The Least (& Most) Expensive Places to Get Married in America

The national average cost of a wedding is $35,329 — but that may not be what you pay in your state.

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The Father of the Bride Isn’t the Only One Picking Up the Wedding Tab Anymore

I remember watching Steve Martin in “Father of the Bride” talk about his little girl getting married, saying: “I used to think a wedding was a simple affair. Boy and girl meet. They fall in love. He buys a ring, she buys a dress, they say I do. I was wrong. That’s getting married. A wedding is an entirely different proposition.”

And, it was at that point in the movie that my own father gave me this knowing look, probably imagining what would happen one day when his only daughter (a daughter with expensive taste, mind you) walked down the isle: He’d get hit with a lofty bill to pay for that dream wedding.

Well, rest easy, dad, because a new survey shows that the father of the bride isn’t always the one picking up the tab for a wedding anymore. Heck, sometimes there isn’t even a bride — or there are two — but the poll focused solely on heterosexual marriages.

The two-day SurveyMonkey Audience poll, commissioned by FiveThirtyEight, happened in August and collected the opinions of 1,050 people.

The survey zeroed in on heterosexual marriages “because there are a whole lot of inherited gender roles and history involved,” FiveThirtyEight said in a blog post.

It found that 26% of respondents said the couple should be paying for the wedding themselves. The same amount of people said it should be equally split between the couple and both sets of parents. But, not too far behind (25%) is the bride’s family. The rest of the respondents were pretty split — 12% saying the groom’s family and bride’s family should split the cost, 7% saying it’s up to the bride’s family and the couple to pay, and only 2% felt the groom’s family should take on the responsibility. Zero percent said the groom’s family and the couple should pay.

Paying for Your Wedding

If you’re getting ready to walk down the isle, no matter who is paying for the event, it certainly isn’t a day worth anyone going into extreme debt over. Remember, going into debt could make it harder for the two of you to start your life together — whether you’re looking to get a mortgage or new car — as carrying high levels of debt will hurt your credit scores. (You can see where your credit currently stands by viewing two of your credit scores for free, updated each month, on Credit.com.)

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5 Common Wedding Rip-Offs — & How to Avoid Them

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Your wedding day is only going to happen once — at least that is the plan — so your instinct might be to ignore the costs and make everything just perfect. In fact, that seems to be what a lot of people are doing, as the average wedding in the United States reportedly costs $26,444. (Note: It is possible to budget and save for your wedding, and even have a debt-free wedding.) While stretching the budget might make sense for a special occasion, you likely don’t want to overspend or get scammed in the process.

General Advice

First is the old adage about things that seem too good to be true. You might think you’re going to save a few bucks with a “too good to be true” deal, but if the item ends up being low quality, or you don’t get it at all, you’ve likely cost yourself a lot more. To help avoid this, the Better Business Bureau advises you get everything in writing. Get signed contracts laying out exactly what you expect from each vendor. Many will have contracts pre-prepared that they use with every client. While these can be a good starting point, be sure to read the contracts carefully. Don’t be afraid to talk with the vendor about eliminating details you don’t agree with, or adding in things that are important to you — the vendors should be willing to negotiate to meet your needs.

You may also want to consider wedding insurance. If your baker flakes out and doesn’t bring the cake, there’s not much you can do to make one appear, but with the insurance in place, at least you may be able to get some of your money back. This can also help if there’s some kind of accident or act-of-God type event.

Beyond those, here are five wedding rip-offs to watch out for.

1. Counterfeit Dresses

According to The Wedding Report, the average bride spends more than $1,200 on her wedding dress, though that number can be much higher for brides wanting a designer label. If that’s what you’re interested in, just be sure the label is real. There are federal requirements about what needs to appear on a label, so that can be worth checking out, but that alone isn’t always enough. One common scam involves a dress (particularly one ordered online) being passed off as a high-quality designer product, but instead you get a knock-off made poorly and from inferior materials. To help avoid this, consider buying at a brick-and-mortar shop, and be sure of the return policy before you purchase anything.

That may not always be enough, either. There have been reports of bridal shops that were struggling financially and took money for a dress (often at a steep discount), then closed their doors before the bride got her dress. Using a credit card may help you get some of the money back, though it won’t get you a dress.

2. Vanishing Vendors

There are stories out there of people posing as DJs, photographers, florists — pretty much any of the outside contractors you might employ — who take a deposit and then vanish. Make sure you check on everyone you plan to do business with. Websites like TheKnot, Weddingwire and the Better Business Bureau offer vendor reviews that can help you find reputable businesses in your area.

Also, don’t forget word of mouth — if you loved the flowers at a friend’s wedding, ask them who they used and if they encountered any behind-the-scenes problems. Your venue may also have a list of vendors it often works with.

3. Bridal Show Shenanigans

Bridal shows can be overwhelming with the variety of different products and services available. Be wary of any giveaways you might sign up for, though. That honeymoon hotel stay might not cover taxes or the airfare to get you there and back. Always read the fine print, understand the privacy policies and be very careful about which businesses and people you share your information with.

4. Gift Theft

While you (hopefully) don’t have to worry about your friends and family walking off with a gift, you don’t want this to be a problem. Help reduce your chances of experiencing any losses by placing the gift table far from the doors, and deputizing a family member to keep an eye on it.

5. Home Burglary

Placing a wedding announcement in your local newspaper or on Facebook is a good way to let people know about your special day. It’s also a good way to broadcast that you won’t be home that day, and if you include the dates of your honeymoon, you’ve given burglars a nice window of opportunity. Make sure neighbors know you’ll be away and ask someone to keep an eye on your place for any signs of trouble (or you can even have a trusted friend or family member stay in the house, if you feel more comfortable with that). And before you head out on your honeymoon, remember to take security precautions beforehand, like stopping the mail, newspaper and other deliveries, as these items piling up can be a sign that no one is around. Also, let your credit card companies know when and where you’ll be traveling so your purchases from out-of-the-way places don’t prompt them to put a hold on your card.

[Editor’s Note: Carrying high levels of debt, whether from your wedding expenses or something else, may hurt your credit scores. You can see where your credit currently stands by taking a look at two of your credit scores for free, updated each month, on Credit.com.]

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So, About Those ‘Free’ Wedding Loans…

Never mind, dearly beloveds: A Seattle-based startup is reneging on its vow to offer free wedding loans, repayable only upon divorce.

SwanLuv made headlines late last year when it announced plans to offer $10,000 to engaged couples looking to fund their dream weddings. These funds would remain free, so long as the pair stayed together, company CEO and founder Scott Avy told Credit.com back in December. Upon divorce, each ex would have to pay the full amount of the loan, plus all the interest that accrued over the course of their marriage, split right down the middle.

The pitch (at the time at least) was that all the interest SwanLuv made off of divorces would be used to fund more loans. The company would make revenue through advertising partnerships, Avy said, though he provided few other details on how his service would actually work.

Well, it appears the business model did not come together as planned since on Feb. 15 (the startup’s advertised launch date), SwanLuv announced it would no longer be a lending platform. Instead, it plans to help couples crowdsource funds for their big day from friends, family and community members.

“Due to overwhelming demand (nearly two billion dollars at $10,000 per couple) and unanticipated legal regulations/restrictions in the lending space, rather than pull out we came up with a tool we believe still helps couples with their wedding financing,” Avy said in a written statement posted on the company’s Facebook site and forwarded to Credit.com, when asked for comment on the change. “We sincerely apologize to anyone we have upset by adjusting our funding platform.”

The Unhappy Couples

According to Avy, surveys the company conducted among prospective users showed high interest in a wedding crowdfunding platform, which, per its Facebook page, still entails paying the money back upon divorce, just to dear old mom and dad, Aunt Sue or anyone else kind enough to contribute toward your nuptials.

Still, the company’s about-face hasn’t been entirely well-received, as many people who had registered on the site took to social media to air their grievances.

“I’m BEYOND upset about this!” one commenter wrote on SwanLuv’s Facebook page. “Do you honestly think that some of us haven’t tried crowdfunding or asking everyone we can think of for help. I feel completely betrayed. I waited MONTHS to be told to start a crowdfund?!”

Another woman who had been hoping to use a SwanLuv loan to fly family out for her wedding posted a video to YouTube, taking issue with the reversal. “I and a few other applicants did not receive the survey that Swanluv claims to have sent out,” she wrote beneath the vlog. “Frankly, I am immensely disappointed in all of this.”

Some consumers were more sympathetic to the startup’s plight.

“With as much grief as you are receiving from everyone, I appreciate that instead of throwing in the towel you guys are adjusting into something that will work in the meantime,” another Facebook commenter wrote. “Thank you for working through it instead of giving up!”

Of course, the fact some people reported difficulties accessing the site during the past few days only contributed to the outrage. Per Avy’s Facebook post, the outage was related to server overload, not a formal closing of business. “We are currently working on a stable solution to the volume of site traffic we are experiencing,” he said.

You Still Have Options for Paying for Your Wedding

The overwhelming interest in SwanLuv’s initial offering isn’t exactly surprising. These days, weddings can cost couples a small fortune. An annual survey from TheKnot put the average 2014 wedding cost at $31,213, up from $29,858 the year before. 

If you’re having trouble financing your big day, you could potentially lower the cost of your wedding by saving during a long engagement, cutting back on unnecessary expenses and taking on additional jobs or side gigs ahead of the big day. You also can look into a low-interest credit card or personal loan. Just be sure to read the terms and conditions carefully and shop around for competitive rates. It can also help to check your credit scores before applying so you can qualify for the best offers. (You can pull your credit reports for free each year at AnnualCreditReport.com and view your credit scores for free each month on Credit.com.)

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23 Ways to Get an Engagement Ring Without Debt

Engagement ring_lg

Christmas, New Year’s Day and Valentine’s Day are the most popular days to pop the question, but a marriage proposal often means an expensive engagement ring and subsequently, debt. If the diamond industry has anything to say about your engagement ring purchase, you’ll spend anywhere from 1-3 months salary on a diamond engagement ring (an average of $4000).

However, a little forethought and some creativity can lead to significant savings and a debt free engagement ring. After all, it’s far more romantic to propose with a paid for ring than to drag the equivalent of a car payment into your marriage.

Heirlooms are a wallet’s best friend

Jewelry passed from generation-to-generation denotes sentimentality and fiscal prudence. Ask your future spouse’s family if they have any heirlooms that they would like to pass on, and ask your own family too. If you obtain an heirloom ring, consider these three options.

  1. Leave the ring in tact (except for resizing and repair).
  2. Create a new setting for an heirloom diamond.
  3. Incorporate a new band into the old ring design.

Heirloom jewelry will be free, but the service and upgrades run from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. My husband spent around $2000 for a customized setting and wedding band for my heirloom diamond. Remember, etiquette is everything when it comes to heirlooms, so keep your communication and intentions as clear as possible.

Buy your diamond on the cheap-ish

Diamonds are never inexpensive, but knowing what and when to buy can save you a bundle.

  1. Shop in the summertime. Since winter proposals are by far the most popular, it makes sense to buy your diamond in the off-season. The summer months offer stable pricing at a discount.
  2. Buy diamonds shy of critical weights. If you want a full carat diamond, look for something around .9 carats instead. You’ll get close to the same look at a nice discount.
  3. Look before you buy. Compare diamonds at various parts of the color and clarity spectrum. If you can’t tell the difference in the diamond’s appearance, choose the less expensive option. (Since this is a slippery slope, seek your fiance’s input too).

Replace the diamond, save the difference

Thanks to the diamond industry’s multi-decade, multi-billion dollar advertising campaign, diamonds remain the most popular stone in engagement rings, but forgoing the traditional gem can save you thousands. Consider these emerging trends.

  1. Choose synthetic diamonds. Diamonds created in labs share the same properties as mined diamonds, but they cost up to 75% less than traditional diamonds, and they are a great choice for those seeking to avoid conflict diamonds.
  2. Replace a diamond with moissanite. A gemologist will never tell you this, but moissanite (a synthetic material) is harder than diamonds and surpasses diamonds on clarity and color scales too. It’s not a valuable gem, but it is beautiful. (Pro tip- Ask your future spouse before you go this route. Many people prefer authenticity.)
  3. Pick an alternative gemstone. Pearls or jade are popular choices outside of the United States, and garnet and topaz are gaining popularity stateside. If you want something out of the ordinary, consider alternative gemstones, but be careful what you buy- some gemstones are much more expensive than diamonds.
  4. Skip gemstones altogether. Ornamental rings (especially knots) are popular choices for those who want to skip gemstones altogether. Handcrafted gold rings can be purchased for as little as $200 on Etsy.

Forgo tradition

Some of the best ways to save money on engagement rings is to break tradition. These are few ring choices that really buck current trends.

  1. Leather rings: A friend of mine who proposed to her boyfriend bought unisex leather rings from Etsy. The couple wore them for three years until the rings started to take on a funky odor (now they go ringless).
  2. Wooden rings: Wooden engagement occupy a large niche, and can be a cost effective alternative to precious metals. Wooden rings run anywhere from $50 for simple bands to several thousand dollars for rings that include ornate details and gemstones.
  3. Tattooed rings: Several friends and colleagues chose to get tattoos instead of rings citing that nothing says forever quite like a tattoo.

Save money now, upgrade later

If your fiancé has a big diamond taste, but you’ve got a small budget then consider upgrading later on. Here’s how.

  1. Propose with costume jewelry. Some consider proposing without a ring faux pas, but over ? of all women would not prefer to put off an engagement because their boyfriend can’t afford a ring. If you think you can save up for the real ring by the time of your wedding, an inexpensive piece of costume jewelry may be right for the proposal.
  2. Build as you go. Start with a simple band and stone, and add more or bigger gems for anniversary milestones.
  3. Go huge… once you have the money. My aunt wore a gold band for the first two decades of her marriage, but when it started to thin, she upgraded big time. She designed a custom ring with multiple gemstones and a 2-carat diamond center. Tenth and thirtieth wedding anniversaries are customary dates to upgrade wedding jewelry (though an informal Facebook poll indicated “When the kids move out” was another great time to upgrade).

Buy used

If you (or your fiancé) feels a divorce could taint a ring’s beauty, then shopping used isn’t for you, but overlooking a ring’s history can lead to significant savings. You can have the ring professionally cleaned to give it new beauty.

  1. Visit pawn shops. You’re likely buying the ring of a recent divorcee, but the savings can be irresistible. My sister-in-law’s ring came from a pawn shop for a mere $200.
  2. Search estate sales. If you regularly shop estate sales, you might uncover some a vintage ring at a spectacular price. Rings that aren’t presented with a certificate of authenticity will give you room to negotiate on price, but you may still accidentally buy overpriced junk. This technique is best for people with an eye for authenticity.
  3. Shop on ebay. Pre-owned rings from ebay represent about a 30% discount over identical new rings, and many owners provide certificates of authenticity.

Creative ways to get cash

Whether you’ll spend a few hundred dollars or thousands, an engagement ring doesn’t have to mean big debt. Consider a few creative ways to save the cash you need to pay for a ring in full.

  1. Sell your memorabilia. Your fiancé probably isn’t too enthusiastic about your KISS memorabilia, or your 27 signed hockey jerseys. Selling these to pay for her engagement ring will be a double sign of your love.
  2. Give new meaning to blood diamond. If you’re willing to regularly donate plasma, you can earn $100 per week or more. Adding this money to your savings can give you the power to buy within a few months (which is good, because ongoing regular plasma donations can be dangerous).
  3. Go dutch. If the ring in question is outside of your price range, consider asking your sweetheart to split the cost with you. If you’ll be sharing finances after you’re married, then this can actually lead to some great conversations.
  4. Save up, way in advance. If you’re not currently in a serious relationship, but you think that you’re the marrying kind, consider setting aside some cash for a future ring purchase. My husband started building a ring account at the age of 16 which made it easy to pop the question (at age 29).

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