Author Bobbi Rebell offers her best tips for taking the plunge (without going broke).
This past Memorial Day, Bobbi Rebell struck silver—16 place settings’ worth, to be exact.
She had been sorting through boxes in her father’s house when she discovered vestiges of her first marriage. Two decades and one divorce later, the fancy wedding gifts still hadn’t been unwrapped.
“There were congratulations notes from people who were dead,” she says. “It was so depressing.”
Rebell, a personal finance columnist for Reuters and author of the 2016 book How to be a Financial Grownup, decided for sentimental reasons that she didn’t want to sell the silver.
“We’re actually low on silverware in my house,” she says. “But it’s a nightmare—actual silver. You have to polish it, you can’t put it in the dishwasher.”
So, alas, it remains in the package, an expensive reminder that convention can be cumbersome.
Which brings us to the number one wedding season takeaway from this now happily remarried money expert:
“Don’t register for stupid stuff,” she says.
Here are her five best tips for taking the plunge without going broke—and one more to get back on track financially if you decide to splurge.
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Register for what you really need
Announcing that you’re getting married can be like declaring open season on unsolicited opinions about what you absolutely need to get married.
“People tell you that you need certain things, like a fancy china pattern, and when you’re planning, you’re often on autopilot,” Rebell says. “Now I have a gravy boat. I’m over 40, and I’ve never used it.”
She still has friends storing wedding gifts at their parents’ houses, she says.
The bottom line: “Be mindful about what you ask your guests to spend money on,” she says. “And don’t register for something that you won’t use every day.”
Ask for cash — in a classy way
Some people will only write a check; others think asking for cash is tacky. But if you tell people what you’re saving for, it feels a lot less like an “ask.”
Saving for a down payment, for example, is a goal that most of your guests likely can get behind.
“If there’s a purpose, ask for money,” Rebell says. “I think people would be really enthusiastic if you said, ‘We want a home more than anything.’”
Slash your florist bill
Sure, maybe your childhood dream was to be carried down the aisle on a bed of perfect white peonies, but unless that wedding falls in May or early June, the reality could break you.
“The first time I got married, I just picked out what I wanted—I didn’t ask what was available or what was affordable,” Rebell says. Any vendor, she says, is going to try to upsell by “yes-yessing’ you.” Instead, start by asking what’s in season and what’s readily accessible.
The same goes for food: If you go with what’s in season, you’re going to save money, Rebell says.
Scale back the open bar
Skip the top-shelf liquor and keep it simple: Beer, wine, champagne, one signature alcoholic drink, and one signature non-alcoholic drink.
“A full bar will slow everything down,” Rebell says. Offering pre-made drinks can save you from paying high-priced bartenders to concoct each Bloody Mary and Dirty Martini.
The idea is to give people a few appealing options and back swiftly to what they came for: “They want to have fun, they want to socialize, they want to see you.”
Simple saves money
Think about the stuff you’ll really remember from your big day. Chances are it won’t be the monogrammed napkins.
So consider skipping: the customized menu, the assigned seating (table assignments are OK), the fancy overlays or ribbon-tied chairs, the personalized party favors.
“Excessive detail is dumb,” says Rebell.
Break all the rules (but still come out ahead)
If you won’t feel officially married unless you serve Chartreuse, Chambord, and Campari—or go in for a five-tier cake—that is sometimes what your wedding money is for.
“Just make sure you have a plan to pay it back,” Rebell says, adding you can take out a new credit card with no annual fee for the first year if you have to.
You can also apply some of those cash gifts to getting you back in the black.