By Marianne Hayes

Not-so-news flash: Weddings are expensive.

According to a 2017 survey from The Knot, the average celebration now costs $34,000. That’s big money you could otherwise put toward paying off debt, buying a home or anything else that can help you start married life on solid financial footing.

Here’s how three couples cut back on wedding costs in order to fund a more important goal—and proved you can still enjoy the Big Day for less.

“We spent just $2,000 in order to pay off debt faster.”

Jandra Sutton, 28, and Conlan Craft, 29, a writer and software engineer & designer in Nashville, Tenn.

“Our August 2017 wedding cost less than $2,000. As you might imagine, this took very careful planning, but an over-the-top event doesn’t gel with my husband Conlan’s and my personalities, anyway. Plus, scaling back freed up cash to pay off my student loans.

We got married at a botanical garden in Nashville that was so stunning, we didn’t need additional decorations. Conlan wore a suit from H&M; I opted for a $150 dress from Etsy, generously gifted by my parents. Instead of having a blow-out reception in a rented space, we threw a laid-back backyard party and invited all our friends and family.

We also swapped pricey catering for buffet-style fare from our favorite restaurant, and went for a pre-designed confection from a nearby bakery that cost less than $100. Our budget-friendly wedding meant we could afford a weeklong Caribbean honeymoon—a memorable experience we still treasure.

Tackling my $16,000 student loan balance remains our top priority—and we’re on track to wipe it out in less than two years. That would’ve taken lightyears longer if we’d tacked on wedding debt, too.”

“We trimmed costs to offset unemployment.”

Anne Szustek Talbot, 36, and Matt Talbot, 35, a communications manager and aspiring web developer in New York City

“Being engaged last year was one of the happiest times of my life—despite my husband Matt and I both facing stints of unemployment. I was laid off from my editor job in fall 2016; Matt, a high school history teacher, was laid off in July 2017.

I quickly landed a new gig, but we remained a single-income household. (Matt’s currently training to become a web developer instead of scouting new teaching jobs.) Needless to say, our finances took a major hit.

Fortunately, I’d always planned to DIY a chunk of our December 2017 wedding—which we bankrolled with spare monthly income after I locked down my new job—though our tighter budget definitely pushed us further in that direction. This included the centerpieces, menus, seating cards and the like. On top of opting for an heirloom engagement ring and wedding band—both free—I bought a store sample gown for less $1,000.

I also scored significant vendor discounts, like 25 percent off on our flowers, by paying in cash. Our DJ also dropped his price significantly. Matt’s family, and some cash wedding gifts received before the big day, also helped pay for part of the reception.

All in all, cutting these corners easily shaved $5,000 off our $26,000 wedding budget, which is well under the average these days, especially in an expensive city. (The Knot put the average spend for a Manhattan wedding at about $77,000!) We also decided to delay our honeymoon until we’ve topped off our emergency fund, at which point we’ll choose a destination. The way we see it, we’d rather wait and enjoy it than come home to debt.”

“We slashed our guest list to save for a house.”

Mike Peyzner, 38, and Natalia Valik, 37, wedding photographers in San Francisco, Calif.

“As longtime photographers, my wife Natalia and I have worked some pretty extravagant weddings. But for our own 2010 nuptials, we took the opposite approach in order to save for a home down payment.

Still, we didn’t want our day to feel low budget. Our dream was to pull off an elegant evening with great food, music and loved ones without spending more than $25,000. (I know. But in the Bay Area, this is considered cheap.)

The most drastic thing we did was cut our ideal 100+ guest list to just 40. Doing this meant not having to scrimp and cut corners. Explaining our decision to extended friends and family wasn’t fun—and, yes, some were offended—but most understood that buying a home was important to us and offered longer-lasting happiness.

With Napa’s breathtaking vineyards as our backdrop, we easily spent $20,000 less than if we’d gone all out. Bonus: Keeping it intimate also allowed us to pay for everything with our regular cash flow and build our house fund faster. Two years later, we put down $140,000, or 20 percent, on our home. No regrets!”

More from Grow:

This Couple Planned Three—Yes, Three—Weddings for Under $7K
101 Ways to Save More Money Now
The One Hack That Helped Me Save Thousands: 7 Stories

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