Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin

Cutting Wedding Costs to Save For Your First Home

For most young adults, few financial trade-offs are more challenging than deciding between spending money on a magical wedding and saving toward the purchase of a first home. But consumer advocates say you can have both --assuming you plan ahead and set priorities.

Alan Fields, the co-author of books on both real estate and weddings, says in recent years the median cost of a traditional wedding has finally leveled off at $28,000. But in most popular neighborhoods, median house prices continue to rise, albeit at a slowing pace.

Fields, the co-author of "Bridal Bargains," says it's much easier for would-be homebuyers to hold the line on wedding expenses than to save for a home purchase. For your nuptials, the key is to plan ahead and keep powerful emotions from causing you to overspend on your big day.

Many first-time homebuyers can now obtain low-to-no-down-payment mortgages, as well as help with closing costs. But they still face cash needs to complete a housing transition -- from moving expenses to the cost of window coverings, paint, and basic furnishings.

"You can expect to spend at least 2 percent of the original price of the house within a year after moving in," says Fields, co-author "Your New House."

But there's no need to surrender the chance to buy a first home in order to have a memorable wedding. Here are a few pointers:

-- Ask your parents to help fund the house rather than the wedding.

Customarily, the bride's parents cover the cost of a wedding. However, as Fields says, many parents are just as willing to spend a similar amount to help their grown children fulfill their housing aspirations. Sometimes it's only a matter of asking.

Redirecting some of your parents' munificence away from the wedding and toward real estate could, for example, mean the difference between buying a condo-apartment and a detached house, Fields says.

-- Consider a faraway wedding as a possible money saver.

Within recent years, there's been a surge of interest in what are known as "destination weddings," which occur some distance from the couple's home turf, says JoAnn Gregoli, a long-time New York City-based wedding and events planner and co-author of "The Knot Guide to Destination Weddings."

While the idea of traveling to a distant location may sound expensive, for prospective homebuyers, one big (and often surprising) advantage of a destination wedding is the potential for substantial cost savings. Fields says much of the savings is due to the fact that fewer guests are likely to attend.

"The usual destination wedding involves just 15 to 20 close family members and friends, compared with 100 or more at your typical hometown wedding. This can translate into overall savings of 40 percent for the bride and groom --assuming they don't pay for the travel expenses of family members or guests," he says.

What's more, the marrying couple often honeymoon in the same location where the wedding occurs, meaning their transportation costs for the honeymoon will already be covered, he says. But Fields cautions that the choice of an exotic wedding destination, such as Bali, would quickly gobble up your cost savings, as would a long invitation list.

-- Look for savings on wedding flowers, reception costs and dresses.

During her many years as a wedding planner, Gregoli has noticed that the tab for flowers has risen steadily. One reason is that couples show an increasing preference for the kind of exotic flowers that must be custom-ordered and then flown in from vendors outside the country.

"When you start flying in exotic flowers, you're talking a lot more expense than if you use locally grown flowers that are in season when your wedding occurs," she says.

Gregoli says couples who choose flowers from abroad can run up a floral bill of $25,000 or more. In some housing markets, saving that sum could mean the ability to buy a home with one more bathroom than you could otherwise afford.

For money-conscious couples intent on buying a home, Gregoli says substantial savings can be found by limiting the time period an open bar is provided for guests during a wedding reception. You can slash your entertainment costs by using a DJ or a small music ensemble rather than a full band. And you can greatly reduce the expense of your wedding dress by finding one at a bridal consignment store or through an online vendor.

"You'd be amazed what wonderful secondhand dresses are available for a fraction of the cost of new ones," Gregoli says.

As long as you set priorities, Fields says the search for bargains won't undermine the quality of your wedding. He says most millennials -- young adults now in their 20s and 30s -- are more interested in having a meaningful wedding than an ostentatious event that costs a fortune.

"For many in this younger generation, the material chase is over. Events are important to them. But they don't perceive having a 'showoff' wedding as a key to their happiness," he says.

(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at