Getting engaged is no doubt a reason to celebrate, but once the excitement wears off, many couples face the oft-dreaded task of saving for a wedding. These days, the average cost of a U.S. wedding is roughly $30,000, though in some parts of the country, it's considerably more. Take Connecticut, for example, where the average wedding costs close to $44,000, or Massachusetts, where the average wedding comes in at just under $40,000. And if you live in or near a major city, you might be looking at double those figures. The average Manhattan wedding, for instance, costs a whopping $88,000.
If those numbers are enough to make you book the next flight out to Vegas and elope, worry not: Saving for a wedding is often a matter of careful planning and prioritizing. Here are four ways to do it.
1. Come up with a budget
Your first step in saving for a wedding involves coming up with a realistic budget. Start by looking at venues, meeting with vendors, and collecting pricing info. Next, break down your costs by category (such as venue, photographer, band, florist, and so forth), and prioritize the categories that are most important to you. If, for example, you care more about your band than your photographer, you can leave yourself room to spend extra money on music as opposed to pictures.
Once you have all of your numbers, add up your anticipated costs to come up with a grand total. Don't forget to include smaller expenses that might add up, like tips for your wait staff and transportation to and from your wedding. If that figure is one you can afford based on parent contributions and your current and anticipated savings, you're all set. If not, you'll need to work backwards toward an amount you can swing. Otherwise, you risk taking on wedding debt, which is not a great way to start off a marriage.
2. Establish a savings timeline
The average U.S. engagement lasts 14 months, which gives you a fair amount of time to save money for the big day. That said, it's important to map out a savings timeline to ensure you stay on track. If, for example, you have a year to save for your wedding, your estimated costs total $30,000, and you only have $15,000 coming from savings or parental gifts, you'll need to save $1,250 a month, on average, until your wedding date arrives.
Furthermore, you should create a schedule of when you need to pay your vendors so you're not caught off guard down the line. You might, for example, need to give your band a deposit three months before the wedding and pay the balance shortly after the fact. In other words, even if your wedding is a year away, you may not have a full 12 months to save up all the money you'll need to pay for it.
3. Look for extra sources of income
If saving a chunk of your salary will only get you so far in financing your wedding, your next move should be to seek out additional sources of income. You could try selling some unwanted furniture, electronics, or collectibles to bring in extra cash. Another option is to take on a side job to generate more income. While the extra work might be a lot to juggle, it's something you'd conceivably only need to do for a limited time.
4. Take advantage of discounts and lower-cost alternatives
If you're willing to compromise on certain aspects of your wedding, you could wind up slashing your costs significantly. Some venues, for example, charge less for weeknight weddings than they do for weekend events, while others charge less during what's considered the off-season. If you have 150 guests and can knock your cost per head down from $100 to $90 by postponing your wedding for a month, or getting married on a Thursday evening, you'll save $1,500.
You also have the option to bypass certain vendors to cut costs. Have a friend take a video rather than pay a videographer, or skip the fancy limo and ask your bridesmaids and groomsmen for a ride. Finally, sending out electronic invites versus paper ones could easily save you close to $1,000, and you might have an easier time tracking responses to boot.
No matter what steps you take to save for your wedding, the key is to avoid overspending and starting your marriage off in the red. An estimated one-third of couples go into debt to pay for their weddings, and at a time when you're supposed to be enjoying the newlywed phase, you don't need that burden weighing you down.