Q. My girlfriend and I have been living together in an apartment in downtown Montreal for two years now. We’d like to get married next summer and want to invite our closest family and friends to share in the big day—about 50 to 70 people, we think.
What are the pros and cons of taking out a loan for our wedding? I have about $10,000 saved, but plan to put that in my RRSP at the end of the year. We figure we’ll need about $20,000 to cover all the details of the ceremony and reception.
A. Wedding planning can be stressful enough on its own—all the appointments, tastings and fittings!—even before you think about how to pay for it all. It’s one of the reasons the conventional advice for a young person to save aggressively in their RRSP* may be counterintuitive given all the big expenses, like a wedding, they will incur long before retirement.
According to WeddingWire’s 2019 Global Wedding Report, the average wedding in Canada costs $29,450. This cost is based on an average of 154 guests, suggesting a cost of about $191 per guest. This figure accounts for everything ranging from the venue to the photographer to the dress, but excludes the rings and the honeymoon.
Your budget of $20,000 for 50 to 70 people is equivalent to $333 per guest, if we assume the midpoint of 60 guests. That suggests you’re either being generous in your budgeting—which is prudent, and better than underestimating; you’re planning a rather elaborate wedding; or you’ve included additional anticipated costs in your estimate.
The only reason I bring this up is that the cost is important, but the cost per guest is probably more important. Most surveys seem to suggest an average wedding gift is about $150 per guest. At 60 guests, you might expect about $9,000 in gifts, but no doubt this figure could vary significantly. If you have lots of younger guests or generous gifts from your parents, you could range down or up quite a bit.
On this basis, Raymond, it sounds like you and your girlfriend could be out of pocket $10,000 or more using these rough guidelines. An obvious suggestion I’ll make is that’s not a great way to start your financial lives together—with a large, expensive party that puts you into debt.
That’s me with my financial planner hat on. But if I put my realist hat on, I appreciate there can be a divergence between when you want to get married and when you can save up the money to pay for a wedding.
One thing to remember is that some of the expenses for a wedding happen after the ceremony. Some venues or halls may only want a portion of the payment—say 50%—ahead of time. The balance is sometimes payable after the ceremony, and after you’ve tallied your wedding gifts.
On that basis, you may not need to save up as much as you think. What I would be inclined to do is figure out how much you need to fund towards the wedding and work backwards. If you guys are planning a $20,000 wedding and might get $10,000 in gifts from your family and friends, that means you need $10,000 out-of-pocket.
In order to save $10,000 between now and your planned wedding date, divide that $10,000 by the number of months until your target wedding date and make that your monthly saving target. I’d be generous and aim for more monthly savings than you need, because wedding budgets have a tendency to be exceeded, and in the meantime, car repairs, invitations to other weddings, and other random expenses could interfere with savings plans.
If you can’t save enough to fund the wedding, and you have resigned yourself to borrowing money, you should clearly aim to pay off the debt as quickly as possible. I can’t even begin to suggest how quickly you should pay off a wedding debt because, in my mind, you should do your best not to have to incur debt to get married in the first place.
Your planned $10,000 RRSP* contribution is a good sign you’re still saving for other things, and should provide you with a reasonable tax refund—likely 30% to 40% as a Quebec resident with a modest income—that you can put towards your wedding costs.
If you’re looking to minimize wedding expenses beyond the reception and rings, the next biggest costs tend to be music, the photographer and flowers. Consider cost-saving alternatives that will still result in an event you’ll want to remember, like hiring a friend to DJ instead of a pricey live band.
If you can avoid going into debt, and manage to save up for all your wedding costs in advance, obviously that’s a better plan. But you already know that, Raymond. Do your best to go into planning your wedding with eyes wide open; overestimate your expected costs and seek to minimize expenses as best you can. Good luck and congratulations in advance on your big day.
Jason Heath is a fee-only, advice-only Certified Financial Planner (CFP) at Objective Financial Partners Inc. in Toronto, Ontario. He does not sell any financial products whatsoever.
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