If you're the type who's always dreamed of a big, fancy wedding, you're not alone. It's estimated that one-third of Americans go into debt to finance their nuptials, and we're not talking small amounts, either. According to ValuePenguin, for 2016, the average cost of a wedding in the U.S. is about $30,000. Of course, that figure changes significantly based on location. While the average price tag for a wedding in Iowa is about $13,600, in some parts of New Jersey, that figure jumps to almost $48,000. And in Manhattan -- arguably the country's most expensive city -- the average cost of a wedding is an astounding $88,000. Even if we stick with that $30,000 average, that's a boatload of money to spend on a five-to-six-hour party. So before you jump to empty your savings account or, worse yet, take on debt to pay for your wedding, consider what else you can do with $30,000.
1. Save for retirement
It's a sad statistic that one-third of Americans reportedly have no retirement savings whatsoever. Meanwhile, 42% of millennials have yet to start saving for retirement, while 72% of millenials have amassed less than $10,000 in total. If you're among the many Americans who are behind on savings, rather than spend a small fortune on a wedding, think about what that money might do for your retirement. Imagine you're 25 years old and have 40 years before you expect to retire. If you were to take the $30,000 you'd otherwise blow on a wedding, invest it, and generate an average annual return of 8% (which is more than feasible with a stock-heavy portfolio), you'd ultimately grow your savings balance to over $650,000 -- and that's without adding another penny between age 25 and 65. Even if your retirement savings are in decent shape to date, the money you spend on a wedding could instead help pad your nest egg, especially if you invest it relatively early in life.
2. Save for a down payment
According to Zillow, the median home value in the U.S. is $187,000. If you plan to become a homeowner in the not-so-distant future, you'll need to come up with a down payment. And unless you're willing to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI), which will drive up your monthly housing costs, your best bet is to save enough to cover 20% of your home's purchase price. Assuming a home value of $187,000, that means you're looking at a minimum of $37,400, not including whatever other closing costs you might incur. When you think about it that way, $30,000 seems like an awful lot to spend on a single evening of dining and dancing -- especially when it could conceivably put a roof over your head for the next 30 years instead.
3. Pay off debt
Whether it's credit card debt or student loans, the longer you hold onto your debt, the more money you'll end up throwing away on interest payments. Imagine you're carrying a $30,000 credit card balance at 12% interest. If it takes you five years to pay it off, you'll wind up losing about $10,000 to interest fees. Similarly, if you owe $30,000 in student loans and take 10 years to pay them off at 5%, you'll lose over $8,000 to interest charges. If you have the ability to reduce or eliminate debt, it pays to do so rather than splurge on a wedding you can't really afford.
4. Enjoy a more comfortable lifestyle
Perhaps you've done a bang-up job of saving for retirement, you already own a home, and you have no credit card or student loan debt to speak of. While you could conceivably feel free to take $30,000 and fund the wedding of your dreams, you might also consider using that money to pay for a more comfortable lifestyle. You might spend an extra $300 a month to upgrade your car, or take a $5,000 vacation every few years with your spouse. You might even stretch that money to last several decades, using it to treat yourself to life's smaller luxuries over a longer period of time. No matter how you choose to use the money you would've otherwise spent on a wedding, there's a good chance you'll come to appreciate having an extra $30,000 around over the course of five, 10, 20, or 30 years.
Ideally, your wedding will be a once-in-a-lifetime event, so it's natural to be tempted to stretch or exceed your budget to pull off the magical day you always imagined. But when you take a step back and let logic prevail, you might realize that those high-end flower arrangements and decorative centerpieces won't bring you nearly as much long-term joy as the more important things your money can buy.