When Miranda Ronghi walks down the aisle in September, her eyes will be on her groom but everyone else’s eyes will be on her. But what they won’t be able to see is all the cost cutting they did to make their dream wedding happen.
Her boutique wedding dress was snagged at a 50% discount, her flowers will have been grown in her aunt’s garden and a good family friend will be taking her pictures. The guest list was whittled down to about 100.
“We’re not taking on any more debt for the wedding,” said Ronghi, a 27-year-old bride-to-be from Massachusetts, “because we have a lot of debt already.”
Frugal Wedding Planning
Ronghi and her fiance are among the 44 million Americans paying back student loan debt. Between herself and her fiance, Blaine McCarthy, they have around $40,000 in student loans; they also have mortgage payments on their house. While they can’t afford for their wedding to be an extravagant affair, they have found a way to make it work with a thrifty approach.
“I am still definitely getting the wedding that I want,” Ronghi said. “We are being very frugal, but I don’t feel like I’m sacrificing at all.”
While some recent surveys suggest that student loan debt has put the brakes on marriage, the reality may mean that many young couples are simply downsizing their wedding plans instead. A few data points seem to support the trend: The average number of guests has dropped from 184 in 2006 to 132 in 2014, according to data from The Wedding Report, while courthouse ceremonies are increasing.
Read more: The Real Cost of Getting Married
Connecticut-based couple Denielle Trudeau and Andrew Paradis are also planning a wedding for June 2018 while paying off their student loans.
“I have always been embarrassed that I have such high loans and I have to remind myself I’m not the only one,” said Trudeau, 30, who has about $52,000 remaining on her debt from her Johnson & Wales University culinary degree.
“It makes me nervous paying my loans and planning a wedding,” she said. “When you go through everything and figure out what it’s going to cost, it can be overwhelming.”
Both Trudeau and Paradis said they are extremely fortunate that both sets of parents are chipping in for the wedding, especially because they both come from large families and are expecting about 200 guests. However, to manage costs, they have opted for a vintage theme for their big day.
“I’m very much into reading, so our centerpieces will be old books stacked on top of each other with flowers on top. The place cards will all have old skeleton keys attached,” Trudeau said. “My bouquet is being made by our family out of old book pages that will look like roses.”
Debt Does Not Deter Love
For Paradis, Trudeau’s loans were never going to stop him from getting down on one knee.
“I knew Deni was the one because it was love at first sight for me,” he said. “We had talked about her student loans before we got engaged. We never really talked about waiting until it was paid down.”
With student loan debt soaring in the U.S., waiting is exactly what many couples are doing. Nearly 30% of respondents said their student loans had impacted their decision to delay marriage, according to the American Student Assistance report, Life Delayed: The Impact of Student Debt on the Daily Lives of Young Americans.
“We had talked about wanting to be engaged, but also wanting to be in a better financial situation before we got married,” said Jackie Swan, a second-grade teacher in Connecticut, who married Robert Meltzer in July 2015. They have about $100,000 in student loan debt between them.
Their solution was for them both to work extra hours in order to avoid taking on more debt for the wedding. She took on extra hours as a tutor and a coach for the high school color guard, he as a part-time counselor.
“From each paycheck we both received, we would put $250 in a special wedding account,” she said. “In the end, we were able to write checks right from that account. It was a way to force ourselves to save.”
The result was that they were able to pay for the majority of the wedding themselves—in cash.
Another thing that helped was buying things slowly over many months in order to spread the costs out over time and scoop things up at clearance sales. Swan’s dress, for example, was only $800—the national average is more than $1,500. They even bargained for their honeymoon: They were able to visit the Dominican Republic and stay in timeshare by trading it with her father’s New Hampshire timeshare.
Build New (Low-Cost) Traditions
All three women said they got to plan their dream wedding even with the student loan debt by working harder and finding deals. Trudeau said she’s working 60 hours a week to help fund her wedding. And all three women gratefully accepted some help from their families as well as services or discounted rates from family and friends.
“Throw tradition out the window and build your new tradition,” suggested Ronghi, listing potlucks, backyard weddings and a shortened guest list as money-saving options that will maximize fun, not the budget.
“Other people should know that they are not alone. There are plenty of us still in student debt,” Trudeau said. “Trust me if I didn’t have to work 60-hour weeks I wouldn’t, but I do what it takes to live my life and also pay off my loans.”