How Much Should I Spend on a Wedding?

Engaged Couples Feel Many Financial Pressures

Budgeting for a wedding can be tough, but that's how to figure out what to spend on your wedding

Many couples have a tough time paying for weddings.

Often, engaged couple are still paying off student loans and trying to save for a down payment on a home. They may be paying off their first cars and perhaps also saving up to start a family.

They need enough savings to move cross-country to chase career or educational opportunities, if necessary. Some couples who walk down the aisle also already have children who need support.

Furthermore, the couples' earnings may be limited. Weddings often take place when a couple is in college, graduate school, or working at an entry-level position.

In short, there are a lot of financial pressures on people who are getting married. If you're in this position, you might be wondering how much you should spend on a wedding given the other expenses you're dealing with.

Prioritize Your Goals

The only way to answer this question is to prioritize. Unless you're ultra-wealthy, your money management will involve a series of trade-offs.

You might want to buy a car, put a down payment on a home, throw a gorgeous wedding, and save enough money to start a family. Unfortunately, you might not be able to afford all of those things.

Sit down and make a list of your priorities. Brainstorm the list for about ten minutes, and then order the list from your number one priority to the very last one.

Starting a family might be near the top of your list, for example, but buying a home (as opposed to renting) might be a lower priority. Or perhaps the reverse is true: buying a home is a major priority, but starting a family is something that you are willing to put off for a few more years.

What are you willing to give up in order to reach your top priorities?

Where Does a Wedding Fit In?

Where does the wedding fit within that priority list? Remember, there's a difference between a wedding and a marriage. Perhaps getting married is important to you, but a wedding isn't.

Or perhaps you'd love to have a big, fancy wedding, but if you have to make a trade-off between throwing a lavish wedding or buying a home, you realize you'd prefer to buy a home.

The purpose of this exercise is to become more aware of all of the trade-offs we make. Every dollar that we spend on X is a dollar we can no longer spend on Y.

Perhaps you want to have a nice wedding. After all, as the wedding industry loves to remind us, this is your "big day." But sit down with a pen and paper and spend some time in reflection. Give the matter some deep thought.

You may realize that while you want to have a nice wedding, you'd prefer to have the peace of mind that comes with knowing that you can buy a car in cash. Or you'd rather have the comfort of knowing your student loans are paid off, and with enough money left over to put a down payment on a house.

Align Your Priorities with Your Spending

Of course, this doesn't have to be the conclusion you reach. Perhaps, after deep reflection, you'll reach the conclusion that a great wedding is truly important to you.

In fact, you'll decide that it's important enough you're willing to live in a smaller home, spend a longer period to pay off your student loans, or work a second job in order to afford it. If this is the conclusion that you reach: go for it! Throw your dream wedding. Enjoy it.

Budgeting, at its core, is the art of aligning your values with the way in which you spend money. Personal finance is "personal." No two people will have the same values, and therefore no two people will choose to spend their money in the same way.

Budgeting demands that we take the time to clarify those values so we can direct our money in the best possible way.

So how much should you spend on a wedding? There's no "right" answer to this question. Spend exactly as much as you feel is appropriate, based on how a wedding fits with your personal values and priorities.