(MoneyWatch) Weddings, in size and cost, are astronomical these days. A lot of couples fall into the trap of thinking "anything goes" in pursuit of that "perfect" day and end up spending way more than they can actually afford. The average wedding costs over $28,000. Compare that to the median household income -- less than -- $53,000 -- and you find a lot of couples borrowing money to pay for their weddings and paying it off years later.
A marriage that begins in debt is starting off on the wrong foot: You don't want to be celebrating your 20th wedding anniversary by celebrating that you've finally paid off your debt.
We're becoming what I call a "rental nation," moving from being more of a ownership-based society to a rental one.
We're all familiar with the more traditional rental aspects of a wedding, from the groom's tuxedo to a classic getaway car for a stylish exit, but one new trend we're seeing a lot is renting the bride's dress. The dress is one of the highest ticket items of a wedding, and if you think about it, we've had it backwards: Men should buying their tuxedos and women should be renting their dresses. When it comes to buying off the rack, I encourage the bride on a budget to say "no" to the dress. Renting a fantastic option for women who want to wear their dream dress but don't want to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a garment with a six-hour shelf life. There are many online options: onenightaffair.com and renttherunway.com are just a couple.
In addition, the bride can rent her jewelry, handbag, shoes and even her veil. Happilyeverborrowed.com has all sorts of bridal accessories for rent. And let's say a bride doesn't want to wear costume jewelry -- she wants to wear real diamonds on her wedding day. She can truly feel like a princess by renting the "Kate Middleton" earrings (modeled on the ones she wore at the royal wedding) from adorn.com. They retail for $10,875 and rent for $160. The savings are staggering.
The same goes for the wedding party: The average bridesmaid spends $1,695. Doubtlessly, the bride will tell you that you can "totally wear that dress again," but the truth is that no one ever wears that dress again. While most bridesmaid dresses are moderately priced, if you add it up, we spend a total of $2.1 billion a year on bridesmaid dresses alone.
The good news is that bridesmaids can rent everything as well. Renttherunway.com's weddings section solves the "27 Dresses" problem, and another option is littleborroweddress.com. Let your bridesmaids rent their dresses and they can spend more money on your gift.
Here's the kicker: You can even rent a wedding cake. A lot of couples consider their cake to be a work of art and it holds a place of honor by the dance floor, so they rationalize spending way too much on it. You can rent a fantastic looking three tier cake for $125 from cakerental.com or pay $100 extra for a custom design. The cake is foam and inedible, but there's a hidden compartment in the back of the bottom layer where you can put a real piece of cake, so you'll still get your photo op. Also, your guests still get to eat -- but instead of an overpriced floral-bedecked confectionary, it's sheet cake that's sliced behind the scenes.
One final tip: When renting the space for your wedding, you might consider a nearby historical site. If you choose a historical garden, museum or homestead, or even a state or national park, the fee you pay may be deductible as a donation. Check with the site for more details. You can also donate leftover food and flowers to a non-profit for a tax write-off.