How to have a great wedding on a budget

Sione's Wedding - the ceremony

A traditional wedding is not optional for some, but you don’t have to cripple yourself with debt. Photo credit: Sione’s Wedding

You can still have a great wedding on even a modest budget.

To find out how, I asked the Citizens Advice Bureau’s West Auckland budgeting expert, Maureen Little, for tips.

“Plan, plan, plan – it’s the only way to go with a wedding,” says Maureen.

“People start off with very high ideals and then find they need to be chopped down,” she says. “Start by checking the prices of everything – from the celebrant’s price to that of the all-important dress, to the cost of the reception. Especially food and alcohol.”

Maureen’s daughter organised her wedding spontaneously – in just nine days.

“She decided to get married while on holiday, bought a dress off the peg for $95 and organised a reception for 100 at our family home – after checking with our deck’s builder.

“We put up a marquee in the garden in case it rained, and a celebrant friend flew up from Wellington. This was just a few years ago, so it shows what can be done.”

It is the reception that breaks the bank though – which is why you need to plan ahead.

“Look at different places and decide what you can afford, and beware of special deals. They can turn out to be very expensive.”

“You’re looking at, say, $85 a head for food, then there’s alcohol, table favours. You can easily end up spending $45,000 on a wedding, and that would not be the biggest wedding in the world,” says Maureen.

She blames peer pressure and glamorous overseas television shows for upping the pressure on couples to spend up big. Maureen suggests gifting the couple a ladder and $1,000, so they can elope. “That way they would have a $44,000 house deposit.”


A vintage wedding dress can be affordable and still look great

A vintage wedding dress can be affordable and still look great

Cheap wedding loans – not loan sharks

But for many brides a ladder is not an option. So Maureen suggests getting both sets of parents involved and deciding who pays for what. Usually, the bride’s family pays for the wedding, while the groom’s family takes care of the alcohol and refreshments. But how do you keep the booze under control? One suggestion is champagne for the toast, and wine and beer to go with the meal – but no bar tab. If this seems harsh, how about restricting the open bar to wine and beer? Ask those who want expensive spirits to pay for them themselves. After all, this is a wedding not just a booze-up.

However, for traditional reasons some families are expected to have a Big Day. But wedding debt doesn’t have to be crippling. Maureen says many people turning to ‘instant finance’ companies to fund a family wedding. But these can charge 25 to 30 per cent interest. Many also ask that the debt be secured with the family home. And some can be tough about collecting too and will verbally threaten slow-playing clients.

Not a pretty picture – especially when the banks offer a much better deal. It is much cheaper to add the cost of a wedding to the mortgage and pay around six per cent instead of 25 per cent interest, says Maureen.

You or your parents can also take out a separate variable, or revolving, mortgage, which can be used to fund a big one-off like a wedding. The only risk is that you do need to be disciplined about paying the loan off and resist dipping into it again, cautioned a bank spokesman.

All the banks offer these revolving or floating mortgage deals. This is surely a much better way to go than an instant loan of 30 per cent interest?


© Johanna Bennett,2014


Johanna Bennett is a financial and technology journalist who thinks women need to know more about the big picture when it comes to money. Her blog, Kate & Whio, is intended to help and to educate, but the information contained in it should not be taken as specific financial advice. You are responsible for your own money decisions.

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