These days, more and more couples are contributing their own money to their wedding (if not covering it entirely on their own), so it’s more important than ever to consider your post-wedding plans just as carefully as you’re considering your wedding budget. After all, that age-old “First comes love…” rhyme doesn’t end with marriage. Whether you’re saving up for a house, want to go to grad school, plan to have children, or dream of traveling the world, there are so many other things you’ll want to be able to do with your money that go beyond just your wedding day.
Personal finance expert and New York Times best-selling author Rachel Cruze is a pro at helping couples talk about their finances, and she's here to help you and your S.O. make sure your wedding budget fits into the Big Picture you have planned for your life together—while still having an incredible wedding celebration!
When creating your wedding budget, what are some things to consider that aren't wedding related?
"One important question you should ask centers around the 'D' word," explains Cruz. "Do you or your partner have any debt? When you get married, you become one and that includes your finances. If you do have debt it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get married, but you should get on the same page about it. Make sure that you and your spouse are putting a plan in place to attack your debt and that you are both committed to living a life without debt—and that includes not taking on more debt for the wedding. We recently did a study at Ramsey Solutions which showed that 41% of couples who were married for five years or less said they felt pressured to spend more than they could afford on their wedding. Don’t fall into that statistic!"
"If you have debt, I recommend using the debt snowball technique," Cruz suggests. "List your debts smallest to largest and pay the minimum payment on everything, except the smallest debt. I want you to throw everything you can at that one. Once that is paid off, take the money you were putting toward that debt and apply it to the next one. I do not recommend paying your spouse’s debt until after you tie the knot. Keep your finances separate until you’re actually married. I’ve heard horror stories of couples making payments on their fiancé’s student loans and breaking up before the wedding. That’s the last thing you want."
How can couples recognize the big-ticket items that might require long-term saving and planning?
“It is easy to get so wrapped up in your wedding that you lose sight of any plans beyond the big day,” says Cruze. “So before you start signing contracts and writing checks to vendors, ask yourselves a few questions about the coming years: Do you imagine yourself moving into a big, fancy new house? Do you want to have kids? Do you want to take vacations every year? Sit down with your fiancé and talk about your hopes and dreams together.”
What should couples remember as they’re deciding on a wedding budget?
“Don’t make the mistake of using your whole life savings on a wedding!” Cruze emphasizes. “Leave room for your future, too. Your wedding is going to be special no matter what type of dress you wear or which flowers you choose. The memories you make will always outweigh the details of the day.” Put it all into perspective by looking ahead to the future with your spouse-to-be, and keep those priorities in mind even as you’re poring over your budget spreadsheet.
How can a wedding budget help couples plan for the future?
Money can cause a lot of stress, but if you remember the big picture instead of just the nitty gritty, budgeting for a wedding can actually be great practice for budgeting for the rest of your lives.
“Your wedding budget will prompt conversations about splurging and saving, compromise, and how you’ll manage your money as a married couple,” says Cruze. “After you’re married, you can merge your finances and plan for your future. I know budgeting doesn’t sound fun. But if you don’t make a plan for your money, you’ll wonder where it went. That’s no way to start your marriage! Put your hopes and dreams on paper and make a plan for them together.”
Any tips or tricks for maintaining savings during the wedding-planning process when lots of little purchases can add up quickly?
Cruze recommends keeping your wedding budget completely separate from the rest of your finances so you’re not tempted to dip into your savings for last-minute add-ons. “Open a separate account for your wedding purchases. Sit down with everyone paying for the event and look at the total wedding budget together. Once you have the number nailed down for the total budget, put that money into its own bank account. Then once it’s gone, it’s gone! That’s the best way to prevent overspending.”
Spend time deciding how much money you’ll allocate to each line item on your budget, so you understand what you’re working with up front and aren’t tempted to just go a little bit over here and there.
What about long-term financial planning in general?
“Money is the number one issue married couples fight about. Our study found that couples in healthy marriages are much more likely to talk about their money dreams and make long-term money goals together. Talking about money can be uncomfortable at first, but it’s so worth it!” encourages Cruze. “Having these conversations will not only help you to get on the same page, but it binds you on an intimate level. A great way to start the conversation is to ask what money was like in your spouse’s household growing up. This will help you to understand why they view money the way that they do and in turn, it will allow you to show them grace without enabling them. And don’t be afraid to share your financial fears. Fear makes us do crazy things, so bring them out in the open. I guarantee you that these conversations and planning for your future together will add a sense of peace in your marriage unlike anything else.”
Say you've received cash or checks as wedding gifts. What's the best thing to do with those gifts to put them toward those post-wedding plans?
Weddings involve a lot of spending—but they can also come with a surprise influx of cash! Before you start spending those gifts on a trip or fancy dinner, consider Cruze’s advice: “First and foremost, I would put extra cash toward paying off debt if you have any. Think about what you could do with your money every month if it wasn’t going toward the same payments over and over again? Throw the cash at it and get rid of your debt as soon as possible.” Eliminating debt frees up your monthly income to go towards those other plans you and your partner have made together.
“If you don’t have any debt, use that money to establish an emergency fund of three to six months of expenses. Money is the second leading cause of divorce, behind infidelity. You will have an emergency at some point. Having money set aside to handle that will prevent you from taking on more debt to ‘solve’ the problem. Give yourself the gift of security and peace of mind and use your cash wisely.”