Okay, so you’re doing it. You’ve embarked on the trek that is wedding planning. Maybe you’ve started looking at vendors or locations or even started making a preliminary guest list. Maybe you've even read my first blog in this series about how to get started with planning your wedding! But before you go any further, STOP! Let’s get you started on the right foot so that you can make it through this marathon happy (and keep you from throwing your hands up in defeat at mile 5).
Making a budget early on in the process is so so important. In terms of managing stress, later on, it’s probably the most important thing you can do right now. Here are five ways to get started with putting a dollar sign on your big day.
1) First off, you need to figure out how much money you can spend.
Obviously, having even a rough estimate is better than having nothing, but having a specific budget for the day will allow you the freedom to prioritize the things that are the most important to you. In 2019, the average cost of a wedding in the United States was just above $23,000. You may be thinking more, less, or around that figure. But in a few months, you don't want your actual cost to surprise you. To start straightening out the money situation, do these three things:
Have an uncomfortable money conversation with your families.
Yeah, this is not going to be fun, but it has to happen. You don’t have to ask them to pay for everything, but knowing whether or not they’re planning to contribute anything will help you to shape your overall budget. If they are willing to help out financially, either have them commit to a dollar amount or pay for a particular aspect of the wedding.
Figure out how much you and your partner can each contribute.
Right now, how much can you and your partner comfortably commit to your wedding? How much do you have in savings and how will this wedding contribution affect it? How important is your wedding budget as compared to other goals further down the line (like buying a new house or a new car)?
Figure out how much you can both put aside from your income.
Look at how much each of you is bringing in and agree on a certain amount that each of you can put aside. Kudos to you if you’re early enough in the process that you can commit to a monthly wedding cash-fund (like a rainy-day jar but for weddings). Or maybe you both decide on a starting figure that you’re the most comfortable contributing and work from there.
2) After you’ve figured out a rough idea of how much you can budget for the wedding, it’s time to consider what’s going to have the largest impact on it.
The size of the guest list.
150 people or 25? That’s a difference of a few thousand dollars. If that difference fits nicely within your budget or your priority is having a big wedding with all your friends and family present, then stick with the 125. But if that few thousand dollars means breaking the wedding bank, maybe consider narrowing the guest list a bit.
Okay, doubtless you want to be married somewhere beautiful. Sometimes that beauty is going to come at a high price tag. Make sure you have a clear idea of how important the venue location is for you (because I can tell you I have seen some remarkable weddings in a friend’s rustic barn and some just pretty-ok ones at luxury resorts).
The style of the wedding.
Classic, black-tie, elegant, and traditional are all styles that are likely to raise your overall price tag. These types of weddings typically mean steak or seafood and a live band, both things that can drive the total price up significantly. On average, couples spend just under $7,000 for a wedding of 136 guests (about $51 per plate of food). Be aware so that you don’t end up envisioning a lavish event where you can’t feed the guests.
Weddings during wedding seasons are always going to be more expensive (summer and fall). Weddings in the off-seasons, winter, and spring, are more likely to bring discounts on venues and vendors.
Believe it or not, having a wedding at 12:30 pm and 5:30 pm can be a difference of five or six thousand dollars. Evening weddings are often more sought after but often mean providing alcoholic drinks, driving up the price tag even further.
3) Create a spreadsheet and use this to track your expenses.
Add a column titled “estimated”. This is where you’ll put the amount you think that you’ll spend right now on the various aspects needed for the day.
Add a column titled “modified”. Once you do some initial research and begin reaching out to vendors, add these prices to your new column. Make sure to figure out if the prices include tax and gratuity. Also, make sure to read the fine print. Some photographers may charge you thousands of dollars to be able to access photos for sharing and downloading.
Add a column titled “actual”. This is where, after reaching out and booking your services, you’ll add the price you’ve already paid/are planning to pay.
Add a column titled “extras”. This should be about 15% of the total budget. It’s a cushion, so even if you don’t end up spending all of it, it’s good to work this into your estimates for the day.
4) Things that might throw your budget a curveball:
- Forgetting to have the budget talk
- Forgetting to track your budget during the process
- Boosting your income by paying with your credit card. Don’t do this as tempting as it may seem! As a general rule of thumb for weddings, try not to pay for anything you can’t pay off in 30 days. You can boost your overall budget if you register for cash gifts or create a savings plan.
5) Things to do if you go over budget:
- Change the venue
- Edit the guest list
- Have your wedding off-peak
- Prolong your engagement. Vendors are much more willing to negotiate if they don’t think you’re in a time crunch
- Plan your wedding yourself and save thousands from having to hire a wedding coordinator or day-of coordinator
- Have the ceremony and reception in the same place to save on transportation for guests
- Don’t hire a live band as they can cost thousands while a DJ may only charge a few thousand
- Don’t let yourself be upsold by vendors. Use the same vendor for multiple items that you need (maybe your caterer also provides party favors for guests)
- Order, stuff, and address your invitations yourself. Some wedding invitation vendors will charge you $7 per invitation!
Creating a budget and sticking with it is difficult! But so is having a wedding! The process should be fun and get you excited for the big day and creating a budget can help save you a headache down the line. If you’re losing sleep thinking about the budget or about beginning the planning process, you can always consider an elopement. These are far cheaper, easier to plan, and offer a more unique and intimate experience for you and your partner where you can truly focus on your love without all the extra stuff.
Need help with the guest list, stay tuned for a new guide about how to create a perfect one that doesn't hurt great Aunt Sally's feelings.