A wedding should be a joyous occasion filled with love, laughter and maybe some anxiety about everything going according to plan. But when two millennials exchange vows, it comes at a much higher cost than the price tag of a wedding.
The average millennial carries an unprecedented debt burden: an average $29,400 in student loans, according to the Institute for College Access & Success.
It's no surprise then that the Pew Research Center reports only 26 percent of the millennial generation between ages 18 and 32 got hitched in 2013 -- 10 percent lower than when Generation X was in the same age range and 22 percent less than baby boomers.
If the marriage of two millennials could result in nearly $60,000 in debt from the start, what's a newlywed couple to do?
Talk About Money Early
Money is too often considered a taboo topic and not a discussion to be had on a romantic date. But those early dates are really the best time to be talking about money.
Financial compatibility is an important part of marital bliss. Couples need to talk about how each person views debt, spending versus saving money, future goals and exactly how much debt would be brought into the marriage.
People will grow and change during a relationship and marriage, and it's important for financial growth to happen together. Being on the same financial path can also reduce marital stress.
Don't Go Into Debt for a Wedding
Financial problems are consistently reported as one of the top reasons couples get divorced. A bride and groom already saddled with debt should take every measure possible to avoid sinking deeper in the hole just for a wedding.
Borrowing money for a wedding just adds more stress to come up with the cash for a payment each month on top of student loans and any other debt. Imagine throwing in a mortgage, a car payment and trying to have a child then on top of that.
Create a Plan
While it's certainly best to create a debt-attack plan at the beginning of a marriage, it's never too late to get started.
Harmony and Jason Smith got married at age 22, but it wasn't until 10 years later the couple began to truly assess their financial situation.
The couple entered marriage with both credit card and student loan debt and didn't pay much attention to the struggles of paying it down until Harmony Smith stumbled upon personal finance blogs focused on early retirement and financial independence.
"While there were discussions focused on the present state of our finances [throughout the marriage], we never set any goals or made any concrete plans with respect to money," says Harmony Smith, who shares their experience on CreatingMyKaleidoscope.com.
With over $100,000 in debt between credit cards and student loans (excluding two mortgages) -- the Smiths began to get serious fast about paying down debt, starting with the credit cards.
"Our strategy is pretty simple: Save money and make more money," Smith says. The couple adheres to a frugal lifestyle and currently forgoes anything they deem as unnecessary expenses, including cable, eating out, buying coffee, spending on entertainment and buying new clothing.
After a decade of marriage, two children and one on the way, this couple found a way to add a new spark to their relationship.
"It's actually been a great thing for our marriage to have unique and exciting goals," Smith says. "We're working together as a team, motivated by the promise of living life on our own terms."
The Unexpected Will Happen
Megan Harris, 26, didn't have a financial wake-up call until she received a pink slip last July. She had been married for over three years, and the couple had significant debt to contend with, including Harris' $117,000 in student loans.
"We weren't living within our means -- we ate out way too much, for example -- and weren't keeping as tight of a hold on our finances as we should have," Harris admits.
After the shock of losing her income, Harris and her husband were motivated to not only figure out how to dig out of debt, but also make better decisions for their young daughter's future.
The two developed a debt repayment plan, Harris found another job and began freelancing to bring in more money and the couple figured out how to work through the tough patch by communicating and budgeting.
Financial Advice from Married Couples
Those about to enter a marital union could always use a little advice from people who have already been there. Here are some tips from money experts:
"You will change your mind and your priorities along the way. A good financial plan to stay out of debt and build up assets will give you the flexibility and freedom to live a better life, whatever that ends up meaning to you." -- Harmony Smith, married 10 years.
"Build your emergency savings up! Don't touch it -- let it grow, and you'll have the peace of mind to make better decisions with your money with a cushion in place." -- Megan Harris, married four years.
"You don't have to agree on everything, but you have to talk about it." -- Ben Luthi, The Wealth Gospel founder, married five years.
"Decide on who is going to handle what financially. Will you do a team approach on everything, or will one partner handle certain things and the other person the rest?" -- John Schmoll, Frugal Rules founder and U.S. news Frugal Shopper contributor, married 14 years.
"Financial success is more about communication than numbers. We have weekly 10-minute meetings to talk about bills, investments and plans. We only fight about money when we skip that quick flyby meeting." -- Joe Saul-Sehy, "Stacking Benjamins" podcast host, married 22 years.
"Resist the urge to start off with separate finances. Combining finances when you're young is much easier than doing it down the road, and it will ultimately lead to better financial outcomes and a sense of teamwork." -- Holly Johnson, Club Thrifty founder, married 10 years.
"Understand that marriage is hardly ever 50-50. Sometimes you'll feel like it's 20-80, and other times it seems like 80-20. A healthy relationship can flex and bend so that each partner supports the other and receives that support when it's needed." -- Kali Hawlk, financial writer, married three years.
Erin Lowry writes about personal finance and manages social media for MagnifyMoney.com, a site dedicated to helping consumers save money by finding simple, transparent financial products. She is also the founder of the personal finance blog Broke Millennial.