Feb. 11, 2013 at 5:51 PM ET
After the calls have been made to relatives giving them the good news, congratulations have been given, and rounds of drinks have been bought, the adrenaline rush of an engagement announcement can wear off and at least one reality sets in: We've got a wedding to pay for.
Unless you've planned financially for it for years, or have rich parents, paying for a wedding can set couples back when trying to stand on their financial feet together as a they start a new life.
The average couple has a $26,989 wedding, according to Brides magazine, and nearly one-third of all brides spend more than they budgeted. A wedding calculator will help determine the costs, though couples may be scared to look at the final figures together.
Even if your wedding costs much less than the average, it's still likely to be a big chunk of money, so planning for the expenses is just as important as deciding which caterer to use and which dress to wear. After enjoying the engagement "high" for a few days, here are five things to do with your money now in preparation for the big day.
1. Set a budget. Determine how much money you can save and what expenses you can cut so that you know now how much you expect to have for the wedding. If your parents are willing to contribute, include that amount in your budget. With a budget in hand, you should be less likely to spend more than you have. And don't count on gifts of money to pay the bills; save that money for the honeymoon.
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2. Open a joint savings account. Start putting everything you can into it so you can afford the wedding you want. Don't put in money for daily living expenses -- leave that in a checking account — but only put in money that you can afford to part with.
3. Consider using an account that's much more difficult to access than a joint savings account. For example, try using a short-term CD that matures before the wedding date, says Nick Scheumann of Hefty Wealth Parners in Auburn, Ind. While this advice contradicts our second recommendation, it's an alternative for couples who don't mind waiting until a maturity date to get their money. All short-term rates are small so a CD won't help you earn more money, but touching it before it matures will result in penalties and reduces the likelihood that you'll dip into it early. A joint savings account has everyday access, which you might need if you need to pay a few wedding bills early.
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4. Look for ways to save. This can be part of setting a budget, but it should be thought of on its own and taken seriously if you want to contribute to that budget. If you're not saving money already as a couple, you will soon. Xavier Epps, a financial adviser, recommends finding cost synergies among each other's monthly expenditures. These include moving in together, budgeting around one income, arranging work schedules so you can commute together, and reviewing cellphone contracts and deciding whether to combine two lines into one account.
5. Don't immediately combine all of your finances. A joint account to save for a wedding is one thing, but combining all of your finances, or at least most of them, can wait until after you're married when you'll have a marriage certificate and possibly a new name. As Scheumann puts it: "It is better to be sure about this move and your spouse's finances before you join your cash savings. Some couples are very successful running his-and-her separate checking and savings accounts."
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