One Wedding, Three Lifelong Money Lessons


On New Year’s Day 2015, my boyfriend of nearly eight years, Reid, got down on one knee on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade in New York City and asked me to marry him. I said yes, we kissed, I slipped on the ring, then we walked the quiet mile home before telling anyone.

The serenity didn’t last long. We enjoyed the glow for about a day before the planning—and money—conversations commenced.

Despite the fact that I’d been shamelessly pinning dress and flower photos to a Pinterest board labeled “Someday” for awhile, I’d never given much thought to how we’d pay for it all. But over the course of the next year, we got a crash course in budgeting for a wedding.

We’re still not at the finish line—two and a half months to go!—and we’ve hit some bumps along the way. (Turns out, our caterers don’t provide plates and silverware, so we learned just how much forks are really worth.) But overall, I’m proud of how we’ve navigated the process as a team. Here are three financial decisions we made that not only saved us cash, but also provided valuable lessons that will serve us well as a married couple.

1. We were completely honest about our financial pasts.

It’s pretty widely known that money problems—like debt, unemployment, and undisclosed spending—wreck havoc on relationships. In fact, the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts found they contribute to the downfall of more than one in five marriages.

As a journalist who writes a lot about money, I was familiar with stats like that, which is why talking openly and honestly with Reid is a top priority. Even before our engagement, he knew about my student loan debt, and I knew about his lack of credit. We didn’t keep close tabs on each other’s spending, but we divvied up the bills and took turns paying for essentials.

Of course, creating a wedding budget is completely different, financially speaking, than paying bills with someone. (He and I are paying about 50 percent of the costs, and our parents are helping with the rest.) A wedding is a huge event, and one of those times that family, friends and even coworkers find it appropriate to tell you what they think is worth your cash.

Without a solid foundation, it would’ve been easy to get sucked in when others offered well-intentioned, but expensive, ideas, like a five-piece band for our ceremony or beer, wine and liquor for our reception. But because we knew each other’s financial limits and had a good track record of communication, we successfully set and stuck to reasonable expectations of what was (and wasn’t) in our budget.

2. We made short-term compromises for long-term goals.

One of the first and most significant decisions we made was where to get married. We live in Brooklyn, where weddings cost an average of nearly $50,000, but our immediate family and many friends live in much-cheaper North Carolina. We didn’t necessarily have a preference for either location from an emotional standpoint, but debated whether the inconvenience of long-distance planning would justify the savings.

We ran the numbers, and discovered that a North Carolina venue would cut the bill by at least $20,000—even adding in the cost of a few flights during our engagement—thanks to less expensive food, flowers, photography and entertainment costs.

Would it have been easier to plan a local event? Sure. I wouldn’t have the stress of shipping my dress 500 miles away, or trying to decide on decor based on memories and photos of the reception space.

But the thought of what we could do with that $20,000—put it toward my student loan and inch closer toward joint financial goals like saving for a home—made it a no-brainer.

3. Our budget accounted for unexpected expenses.

When we first started researching wedding vendors, people warned us that the price of goods and services would increase just because the word “wedding” was associated. For instance, an updo at a salon might cost $75—but none of my friends paid less than $100 as a bride. (I read an article that explained stylists and other bridal industry workers upcharge for wedding-related services to account for “emotional labor” and other factors.)

Reid and I factored this into our initial budget projections, figuring we’d shell out more for flowers, hair and food—and we were right about some things.

Surprisingly, my stylist, flowers and dessert ended up being $500 cheaper than we anticipated. Food and photography, on the other hand, far exceeded our expectations—the food by more than 80 percent! Fortunately, we’d built in wiggle room to accommodate the swing and made some adjustments. Reid really wanted a band, but settled for a deejay, which saved about $2,500, and we ended up DIYing our favors and guestbook, which saved a little extra, as well.

In the end, we learned a lot from these little budgetary surprises—as well as our ability to adapt.

Not only has that helped us keep costs in line for our wedding, but it’s helped us feel better-prepared to tackle the financial questions, goals and obstacles that will no doubt come up in the years ahead once we’re married.

Photo credit: Amanda Parvis Lanzo