Opinion March 15, 2016 | 9:36 am

Putting Together a Great Wedding on a Budget

Will a modern wedding endanger your finances? It doesn’t have to.

With the average price of an American wedding over $31,000, the big day can impose financial stress for those who don’t have savings in place. It’s important to remember that these numbers indicate greater trends – not suggested spending patterns.

Before discussion about a ceremony or reception even begins, it’s smart for couples to have a frank talk about money issues in general. Share financial information such as current spending, savings, investment and credit status (https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action). While this conversation may not seem terribly romantic, honesty about respective finances is the first step to responsible financial planning and compatibility.

Once you’ve chosen a desired wedding date, set a savings target with a realistic budget. If you want to get married fairly soon, realize you’ll have less time to build a wedding fund. Start by making a general list (https://www.theknot.com/wedding-budget/start) of everything you might want in a wedding, and then adjust your vision to what will be in the bank by your desired date.

As the numbers start looking real to you, determine what can be purchased or done inexpensively and others that will require professional help. Take a look at the guest list and see if you can make some cuts. Consider a handheld music player hooked up to a great speaker system instead of a live band. Are you content with your brother’s photo and video skills, or is it a better idea to hire a professional team?

Consider off-dates, off-times and off-venues. Though wedding season is more year-round than it’s ever been, wedding prices still tend to be highest throughout the warm months. Explore winter dates and more obscure venues. Take City Hall, for example. Depending on the municipality, you can either schedule ahead or show up with local license and ceremonial fees as the only costs involved. There’s no need for expensive wardrobe or other trappings. What about having the wedding at home? It’s free space and, depending on the talents of friends and family, homemade food and decorations can also keep expenses to a minimum. But remember that the home or property owner may need a special insurance rider to cover any potential damage or liability, particularly if liquor is being served.

And finally, consider a "surprise" wedding. Planning a party or gathering where a wedding breaks out can provide money-saving advantages to guests and bridal party alike. Having a wedding at a party – especially a regular holiday party you host where family and friends already know to gather – requires little more than a legal officiant and whatever food, beverage, entertainment and insurance costs you need to consider. An unannounced wedding eliminates all pre-wedding costs related to invitations, showers and parties, and you can give your guests a break on gifts.

Bottom line: Flashy weddings aren’t worth jeopardizing your finances for years to come. Make creative, affordable wedding planning part of your love story.

Nathaniel Sillin directs Visa’s financial education programs. To follow Practical Money Skills on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PracticalMoney.

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