When my husband proposed to me on July 10th, 2005, I was ecstatic. In fact, I'm pretty sure I screeched “Yeeeeeeeeessssssssssssssssssssssssss” before he could even pull the ring out of his pocket.
Our plan was to move into the little apartment above his work — it was part of his compensation package — then get married the following summer. Unfortunately (fortunately?), a few of the older ladies in the company didn't like the idea of an unmarried couple living together, and they ended up changing the terms so we couldn't both live there until we were married.
I was crushed … until, of course, my mom suggested something novel. “Get married this winter,” she said. “Why not?”
Why not, indeed. I couldn't think of any reason why we couldn't get married six months from our engagement … except for one: money.
Proof I didn't marry for money
Remember that little apartment I was just talking about? My husband had just accepted an internship that would start January 1st and pay $20,000 per year, and our “apartment” was actually two rooms and a kitchenette above the funeral home where he worked.
And aside from some junky furniture and a closet of outdated clothes, my husband had approximately -$2,000 to his name. And me? I had a car that was almost paid off and a full-time job that paid $10 an hour.
We didn't want to go into debt
Despite the fact that we didn't come from money and didn't necessarily have any of our own, we desperately wanted to get married and start a family. And even though we weren't as financially responsible as we are now, we knew that we didn't want to charge our wedding on a credit card. We just knew it.
So, instead, we opted to do things the simple way and create a frugal and minimalist wedding that would get the job done without much opulence or fanfare. For us, that meant appetizers instead of a full sit-down dinner, a simple wedding dress off the rack, and fake flowers from Walmart. Yep, I said it. (Believe it or not, my mom did one heck of a job with those.)
I don't regret our little wedding at all, and I am so glad we didn't take on a mountain of debt to finance our wedding. But there was one thing we did that truly made it all happen — we opened a wedding savings account. Here's how it worked (and how we saved on the entire shebang)….
Step 1 — Start saving
One of the first things I did when I got engaged was to open a separate account to start building up funds to pay for our small affair.
Complicating matters was the fact that our family members are spread all over the country. (Mine are in Indiana and most of my husband's are in Minnesota.) So we compromised and opted for a small ceremony and two simple receptions.
We were so lucky that my husband's parents sponsored a simple reception in his home state so that a hundred friends and family members didn't have to trek across the country for our event. With that taken care of, we were left with a simple ceremony and reception in our home state to plan for, so I started planning that immediately.
Wedding savings accounts in action
Our wedding savings account started out small. One of the first things I did was to quit over-paying my car payment for a few months so that I could focus on building up our account. My husband also did his part by getting a part-time job at a pizza joint so that he could cover his bills and contribute to our pending nuptials.
We sold some stuff and added any extra money we came across to our account, and I picked up extra cleaning jobs on the side to raise funds. In the meantime, we set a wedding budget that seemed in line with what we intended to spend on our wedding. That way, we wouldn't be tempted to spend more than we saved. And I'm so glad we did.
Step 2 – Make it frugal
We booked a small chapel for our wedding, a small event hall for our reception, and started planning other details like food and décor. My sister made the wine (thanks, Sis!) and my mom used her excellent computer skills to draft up some lovely invitations. Our wedding savings account showed up when it was time to purchase my dress — a $250 sample piece — and our appetizer package for our guests, which was around $900.
My mom paid for the chapel as our wedding gift (it was around $300), and I happily accepted. I picked up a used unity candle from a divorcee's garage sale (is that tacky?) and bought some matching candlesticks to go with it.
Like I mentioned before, my mother took the liberty to create decorative Christmassy-looking flower arrangements and a bouquet for my wedding out of silk flowers. (I loved them, and I actually still have them!) We served wine at our reception instead of having an open bar, and chose a simple three-layer sheet cake instead of something fancier. The total bill came to somewhere around $3,000.
Wedding savings accounts for any budget
I didn't write this post to try to one-up anyone on their wedding frugality prowess. The fact is, many people have had much cheaper weddings than mine, and many others have no desire to have an uber-frugal wedding at all. For most people, their wedding is their one big day to do things right and enjoy it, and cutting corners isn't for everyone.
But I would argue that wedding savings accounts are a good idea for everyone. According to a recent Real Weddings Study from TheKnot.com, the cost of the average wedding recently reached a staggering $30,000. Thirty Gs is a lot of money to everyone I know, and the last thing most of us want is to start a new marriage off with tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt.
I am so glad we didn't take that path, and we are just as happy as we've ever been after more than 10 years together. If we had more time to save, I think we might have splurged a little more for our big day; but I am happy overall with the way everything turned out.
I think it just goes to show that the amount of money spent on a wedding has no bearing on the quality or success of a marriage. Spend the money if you want, but don't do it with the expectation that a dream wedding equals a dream marriage. It just doesn't.
And either way, a wedding savings account can help just like a college savings account or new home savings account would.
It never hurts to save and plan ahead, but the consequences of not doing so can last a really long time.
Try the savings goal calculator above to help you figure out how much to budget and help you get started opening an account if and when you are ready, too.
If you are planning a wedding, how much do you expect to spend and how will you save for it? If you are married, did you start a wedding savings account to plan for your big day?
Author: Holly Johnson
Holly Johnson is a credit card expert, award-winning writer, and mother of two who is obsessed with frugality, budgeting, and travel. In addition to serving as contributing editor for The Simple Dollar and writing for publications such as Bankrate, U.S. News and World Report Travel, and Travel Pulse, Johnson owns Club Thrifty and is the co-author of Zero Down Your Debt: Reclaim Your Income and Build a Life You’ll Love.