…and how we tied the knot!
When my (new) husband and I decided to get married, we knew one thing for sure: we wanted to have a debt free wedding.
After paying off £16,000 of debt in one year, sticking to a wedding budget was high on our list of priorities.
When we first got engaged back in 2015, we booked a city-hall wedding for a small group of family and friends. The guest lift grew as we realised we couldn’t invite this person without also inviting that person. We received a rude awakening when we learned that reception venues cost several thousand pounds for a basic package. Loved ones started to get involved, giving their opinions of what we needed to do and had to have for our big day.
We postponed when our dreams of a little wedding started to become a nightmare. But since then, we’ve become first time buyers, bought a new car, did a lot of renovation work, and finally paid off all of our debt.
Financial life became a hectic list of demands and bills in the four years since our engagement. So our wedding took a back seat.
Finally, we took the leap and booked our wedding in September 2018. And writing this only two weeks into marital life, a debt free wedding was the best thing we ever did.
Everyone Wants a Debt Free Wedding… Until They Start Planning
In planning my big day, I discovered that everyone loves a wedding. And it’s one of those topics where everyone wants to give you their two cents on the subject. We had people telling us we’d regret keeping it small, we had people telling us they admired our debt free plans, we even had one person tell us not to get married (thanks for that!).
In being so open about our wedding on my Instagram, I received so many direct messages on the topic.
Brides told me their plans for huge weddings, and tiny weddings. Of how some kept their weddings debt free, or stuck to a budget. Some buckled and got into debt, usually to appease a difficult family member or to live up to perceived expectations of the day.
But in every case, brides talked of how weddings were expensive, and they felt huge financial pressure.
The funny thing is that wedding spends are taboo. Despite the cost, we are supposed to pretend that are finances are limitless, and that paying for the whole thing is a breeze.
But weddings have become HUGE business. Now we have to have the full wedding, plus the sentimental extras, the candy carts and the photo-booths AND to look absolutely amazing throughout. Not to mention the hen and stag parties, plus the maintenance, prep and planning.
At the same time, our generation face saving a huge home deposit, just to secure a mortgage that they will most likely pay until retirement. And if that isn’t enough financial pressure, we are doing this as job security is becoming a thing of the past.
So why do we put ourselves through the financial wringer for one day?
Well, we grew up with the expectation that weddings are significant. That there will be a moment during the day that cements our relationship with our partner, our family and friends. And for some, perhaps there will be. But for most others, it is day of activity and frenzy after a stressful run-up of spreadsheets and planning. Which is great if you enjoy planning, but many of us don’t.
Or perhaps it’s social media that influences us to spend so much on our wedding. We have Pinterest to inspire us to go above and beyond to get the details of the day just right. Then we have Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to chronicle the rest. It feels like all eyes are on you, and you want to deliver.
But ultimately, we do it because it’s the done thing. When you plan your wedding, it is customary to prioritise sentimentality over cost. Your wedding day is the one event for which you’ll make outlandish and expensive decisions, because it’s your big day.
But what if you can’t afford it? You aren’t the only one.
To afford the average wedding, a couple need to save £1,000 per month for two-and-a-half years to pay for it. Instead, you could put down a generous home deposit, buy two new cars, take a marital gap year or put together a baby fund.
So whenever you’re dipping into your overdraft to fund the release of doves wearing bow-ties with your names on them after the ceremony, stop. That money is better spent on well… anything.
Our Debt Free Wedding Day
My husband and I got married at the City Clerk’s office in New York City on 24th April 2019 (sixteen years to the day we met- sentimental and free).
After the ceremony, we VIP’ed it all the way to the top of the Rockefeller Centre to take in the sights of the city on a beautiful sunny day.
We had reservations at an upmarket steakhouse for dinner, followed by cocktails at an upscale bar. But exhaustion set in and we blew off our plans. Instead, we ate dinner at Five Guys and went to Magnolia Bakery for the famous banana pudding for dessert (it’s as good as they say, FYI).
The afternoon of our wedding day was spent around Times Square with a few gin, tonics and well-wishes from strangers. We ended the day back at our hotel, where the staff had kindly decorated the room with rose petals, champagne and cake.
Our big day was magical, and I wouldn’t have changed a thing.
Our Debt Free Wedding Spends
We spend around £5,200 on our wedding, which included:
- Flights from Dublin to NYC inc. extra legroom and baggage: £1,000
- A week’s stay at an upmarket hotel just off Times Square, NYC: £1,700
- Spending money for a week’s holiday to NYC: around £1,700
- Wedding ceremony at City Clerk’s office, NYC, including certificates and licenses, photographer, flowers and associated costs: £300
- Miscellaneous costs including outfits for the wedding, hair, make-up and extras: £500
Considering the average wedding in the UK comes in at around £30,000, I think we got really good value for money.
The Benefits of a Debt Free Wedding
Obviously, the first benefit of a debt free wedding is that you don’t have to get into debt to pay for it!
We’ve spent our twenties sinking into debt. Weekends were dedicated to doing overtime, just to spend what we made on junk and impulse buys. At their peak, we needed to pay £410 every month just to meet our minimum debt repayments, and we were miserable for it.
So why start the amazing chapter of marital life drowning in financial pressure? That’s crazy!
Once you’re married, you and your spouse will want to build a life together. Don’t waste those first few years paying for the past. Money is a major point of conflict between married couples, so why put yourselves under more financial pressure than you need to?
Beyond the monetary benefits, a huge plus of getting married abroad and alone was that we were able to suit ourselves throughout the day.
One thing I was not prepared for on my wedding day is how exhausting it is. It’s hard to sleep the night before, you have a million and one things to do, your mind is racing and it’s a huge emotional step. Even a day like ours was draining.
So it was amazing to be able to chop and change our plans depending on our needs. Eating a burger in Five Guys after the ceremony was amazing. Sugary banana pudding in Magnolia Bakery and people-watching was amazing. Sitting on my comfy hotel bed at 6 p.m. with a bottle of ice-cold champagne and Junior’s cheesecake was amazing.
I say this because the worst thing in the world is when you’re drained and you have to carry on. That’s the pitfall of a big wedding. You’ve been up since 4 a.m., you’ve said ‘I do’, and you still have the photos, the dinner, the speeches and the first dance to go. To some, that’s the dream. But for me and my husband, it’s too much. We’d be miserable by noon.
So when you do a debt free wedding, you have to keep it small. Which means less people to please, and more time focusing on making your day as wonderful as possible for you both.
What if You Want a Debt Free Wedding… But Everyone Around You Has Other Ideas?
If your biggest influence to get into your debt for your wedding are the demands of loved ones, then I urge you to consider cutting them out of your life.
No, I’m only joking. But I do think that many people get into debt for a wedding they don’t want too appease people that don’t have the best interests of the bride and groom at heart.
Our generation likes to put our lives on display for the consumption of others, particularly through social media. It may feel natural to consider what other people would want and expect of your big day. But remember to consider what you want, too.
When think of what you want, break it down and consider the costs and what it would entail to fund them.
For example, say you want a huge wedding with a ton of extras. When you add up the costs, divide it by the amount of paychecks you’ll get between now and your big day, to calculate how much you need to sacrifice each month. And then consider how much overtime, side hustling, and budgeting you’ll need to do as a result. Sometimes, the thing we want requires a whole lot of work we don’t want to do.
Budget Weddings are the Perfect Excuse to Tie the Knot Abroad
When it comes to your wedding day, your plans should mirror what you and your partner want. So whether big or small, you do you on your big day.
So if you’re reading this because you want to go small or go home, then I would urge you to see your debt free wedding as an opportunity to get married abroad. The funds you would have spent on a budget wedding at home can be spent on a luxury holiday, where you just so happen to get married.
For us, £5,000ish wasn’t going to be enough to fund a dream wedding. But it was enough to plan the holiday of a lifetime, and a day to get married in-between.
We chose to marry in NYC because the process for getting married for non-residents is incredibly simple and easy (more about this below). The cost of getting married is surprisingly low and the ceremony itself takes mere moments. All in, getting married in NYC is the perfect option if you:
- Want to focus on the needs of you and your partner, rather than your guest list, on your big day
- Don’t want a fuss
- Want to get married quickly and easily
- Don’t want to spend a fortune.
These four reasons were the basis of our decision to get married in NYC and our choice ticked every box.
Getting Married in NYC for Non-Residents
If you opt to get married in NYC, here’s the process we followed:
- Before you fly, complete your marriage license application. Your application will expire after 21 days. If you don’t complete this in advance, you can do so in the Marriage Bureau at the City Clerk’s office.
- When you arrive in NYC, visit the Marriage Bureau to complete your application. The cost is $35 (by credit card or money order). Bring your passport and your marriage license application number. You need to take a number at the Bureau and wait until called- it took around an hour for us.
- Then, you must wait 24 hours before marrying. On your wedding day, bring a witness. Anyone with I.D. can be your witness, and you can ask someone in line or a member of staff, if needed. Again, take a number and wait in line. This time, you’ll fill in the paperwork for your marriage license. You will need your passport and marriage application. The fee is $35.
- Once your paperwork is complete, you get called into one of two chapel areas, the ceremony takes mere minutes. And you are married!
- To obtain your short marriage license, you pay $20 to the Marriage Bureau and they issue it for you within around half an hour.
- To validate your marriage worldwide, you require an extended marriage license. Bring your marriage license to the County Clerk’s office (which has the added bonus of being the building where Law and Order: SVU film all of their exterior court scenes!) and pay $3 (cash is fine). Then, take your paperwork to the Apostille, a short walk away, pay $10 via money order and you are issued with your extended marriage license.
- The process is complete- enjoy married life!
In true New York style, all of the wedding extras are conveniently open for business right where you need them.
Outside the Marriage Bureau, photographers are waiting and their fees range between $150 to $200. You can also buy your bouquet and button-hole flowers from a florist right outside the bureau for around $35.
For the wedding itself, plus a photographer to capture those special moments, expect to spend less than £300.
So I hope this persuades you to opt for a debt free wedding. After all, we focus so much on the wedding and so little on the marriage itself. A marriage that begins without the worry and stress of debt gets off to a great start.
Keep your big day debt free, stick to your wedding budget, and you won’t regret it.
Comment below and tell me your wedding plans, or what you think you’d do on your big day. If you’re already married, what would you have done differently with the financial aspects of your wedding? Tell me below 🙂
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