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Can You Afford a Wedding on the Main Line?

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Can you afford a wedding in the Philadelphia suburbs? Photo by Adobe Stock

Most of us get married someday. How will you pay? Main Line area financial experts (and a mother of four) weigh in.

Anyone planning a post-pandemic wedding is likely to have a little sticker shock. According to Wedding Report founder Shane McMurray, an average trip to the altar with all the trappings could set you back $27,000 in 2022, up by about $3,000 from 2019.

Exton’s Cheryl and Jim Alexander have married off four children. One daughter had her July 2022 wedding at the affordable Washington at Historic Yellow Springs in Chester Springs. “The shocker was seeing how the price of food has gone up since 2020,” says Cheryl, adding that one caterer wanted more than $100 per plate. “Go to the open houses to see what’s possible. It’s worth it.”

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To save money, the bridesmaids chose their own dresses—and the bride’s was a mere $75 at LuLu Boutique & Gifterie in Phoenixville. The rehearsal dinner was a backyard affair, with the groom’s family arranging the food trucks and the Alexanders renting the tent. The mother-in-law made scones as favors for the attendees.

“There’s a lot of pressure on people to host these massive events,” says Gary Siano, president of Guided Wealth Management in West Chester.

Over his 38 years as a financial advisor, Siano has seen families with “big wealth” cancel weddings because they felt like they couldn’t afford it, and others raid their retirement to stage huge events. “Do you really want to sell your future?” he poses.

So far, 2022 has been a year of larger weddings and increased attendance. “People on the periphery are often included now,” says Emily Irwin, a senior director in Wells Fargo’s wealth management department. “There are also a lot more weddings to attend.”

Though the days of the bride’s family carrying a wedding’s full financial load are mostly gone, Siano isn’t taking any chances. He has money stashed away in savings accounts for his two daughters. “I’d bag groceries for them if I had to,” he says.

Ideally, everyone—the couple and both sets of parents—should have enough savings to cover things like a honeymoon or the surplus of guests the bride never met. “A wedding is no different than a vacation or buying a car,” says Glen Mills-based financial advisor Dan White. “It’s a big event or purchase, and you must abide by a budget. If you can’t afford it, then you scale it back.”

White points out that the most important dollar is the first one saved. “The dollar you put in at 22 will be worth $15 in your 60s,” he says. “At 58, the same dollar [saved] is worth a lot less.”

And don’t wait until you get married to talk about finances. “Start the fundamental conversations when you get engaged,” says Irwin. “A wedding is one day. Be flexible with your plans and meet with an advisor before marriage.”

Most advisors will tell you that nonqualified accounts not earmarked for emergencies or home repairs are OK to dip into if you need a little extra money for a wedding. But it’s best to steer clear of that IRA. “Hypothetically, if a client wants to spend $100,000 out of the $1 million that comprises their retirement savings, the client should be asking a planner, ‘How much wedding can I afford?’”

The Alexanders first asked that question well before the pandemic, when their oldest was planning a wedding. They chose to splurge for their first born at the Inn at Leola Village. “It seemed important, with so many out-of-towners,” Cheryl says. “Afterwards, we realized there were many things we didn’t need.”

Another daughter’s COVID wedding was quite different. “In June 2020, Duportail House cancelled on us because we had more than 20 guests, so we pivoted to a backyard wedding, told our neighbors and used social distancing outside,” says Cheryl.

To reduce costs, the florist was a family friend, and the catering came courtesy of Mission BBQ. “Decide how much you can afford to contribute—in all ways, not just financial,” Cheryl says.

Their son’s nuptials were savvier—a destination wedding designed to minimize the number of guests. They rented a beach house in South Carolina, where the sand and surf were free. “Everyone there were people who wanted to be there,” says Cheryl. “All the family chipped in to pull it off.”

For invitations, all four of the Alexander kids went digital. “We focus on where the marriage is going, not the ceremony,” Cheryl says. “My own wedding was in a church, with cake in the fellowship hall afterwards—and we’re still married.”

Related: This Fall Wedding at Villanova’s Appleford Estate Is Breathtaking