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How I Funded My Wedding

October 21, 2011

By Cathie Gandel | Money Rates Columnist

With a current average cost near $25,000, weddings can pose a serious financial challenge. And while some may consider it archaic to expect the bride's family to foot the bill, the three mothers below didn't hesitate to open their wallets for their daughters' weddings.

Each took different approaches, and budget was a concern for them all. But through a variety of methods -- including working extra hours, tapping retirement savings accounts and even recycling old clothes -- each dug in to help fund the big day.

Working for the wedding(s)

Ruth Linkous had twice the burden of most: her two daughters scheduled weddings only one month apart. Rebecca, her older daughter, planned a June wedding, while her younger sister Rachel chose July. Each wedding had a budget of $5,000.

"Rachel gave me a year to save up, but Rebecca announced her engagement six months before," Linkous said. So the Middletown, Ohio, woman worked two jobs to save the $10,000. From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., she prepared food in the kitchen of a Greek restaurant. In the afternoon, she worked as a home health aide.

Before even the first wedding, she had saved $8,000, making her confident she would reach her $10,000 goal. Still, she paid careful attention to the interest rates on her savings.

"I have a special account, and when I have $1,000, I put it in my husband's account because his pays more interest," she said.

Then help came in an unexpected way to ease her savings burden further.

"I wondered why I was working in this restaurant for $7 an hour," Linkous said. "And then the owner offered to cater the wedding at no charge."

Turning to the nest egg

"We did not save to have a wedding, although I know a lot of Italian families do that," said Mary Ferracci of Huntersville, N.C. She budgeted $25,000 for her daughter Gina's April wedding.

"We're lucky," Ferracci said. "We're able to pay for the wedding with money from my husband's 401(k) because he is at the age where he could tap it without penalty."

Originally, the Ferraccis considered a destination wedding in Saint Lucia, but they eventually decided to go "more local and less expensive."

This turned out to be wise. The incidentals, the Ferraccis discovered, can run up the bill in a hurry. Ferracci said that the costs of small things such as invitations, table decorations and clothing all added up quickly.

Financial advisers generally recommend against tapping retirement accounts for anything before retirement, but Ferracci said she has no doubt it was the right decision for her and her daughter.

"This is probably the biggest party we'll ever give," Ferracci said. "It's worth it."

"Trash" into treasure

Saving toward a goal is not a new concept for Kelly Biggs of Mesa, Ariz. Last year, she saved more than $4,000 to fund a family vacation. So when her oldest daughter, Amanda, announced her engagement, Biggs knew just what to do to raise the $5,000 budget for the wedding.

"I have six daughters, so it's super important to stay within the budget," she said. "The other girls will be watching."

Biggs converts "trash to cash" by selling items at garage sales and on eBay and Craigslist. She also has an estate sale business and scheduled two sales before the wedding.

She gets her stock from thrift stores, other yard sales and even her own home. On a visit to New York, Biggs found a Goodwill outlet selling clothes for $1.69 a pound.

"I got a whole lot of dresses for less than a dollar each," she said.

In planning for the wedding, her eBay sales went into a designated PayPal account and the cash from Craigslist went into a jar. With six weeks to earn $5,000 to pay for the wedding, she needed to earn $900 a week.

"I got off to a slow start," Biggs said. In her first week, she only earned $263.78 from selling clothes on eBay. Still, she remained confident she'd meet her goal.

Fortunately, Biggs was able to cut expenses by depending on the kindness of family and friends. For instance, she was able to eliminate the need for a photographer, a significant cost for many weddings.

"We have three photographers in the family," she said.

The pay-off

Some may consider spending thousands on a wedding to be imprudent in today's economy, even if the savings have come from extra income that wouldn't exist without the cause. Still, Linkous said that there is more to consider than just the money.

"Two friends who never had a wedding told me that I should do anything and everything to give my girls a wedding," she said.


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