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Tips for planning your same-sex wedding

Est. 5 min read

Before same-sex marriage was federally legalized in June 2015, social mores about weddings and marriage were already changing. With the sluggish economy, increasing wedding costs, and high millennial unemployment, more couples were splitting wedding costs with each other, their parents, and both.

Per The Knot’s 2016 LGBTQ Weddings Study, however, only one year after same-sex marriage was federally legalized, same-sex weddings are going traditional. These include expenses for engagement rings, guest-list size, and the adoption of more wedding traditions.

With money being one of the leading causes of stress in relationships, here’s what to anticipate when planning your stress-free same-sex wedding.

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Plan how much money you’ll spend and what you’ll spend your money on

Many same-sex couples never planned on getting married, and therefore never saved or planned for a wedding. The idea of getting married popped up on many of us like … well, a marriage proposal. To avoid going into debt, it’s helpful to plan your wedding around your lives and not your lives around your wedding.

The average cost of a wedding in the United States is $26,645, with most couples spending less than $10,000. As demonstrated by those who made a point of not spending a lot on their weddings, such as this $3,000 wedding and this $5,000 wedding, a couple doesn’t have to spend $26,645 or even $10,000 to have a memorable wedding day.

Most wedding vendors try to do the traditional upsell that will push wedding costs to the limits. Be clear about the one or two features you and your partner want most. Spend in these areas and skip everything else. Then, watch and negotiate every expense ruthlessly.

If a traditional wedding attire isn’t your style. Go casual or unique. If traditional diamond, gold, and silver wedding rings aren’t important to you two, go with rings made from a material that means more and costs less. Try a birthstone instead of a diamond for her and her and tungsten carbide for him and him.

Skip the costly sit-down dinner and make your after-ceremony dinner uniquely yours with food stations or cocktail service. For whatever food you do supply, use local and seasonal food suppliers that are more readily available and have lower transportation costs.

This day should be all about you. Don’t get caught up in centerpieces, party favors and pageantry. Keep your guest list small and meaningful, rather than long and impersonal. Thinking outside the box can keep you within your budget.

Plan small and save big

Guest size is a leading factor in the cost of weddings, after finding adequate space, providing food, drink and party favors. For same-sex couples, The Knot’s survey shows an average of men have an average of 121 guests for men and 117 guests for women.

Unlike traditional weddings, as The Knot study shows, 70 percent of same-sex couples say they forked over most of the cost of their wedding themselves. This should mean you have most of the say in who gets to attend. If your mom and dad are paying in part or in full for your wedding, don’t let them fill your invite list.

Plan to go away for your wedding day

Destination weddings are great for many reasons. The first is that if you choose an all-inclusive resort, your overall costs are often less than if you purchase everything for your wedding separately from separate businesses.

Most all-inclusive resorts that specialize in weddings provide most of the services needed for weddings, such as bartenders and drinks, servers, cooks and food, party supplies and furniture. Your options may be fewer, but your savings may be more.

Another benefit of destination weddings is that they inherently reduce your guest list. People may drive to the state next door to see you get married but may not fly to the country next door (or farther) to see you get married.

Finally, your destination wedding can double as your honeymoon. This will save you money on travel expenses. Plus, the longer you stay and spend at your all-inclusive destination wedding resort, the move leverage you have to negotiate lower rates.

Keep a tab on the bar tab

Another line item that explodes many wedding budgets is alcohol. Alcohol typically accounts for 10-20% of wedding budgets, not including tips. Limit or eliminate this wedding expense and save a lot of money.

Alternatives to alcohol include special mocktails for your special day named after you and your fiancé. Limit your open bar to certain portions of the wedding festivities, such as only before the reception or only for the toast. You could also only supply wine and make beer and liquor cash-only.

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However small or non-traditional your wedding, have a buffer

Even if you’re controlling costs by thinking small and focusing on what’s important to you two, plan far ahead and include a budget buffer.

Consider calculating a minimum budget, and then factor in a 20% overage. And don’t forget to establish a payment plan to fund an account dedicated to your wedding.

This may sound counterintuitive, but like home renovations, most weddings cost more than the initial estimate. Rather than resorting to credit cards or other loans to cover extended wedding expenses, your budget buffer will cover this overage. That way, you’ll only have photos and fond memories of your wedding day and no credit card interest.

Plan for how your wedding will affect your financial planning

As we’ve highlighted before, queer couples tend to only have about $6,000 more than our straight peers. If you spend $10,000, $20,000 or $50,000 on a wedding, that’s $10,000, $20,000 or $50,000 that won’t go towards retirement or other savings. Can your retirement or financial security afford a $10,000, $20,000 or $50,000 expense?

With a compounding interest of 8%, $10,000 alone will grow to $46,610 in 20 years with no additional contributions.

While it’s progress for same-sex couples to be equal in the eyes of the law, a civil right step forward shouldn’t equal a financial step backward. Plan for your special day carefully and don’t let it become a mixed blessing.

There are many ways to control the cost of your non-traditional wedding. Don’t go into debt or risk your financial future on traditional expectations or the expectations of others. The more you plan and plan non-traditionally, the more money you and your future same-sex spouse will save.

Published on March 21, 2017

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John Schneider has over 16 years of experience writing about money, with a focus on the queer community, being featured in Yahoo Finance, Business Insider, Time and more. With his husband and business partner, he co-owns Debt Free Guys and co-hosts the Queer Money podcast, a podcast about the financial nuances of the queer community.
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