you may be carrying student debt, saving for a down payment on a house, or hoping to start a family.

We've written numerous times on TreeHugger about how to keep your wedding day as simple and green as possible, but we haven't really delved into an explicitly financial side of things until now. These are some very important questions you and your partner should ask each other before making any plans.

1. When do you want to get married?

The time of year that you choose affects cost significantly. Venue prices increase during the summer months, when everyone else is getting married, which means you can save a lot by having a wedding in the off-season. I see this as a major upside; guests will not be suffering from 'wedding fatigue,' as I experienced in 2012, when I was invited to eight weddings. Instead, they'll be excited and ready to party.

Even the time of day matters. You should consider a brunch wedding or a weeknight wedding, both of which would reduce the cost of venue, food, and definitely the amount of alcohol consumed.

2. What is the most important aspect of a wedding for you?

This is deeply personal. This is about what makes a wedding in your eyes, and everyone will have different opinions. Your answer to this should guide your spending decisions and help you determine where it is most worthwhile to allocate your hard-earned dollars. For me and my husband, our passions are food and music, so we spent money on a local, family-owned caterer and hired a live dance band. To offset that expense, however, I borrowed a wedding dress and we had a cash bar.

3. How much can you save in a month?

It's never a good idea to pay for something as huge as a wedding on credit, so start saving now if your big day is coming up. Knowing how much you can realistically save should determine what kind of wedding you plan. I like this basic equation from Elizabeth Siedt, writing for The Financial Diet:

"W = M + T, where W is the wedding stuff that's important to you, M is the money you can save each month, and T is the timing of when you want to get married"

Siedt goes on to write:

"Your mileage may vary, I will continue to shout! The wedding that is important to you might be a big old traditional affair, full of flowers and a live band. That sounds lovely! I’d love to attend. But if you’re trying to afford it all yourselves, maybe take a peek at our little equation, and see how you can balance it all out, so you too can get married without taking on debt together right off the bat. Save that headache for the house buying, friends."

4. What can you simplify or eliminate?

There are countless wedding-related expenses that couples are quick to spend on, and yet make little sense, since there are free or much cheaper versions available. Sometimes it just requires you to break with tradition. Take invitations, for example. Does anybody really like juggling save-the-dates and invitations? Do you like receiving invitations and having to keep track of them? What if you sent an email instead? It's free!

Challenge the white wedding dress tradition. Can you wear something you already own or buy another fabulous dress that you can reuse for decades? Do the bridesmaids have to match, or can they wear whatever they please?

I liked Drew Housman's idea for getting free wedding pictures. He wrote on The Simple Dollar:

"Everyone has a smartphone these days, and everyone loves to take pictures at a wedding. Why not just fully crowdsource our photography? If we send an email message to all of our friends and family after the wedding asking for them to upload their favorite images into a designated Dropbox folder, we’re sure to come away with plenty of fantastic pictures."

5. Can guests provide services instead of gifts?

Nowadays, many couples are already living together by the time they get married, so often don't need physical gifts. Ask if any of your guests would consider giving their skills or services to your wedding preparations, in lieu of gifts. As a violinist and former professional wedding musician myself, I've done this on a number of occasions for friends. It saves both of us the hassle of hiring and shopping. Guests might be able to loan you a tent, help with cooking, take care of the invitations, do floral arrangements, style hair and makeup.

6. What other financial goals are you trying to accomplish?

Chance are there will never be another day in your life when so many cash gifts drop into your lap. Now imagine if you could use all that money to work toward major financial goals -- making a down payment, paying down a loan, investing in school, topping up a TFSA. But most newlyweds, sadly, will be using it to pay down an enormous credit card bill incurred by their wedding celebration. They'll be lucky to break even at the end of the day. Is it really worth it? I don't think so, because we all know a great party can be had without breaking the bank. Stay focused on your longer-term goals and don't let a stylized dream of a fairytale wedding derail you. Let those gifts of money work for you.

Finally, this next question might seem a bit late if you're already in the wedding planning phase, but it's still worth examining closely:

7. Who are you marrying?

Whether you like it or not, the person you choose to marry is one of the biggest financial decisions you'll ever make. It can make or break your bank account. Take a close look at your fiancé(e)'s spending habits. Are they someone who shares your money goals, or is at least willing to learn and change? If not, be very cautious. As Catherine Alford writes for The Simple Dollar:

"Many of these spending habits are clearly evident during the dating phase, and should set off alarms. After all, financial disagreements early in a relationship can be a leading predictor of divorce. But people, blinded by love and a desire to get married, overlook them."

The biggest takeaway from all this is that you don't need to max out your credit line in order to have a good time. Surround yourself with people who care deeply about you and focus on the things that bring you the greatest joy. You do not owe anyone a lavish party that will create months or years of stressful debts (and, frankly, anyone who thinks you do shouldn't be invited).

7 questions to ask yourself when planning a wedding
Challenge the notion that you have to blow the bank account just to throw a good party. There are smarter ways of doing it.

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