Congratulations on your engagement! Now that you and your partner have decided to tie the knot, it’s time to sit down and start planning your wedding. But before you start, you should know that the average wedding in the U.S. costs around $25k.
You may be tempted to put your wedding expenses on a credit card and just deal with them later. But starting your marriage out with a heavy load of debt could put undue pressure on your relationship. Here are some steps you could take to make sure your special day doesn’t leave you in the red.
1. Decide What Kind of Wedding You Want to Have
The first step is to for you and your fiancé to put your heads together and create a vision for the wedding you both want to have. Do you imagine an intimate affair in your parents’ beautiful backyard, or are you more of a dramatic-hotel-chandelier type of couple? Do you want a full live band playing all night, or would you prefer a playlist you made yourself on an iPod piped through rented speakers? Would you like to invite every person you’ve ever met, or keep it to a select group of friends and family? All of these factors come into play when creating your budget, and it’s very important to get on the same page with your future spouse so you can effectively prioritize and allot money for each of your budget items.
The location of your wedding typically has the biggest impact on your budget. Wedding venues in major cities can be expensive, as each vendor is priced at the going local rate. But smaller, more remote places can be pricey too since travel and accommodations costs could add up quickly.
In addition to deciding where to have your wedding, deciding when to have it can impact your budget. You might be itching to get hitched, but having a longer engagement allows you to save up more money. While you may want a giant bash with 300 people 6 months from now, you might realize it’s more realistic to do something smaller if you can’t wait. Or, you can push out your gala another year to give yourself enough time to save up for the elaborate affair of your dreams.
2. Determine How Much You Can Spend
The next and most crucial step in the process is figuring out the numbers. How much do you and your fiancé actually have to spend? Have you been socking money away in a “future wedding” account for the last decade, or are you just starting to save the moment of your engagement? How much can you realistically save between now and your anticipated date? You and your future spouse can view this as the first series of financial choices you’ll make together as a married couple.
Are your families going to contribute to your wedding costs? Now is the time to sit down with each of them to discuss what, if anything, they are able to contribute. Sometimes they can give you a lump sum that you can factor into your budget, and other times they will contribute to cover a specific budget item, say, the venue, or the catering. Or, your parents may not be able to contribute anything at all. Regardless, it’s important to be clear about what you and your fiancé can expect from them when you sit down to make your budget.
Having the money conversation with your parents can be intimidating, but once it’s out of the way, you will have a much easier time of creating a realistic budget you can actually stick to. Once you’ve totaled up all the numbers: what you have already, what your families can contribute, and what you can reasonably save between now and then, you’ll have your working budget.
3. Figure Out How You’re Going To Spend Your Money
Once you know how much you can spend, you can figure out how you’re going to spend it. Start by making a spreadsheet that accounts for every single item, large or small, that you will need to pay for. Then, allocate realistic amounts to each of them. The obvious large expenses are the venue, catering, flowers, etc., but other smaller expenses can add up, so it’s important to be aware of them and try to account for them as best you can. Inevitably there will be a number of small things that arise unexpectedly, so it’s also good to allocate a portion of your budget for these miscellaneous items and fees.
This is where you need to start setting priorities. Maybe you have your heart set on a specific venue, and don’t care so much about what the food is like, or maybe food is the most important thing for you, and you’d be happy to just set up in a park somewhere with a minimal permit fee. These options are important to weigh, and doing so will be helpful in determining how much to budget for each category. If you’re an expert planner with a lot of experience, you might be totally comfortable planning everything yourself, but if you’re not, hiring a wedding planner might be worth the cost in order to save yourself some stress.
Only you and your future spouse can decide which elements of your wedding are most important to you. Below is a breakdown of possible budgets at many different price points.
|Venue||Mom’s backyard : $0||Hip local art gallery : $1000||The church you grew up in : $500 + historic local house for reception:$3,000= $3,500||Catholic cathedral in town: $1,500 + all inclusive restaurant for reception:|
$12,000 = $13,500
|All-inclusive hotel/resort venue: $20,000|
|Catering||Buffet from a local café, for 60 people: ($15/person = $900) + disposable dinnerware ($200) = $1,100||Full service catering for 100 people: $50/person = $5,000||Buffet catering for 150 people (caterer has dining ware): $25/person = $10,00||Included in the venue expense||Included in the venue expense|
|Booze||From local discount store, served by your cousins: $400||Catered open bar: $1,200||Catered open bar: $1,800||Included in the venue expense||Included in the venue expense|
|Planner||D.I.Y.: $0||Day-of-coordinator: $1000||Wedding planner: $2000||Wedding planner: $2500||Included in the venue expense|
|Invitations||Custom e-vites: $50||100 D.I.Y. laser printed: $250 for type, paper, envelopes, & ink||150 Print-on-demand service: $350||200 Pre-designed letterpress: $1,000||300 Custom designed letterpress: $2,500|
|Photography||A dear friend, as a gift: $100 for thank you gift||Local art school student: $500||Less experienced photographer: $850||Professional photographer: $2,500||Premium professional photographer: $7,000|
|Music||Ipod + rented PA system: $200||Mid-level part-time DJ: $450||Jazz quartet: $1,300||A local band: $1,200||Experienced professional DJ/MC: $2,000|
|Attire||Secondhand dress + alterations: $600 + suit: $350 = $1150||Sample sale dress + alterations: $1500 + suit: $500 = $2000||Vintage dress + alterations: $1000 + suit: $400 = $1650||Dress + alterations: $2000 + suit: $500 = $2500||Dream dress + alterations: $10000 + rented tuxedo: $400 = $10400|
|Flowers||Purchased at local wholesale florist, assembled by friends and family the day before: $250||A florist friend who gives you a deal: $600||Paid for by your sister as a gift: $0||Local florist: $1200||Venue’s premium vendor: $2000|
|Rentals||Tables, linens and chairs for the backyard: $300||Tables & linens (the gallery has chairs): $250||Cocktail tables & linens (available existing seating): $300||Included in the venue expense||Included in the venue expense|
|Hair/Makeup||Do it yourself: $150 for supplies||A friend who will give you a deal: $200||Department store makeup counter: $150||Professional hair & makeup: $300||Professional hair & makeup: $500|
4. Get Quotes
Once you’ve made your initial budget and allotments toward each spending category, it’s time to get quotes from vendors. There are many resources online for finding appropriate vendors in your area. The Knot has many sorted by city and budget price point. Having your budget in-hand allows you to know what sorts of amenities are realistic. It’s also best-practice to get multiple quotes from a variety of vendors in order to ensure you’re getting the best price. Knowing the range of what’s available can help you avoid overpaying or getting swindled.
It’s also important to consider outlying factors when getting these quotes. Does the caterer provide silverware and dinnerware, or do you need to buy your own? Does the venue already have tables and chairs, or do you need to rent them separately? Do you want a full-service florist, or do you want to buy flowers from a wholesaler and spend the day before your wedding making your own arrangements with your friends? D.I.Y. solutions can be appealing, but sometimes the labor involved is too exhausting, and other times they don’t really end up being cheaper than hiring a professional. Make sure you’re fully aware of what you’re taking on when you decide to do it yourself.
5. Re-Adjust Your Plan
After you do the legwork to get quotes on different aspects of your event, it’s time to reevaluate. Have you found a caterer you love, but the per-person-price is over your budget? Maybe it’s worth it to cut your guest list down a little in order to afford the food you really want. If you’re clear on your priorities, you can find the right spots to trim back, and there are always creative ways to do that. Communicate with your chosen vendors and make sure you made all the necessary adjustments before you sign any contracts.
Budgeting Doesn’t Have to Ruin the Fun
Budgeting for your wedding might feel scary to begin with, but doing it ahead of time can save countless headaches, as well as precious funds. Not having a clear picture of how much you can afford can lead to overspending or even leave you open to being manipulated by expensive vendors. Sticking to your budget is worth it, as money trouble is a contentious topic in any relationship, and a large load of debt can burden your relationship with years of added emotional stress. If you and your future spouse approach your wedding budget with transparency, you can start your life together on the right foot and have a great time on your big day.