When you Can't Afford to Get Married

Most of the times it is the financial costs of a divorce that makes front-page news – lawyers’ fees, court dues and most of all spousal and child support are enough to convince any man – or a high-earning woman for that matter – to pull along a bad marriage rather than file for divorce. And yet getting married could also prove to be expensive. So if you think your finances are keeping you from walking down the aisle, here are a few things you can do.

Marriage vs. wedding

When most people complain that they cannot afford to get married, they probably mean that they cannot afford a big wedding. The idea of celebrating a major life event like marriage is of course understandable. But it does not mean that couples should aim for such expensive events which can either leave them in debt or putt off any thoughts of marriage altogether. The annual "Real Weddings Survey" carried out by TheKnot.com and WeddingChannel.com pegged the average cost of a wedding in the US at $28,427 in 2012 1. Even though the median cost may work out to be a more realistic $18,086 for the same year, still that is a huge amount for couples to spend who are still making their way in the world or those who have other substantial financial obligations like a mortgage, spousal support or child support. And at the end of it all, no matter how much you splurge at a wedding or how low-key and thrifty your wedding is, the final result is the same. Once the gifts are unwrapped and the honeymoon is over, it is how well you and your spouse are suited to each other, how much mutual love, respect and trust you share that will determine the success of your marriage. So going for lavish weddings does not make sense at all. Instead keep the focus on the real thing – marriage – and if you afford just the marriage license, there is no reason why you cannot wed the love of your life.

Keep off the frills

Even if you wish to have a traditional wedding, there are several ways to cut down on wedding expenses which will enable you to marry your partner without going into debt. You can start off with by scheduling the date in off-peak times and on any day except the weekend. Try and make your own wedding invitations since the high quality home printing technologies available now means that you need not sacrifice style for cost. Choosing the right venue too could make a significant different to wedding costs. Rather than a dedicated wedding reception hall or country club, check out less expensive facilities, from city-run spaces like zoos and civic gardens to more offbeat locations that are significant for you, like the beach where you proposed to your parents’ yard. However bear in mind that if the space is not equipped to cater a party, you would have to pay extra for bringing in tables, toilets, or even a kitchen.

The wedding gown is often one of biggest expenses in a wedding – if you are keen for a traditional look without racking up the costs find out the dates of well-known annual sales at upscale retailers where you might snag a $2,000 dress for $249, or the sample sales at designer boutiques. If you are practical rather than sentimental, consider renting or borrowing a dress. Or perhaps buying one secondhand - chances are, it’s only been worn once. Watch out for postings on eBay or craigslist and you may just get yourself a great deal.

Some handy tips on saving catering costs at a wedding include making it a daytime reception or avoiding the traditional sit-down dinner or buffet meal altogether. Instead, host a cocktail reception with cake and punch or cake and cocktails. If your guest lists includes mainly relatives and close friends you could even have a potluck reception, which makes for a more intimate wedding with a nice feeling of family. For the wedding cake, you can have a wonderfully decorated yet smaller cake on display that’s used for cutting and then have a sheet cake in the kitchen for serving. Alternately you can buy the basic cake and add the decorations yourself. Alcohol is one of the biggest expenses of a wedding and can burn a gaping hole in your budget. Consider offering a limited bar or serve just beer, wine, and enough champagne for toasts. Alternately you could choose a signature cocktail - or a series of signature cocktails - that use one type of liquor.

For flower decorations, making your own centerpiece and using seasonal flowers are budget friendly moves while roping in a family member or close friend with a camera can save of videographer’s costs. Likewise a loved one with an ear for music can act as the DJ while you can take advantage of the talents of the bridal party and other friends and family to make wedding favors.

All these measures can drastically reduce wedding costs and bring you nearer to getting married if it was the expenses of a traditional wedding that was keeping you on the fence in the first place.

Other financial commitments

Most of the times it is not the prospect of a fancy wedding but very real financial commitments like student loans and mortgage payments that could prevent a couple from getting married. Again with increasing rate of divorces, one or both partners may have to pay spousal or child support to partners from previous marriages. If the same applies to you, file an alimony reduction motions with the family court where you got your divorce to reduce or even terminate their alimony payments. In case of burdensome child support payments, you can contact the Child Support Enforcement Office in the state where the child support order was issued. This will have to be followed by filing a formal motion requesting a modification due to changed circumstances. The amount of child support you owe was originally determined using your income and financial reports provided at that time. However, judges like everyone else in society are aware of the state of economy and that circumstances change over time; and for long term commitments as spousal and child support payments which can stretch over several years, filing a motion requesting a modification in the amount is hardly out of the ordinary. If your motion is backed by solid evidence and genuine reasons, there is no reason why the court cannot view your motion with sympathy. For this though it is best that you hire the services of an experienced lawyer who has an established practice in divorce cases and alimony negotiations in your state. Likewise if student loans or mortgage payments are eating up a chunk of your salaries, consult a financial advisor to see how you can afford the basic minimum for a wedding. At the end of the day, it is cheaper to share costs as a married couple rather than live separately. What’s more, most countries offer married couples important tax breaks and healthcare benefits.

Finally don’t let expectations get you. Sometimes there is a pressure to go for a lavish wedding to satisfy the desires of families or to match the weddings of your married friends. If you and your partner are truly ready for marriage, then just go for the wedding you can afford. People will want you to do a lot of things, whether out of tradition or spite to push you further into a mess. Don’t go into debt to satisfy anyone. Most of what you spend on a fancy wedding is on the reception, which is just a party, and a one-day party at that. If you and your partner completely sure about this, you can afford to get married without the big bill.


  1. Huffington Post - Cost Of A Wedding: Why Using The 'Average' To Determine Cost May Be Misleading