Clark Howard: Don’t go into debt for your wedding

Consumer expert Clark Howard’s column appears here each Thursday in conjunction with Deal Spotter, a weekly print section in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

ClarkHowardWe’re getting closer to wedding season. If you or someone you know is getting married, I have some suggestions for you about ways to save money.

Costco Wholesale has been getting derisive press of late for selling high-end designer wedding dresses at a fraction of what they would cost elsewhere. We’re talking typically somewhere between $700 and $1,200.

The idea that weddings have to be frightfully expensive to be any good is an odd and amazing thing. I think about my in-laws who were married some 50 years ago and it cost them $25. Inflation adjusted, that would be like a $100 wedding today.

Joel, one of the producers on my radio show, got married less than six months ago. He and his bride Emily did a very inexpensive wedding. Emily had fun creating the décor for the wedding. She crafted flowers out of paper instead of dedicating money to a huge flower budget.

Joel says Emily liked the creativity behind the whole process and the saving money part just kind of fell in line with that. For their rehearsal dinner, they opted for catered barbecue and kept prices down that way.

Joel and Emily have a short-sale home that needs TLC and that’s the goal that’s important to them, not having blown tens of thousands of dollars on a wedding. And they both want to travel before they have children. So instead of putting their money into one day — as important as that day is — they wanted to save that money to make memories in other ways.

If you’re a bridezilla, I would encourage you to take a chill pill. Remember that your vows and having a great life with your spouse are the most important things. A wedding can be tasteful without blowing the budget.

-by Clark Howard, Save More, Spend Less, Avoid Rip-offs

Find more answers to your consumer questions at You can also listen to his radio show live 1-4 p.m. Monday through Friday on AM 750 and NOW 95.5 FM News/Talk WSB.

39 comments Add your comment

Hail Clark!

April 21st, 2011
7:03 am

Blowing your money (or your PARENTS money, if they’re dumb enough) on a couple hours for a glorified senior prom is asinine. It all goes by so fast you don’t remember the $800 centerpieces on the table.

And I STILL don’t understand why Americans are so concerned with William and Kate’s wedding. What’s up with that?

Jennifer Harris

April 21st, 2011
7:20 am

Neiman Marcus at Discover Mills carries sample designer wedding dresses at a fraction of the cost. I got married in a Vera Wang dress that originally cost $5,000 and I paid $700. The dress did need some TLC, but I saved a bunch of money and wore a designer gown!


April 21st, 2011
8:30 am

Weddings are so over-priced. The wedding is just a ceremony. The marriage starts the day after.


April 21st, 2011
8:31 am

If you have it like that, fine. Go for it. But I see a lot of people who DON’T have it like that spending THOUSANDS on weddings. I have also noticed that within five years of those spectacular and beautiful weddings that the marriage is going down the tubes…Sad.

My parents gave me a choice. A wedding or we help you with the down payment for your house. I took the cash and ran with the small, inexpensive ceremony. Ten years later, I don’t regret that choice.

Don’t let slick marketing, your friends or FAMILY MEMBERS WHO AREN’T WRITING CHECKS try to talk you into something you will go into debt for or really can’t afford. It’s important, but in the grand scheme of things…It’s one day.

Ms Practical

April 21st, 2011
8:42 am

I got married 5 years ago. Spent less then $200 on a beautiful dress. Bought it from a consignment shop. I would highly recommend this. I could not tell the dress had been worn before.
Also, for the reception instead of using a professional photographer and spend lots for pix (not worth it) I had disposable cameras at each table so guests could take pix. I ended up with some great pix and saved lots by doing this!


April 21st, 2011
8:48 am

Jennifer Harris – $700 for a wedding dress is still outrageous. Just because it’s a “Vera Wang” doesn’t warrant it. Were you telling folks as you walked down the aisle – “Hey, this is a Vera Wang!”?

Don’t go to the bridal “boutiques” and you can still get a great dress for less than $300 – David’s Bridal anyone?


April 21st, 2011
8:48 am

Great advice, Clark and all the posters above! I don’t get the idea of spending tens of thousands of dollars on a wedding ceremony.

Call it like it is

April 21st, 2011
8:52 am

Big wedding is beyond silly. We did our whole thing for less than 2K including dress flowers, church, recp. My best friend spen 25k on theres, and 10 years later people are still talking about the great time they had at my wedding versus theres. Also for a honeymoon we spent 2 weeks in Hawaii, they had enough left over to do a 3 day Cancun deal. You tell me who had the better time.

Roux Badley

April 21st, 2011
8:58 am

Wedding dress = $300
Backyard Reception with rented tables and chairs = $275
Declaring your vows in front of God = priceless

bargain bride

April 21st, 2011
9:15 am

I completely agree with this. I had always wanted a big wedding with a dancing reception and such, however I was not about to pay a huge price tag for it. However with really researching everything out first, I was able to have the big wedding and reception and still not pay much for it. Mine and my husbands goal was to come out of our wedding and not owe anything for it and we did just that. A few tips that I found helpful were this… my aunt made our wedding cakes for free, a friend of ours did photography and vidoegraphy for free, and we have some friends that have an event planing business and they lent us most of our decorations and even got our flowers through a wholesalers for half the cost. On the reception we also found somewhere that let us use their facilities for free, we just had to use their caterers so that worked to our advantage. Also have your wedding at a time of day when you dont have to feed people a big meal. just something to snack on will be fine! Because i hunted everything down and waited for the deals I did not have to compromise on anything that i had ever dreamed of for my wedding! And the best part was at the end of the day i was a stress free bride who married the man of my dreams in front of God and all of our friends and family.


April 21st, 2011
9:26 am

Absolutely agree on this.

My in laws sat us down before the wedding and offered $30K in cash or the wedding.They were serious, and we chose the wedding. Now almost 10 years later we wish we would have taken the cash…it’s just one over hyped day.


April 21st, 2011
9:28 am

My Wife and I got Married in Las Vegas ( 25 Years Ago next Thurs. April 28), cost at that time $35.00 for the Marriage License, $500.for Airfare and $180.00 for Lodging….and we had a blast. Cant understand why people spend Thousands upon Thousands for a Wedding….Take taat money and invest it or buy a house….


April 21st, 2011
9:29 am

Excuse the typo errors…fat fingers this morning.


April 21st, 2011
9:45 am

My wedding was small and sweet … Everything cost $1000 — that included the dress, dinner for 20, the cake, and decorations … plus airfare & hotel for 3 family members. I later sold the dress at consignment for more than I paid for it!

Grover Gaddis

April 21st, 2011
9:53 am

You’re absolutely right Clark (as usual). I’m going to have a simple- no frills wedding and divert the savings to pay for my excellent bachelors party. Wow, I can just see it now: John Mayer surrounded by four naked pole dancers. YOU RULE CLARKIE!

i admit it, i'm a bridezilla

April 21st, 2011
9:57 am

I’m sorry but my wedding is very important to me and if I want my parents to spend a lot on it (which they said they’ll do), I think I deserve it.


April 21st, 2011
9:59 am

My wife spent $0 on her dress (borrowed). That frugality lasted….oh, well. But, 25 years later, I still love her!

Brown Eyed Girl!

April 21st, 2011
10:14 am

I am a wedding planner in Louisville Kentucky. One of the things that I pride myself on is the fact that I can squeeze blood out of a turnip! I have a girl that I use as floral designer. She does wonderful work and charges probably less than minimum wage. We have our clients purchase flowers from Sam’s and we arrange them. The designer also knows how to make origami flowers. If the brides are with me for the ride, I will have them choose the dress that they like, then I do online research to find that dress for less than a bridal boutique. Most don’t realize that the cost of having real place settings is a lot less than you think. I have a couple of very accomplished caterers, including my nephew who is a chef. They work their charges around the clients budget. My biggest budget success was a wedding with an elegant sit down meal and all of the elaborate trimming in a beautiful marble art deco facility. The wedding had 300 in attendance. Total spent by client: $7200. I know that mean seem like a lot for some, but with most planners who really don’t mind spending all of the clients money, this wedding would have been in excess of $15,000-$20,000. My fee is usually 10-17% of the total budget. Most times, I have saved the client so much money, that my fee really amounts to pennies on the dollar for what I do. I take the stress off the couple and they are able to really enjoy the experience! FYI, if you are interested, I travel too! ;-)

say what?

April 21st, 2011
10:21 am

16 years ago, got married on a Friday evening (after work, of course) at my parent’s home. Only invited the parents and our siblings to the ceremony. Had refreshments, took pictures, danced, had fun with family. Next day took 75 people to dinner for the real reception. Had a blast.

We had started planning a huge wedding but decided to take the money and buy our first home, pay off some debt we both had. Too much time and money are ofte put into a wedding show, but little is contributed to the real show-marriage.

Have fun all of you brides-to-be. Make the day what you can afford.


April 21st, 2011
10:24 am

What I find interesting is on shows like “Say yes to the Dress” these women are spending $5000 plus on a dress and are often very heavy. It would seem that these women would worry more about getting fit and spending money on a trainer.They would look better in a $100 size 10 dress than a $5000 size 20. It boggles my mind.


April 21st, 2011
10:33 am

My husband and I got married last June in my mother in law’s backyard. The most expensive part was the D.J., and he cost $300. We had family and friends there…we danced…we drank…we had a blast…AND we spent less than $1500! At the end of the day, all that mattered to us is that we were married. :)

Theresa Quesnel

April 21st, 2011
10:37 am

I got married at the Gwinnett County Courthouse on a rainy Thursday evening (after we both go off work). They wedged us in between two property disputes and we ate at Longhorn on the way home. Twenty years later and we’re still going strong. We laugh about how our union began. I think of all the elaborate weddings I have attended in those same 20 years and how many of those marriages are long since dissolved. Such a waste of money, time and emotion for all involved. While I understand the desire to have a big affair – it’s the marriage, not the wedding day that’s important.


April 21st, 2011
10:38 am

Whoever is marrying “i admit it, i’m a bridezilla”, BEWARE! There’s probably a lot more she thinks she deserves that will keep you in the poor house.

mystery poster

April 21st, 2011
10:39 am

I pity you and your future husband.


April 21st, 2011
11:57 am

Bridezilla is fine. She is entitled to her own (different) view/opinion even if it is not consistent with the other comments. Not everyone is strapped for money or thinks all wedding expenses are extravagant/unnecessary so frugality is not at the forefront of everyone’s minds. When my parents paid for my wedding 2 years ago, I would not consider their contributions as frugal or extravagant. It was just a happy day/time; I chose what I chose and my parents paid for it.


April 21st, 2011
11:58 am

That’s not to say I wasn’t appreciative. I was and I made sure my parents knew it.

still paying for it

April 21st, 2011
1:40 pm

I had a fabulous wedding 8 years ago. Over 1000 people in attendance. 600 people at the reception. I don’t regret it. My husband and I paid for it ourselves. Uh, correction, still paying for it on the Mastercard. The only thing I would change is taking more time to shop around and save some money. But I would still have the wedding of my dreams.


April 21st, 2011
2:51 pm

I am getting married next weekend. While I have taken some money-saving measures like making my own invitations, I didn’t stress out over saving the money.

The best way to save money on your wedding is to trim the guest list. We have about 170 people coming, and I would call our wedding medium-large. I would rather have more of my friends and family there than save money by cutting them out.

Normally I am quite frugal, but a wedding is worth some splurging to me.


April 21st, 2011
2:52 pm

I spent $5000 on my wedding dress and would do it all over again! No regrets here!


April 21st, 2011
11:43 pm

I spent about $20K on my wedding and reception.
$700 on wedding gown @David Bridal
$10K on fancy reception (50 ppl)
$1K on flowers

I can easily afford it because I have 6 figures income. I don’t ask my parents for any money at all. On the other hand, I’m supporting my parents by giving them thousands of money every other month.

Here is the rule:
If you’re making 6 figures income and have half million assets/savings like me, go ahead and spend BIG to have a dream wedding.

If you’re not making 6 figures and have NO savings or even worse, seriously in debt. Don’t spend a PENNY on wedding at all. Even $300 David Bridal gown is still too expensive for you. You should just simply exchange the vow at las vegas with casual wear or you should delay the wedding until you’re success in your career.

mystery poster

April 22nd, 2011
9:04 am

Is it your income that’s six figure, or your ego?

Jennie Mae

April 22nd, 2011
10:43 am

William and Kate’s wedding is such a “big deal” because it’s the only part of the fairy tale still left. I recognize that I will not have a lavish wedding and that is ok, I’m cool with that. It’s still nice to fantasize about a big wedding.

Wishful thinking

April 22nd, 2011
11:50 am

I wish Clark and his team would publish a wedding budget book that outlines all the creative ways to save money but still enjoy a fun day…… Or create a wedding budget website with ideas and deals he and his team recommend are areas to save big. It could include encouraging examples of how to save if you want a small wedding and how to save if you want the big party. I know many Howard followers that would buy the book or visit the website religiously! Just a thought;o)

Jimmy Jam

April 22nd, 2011
1:18 pm

My daughter and her husband will pay for their own wedding. We will get them very nice gifts. That way if they get divorced after a year, which is what seems to be the norm for young people these days, they will have spent their and only their money. With me it is about substance (marriage), not the vanity (wedding).

She understands…


April 22nd, 2011
1:46 pm

I also don’t understand spending big bucks on a wedding, but if you have lots of money to spend and that’s what you want to spend it on, go fpor it..Each person has a different view as to what is a perfect wedding for them..

When me and the ex got married, we had a backyard BBQ..Had over a 100 people..For the wedding, flowers, food and pictures, we only spent about $2000.00..

I did it my way

April 22nd, 2011
3:13 pm

My husband and I got married in 1987. He asked me, “Hey. I’m off on Thursday. Let’s go get married.” We went to the courthouse. I bought an inexpensive dress (cute, though; I’m a great shopper)…told NO ONE until we came home that night. Ate at our favorite beachside restaurant (we lived near the ocean at the time).

We even forgot to buy rings! (Christmas, that was rectified!)

My cousin? Spent over 50K. Divorced 2 years later. I’ve been to $80,000 weddings, and the most recent was a wedding were there were 100 guests, max, and it cost over $100,000. We all had to get hotel rooms-even the bride and groom’s family-”destination wedding.” It was black tie, to boot,and our youngest was a groomsman.

My wedding cost us probably 100 dollars. Our mothers/family/friends were FURIOUS that we did it this way, but this was how WE wanted it. For years, we were asked why we didn’t renew our vows on an anniversary and have a reception.

No thanks. I’d rather use the money to continue to take great anniversary trips!

I am tired of seeing women spend more time and effort into the WEDDING than they do about the actual MARRIAGE. It isn’t the wedding-truly-that’s just a day on the calendar!

BTW: we are married 25 years this year……

I did it my way

April 22nd, 2011
3:14 pm

Oops! 24 years! Blame it on the friday afternoon “brain deads!”

We are going away for 2 weeks for our 25th…I’m spending lots of time planning THAT!~


April 22nd, 2011
7:56 pm

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Bargain Queen

April 24th, 2011
9:24 am

My husband and I spent $26 on our marriage certificate. One of his coworkers happened to be a pastor and presided over our vow exchange for free on the deck of his backyard. We had the money for a “standard” wedding, but we chose to focus on the rest of our lives instead. Six years later, we are still going strong.