Look at you! You’re engaged! You’re getting married! Congratulations!
You’re excited. You’re happy.
And though you might not admit it, the reality is setting in, and you’re wondering how you’re going to survive the coming months of planning, and more importantly, all the expenses without breaking the bank.
Well, you’re in luck, because I’ve just been through this myself, and am giving you the benefit of my experience here on Enwealthen.
You Must #1: Have the Money Talk
You’ve been with your prospective mate for a while now. You know so much about each other, too much, some might say. But do you really know what makes them tick, financially? Do you know how much they earn? How they handle credit cards? How about long term debt like student loans, mortgage, car loan? How much of their money do they save each paycheck? Are they saving for retirement? Any significant investments?
If you’re lucky, you’ve found someone who’s financially responsible – pays themselves first, doesn’t spend more than they earn, uses debt but only wisely. However painful it might be, it’s absolutely crucial that you tackle this head-on, and tackle it first. More marriages break up over financial incompatibility than anything else, so save yourself the headache, and figure this out now.
There are many different books to help you with the marriage finances discussion, but if you’re looking for a quick start, The Motley Fool has a useful quiz and template for having the money talk. Be sure to talk about prenuptial agreements here as well (see below).
If you’re just starting out and don’t know where to begin when it comes to managing your finances, I recommend starting with Eker’s Secrets of the Millionaire Mind (review) for help get control of your personal money mindset problems, and David Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover for more practical, actionable advice.
You Must #2: Get A Prenuptial Agreement
What?!?! But I love this person and want to spend the rest of my life with them. It’s insulting. It means I don’t love them. What if they say no? Bull-puckey.
You drive a car, and you do it well, but you still have car insurance. You’re healthy, but you still have health insurance. You’re not doing crazy things in your home, but you still have home or renter’s insurance. A prenuptial agreement is marriage insurance. It clearly lists the current assets and liabilities of you and your fiance (remember the money talk you just had?), and what will happen in the unfortunate, but unfortunately very common, event that you get divorced. And like good insurance, it protects both parties in a marriage. Most importantly, it will say what state law applies, how assets will be managed and divided (e.g. 50-50), what assets are held separate by each party, and alimony payments, among other things.
Having seen my father struggle to pay alimony and child support for almost 10 years, alimony was the most important part for me personally. It’s worth pointing out that child custody and child support payments cannot be specified in a prenuptial agreement. Moreover, if any part of the agreement is considered grossly unfair to one party, a judge during the divorce proceedings can toss out those provisions, so keep that in mind when discussing the structure of your prenup with your lawyer.
Obviously, you need legal advice for this. You and your fiance each need your own lawyer. Best way to find a lawyer is to ask someone you know. However, if you can’t find a personal referral, check out the family law lawyers on Avvo.
From a timing perspective, you want to start this as soon as possible. Typically, it takes several iterations to let the lawyers run up their fees, and you want to have the agreement signed at least 30 days prior to the wedding day to avoid any appearance of coercion due to schedule pressure.
Cost-wise, it depends on legal costs in your area, as well as the complexity of your arrangement. In my case, in California, it was around $2500 for the one lawyer to create it, and perhaps $750 for the other lawyer to poke holes in it.
You Must #3: Set A Wedding Budget
So, how much is this thing going to cost, anyways? Good question. The average wedding in the US these days costs well north of $25,000. The major costs of the wedding will be the reception, the honeymoon, and the rings, although each wedding will be different, depending on your financial situation. Honestly, after spending as much as we did on our wedding, eloping to Las Vegas starts looking pretty attractive.
Google Docs has some excellent wedding planning templates, including budgets, you can use to get a rough idea of the costs associated with your wedding, and track them as you go to make sure you’re on budget. Most importantly, be realistic in setting your budget, and stick to it!
Attention prospective grooms: after tasting all the cakes, setting the budget is your most important contribution to the wedding planning. Make sure you are clear with your fiance on what is included in the budget (e.g. are rings or honeymoon separate). Once you have the budget agreed upon, stick with it! Don’t be bashful. This is your future, and every dollar spent on the wedding is one less dollar to put towards your new home, your future children, and your long term financial success.
Yes, this is a day you’ll remember (as a blur, believe me) for the rest of your life. But you shouldn’t trade your future for a single day of the present.
You Must #4: Be Humble, Ask For Help
Budgeting is difficult.
Everything becomes ridiculously expensive simply because it’s part of a wedding. So when I talk about help, sure your best man, maid of honor, family, and friends, will help with the wedding, but this is about money, so let’s talk financial help.
In ye olden times, a woman or her family paid a man a dowry for marrying her. As the man was responsible for supporting her and her children the rest of their lives together, this was a way of offsetting that cost as well as to make the woman more appealing to the most attractive potential mates. Ancient and sexist, yes, but that has translated into a tradition the past century or so, of the bride’s family paying for the wedding.
However, in these modern days, it’s every man, woman, and child for themselves. As a bridal couple, expect to pay for most of it yourself, but don’t be proud. Talk to your family about your financial situation, your plans for your wedding, and if they can help with any of the costs.
Under NO circumstances, take out a loan or carry a balance on a credit card to finance your wedding. If you can’t afford to pay cash for it, either yours or your family’s, you can’t afford it. Period. Full stop. You’ll be starting out your married life already behind. Bluntly, it’s stupid. Don’t do it.
You Must #5: Buy Affordable Wedding Rings
The man spends 2 months of his salary on the wedding ring, right? Wrong.
Advice like that is put forward by the wedding industry to get you to spend money you can’t afford on a wedding ring. Diamond prices are manipulated higher by the DeBeers cartel, and now that flawless diamonds can be created artificially, it’s only a matter of time before diamond prices trend downwards. Buy a ring you can comfortably afford, that makes your bride-to-be happy. Remember, men, she can provide the guidelines (setting, stone shape, etc.) but you make the final decision and the purchase.
A few key tips: staying just below 1 carat for a solitaire will noticeably reduce your costs. In addition, there is a lot of leeway on color and clarity where you can find significant savings for a stone that is to the naked eye identical to a more expensive stone.
Once you know what you want, I recommend purchasing online whether it’s the full set or just an unset stone. I used Blue Nile as they make it easy to compare stones by the 4Cs, including the certificates showing inclusion maps, etc. Better yet, if you buy through a rebate site like Mr. Rebates (why I like Mr. Rebates) you can often get a significant amount of cash back. My 3% rebate from Blue Nile via Mr. Rebates paid most of the florist bill.
You Must #6: Shop Around For Wedding Vendors
Whether it’s the florist, the dress, the photographer, or the venue. Get what you want, if it’s in budget, and you can afford it. But shop around and compare prices.
Do you really need to pay thousands of dollars for a dress you will only wear once? No, you don’t. I guarantee you can find a dress for $500 that makes you look like a million dollars. Brides, trust me on this, your groom does not care, and this is one of the fastest ways to keep your wedding affordable.
On selecting vendors, do not trust the vendor reviews on wedding websites such as The Knot, Wedding Wire, etc. They are great sources of information on locations, service areas, hours of operation, etc. However, most wedding sites are there for the vendor, not for you. The vendor pays the fees to the site to be listed, and in return, the vendors are allowed to choose which reviews are shown. Or haven’t you noticed that all the reviews are 4 or 5 stars?
Once you’ve narrowed vendors down to the last 3, be sure to check references. A great way to do this is to talk with vendors about other vendors. Word gets around very quickly in the wedding vendor circuit and if a vendor isn’t pulling their weight, other vendors won’t want to work with them.
Most importantly, read all contracts carefully and thoroughly before signing them. Let me say that again, because it’s that important.
Read all contracts carefully and thoroughly before signing them
I was caught in a bad situation when we discovered our reception venue based the minimum payment on our estimated headcount. If you make your headcount several months prior to your wedding, it’s impossible to get correct. Had we seen that provision and understood it, we would have estimated 10 people instead of 100. Be sure to read the fine print. This can save you thousands of dollars depending on the size of your reception.
You must #7: Use Free Services
There are plenty of free services to help your wedding go off smoothly. Ones we used with great success were
- Google Documents / Google Drive
- Easily share documents among wedding party, vendors, etc. plus everyone can edit them at once
- Incredibly easy to use free wedding websites for your guests and get to choose your own look, and own URL
- Makes it easy to create a single registry across any set of websites.
You must #8: Be Bold, Ask for Money
The best gifts are experiences, not things.
Things break, get lost, get stolen, but your experiences are yours to keep forever. Let your guests give you experiences by contributing to your honeymoon, or another big financial project such as a down payment on a house.
There are many free online services to do this, but we found HoneyFund to be the friendliest and easiest to use for honeymoon and cash gifts. Break down your honeymoon into specific pieces (swim with the dolphins, scuba gear rental for night dive, etc.), and let your friends and family give you the perfect honeymoon. It saves you money, it keeps your house from getting cluttered, and they’ll last the rest of your life.
Who doesn’t want to give a gift that lasts forever?
You must #9: Be Flexible About the Honeymoon
The honeymoon is the time to celebrate your new life together.
It’s not about where you’re going or what you’re doing, but who you’re with. Enjoy it, but don’t break the bank for it. If you’re flexible on the place, you open yourself up to many new possibilities you may not have considered before.
Check travel sites for special package deals. After all, is an all inclusive resort in Cabo San Lucas that different from one in Hawaii or in the Caribbean? Open yourself up to new experiences, and your savings account just might benefit from it.
You must #10: Find a Tax Planner / Accountant
Getting married is a big step.
Once you get back home from your honeymoon, the real fun begins – merging finances, households, changing wills, insurance, names — in short, adjusting to your new life together.
Remember the tax man always wants his cut, and as a newly married couple, you most likely will be paying the dreaded marriage penalty come tax time. More than just the question of filing jointly or separately, you have a new life, with new financial needs and obligations. Personally, I’m a big fan of TaxCut and doing my taxes myself, but for this one time if no other, get professional tax help.
You must #11: Relax, You’re Getting Married!
And now the best part – relax.
Your wedding will happen. Once you have the rings, the place, and officiant, everything else is secondary.
If you want to dive deeply into every little detail, fine, knock yourself out. However, remember that you’re going to be marrying the person you love no matter what, so really, can’t you just relax and enjoy the planning and the wedding? The more you can find yourself letting go and giving yourself the permission you need to let yourself relax, the happier you’ll be on the day you say “I do.”
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Have other wedding and married life suggestions? Share them in the comments below.
Photo of Luxury Tax square courtesy of PT Money.