Ditch the Fancy Wedding: Save a Fortune (and Your Marriage)

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Receiving a piece of mail that wasn't a bill, a jury duty summons, or an offer from a credit card company used to be an exciting occasion for me. These days, it's usually painful and expensive. Now that most bills are handled online, only two things come in the mail for millennials: birthday cards and wedding invitations. Anyone serious about saving money wouldn't want to be responsible for the latter.

Millennials -- as a generation -- are in debt. This is a well-known, over-analyzed, consistently reported on fact. To be more specific, the average millennial carries about $29,400 in student loan debt, according to a New American Foundation's Student Debt Review. That's only $1,047 more than the average wedding budget, reported by a 2013 survey from The Knot and WeddingChannel.com.

Strictly based on the numbers, it's fiscally irresponsible for an average millennial to have an average wedding. But let's start at the beginning.

The Engagement Ring

The road to financial ruin begins with the ridiculous tradition of spending several months salary on a diamond engagement ring -- now costing an average of $5,431, according to a 2013 wedding survey by TheKnot and WeddingChannel.com. Diamond engagement rings became popular around the time the average millennial's grandparents were coming of age. Two generations later, we're still compelled by the unforgettable slogan the N.W. Ayer and Son ad agency penned for De Beers: "A Diamond Is Forever."

A diamond may be forever, but a marriage built on materialism and debt sits on shakier ground.

Creating the Guest List

After the ring is on the finger and the engagement is announced on Facebook (so that it's official), the happy couple must sit down to draft the guest list. With help from their parents, of course. Suddenly, third cousins the groom has never heard of get added to the list while the bride tries to talk her parents out of inviting their next-door neighbors from 15 years ago.

Perhaps a wedding should focus instead on the two people committing to each other -- a gathering of the couple's closest friends and family, instead of a convention that requires them to carry a cheat sheet to keep track of all the guests' names.

The Invites

The wedding industry is probably single-handedly keeping specialty paper suppliers in business. While most industries are pushing toward going paperless, your relatives may shame you if you dare to defy convention and mail merge an e-card wedding invitation.

Ignore their condemnation in favor of free.

Sure, it's exciting for about 30 seconds for the guests receiving that classy-looking piece of snail mail. It's more exciting to pocket the average $453 that it costs to send traditional invites.

The Ceremony and Reception

A public declaration of love combined with a dinner for nearly 150 people (remember that over-long guest list we were just talking about?) runs couples $18,408 -- the price of the average wedding according to The Knot and WeddingChannel.com.

Simply signing a marriage certificate or holding a small ceremony followed by an intimate dinner or potluck could save a couple tens of thousands of dollars. Or just eloping.

Undoubtedly, weddings are fun and provide both the guests and couple with lifelong memories. But are those memories really worth starting out your married life deep in the red?

What Else Could Be Done with All That Money?
  • Pay off or make a sizable dent in your student loans
  • Pay off or make a sizable dent in your credit card debt
  • Put a down payment on a home
  • Furnish a new home
  • Invest for retirement, future children or simply to capitalize on compound growth
  • Buy a car (or two)
  • Create an emergency fund
  • Take a vacation
Your Wedding Doesn't Last a Lifetime. Your Marriage (Hopefully) Does

After the cameras finish clicking, the last bite of cake has been consumed, and your drunk uncle stumbles back to his room, the wedding is over. The marriage, hopefully, lasts a lifetime. But sometimes, it doesn't, and while you're thinking about that, consider this: Money-related arguments and financial stress are consistently reported as the top reasons for divorce. It stands to reason if money problems can split up a once-happy couple, it's not merely practical, but a potential marriage saver, to ditch the expensive wedding and focus those funds on building your future together.

Erin Lowry writes for DailyFinance on issues relating to millennials, money and personal finance. She's also the blogger behind Broke Millennial, where her sarcastic sense of humor entertains and educates her peers. Popular posts include:

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Ashley Penn

We managed to have a very nice church wedding for pretty cheap. We spent about $5k total, and that included our honeymoon. Our rings were free (we used my grandparents' rings), our cake came from the grocery store bakery, I paid $300 for a fabulous off-the-rack dress, printed my own invitations, and did a lot of things myself (even made my own veil. And I'm NOT crafty!). I made my own favors, used silk flowers (no need to water, they don't turn brown, they look as good as real, and I get to keep my bouquet forever!) and my mom and I made all the buffet-style food (baked ziti, salad, rolls, and fruit salad).

It's not hard to have a lovely wedding on the cheap. Just use your brain. And we've been married for 7 years and show no signs of slowing down! :)

May 27 2014 at 8:51 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Deanna Coyne Lynch

i'm not sure if you call a church donation of at least this amount Free, and if not all paid they will send you a bill like statement ,"saying you owe the donation". Don't get me wrong i've belong to a parish over 10 years and the one before 34 they say free but demand specific donation so not really free, and over 18 years ago it was 500. my sister being single gave them 300 what she could afford, they only told one person her took her aside to say it was customary to leave at least a 500 dollar donation, she heard the word donation could only afford 300 and then received a bill for the remainder, i couldn't believe it and when we got back and went to church we were asked about it by our priest he said someone must of messed up because they didn't receive the right donation.

May 19 2014 at 5:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Deanna Coyne Lynch's comment

My church never charged me a dime to get married. My family was gracious enough to pay the individual who married us, but it was a donation that was optional. I believe she gave the man $200. He was not affiliated with our church whatsoever, meaning he had no financial ties with that church. In fact the church was so generous that everyone who was a member who attended the wedding brought food and drinks, so I never even hired a caterer. The members catered the wedding for me. And the band in the church provided the music. I hardly paid anything to get married.

September 19 2014 at 12:29 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Pamela Duncan

Getting married in a church is free, and the reception can be held in the fellowship hall there. It's nice to know, too, that couples who have a church of some sort in their lives have strong marriages that last longer than those with no faith, according to sociological data.

May 09 2014 at 11:28 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Pamela Duncan's comment

Yep, we had the reception there, and it was a fantastic wedding that didn't cost much at all.

September 19 2014 at 12:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I thought the Bride's parents pay for it, or are those days gone now.

March 13 2014 at 9:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Interesting but I would think that their numbers are probably inflated a little. The study used people that have memberships on those website. I would think people that were not going to spend much probably wouldn't register for sites like that. Also the median for a previous study was close to $11,000. Crazy what a few million dollar weddings will do to the average. It's all a little ridiculous but they love posting high averages because it allows people to feel better about spending a lot of money.

March 10 2014 at 4:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Cost of our engagement/wedding bands: $750
Cost of my elopement dress: $250
Cost of a commencement ceremony at SF City Hall: $100
Cost of avoiding the stress/debt of having an average wedding: PRICELESS

March 03 2014 at 1:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Paid for a wedding ($40,000) Ring($10,000) Honeymoon($15,000) 15 years later just paid it off. ALLOPE

March 01 2014 at 4:24 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to lc5401's comment
Kayla Ann Suverkrubb

10,000 dollar ring!!!! Oh my gosh!!!! that's a year of my college! Oh my gosh!!!!! what? really? Just for a ring to stick on your finger?

I mean I guess you could sell it for a little less money if you were in financial distress..I guess it's good that way but...gee whiz..

May 17 2014 at 5:03 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Weddings and funerals are both way over priced.

February 28 2014 at 11:55 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

The bigger the wedding, the shorter the marriage. As a jeweler, I engrave a lot of anniversary dates, and the "65 years" marriages tend to be where the guy won his bride in a poker match. These fancy weddings are a way to show off wealth to the prospective in-laws. In a marriage, you commit to each other, and should be able to tell your extended family to shove it. Buy your big diamond after you've made a successful marriage, not before.

February 28 2014 at 9:08 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to pigasus93's comment

We couldn't afford any rings when we got married. After 25 years. I got a huge rock.

September 19 2014 at 12:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Sage advice. We were married at the county courthouse and had a family catered reception at our own home. Everyone was happy and had a great time. Today, in only our 50's we have a million dollar portfolio and a stunning 5000 sq foot brick Georgian on over 2 acres. The best part? We have NO debt and none of our friends or family think back dozens of years and feel cheated that they were denied a rubber chicken dinner and the opportunity to gift us with a toaster.

February 28 2014 at 7:41 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply