The wedding dilemma: old, new, borrowed, and now you're blue

Budgeting when it comes to your wedding can be difficult. Learn how you can still have your dream wedding while sticking to your budget.

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Hold onto your bouquet; according to a survey by The Knot1 the average cost of a wedding in 2016 was over $35,000. They also estimated that if you said "I do" in Manhattan, those words cost, on average, over $78,000; however, if you go to Arkansas, you could bring that down to just over $19,000. By the way, the survey also finds that these terrifying numbers are not due to an increase in headcount, but rather to the couple’s unique imaginations of creating an unforgettable experience.

Over-the-top expenses

My husband and I have been lucky enough to be invited to some amazing weddings this year. Remember the olden days, when a "fancy" paper invitation arrived announcing the nuptials? Granted, many were engraved invitations created by Tiffany's, but today that "paper" pales by comparison. Etched glass champagne glasses, firecracker pull-things, and crazy foil-lined origami fold-up invitations have shown up in my mailbox. We, however, have not received the "zombie invite" or the "mugshot invite," and not even the "perfect-pitch Wes Anderson-themed Save The Date card," all depicted in BuzzFeed's "17 Of The Most Creative Wedding Invitations Ever."

The rich and the famous

Celebrity and royal weddings have always been of interest to many people. Instyle reported2 that the Brad Pitt–Jennifer Aniston wedding cost a cool $1 million. We know that was not a great investment in a long-term relationship; just sayin'. Then again, it equated to about what Aniston earned per episode on Friends.

What did Kim Kardashian and Kanye West spend on theirs? How about $12 million? You need to Google her $500,000 wedding dress. No comment. And, what did Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cost? Inflation adjusted, according to InStyle, the Crown plunked down $110 million.

Back to the wedding budget

I found that The Knot has some great budgeting ideas. You really need to be methodical about the planning because costs can creep in and creep up. Not to mention, then the fights begin...and can remain. My big advice: don't incur debt for your wedding. Millennials are strapped enough with college debt and have put off home buying and having kids. Don't let your first anniversary show up with lingering wedding debt as well.

Show Me The Money
You need to talk about who pays for what. Or better yet, how do you split it? The old etiquette rules were basically that: the bride's family picked up the wedding costs and the groom's family paid for the rehearsal/out-of-town guest dinner the night before. But according to,3 "More and more often today, weddings are paid for by a two-family counsel—and more than 60% of brides and grooms are paying for at least part of the costs as well. This makes it pretty clear that the old rules of divvying up the wedding bills simply no longer apply."

After you have a real handle on the costs, it’s time for "The Talk" with your beloved first and then with the respective families. Decide beforehand the approximate amount you will ask for on each side. Don't have a group discussion because the financial circumstances may be very different between families and you don't want to embarrass anyone.

The Venue and Date
You know that the popular urban areas are way more expensive than having a small out-of-the-way town wedding. Weekends in May and June are peak—therefore, most expensive. You can save money by having a mid-week wedding; of course, it may be difficult for people to get there and they may not want to "party-hardy" in the middle of the week. The more formal the wedding, the more expensive. The reception will be your largest cost; The Knot estimates that to be from "48-50% of the total cost." Be sure that you also figure in a 20% tip that will be added, in most cases.

Many people opt for a destination wedding. Again, unless you are picking up the tab, many people may feel that this is an imposition financially and timewise.

Other Costs to Consider

  • Wedding dress and tux
  • Entertainment
  • Flowers
  • Cake
  • Photography
  • Invitations/Thank-you notes
  • Gifts/Favors
  • Transportation/Limo
  • Pre-/post- meals for guests
  • Surprises (there will be)
  • Honeymoon

Research all of these items; don't guess. Put costs next to each category and start to add up the expenses. If your first words are "Holy mackerel," start slicing and dicing and keep your eye on the ball. The "ball" is that you are marrying your beloved. Whether you have steak or chicken will not enhance the memories. You can also hire young photographers who want the exposure, rather than seasoned professionals. A DJ may be great in lieu of a 6-piece live band. A local nursery can supply fresh cut flowers for less than a florist. E-invites are way more economical than pop-up invitations. You get the point.

After the budget is shaved, you need to really set up a plan and stick to it. There are lots of wedding calculators online, which should help you. Use them together. Note the word, "together." Remember the words of Barbara De Angelis, a relationship consultant and author, when you are arguing about the seating charts: "The real act of marriage takes place in the heart, not in the ballroom or church or synagogue. It's a choice you make—not just on your wedding day, but over and over again..."

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Article copyright 2017 by Forbes. Reprinted from the May 31,2017 issue with permission from Forbes.
The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. Fidelity Investments cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of any statements or data.
This reprint is supplied by Fidelity Brokerage Services LLC, Member NYSE, SIPC.
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