How to Avoid Going Into Debt for Your Wedding

Weddings should create lasting memories, not debt.


Photo by Sergio Sandoná 

Planning the perfect wedding involves a lot more than a few Pinterest boards and a prayer: it takes money. The many elements that make up a wedding—attire, venue, food, drinks, entertainment—can add up quickly, and if you’re not careful, you’ll blow right past the wedding budget you carefully set with your S.O. 

In 2018, the average wedding cost $44,000, according to the Brides 2018 American Wedding Study. That’s a huge chunk of change to save and spend within the span of a handful of months. Many couples don’t have that kind of money just lying around, which may explain why one-third of couples go into debt for their wedding, reports MarketWatch.

Bobbi Rebell, a certified financial planner, explains why overspending on a wedding may come back to bite you long after the champagne has run out. "Couples should absolutely avoid going into debt before their wedding," says Rebell. "The focus needs to be starting an amazing life together in the future, and the last thing to focus on is debt —which is effectively spending in the past."

Meet the Expert

Bobbi Rebell is a certified financial planner and personal finance expert at Tally, an automated app that helps people pay off their credit card debt. She is the host of the podcast "Money Tips for Financial Grownups" and author of How to Be a Financial Grownup: Proven Advice from High Achievers on How to Live Your Dreams and Have Financial Freedom.

Plenty of couples have thrown an amazing, memorable wedding on a shoestring budget, and no party is worth the time and effort it may take to crawl out of financial debt. Read on for Rebell’s tips for avoiding going into the red for your dream wedding day.

Weddings should create lasting memories, not debt. 

Weddings are about celebrating the love and commitment between two people—everything else is just icing on the cake. If the love is there and you’re surrounded by those who are happy to share this moment with you, it will be a night to remember, regardless of how much the bill is at the end of the night. 

"We have learned so much about our priorities during the pandemic, including the fact that weddings are about sharing the day and the celebration of your future together—not about spending money you don’t have, creating debt that will weigh on your life together and hold you back from your goals," says Rebell.

Make sure everyone is on the same page regarding the wedding budget and expense totals. 

Determine how much you have to spend on the wedding and where that money is coming from. This includes you and your partner’s individual saving accounts, any money you can set aside from your regular income in the months leading up to your wedding, and any additional money coming from your parents or loved ones.

Creating a wedding budget is only the first step. It’s also important to discuss details related to expenses. For example, let’s say your partner wants to have an open bar. Before you go and sign on the dotted line, make sure you communicate how long the open bar will last, what type of liquor will be served, if tips are included, and the expected total cost. If the open bar eats into a huge chunk of your wedding budget, your partner may reconsider their preference and opt for a cash or beer/wine only bar. 

Open a separate savings account. 

Once you have a working wedding budget that everyone agrees on, open a separate savings account for wedding expenses and automate your contributions. "I would recommend setting contributions just above the comfort level and seeing how it goes," says Rebell. "You can always scale back if you are feeling too pinched."

This savings account functions like your very own bank and prevents overspending. Charge all wedding-related expenses to this account. Once all the money is spent, that’s it, the bank is closed.

Set a deadline for saving. 

How long it takes for a couple to save for their wedding depends on their wedding goals and budget. However, you don’t want to wait too long and spend years saving all your extra income for a single evening of wedded bliss. Put a realistic deadline on it and then start planning!

"I do not recommend delaying your married life indefinitely while you save up for your dream wedding," says Rebell. "As we’ve learned with COVID, we cannot take time with our friends and family for granted."

Create healthy boundaries.

Planning a wedding involves making purchases both big and small. Of course, your partner and anyone else contributing to the wedding should be aware of the big expenses, but do they really need to be in the loop on every cake topper and placemat purchase?

Rebell recommends setting up a benchmark amount where if you spend below that amount, you don’t need to discuss it with the contributing group, but if it goes above it, you make sure to check in with your partner and loved ones. For example, maybe for anything under $200, you don’t need to alert the group text, but if it is over that, you make sure to fill everyone in.

For example, maybe for anything under $200, you don’t need to alert the group text, but if it is over that, you make sure to fill everyone in.

Have frank discussions about money often.

The best time to discuss your long-term money goals is all the time. Money is not a conversation that should be reserved for the first of the month when all your bills are due. You and your partner should be open and willing to have candid conversations about money, how you manage your relationship with money both as a couple and individuals, and how you can support each other in your money goals. Your dream wedding is just [one] of many money goals, so look at it as an opportunity to test-run some strategies and practices that can help you enjoy more financial freedom in the future. 

"Consider putting together some kind of visual board that you can look at when you need motivation," offers Rebell. "It may be owning a home, or having kids, or just being able to eat out at fun restaurants if you’re foodies. Focusing on the benefits of avoiding getting saddled with debt will help avoid the temptation to overspend."

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