The smart way to financially plan for your wedding
Nov 29, 2023
Marriage, Financial planning
So you're thinking about getting married or are engaged. Congrats! Whether wedding planning makes you giddy with excitement or raises your blood pressure, the more you prepare financially and plan, the better you’ll feel.
Let’s explore some ways modern couples are financially planning for their weddings. Plus, we’ll cover some of the creative ways newlyweds are weaving together their finances before married life.
The cost of a wedding pay surprise you
Let’s face it – weddings have a reputation for being very expensive in the US because they often are. According to CNN, the national average wedding cost in 2023 is $29,000. It’s even higher in major cities like New York ($43,000+) and San Francisco ($37,000+).
Roughly 45% of newlyweds go into debt for their wedding, putting extra strain on their finances right at the start of marriage.
It’s up to you and your fiancé to decide just how much you want this memory to affect your financial future.
Start with a ballpark budget on how much to spend on a wedding
When you’re first getting started with wedding planning, it can be tricky figuring out how much you should spend and what you can afford.
To get your momentum going, it can be helpful to start with some dreaming.
Sit down with your fiancé and figure out your goals and dreams - do you have bigger things you’d like to do in the coming years, outside of the wedding? A house? A trip? Kids? Graduate school?
Once you have those goals, it’s probably time to start sharing about where you are. Here’s an easy checklist:
How much are you earning?
What’s your housing?
How much are you spending each month?
Do you have any ongoing debt payments?
How much do you each have leftover each month, for saving?
Do you already have savings?
Are you parents helping out with the wedding?
If you’re not sure about any of these, don’t worry, Plenty makes this step easy for you both.
With all of that in mind, decide on a maximum amount of money you want to spend on your wedding. Remember, you can always update your budget once you do more research, but a starting point is helpful.
Decide who will pay for the wedding upfront
During your discussion, figure out if you and your fiancé will be funding the entire wedding on your own or if you’ll be getting help from families. Some couples get financial support from their parents or even friends. Others take out loans or credit card debt. And in an increasingly multicultural dynamic, the norm of her family pays is increasingly less common.
Each family has its own unique circumstances and customs. Just be aware that receiving financial support often comes with strings attached. If you want full control of your wedding, you may be best off paying for everything yourselves.
Wedding headcount and location
As you start to research venues, menus, attire, etc. you’ll get a better idea of just how well your ballpark budget will work or not. This is the time to prioritize and decide what you care most aboutmake sacrifices.
The number of people you invite to your wedding will likely have the biggest impact on cost. Do you want to invite 50 of your nearest and dearest? Or are your parents relentless about inviting all of their friends, and even the second cousins?
The next biggest cost decision is your wedding location. Are you looking for a ritzy hotel or venue to host your wedding? Or would your cozy backyard with homemade decorations suffice?
Once you've decided on a wedding budget, do your best to stick to it. There will be tempting add-ons that will be suggested to you (shrimp cocktail tower or a chocolate fountain anyone) that you must resist if you are at your limit.
As you’re thinking about your budget, give yourself some time to also picture your life after the wedding. How are you going to feel with different budget amounts? Stressed? Indifferent? Happy? It’s easier to start with a smaller budget and expand if needed, than to start with a bigger budget and have to cut things down.
Prioritize the most and least important wedding spending categories
Once you have the overall budget - list out the categories you need / want (don’t worry, there’s a handy list here), and start to identify which vendors you care about most vs. least. It can be helpful to set a maximum budget for each. This can help reduce the impulse spending that many wedding vendors can encourage.
We also recommend setting aside a 10% buffer for unexpected expenses as another way to avoid overspending.
Now, if you’re still looking for ways to make it all work, just remember. Wedding vendors are businesses too. They have deals, especially for weddings outside of ‘wedding season’ (that’s May-Sept). It never hurts to ask for a discount or to shop things around locally to make sure you’re getting a good price.
Also take advantage of deals, off-peak pricing, and shop around for lower prices. Never assume you must pay a vendor full price. Ask for discounts and negotiate terms and prices.
Open a dedicated savings account to pay for your wedding
A helpful financial planning strategy for your wedding is to open a separate account just for your big day’s expenses. That way, you know that every dollar deposited into that account is specifically for your wedding.
When parents help out, it can also make things easier if they’re able to pay directly into that account and you can decide how to spend it.
Plus, it can help you stay on budget if you agree to only spend the money that you accumulate in that account. And anything that isn’t spent can be moved into your other goals.
Create specific financial goals
Once you decide on your wedding date, count how many months you have from now to save up. Then take your total wedding budget and divide it by that total number of months. Plenty will do this for you and your partner automatically, even if you’re contributing different amounts.
If your wedding budget is $20,000 and it’s in ten months, you’ll need to deposit $2,000 each month into your wedding account. If you’re receiving funds from a family member or drawing down from your existing savings, subtract that amount from your total budget first,then recalculate your monthly savings goal. Then decide what you can each chip in (some couples do 50/50, some couples adjust based on income, do whatever works for your relationship).
If you want to save faster, look at what you’ve been spending. Are there places that matter less than your wedding? Is there a side hustle you can pick up? Is there a cashback card that can help? . And especially in this high interest environment, are your savings earning at least 5.1%*? * The rate constantly changes
Planning for your financially ever after
Even if wedding planning is taking over your life, also remember to zoom out. Your wedding will be one of the most important chapter markers of your life. But make sure you’re also financially ready for the ever after.
If you haven’t already, talk to your fiancé now about how you want to weave your finances together as a married modern couple. There are three main paths for you to consider.
Option 1: Yours, mine, and ours
Most dual career couples today use a hybrid approach when merging finances. Each spouse retains their own individual accounts combined with one or more joint accounts. Deciding how much money to put into individual vs shared accounts is unique to each couple.
Option 2: Ours
Couples with a single-income household structure, or those who married in their early twenties tend to take a “traditional” approach of fully joining finances into one or more joint accounts. Although this approach offers full transparency to both spouses, it can create new, unexpected pressures. Unraveling fully joined finances can also be complicated if the marriage ends in divorce without a prenup.
Option 3: Yours and mine
About 15% of couples choose to keep their individual accounts without creating any joint accounts. This works well for those who highly value financial independence, especially those with a high net worth, and who don’t have many intermingled goals.
Navigate your finances with Plenty
In the ever-evolving landscape of modern relationships, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to merging finances. The key, however, is open communication and a shared understanding of your financial goals.
We built Plenty just for couples like you.
With Plenty you can:
Link your separate accounts and get a bird's-eye view of your combined financial picture; flexibly setting accounts as shared or private
Invest and save towards shared goals like weddings, a downpayment, kids, or retirement
Track your shared and individual spending
Manage your shared net worth over time
And so much more to come!
Plenty brings you and your partner together on money, helping you communicate better and achieve your financial goals sooner. It's your easy, modern solution for managing money as a couple.
Emily Luk, CPA, CA, CFA
Emily is the CEO and cofounder of Plenty. Started by a husband and wife team, Plenty is a wealth platform built for modern couples to invest and plan towards their future, together. Previously, she was VP of Strategy and Operations at Even (acquired by Walmart/One) as they scaled to support millions of individuals and move billions of dollars. Prior to that, she was a founding team member of Stripe's Growth and Finance & Strategy teams. She began her career as a VC, and was one of the youngest nationally to complete both her CPA and CFA designations.