If there’s one word associated with weddings, it’s money. Not romance, or timeless, or dreamy, or any of those words wedding media is fond of overusing. Nope. The one thing that you really can’t avoid when it comes to weddings is spending some cash. No matter how no-frills you go, your wedding is going to cost you something, even if it’s just the cost of your marriage license. For a lot of us, our wedding works out to be one of the largest one-time expenditures in our lives, so figuring out how to pay for it is stressful and complicated… and something nobody really talks about.
Today, we thought we’d go all in (anonymously if you want) on discussing the many ways that you can pay for a wedding and how you personally paid for yours. Because you know all that shame out there about the “bad” ways to pay for weddings? Well, a lot of us who don’t happen to have money trees in our backyards paid for our weddings in those less encouraged ways, like debt.
Though interestingly, as I worked on this post, I found that the majority of women I spoke to seemed to harbor some guilt about how they paid for their wedding. Were they spoiled if their parents paid? Were they spendthrift if they paid (and didn’t save that money)? Were they doing it irresponsible if they needed to use debt? And while most women had been shamed at some point or another about how they paid for their wedding, none of their male partners had.
So with that in mind, let’s discuss the main strategies folks use to pay for their weddings.
Funds from other people
This is a very traditional option, as was once considered the “norm” for the parents to kick in for the wedding, if not pay for it all outright. In my circle of friends, this is actually a less used option, since so many people are getting married later in life and can afford to finance their weddings on their own. Having family contribute to your wedding can be an awesome way to keep your own costs down while having the wedding of your dreams, but keep in mind that the check you receive may come with conditions.
I planned a big wedding when I was twenty-two, and then I canceled it. My parents had offered to pay for that one, and while everyone was relieved when it didn’t happen, I’ve always felt guilty for almost spending all that money on a bad idea. Ten years later, my parents offered to pay for my wedding again. I hadn’t expected it, but my fiancé and I had no money—zero dollars—for a wedding, and their offer felt genuine, generous, and exciting. I loved the idea of something small, but I also loved the idea of a huge celebration. We decided to take their offer. My parents didn’t pressure me too much about they day they were paying for, but it was impossible not to keep them in mind anyway. We did not, for example, have nude fire dancers.
For a while, it was kind of a stressful memory, and I felt guilty for spending money on a day that wasn’t literally magical. This past summer, however, I finally found the time to put together our wedding album. When I see photos of my parents’ smiling faces, and our guests laughing and dancing, and my husband and I exchanging rings, I feel only happiness and gratitude. I know we were so lucky, and I focus on the reality of the day instead of shaming myself or perceived judgment I’m afraid of from other people. Every aspect of this wedding was a good idea, and I refuse to wish it were any different.
Save and pay for it yourself
This is the most unglamorous of all options, it’s the “diet and exercise” of finances. On the plus side, you and your spouse will get to your wedding day knowing you didn’t have to rely on anyone else, and that you have no post-wedding bills to pay. But depending on how fast you’re able to save and your wedding budget, you could be delaying your wedding for a long time, which is why a lot of people don’t opt to a hundred percent save and pay for their own weddings. Most people—including myself—do some level of saving, but have to supplement their savings with other means.
A friend described their choices this way:
My fiancé and I pooled our savings and set aside an amount for the wedding. We’re both anti credit cards. We considered our wedding budget as a regular line in an expense sheet in the grand scheme of financial planning. I learned early on to take out emotions when it comes to finances. The hard line kept us within budget. I could’ve had some allowance for a fancier dress or vintage champagne, but decided to use the money for more long-lasting investments.
The Combo Option
Maybe your families are ready to fork over some cash to help pay for your wedding… but the amount of cash they can offer simply isn’t going to pay for the wedding that you (or they) want. When that’s the case, often the couple will put in funds as well… or combine money saved with money borrowed.
APW’s EIC Meg explained that their wedding was paid for using this model:
When we got engaged, my husband was in law school, but he had some money in savings. I was working at an entry-level job at an investment bank, and I didn’t have a ton in savings. My husband’s parents felt that as parents of the groom they were not responsible for paying for the wedding, but they wanted to help. That meant they offered some cash, but nowhere near enough to cover the bill. My parents couldn’t afford a ton, but helping to pay was important to them, so they ended up throwing in the same amount that his parents did.
The tricky part was, the family contributions only paid for about half of the wedding. It was super important to everyone that we were able to invite David’s huge Jewish family, along with the rest of our friends and loved ones. His parents also really wanted us to serve a traditional sit-down meal—which is expensive pretty much any way you slice it. To make it work, David contributed money from his savings, and I saved till I had enough to cover the rest. In the end, the wedding costs ended up roughly split equally four ways, between our two families, and the two of us. Paying for half of the wedding was tough and frustrating at times, but it did give us freedom to call the shots on things we cared about, so it was worth it in the end.
Get a side hustle
Making some additional cash for your wedding is another route a lot of folks take. Depending on your skill set and location, there are lots of things you could do—drive for Uber or Lyft, rent on Airbnb, make deliveries, sell items online—you name it, and there’s something in the gig economy for it. If you’ve got some free time, it might be worth using that time to make some extra cash on the side to put toward your wedding.
Keriann, APW’s Director of Partnerships, and her partner made their wedding happen this way:
When we got engaged, we knew that we’d be paying for a wedding completely on our own. I had also just dug myself out of post-college credit card debt, so the option to go back into debt was out for me. We decided we would have to save up for a wedding, and spent the first year of what ended up being a two-year engagement talking about our hypothetical budget goal. Talking, but not saving. In the end, it was way more motivating for us to actually make plans so that we’d have a real-life budget goal and a due date (erm, wedding date) to work toward.
Amazingly, as the puzzle pieces (aka bills!) of our wedding started falling into place, creative ways to pay for them started popping up—my now-husband is a designer and ended up earning thousands of dollars through pop culture t-shirt websites that were a Thing for a second in 2010. I was working for an interior designer at the time, and she would throw a bunch of odd jobs my way. (If you think IKEA is a threat to your relationship now, just imagine the fights when you’re making your husband be the muscle because you’re getting paid to shop for other people.) Oh, and we skipped out on all traveling (sad face) for a year and a half. Basically our wedding was paid for through a little deprivation, a lot of hustle, Doctor Who t-shirts, and early mornings at IKEA.
Put it on a credit card
Don’t clutch your pearls, using a credit card can be a good tool for financing your wedding, if you’re strategic. If you’re the type who pays off their card every month, using a credit card to pay for your wedding expenses won’t incur you any additional debt. If you do this with a rewards card, you can even score enough points or cash back to pay for your honeymoon. Additionally, a lot of cards offer additional protections in case something happens, so it’s advisable to pay for large contracts by credit card, even if you pay it off immediately.
Beyond that, yes, some people do use credit card debt to help fund their wedding. Our CRO Maddie explained:
We paid for our wedding through a combination of parental help and our own money. But being fresh out of college, super broke, and very bad at budgeting, we didn’t exactly have any savings to pull “our own money” from. So instead, we bet on our future. We knew that we’d be getting a tax break from our freshly minted married status, so we put things like our decor and the down payment for our photographer on a credit card, with plans to offset the bill when our tax return came through a few months later.
But joke was on us. Our financial instability meant that when the wedding was over, we continued to put unexpected expenses on our credit card (our sick dog, new apartment, the set of pots and pans we had to buy because I was convinced we would get a set as a wedding gift and had given away all our old ones). And it took the better part of a decade for us to pay off the debts from those first few years of our marriage. But I’m not sure I would have done it any differently. Looking back, I’m pretty sure we would have ended up with all that debt, wedding or no, and we would have had to wait close to ten years to be able to afford a wedding outright, and we would have ended up with something much more expensive. So #NoRegrets.
If I had to do it all over again now that we are more financially stable, I would still put everything on a credit card, though. Now that we’ve learned how to use them responsibly, I would rack up all the JetBlue miles I could get, snag myself Mosaic status, and upgrade our honeymoon with the money saved on tickets.
Get a personal loan
Another option that people look down upon but can really be a lifesaver in a pinch. Full disclosure: my husband and I exercised this option for our wedding. Also full disclosure: this is the first time that I’ve shared with anyone that we got a personal loan for our wedding. Why had I never shared this? Well, there’s a lot of wedding shaming out there, especially on social media. Every week there’s another conversation on Twitter bemoaning weddings as a “waste of time and money,” and who wants to be judged for their choices? As our wedding was 90 percent self-funded, our options were limited in how we could pay for our wedding. Our short engagement meant either radically changing our lifestyle so we could save aggressively, or drastically scaling back on the wedding. Neither of those options were things we were willing to do, and we also didn’t want to turn to our families for a short-term loan. A personal loan from a peer-to-peer lending firm turned out to be the best option for us, because we had a lower interest rate than using a credit card. We weren’t thrilled that we needed a small loan, but it really helped out in a pinch, and paying off the loan early helped our credit scores.
Tell us APW readers, how did you pay for your wedding? Was it worth it? If you could go back, would you do something different?