Making the big decisions

Congrats, you’re engaged! Now what?

Making the decision to get married seems to set off a torrent of new decisions that need to be made: What? When? Where? How? (Hopefully you have the “Why?” already figured out. )

While the task list can be overwhelming, there are a few big choices you can make upfront (and making them early can eliminate some stress later on).

First, the scale. Do you want an intimate ceremony with just you and your beloved? Or a large gathering of family and friends to celebrate with after the “I do’s?” Among the factors that may go into that choice are the level of support among family and friends, timing and budget.

According to a 2013 study by Community Marketing & Insights and the Gay Wedding Institute, same-sex couples are increasingly having larger wedding celebrations. Of surveyed couples who were already married, 26 percent had a simple City Hall ceremony, and 8 percent had no ceremony at all. But just 11 percent of newly engaged couples were planning a City Hall marriage, and all were planning to have a ceremony of some sort. For already-married couples who did mark the occasion with a celebration with guests, 19 percent had a reception for 25-99 people and 14 percent invited more than 100 people; newly engaged couples, however, were planning bigger ceremonies, with 28 percent intending to invite 25-99 people and 28 percent inviting more than 100 guests.

The timeline you’re looking at may also impact the scale — a longer engagement may lend itself well to planning, and saving, for a bigger affair. The average engagement for heterosexual couples is about 14 months, while there is no hard and fast data yet for same-sex couples.

Figuring out the type of wedding you want, and when you want it, will be integral in coming up with your budget. Just as with size, same-sex couples are increasingly spending more on weddings. About half of married couples included in the CMI report spent less than $6,000 on their weddings, compared with 34 percent of engaged couples; about a quarter of engaged couples instead are planning to spend more than $20,000. Heterosexual couples spend, on average, between $25,000-$30,000 on weddings.

The dreaded B-word is easily one of the most stress-inducing aspects of wedding-planning, but, as long as the couple commits ahead of time to what type of wedding they want, and how long they want to take to plan, budgets can be designed to fit couples of all lifestyles (more next month).

Another early decision may be where to marry, a particular concern for same-sex couples. While Pennsylvania remains the only Northeast state without marriage equality, locals can travel to New Jersey, New York, Delaware, D.C. or Maryland to tie the knot; Pennsylvania couples marrying out of state will be granted federal recognition but not (yet) state recognition. First research each state’s laws, and talk to a legal professional, as each state has varying marriage and divorce laws.

Once you’ve selected the state from which you’ll receive your marriage license, then comes the decision of where to hold a reception (if you’re having one). While many couples may want to give their wedding dollars to a state that sanctions their union, proximity of wedding guests or attraction to a particular venue might also be a consideration. For my partner and me, the majority of our guests are in the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York area; we’ll have a small, legal ceremony in New Jersey and a quasi-traditional ceremony and reception in Pennsylvania.

Tying the knot ultimately comes down to just you, your partner and the “why” of your engagement. Understanding (and being on the same page about) why you both want to take the plunge may be one overarching theme to keep in mind when making decisions about your scale. Making these big decisions early on, and staying committed to them, is a good way to keep yourselves organized and on track as the big day approaches.

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