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From our earliest years we are conditioned to dream of a fairy tale wedding. Every parent wants to give their child their dream wedding and to do all they can to support them. This can get very expensive. To avoid getting overwhelmed by all the expenses look carefully at the cost implications and prioritize carefully right from the start.

Many couples get carried away with the idea of the wedding and do not stop to contemplate the actual marriage. Sit down with your fiancé and talk about your goals and what you would like to achieve in the next year, five years and beyond, such as starting a family, buying a new car or paying a deposit on your first home. Write these goals down and keep them in view as you discuss the wedding plans. This should help you keep things in check as you prepare your life journey together.

Prepare a budget.
A good first step to keeping wedding costs under control is to prepare a detailed budget. Make a list of everything you can think of that you will need for the wedding; this includes both the traditional and religious wedding ceremonies, the pre wedding events, the wedding reception and the honeymoon. Prioritize according to the things that are most important to you. Build in a contingency fund for unplanned expenses; there will always be some.

Costs will usually include invitations, the wedding dress, hair and make up, outfits for bridesmaids and grooms men, church fees, church choir and musicians, DJ, band, reception venue, caterer, wedding cake, photographs, videographer, florist, guest favors, hotel, transportation, pre-wedding entertainment, honeymoon. It is advisable to hire a wedding or event planner, as they are usually able to negotiate with their network of vendors for significant discounts, extras or to waive certain rental fees.

In Nigeria and several African countries, a marriage is much more than a union between two people; it is a marriage of two extensive, extended families. This means that the biggest factor that will influence your costs is likely to be the number of guests that will attend often without formal invitation. If your average cost per person for food, drink, and rentals is N10,000, removing thirty people from your guest list will save you N300,000. You will find that small compromises can often add up to big savings.

A buffet menu tends to work out to be cheaper than a plated one. Guests have come to expect and enjoy a good selection of mouth watering finger foods popularly coined “small chops” that are filling and are reasonably priced at between N600 – N2000 per head depending on the menu.

Drinks are a major cost particularly if spirits, fine wines and champagne are on the list. Even where you bring your own drinks to a hotel, the corkage rates can be prohibitive. A way to limit bar costs is to provide guests with basic drinks including water, fruit juices and soft drinks and drink tickets specifically for alcoholic drinks; after using their tickets, guests can purchase additional drinks with cash should they wish to do so. This is fairly common in other societies.

You don’t have to have everything. Guest favors need not be extravagant; a small meaningful memento of sentimental value will do. Large wedding cakes are a huge waste as usually desert is served at the wedding. A wedding planner mentioned that about 50% of the wedding cake goes to waste as half the guests have left before it has even been cut and shared. Remember you can still achieve the glorious look of the multi-tiered wedding cake if you replace some of the tiers with “dummy” cakes.

What are the most important things to you about your wedding day? The ring, which you will wear for decades, your wedding dress, or the photographs and video that must capture the memories? You can buy a beautiful ring without spending a fortune and then upgrade as a sentimental gesture on a future anniversary and as you refine your preferences. Bridegrooms and groomsmen routinely rent their outfits, but most brides will gasp at the suggestion that one might rent the dress of your dreams at a fraction of the cost of a new dress!

Start early, plan ahead
In an ideal world, parents should have been setting aside funds for family weddings as with other major goals such as funding your child’s education. Once you have passed the education funding hurdle, this is likely to be the next big spend.

Invest according to your time horizon. For a wedding that’s just less than a year away, funds should be placed in a bank fixed deposit or a money market mutual fund. If the expected marriage is still over five years away, you might invest in a portfolio of stocks for the prospect of long-term capital growth. An equity fund would also be an ideal choice as it offers flexibility, diversification and professional management.

Who pays for what?
In the past, Yoruba tradition was not financially kind to the bride’s family who was expected to cover most of the costs. Nowadays both families tend to play a role and the division of costs is largely dependent on each family’s financial standing and of the bride and groom themselves. It is less about tradition and protocol, but rather, about circumstances, common sense and who can afford what, that should dictate who pays for what. It is only when you know how much will be available that you can start to plan.

Attempting to split the bill between two families can be complicated so there must be absolutely clarity about how much each is willing and able to support. The couple and their families should meet and have a frank discussion about this. Early and frequent communication is key so that the families get a good sense of the couple’s desires and expectations. One must be sensitive as money conversations can be awkward; sometimes the family that is contributing more might feel entitled to more control.

You don’t want relationships to be strained even before the wedding. Do not feel bad if you are a parent of the bride and cannot afford to pay for the entire wedding. Very few people expect that anymore. Don’t be railroaded into wiping out your retirement savings just to keep up appearances. A wedding need not cost millions of naira.

For late in life marriages, as the couple might have been working for many years, they should be able to pay for their wedding expenses themselves even though family members might offer some assistance.

The “Bride Price” or “Dowry” is the monetary payment to the parents or guardians of a bride by the groom on account of marriage. The amount varies from one culture to another and there is no fixed amount on how much can or should be paid. It ranges from a token sum of a couple of two thousand, to millions of naira. The dowry can be a mix of monetary value and household items, food and livestock. Some families opt out of this tradition and waive the dowry altogether.

Don’t jeopardize your retirement plans
It is nice to always want to put your children first, but it is not necessarily always the best thing. You cannot afford to sacrifice your retirement to fund your children’s weddings. Whilst it might be nice to move in with your children in your twilight years, you do not want this to be because you are penniless. Your retirement planning, your emergency fund and medical insurance must be your priority, ahead of wedding plans.

Should you borrow?
It is never wise to begin a marriage carrying significant debt. Try to discourage your son or daughter should they be considering borrowing to finance their wedding; encourage them to mark the occasion with a modest ceremony and celebration. They can have a bigger party later. No one should go into mountains of debt just for one day.

Downsize
Consider inviting fewer guests. Today, couples are confidently inviting only those people who are most important to them. Simpler, scaled-down and more intimate weddings are becoming more popular. Destination weddings are one of the ways that couples have been able to reduce the numbers of guests and have a more manageable day.

Yewande Zaccheaus, CEO of Eventful Ltd, a leading event planning company in Nigeria says “Most of the weddings we organize range from 1,000 to 2,000 guests. Our African heritage of large circles of family and friends who simply must be invited to the event does make weddings extremely expensive. We now recommend a small engagement and a larger wedding or a large engagement and a small intimate wedding, as a practical way of reducing costs. It really is quite unnecessary to entertain the same 1,000 guests twice in the course of a few days. Many clients are catching unto this revelation and this helps to reduce their costs significantly. We keep telling our clients, there is life after the wedding day!

A small wedding, by Nigerian standards, of say one hundred guests with an intimate reception in a nice restaurant will save you lots of money; yet this won’t even cover the cost of renting a hotel banquet hall. A weekday or off-season date as opposed to a December weekend will also be cheaper.

Shared costs
In many churches and wedding venues there might be more than one event holding on the same day. It is worth considering sharing some of the costs so that both parties can benefit from the splendid floral and other decor particularly if there is a relatively neutral colour scheme; beautiful flowers for a 10 am wedding can still be retained for a noon wedding the same day. Hold the marriage ceremony and reception at the same venue will also help to keep costs down.

“Get a little help from your friends”
You will find that there could be significant savings if you would just ask. In lieu of a gift, a relation might offer to host one of the ceremonies in their large garden, your talented friend might want to use this event to showcase photography, culinary, music or make up skills. A family member might provide the getaway car, and with the use of a vacation house and the gift of air miles you could have a wonderful honeymoon.

It is about the marriage and not the wedding.

Research shows that financial concerns are one of the most common sources of tension in relationships and have some part in most divorces, yet most couples go into marriage without ever broaching this subject. It may not be romantic, but it is important. Don’t let the wedding ruin your marriage; remember it is about the marriage and not the wedding.

About Nimi Akinkugbe

Nimi Akinkugbe has extensive experience in private wealth management. She seeks to empower people regarding their finances and offers frank, practical insights to create a greater awareness and understanding of personal finance. You can reach Nimi via the following: Email; info@moneymatterswithnimi | Website: www.moneymatterswithnimi.com | Twitter:@MMWITHNIMI | Instagram: @MMWITHNIMI | Facebook: MoneyMatterswithNimi