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Aja Dang is no stranger to creating a budget to reach life's milestones. In 2020, she documented on her YouTube channel her journey towards paying off $200,000 in credit card, car and student loan debt in just two years. This year, she's given herself a new challenge: planning her destination wedding on a $45,000 budget.
Originally, Dang wanted to keep the spending threshold to $30,000, which is more in line with what average newlyweds-to-be paid last year. According to The Knot Real Weddings Study that surveyed about 15,000 couples across the country, the national average cost of a wedding ceremony and reception landed at $28,000 in 2021. Dang decided to increase to $45,000 as she found that planning a wedding in Hawaii was quickly adding up, yet the location was important to her.
"I was born and raised in Hawaii, so I wanted to head back home for our wedding," she tells Select. "More importantly, my Popo is the only grandparent still with us and since she will be 95 by the time we get married, it was important for us to go to her for our wedding so she could be a part of our day."
Destination wedding or not, and regardless of the budgeted dollar amount, wedding planning is a stressful undertaking. Below, Dang shares three tips that she learned when trying to stick to her financial goals for now and in the near future.
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When wedding planning on a budget, choose a few things that are most essential to making your special day happen. This may mean spending more of your budget on music and an open bar, while cutting expenses on things like invitations, flowers and decor. Or, perhaps you want to allocate more money to a photographer and rather cut costs on the entertainment or food. Prioritizing what is most important to you helps you make the day perfect while also finding areas where you can save.
For Dang, her and her fiancé are prioritizing spending their money on the experience, meaning anything that makes their wedding more fun for everyone. Their big-ticket items include rentals, catering and entertainment, while they're cutting costs in other areas. For example, they're reusing the same florals from their ceremony for the reception, only sending physical invitations to their elders and purchasing their alcohol from Costco, which accepts returns for anything unopened. Dang also mentions cutting wedding cake costs.
"A cake is not super important to us, so instead of doing a multi-tiered cake that costs $600, we're doing an 8" round cake, which cut our cake budget by more than half," she adds.
One of the very first decisions you'll make in the wedding planning process is picking a venue. When doing so, Dang suggests finding one that offers wedding packages so that you can get high-quality vendors at a discounted rate.
"When I first started wedding planning, I was told that finding vendors on your own was the more affordable route but it was not — at all," she says.
After spending a couple of months trying to scout out vendors by themselves, her and her fiancé ended up going with their venue's package offerings — a move that saved thousands of dollars.
"The vendors were offering deep discounts for the constant flow of clients the venue was sending them," Dang explains. "For instance, we previously spoke to a caterer who quoted us $8,000, but when we decided to go with the venue's package and found out they recommended the same caterer, our quote was lowered to $5,000."
If you're able to be under budget when planning your wedding, or you haven't decided yet what you and your partner will do with any cash gifts you may receive, think about where you can best maximize those funds for the future.
While you may want to allocate that money to a honeymoon away, consider putting a portion of them into a savings or investment account that can start you and your partner's new life together on the right foot.
With a large $30,000 contribution from her father for the wedding, Dang ended up having a considerable amount of savings. She put only half, or $15,000, of his contribution into the wedding fund (her and her fiancé funded the rest) and invested the other $15,000 into a brokerage account to save up for a down payment on a future home. Select ranked TD Ameritrade, Ally Invest and Fidelity as some of the best brokerage accounts with no commission fees.
"We're fortunate enough to be able to save for both a wedding and a home, but since the LA market is too crazy right now, it's giving us more time to build up a nice nest egg," she says.
While a substantial contribution from a family member can make a big difference in how much you end up saving while wedding planning, the idea is that you have a purpose for any amount of cash you can stockpile. It's important to think of financing married life beyond just that special day.
Consider a high-yield savings account like the Marcus by Goldman Sachs High Yield Online Savings or other options from big banks, like an American Express® High Yield Savings Account or a Barclays Online Savings account. Each of these options earn you more interest than stashing that cash in a traditional savings account. This way, you and your partner can grow your savings for a future expense, like a down payment on a first home, without taking on the risk of losing the money like you would by investing it in the market.
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Planning your big day certainly has a lot of moving parts, but you can try to conquer the financial to do's by following Dang's tips above: prioritize your 'must haves,' search venues with wedding packages and earmark any savings for you and your partner's new future together.
Interest rate and APY are subject to change at any time without notice before and after an American Express® High Yield Savings Account is opened.
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