The Best Budget Tip I Know

by Meg Keene, CEO & Editor-In-Chief

I’ve shared a number of tips and tricks on how to keep a wedding on budget – and believe you me, I’ve used everyone of them and then some the last few months! But it occurred to me that I hadn’t shared my very best budget trick. It’s as simple as this: We spend cash on all wedding purchases. We believe in this so much that we chose to have a longer engagement so that everyone could save their pennies. I know using cash isn’t always possible for everyone*, but with the rest of the world pushing you to get a wedding credit card, I thought I’d tell you why this works for me.

  • We are more emotionally attached to cash then to credit, which feels a bit like free money (whee, I’ll pay it back when we’re married and are making more money!) When I look at something I love, like say invitations, and think to myself “Yes, $2,000 is a lot more then I was planning to spend, but in the long run it’s not that much,” I sort of believe my own logic… until I pull out my debt card that’s attached to my savings account. I know exactly how hard I worked to put every penny in that savings account, and I look at my debt card, and I turn around and walk out of the store. A credit card would not hold that power for me. If your parents are helping you out with the wedding, I suggest that if they can do it, you have them send you a check for their contribution (incrementally, if they need to). Put that money in a money market fund for the wedding. It will then emotionally become your money, not free money, and you’ll feel exactly the same way about spending it.
  • Compound Interest. I know, I know, but I have to do this math with you. Let’s say you charge $5,000 in wedding expenses, and you plan to pay it off in 5 years, on a credit card that has a 14% APR (the average in the US). By the time you have paid off your bill (if you make no additions or subtractions to that amount over time), you paid $10,028. What just happened to your wedding budget? Is that a Kaboom that I just heard? You can calculate this here, just remember, most credit card interest compounds at least once a month.
  • If none of this helping you stay on budget, try taking it one step farther. Instead of paying with a debt card linked to your cash account, pay with real live greenbacks. Watch, and see how putting down 50 one-hundred dollar bills for a dress makes you feel. I thought so.

* I really really do know that spending cash is not always possible for a wedding. If you are paying for some or all of your wedding on a credit card, please do not take this post as any sort of judgment. If I believe one thing about weddings, it’s that each couple needs to trust themselves to find the best path for them. I just like to point out the practical paths that no one seems to be talking about.

Meg Keene

Meg is the Founder and EIC of APW. She has written two best selling wedding books: A Practical Wedding and A Practical Wedding Planner. Meg has her BFA in Drama from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She lives in Oakland, CA with her husband and two children. For more than you ever wanted to know about Meg, you can visit #NASTY

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  • What a great shot you found to go with this post :)

    I agree wholeheartedly. We are lucky enough not to need to go into debt to have our ÂŁ4k ($8k) wedding, but of course we could borrow in order to spend more… this is great practical advice as to how do avoid that, because it is 100% true that money you’ve saved feels more valuable than money you’re borrowing and cash only more so.

  • 100% with you! I am using a credit card, but it is because I never leave a balance on it – I always have the cash to back it up and all of my expenses are tracked. Wedding item increases are easily seen and I can’t ignore it if I spend more than I budgeted. Plus, cash back! Instant savings on my purchases.

  • We are kind of a blend. We put everything on our credit card for 2 reasons. 1 – Miles miles miles!! We will be cashing in our airline miles for the honeymoon and our cards have great miles programs with low interest. and 2 – While we try and pay off the entire balance every month, some months we just have high initial investments and need the flexibility of a credit card so we still pay all our bills.

    That being said. I totally agree that cash feels more like “real money”. We just try and keep tabs on spending so we don’t get into the “free money” credit mentality. Great post.

  • I agree – don’t spend it unless you can pay for it! I paid for my wedding, but I feel even if I had been given a huge check from my parents that I would have been just as emotionally attached. We put everything on a credit card though, and paid it off every month. I signed up for a card that gave 5% cash back for 3 months, and DH signed up for the same card after my 3 months were up, and we were able to put almost all expenses on this card. You wouldn’t believe how much cash we got back!

  • ah the emotional attachment. It is so very important, and it just isn’t there with a credit card, you’re right. My parents are paying for our wedding and although they are paying as we go, the emotional attachment is there, because I know how hard my family works for their money, and the budget they gave us is in no way easy for them.

  • Brilliant. We are only using cash – if we don’t have it, we don’t spend it. Even our honeymoon was paid for in cash. I still have two months to go, but we’ll see…I don’t even OWN a credit card so Mr RS would have to do that himself, and he doesn’t want to. So I think we’re safe :-)

  • i agree with this though the emotional attachment is still there with the credit card, for me at least. simply because i’ll be facing the bill come the end of the month.

    i’m planning on paying for most of the wedding with the cash i saved up but will be putting everything on a credit card [i have one with an awesome single-digit interest rate] simply for the buyer’s protection and for the miles benefits [whether we end up cashing out for airfare or money back]. so it’s a hybrid approach. if i don’t have the cash already, it’s not getting charged because i don’t like carrying a balance.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you Thank you Thank you!!! From the bottom of my heart. I have exactly the same sentiments as you when it comes to paying for stuff, but no matter how I’ve tried explaining it to the BF, he doesn’t get it. Now I have this to show him, and maybe it will finally *click*. GIANT SIGH OF RELIEF.

  • This is a great plan for LIFE, in general!!
    I got into some trouble with credit cards in the past, so now as we’re trying to pay off some of our debts AS WELL AS pay for part of our wedding, we pay cash (or check or debit card) for everything. And my parents send checks as well. They’ve always said to make sure you don’t spend more than you can pay off at the end of the month. I wish now that I would have heeded their advice a bit more!

    If you do use a credit card, be like my friends and use one that earns airline miles or points, or some sort of rewards. And pay it off immediately if possible, or within a couple of months.

    Great post!

  • I do agree with you about using cash because of the emotional attachment, but I have made it a point to pay for any deposits with credit card (which we pay in full at the end of the month). If you give someone cash or check as a deposit, and they decide to skip town or close shop, small claims court is your only recourse,and that can turn out to be a big ordeal. Credit cards always give you a recourse.

  • Meg

    Good comments all. Just to be clear, as far as I’m concerned any credit card you pay off in full at the end of the month is just the same as cash. If you are someone who sometimes pays it off, and sometimes thinks “Oh well, maybe next time…” then I’d go all cash. Other then that, go for it. And wise words about deposits!

  • Great advice! I’ve also learned that some vendors will give you a small discount (think 5%) if you pay everything in one lump sum. If it’s a vendor that you know you can trust 100% (I wouldn’t do this for any fly-by-night florist or cake baker, obviously), it’s something to consider. Thanks for such consistently thought-provoking and honest posts!

  • Anonymous

    One quick comment. I like the “Pay with cash via credit card approach” Pay with a credit card, but always always always (no exceptions) pay off your balance in full every month. There are a couple of benefits here. One, some cards do have good reward programs, that could be used for cash back, honeymoon extras, etc. But more importantly, if you need to buy something online, or really any big purchase, the charge back option you have in the case of a dispute can be your best friend. Also, debit cards don’t always have this protection, so a credit card is your best option. A credit card (if paid off in full every month just like it were cash) can protect you quite a bit.

  • Our wedding costs are being split between us, my parents, and my real father. My parents are paying the bulk of it and i have a credit card of theirs in my name that they pay off everytime i make a purchase. I know exactly how much they can spend in one month and I stick to it. We are also paying for smaller deposits and expenses out of our savings account meant just for the wedding. Its going so well so far and no one should be going into debt for us to get married. I already feel guily that my hard-working parents are being so generous about paying and they will know how we feel about their support, financially and emotionally, during our speech on the wedding day. I can’t wait!

  • Anonymous

    110% agree with you, girl! For the deposits we pay with a credit card (for security reasons in case something goes awry, AND because we get miles), then we pay the balance off each month with cash from our “wedding fund”.

    We have had a 3 year engagement in order to pay cash for the wedding, and while it’s not the way most people would do things, it’s worked beautifully for us.

  • You get that budget! Happy to be a bride who had not one penny of debt attached to her wedding! I cannot emphasis enough how much it would suck to wake up the day after and be seriously in debt.

  • I 100% agree with you! I plan to either use cash/debit or sign up for a very low-balance credit card to get some bonuses (& improve my credit), but paying it off each month so that it can continue to be used. You don't want your new married life to already be tied down with MORE debt!

  • oh yeah….this is working really well for me. so well in fact that with 2 months to go i have a good bit to do bc i didnt have money to do it earlier, lol….

  • What a great idea! I agree hands down. This is a tip that can come in handy for anyone on a budget.

  • Lee

    This is so important to talk about. I’ve found that while planning my wedding it’s been easy to congratulate myself on keeping my budget reasonable because there are so many examples of people spending ridiculous amounts of money on weddings. I have to remind myself that it isn’t the comparison that matters–it only matters that we’re spending what we can afford without accumulating any debt.

  • SamB

    I do this with everything in my life, actually! Actual money, not even a debit card. Because I will legitimately use the debit card until it stops working, like a person who lets the gas gauge get all the way down to “0 miles left” before going to try to find a gas station…