As someone who agonizes over decisions big and small, I knew that planning a wedding would be a challenge for me. If I struggle to decide what to order at a restaurant, how do you expect me to choose a venue, color scheme, theme, menu, and so much more for what will likely be one of the most important days of my life? Faced with a million options for a million different things, I was initially overwhelmed, to say the least. But throughout the last several months of planning, there’s one thing that has made every decision easier, and that’s our wedding budget.
Talking numbers was one of the first things my fiancé and I did as an engaged couple, and I’m so glad we did. It’s helped with the decision-making process for so many things because we can instantly narrow down our choices based on cost alone. It’s given us the freedom to say, “That’s not in our budget,” and move on. And when we find that something costs less than we expected, we can reallocate that money and not feel guilty about splurging a bit elsewhere.
Needless to say, I highly recommend establishing a wedding budget, but where do you even start? According to The Knot, the average wedding costs upwards of $28,000, but that doesn’t mean yours has to. What works for you and your fiancé might be completely different, and that’s totally OK. From one bride to another, here are some tips to nail down a wedding budget that works for you.
Consider Your Priorities
Perhaps you’re set on having an intimate destination wedding in an exotic locale. Or your biggest priority might be having 300 of your closest friends and family present. Or maybe you’d rather have a no-fuss wedding so you can focus on other financial goals, like saving for a down payment on a house. All this is for you and your partner to decide together—and it should be one of your first steps in wedding planning.
Make a list of priorities for your wedding, from most important to least. Consider the location, venue, guest list, food, music, decor, attire, and overall cost. What is non-negotiable for you, and what are you willing to compromise on? Whatever your priorities are, your budget will need to account for that, meaning you may need to adjust a bit to make it work.
Research Wedding Expenses
I’m sure that Pinterest board of all your wedding ideas is lovely, but it leaves out an important consideration: How much does all this stuff actually cost? Before you get too deep down the Pinterest rabbit hole, do some research to determine how much budget you’ll need for those details you’ve been dreaming about. Shop around online, and start reaching out to potential vendors to get quotes on how much their services cost. Even if you’re not ready to book yet, most vendors will be happy to talk pricing with you upfront. Once you have a general idea of what your dream wedding might cost, you’ll be better equipped to set a realistic budget.
Consider Your Guest Count
If your guest count exceeds 200 and you’re planning a formal sit-down dinner, for example, a wedding budget of $5,000 just isn’t going to be feasible. That’s because your guest count is one of the biggest factors in determining the overall cost of your wedding. The more guests you have, the more food, drinks, tableware, rentals, and favors you’ll have to pay for. So start thinking about who you’re going to invite ASAP—it’s not too early! If having a huge guest list is important to you, make sure your budget reflects that.
Talk With Stakeholders
Although tradition states that the bride’s family pays for the wedding, that’s far from the norm these days. But if you or your partner do have parents or loved ones who might be willing to pitch in, have a conversation with them early on to determine what (if anything) their contributions will be. These wedding stakeholders—as I like to call them—should be involved in budget discussions from the start, so everyone can set realistic expectations on who’s paying for what and how much. And if you are lucky enough to have some financial help, that could give you a little more wiggle room in your budget.
Take a Serious Look at Your Finances
If you haven’t had the money talk as a couple yet, now is a great time to bridge the subject. You don’t want to spend your honeymoon stressing about wedding debt, so it’s important to know upfront what you can reasonably afford if you’ll be covering any of the expenses. Sit down with your partner and talk through what you’ve got in savings and debts, as well as what you would be comfortable spending on a wedding. Lay it all out there so you know where you both stand before you decide on a budget.
Nail Down a Number, Then Be Flexible
Is your wedding budget starting to take shape a bit more? Once you have a specific number in mind, write it down and be prepared to come back to it many, many times throughout wedding planning. I found it helpful to break the budget down into categories such as venue, flowers and decor, stationery, etc., which gave me a clearer picture of how much I should spend on each element. But remember: This is a budget, not an exact cost breakdown.
No one can predict the exact price of every single detail, and unexpected expenses will likely come up. If you do happen to go over budget in certain areas, try not to beat yourself up about it. Instead, consider whether you’re willing to compromise on other details to make up that extra cost—or whether you’re prepared to readjust your budget overall.