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Advice | How much does it cost to get married? It’s actually less than $100.

It was a simple question for a group of couples thinking about getting married.

I asked: How much does it cost to get married?

Most of the answers ranged from $10,000 to $50,000.

“It depends on where you’re getting married,” said one woman, pointing out that she and her fiancé had budgeted $30,000.


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This question came up during a class on money and marriage. I knew the couples would immediately think of the wedding attire, invitations, flowers, cake, music, reception, rehearsal dinner, photographer and all the other expenditures for the “big day.”

Search online for “How much does the average wedding cost?” and you’ll find similar estimates.

However, the couples’ answers were far from the actual cost because it was a trick question. I asked: What does it cost to get married?

The one thing you need is a marriage license, and the cost is well below $100 for most states, as well as the District of Columbia.

A marriage license in New Jersey costs $28. The fee in Colorado and Idaho is $30, less than it takes to fill up the tank of a small sedan. In Florida, it’s $93.50, but even that fee can be reduced by up to $32.50 if the couple completes a licensed premarital course. In the Maryland county where I taught the class, a marriage license costs $70 per couple.

Every year around this time, I get questions about how to pay for a wedding or complaints about the high cost. Here is what you may be telling yourself — and here’s how to combat the temptation to spend more than you can afford.

There are so many emotions involved in wedding planning that doing what’s truly affordable can be tossed out like a garter at the reception.

Yet, I do understand. You want to share this special day with family and friends.

However, your big day isn’t any less important if you don’t have a big party. Focus on the importance of the marriage, not the wedding pageantry.

Family or cultural traditions demand a big wedding

Over the years, I’ve gotten into many debates about my advice to cut wedding costs. One online discussion started when someone on a tight budget asked: “How do I find a place and feed 100 people?”

I responded that the best solution is to stick to your budget even if that means trimming the guest list.

Well, you would have thought I had insulted someone’s mama.

I’ve been to weddings where the couple had too many people and not enough food. It was not fair to the guests who left hungry and annoyed.

I know many cultures have blowout bashes to celebrate the holy matrimony. In some communities, brides, grooms or their families spend precious resources — money, farm animals, et cetera — to pay for weddings.

But certain traditions, no matter how venerable, should be abandoned if they are unreasonable. You can and should put a price limit on this special day. You should have the wedding you can afford.

By the way, when I say afford, I mean weigh the wedding expenses against how that money could be better used. Long-term, would it serve you better to use the funds to pay down debt, buy a home or invest for retirement?

Yes, we have debt, but we’re saving up for the wedding

Some couples try to justify overspending by pointing out they are saving up for the nuptials. And yet they continue to pay interest — in many cases double-digit interest rates — on large outstanding loans.

I asked the couples in the money and marriage class how much nonmortgage debt they had.

Several had six-figure student loans, and others admitted to having credit card debt in the thousands. In one case, the amount they planned to spend on the wedding could erase all of their consumer debt.

I get pushback from folks who argue that if they wait to afford things they want, they won’t be able to have any fun.

Happiness is a state of mind, not a surf-and-turf wedding reception for 150 people with an open bar.

Here’s what I tell couples. Spend lavishly for your wedding if you want if you can check off the following:

  • You have a good emergency fund — at least enough to cover an unexpected spending shock.
  • You both are saving well for retirement.
  • Neither of you has student loans or revolving credit card debt.
  • You can pay for the wedding without accumulating debt.

If you’re planning a wedding, live within your economic reality.

If you want more personal finance advice that’s timeless, order your copy of Michelle Singletary’s Money Milestones.

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