YOUR MONEY-Marrying after 30? Open your heart - and wallet

NEW YORK, April 9 Wed Apr 9, 2014 8:00am EDT

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NEW YORK, April 9 (Reuters) - When Jessica Yingling and Christopher Mahoney get married this May, they will be footing the bill for their wedding.

"It just seemed wrong to ask for or take money from our parents for a wedding," says Yingling, who is 36. Her husband-to-be is 38. "We're doing well in our careers, and everyone is an adult. If we want a big wedding, or anything for that matter, we should pay for it."

Yingling and Mahoney, who live in San Diego and are getting married in Chicago, are among a growing number of couples over 30 who pay for their own weddings because they can afford it and want to keep control of the process. Many of these couples also have cash-strapped, post-Recession parents who may not be able to cover the costs.

An estimated 25 percent of weddings today are financed by the bride and bridegroom alone, although that number jumps to around 30 percent if you're looking at couples over age 30, estimates David Wood, president of the Association of Bridal Consultants, which has 4,000 members in 50 states. Ten years ago, around 15 percent covered their wedding costs, Wood estimates.

That's a dramatic shift from even three decades ago, when a bride's parents paid the entire wedding bill, which averaged $29,858 in 2013, according to theknot.com's annual survey.

Since couples are marrying later - a 2012 U.S. Census Bureau survey shows that since 1970, the median age for men and women has climbed by 3.6 and 4.3 years respectively, to 26.8 years and 25.1 years - that makes their parents that much older, too.

Angela Thompson, author of "Unveiled: Secrets of the Wedding Industry," says tales of couples "who end up drowning in wedding debt" are not uncommon. While credit cards do offer some protection from unscrupulous vendors, it's too easy to lose track of wedding spending by just charging everything.

To decide who is going to pay and how much, here are the key factors to consider:

1. Do you want to retain control?

The reason Constance McBarron, and her husband, both 30, paid for their own wedding last September is that she didn't want to budge on her vision. "When you accept someone else's money, you also have to accept their input and guest list and it always gets out of hand," says McBarron, who wanted a very small, intimate wedding - and they got just that for the cost of $1,500.

Both are professionals making good money, but they didn't see the need to go broke for a wedding, especially since they had recently purchased a house. The reception was at a local burger joint.

Even if she had wanted a gala affair, McBarron says that she likely wouldn't have asked for financial help. "We were both 30 years old, and it seemed kind of ridiculous as an adult to have our parents pay," she says.

2. What is your budget?

The lower the budget, the more affordable it will be to foot the whole cost yourself.

Virginia Hilton and her husband Joel married in June of 2011 when she was 32 and he was 35 - and were able to afford to marry in peak season because they used a friend's vacation home on the beach in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The couple both set aside money from each paycheck for eight months and spent about $5,000.

For those with parents who would like a bigger - read: more expensive - wedding, you can always let them pay for the extras themselves. That's the advice from Elizabeth Robinson Edwards, a 36-year-old in Denver who got married last summer.

"I paid for a lot of it myself," she says. "But Mom pitched in for the bigger ticket details she wanted to splurge on, like a fancier caterer and more hours with the photographer."

3. Who can afford to pay?

That's a question every family has to do decide, but if you have the money, and your parents don't, you'll likely be doing them a big favor by taking away the financial burden.

Joani Yingling, Jessica's 61-year-old mother who lives in Tucson, Arizona, says she and her 73-year-old husband appreciate her daughter and future son-in-law volunteering to foot the wedding bill. "While they are on the upswing of their earning potential, we are on the downward side," she says. "We are a blue-collar, barely middle-class family."

Adults marrying now are aware of the financial burden on families, she notes. "There was a time when the financial outlay of a wedding was more than covered by the gifts of money received by the newlyweds. I don't think that's the case any longer."

4. Is it your second (or third) wedding?

If you're on your second or third marriage, Thompson says that the odds of a parent paying for a wedding plunges, particularly if both bride and groom are starting another one.

"The first wedding was supposed to be the 'till death do us part," Thompson says. "Very likely, the parents saved for their child's college and first wedding, but did not make any financial plans with a second wedding in mind."

She adds: "We've just come off a very serious recession. Which means in many homes, the children are lucky if Mom and Dad can now afford to pay for your wedding the first time around, let alone a second trip down the aisle." (Follow us @ReutersMoney or here. Editing by Beth Pinsker, Lauren Young and Andrew Hay)

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