Congratulations, you're engaged! After the calls have been made and the ring photos have been posted, it's time to get down to business on planning your wedding. The first step is setting a budget. I know, that's a boring way to kick off your celebratory engagement period, but it's a necessary exercise, and I'm here to make it easier.
The first thing you need to do is figure out approximately how much money you have to work with. If either set of parents is planning to contribute financially to the wedding, now is the time to have that conversation and find out how much they are able to contribute. Remember: those who pony up cash get a say in how that cash is spent. If you don't want input from parents or in-laws-to-be, don't accept any money from them!
In addition to funds from your parents, how much money do you and your fiancé(e) have set aside for a wedding? IMPORTANT NOTE: Never go into debt to have a wedding. Using credit cards to earn points is fine, but only if you have the financial ability to pay the balance each month. If you can't afford the wedding you want, either postpone so you can save money, or scale back your plans.
Don't forget to account for a honeymoon if you plan to take one. That budget should be separate from your wedding budget, but will reduce the amount of savings you are able to put toward the wedding.
Once you have the total amount available to spend on your wedding, it's time to allocate it to specific categories. Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets are invaluable tools to help with budgeting. If you don't know how to use a spreadsheet, now is a great time to learn!
You can also find online budget calculators (try Googling "interactive wedding budget"), but don't go too far down the rabbit hole. Each calculator will give you a different allocation, and they don't all include the same categories.
Here's a sample breakdown that I like to use to determine how much of your budget should be allocated to each category:
Reception (catering & bar): 40%
Attire/beauty (for both members of the couple): 10%
Music (ceremony and reception): 10%
Floral (including personal flowers, ceremony, and reception): 5%
Miscellaneous (for example, ring bearer pillow, guest book, linens, rentals): 5%
Favors (for guests) and gifts (for parents and wedding party): 2%
Stationery (save-the-dates, invitations, inserts, postage, signage, table numbers): 2%
Site fees: 2%
Note what's not included above: engagement and wedding rings, church rental fees, officiant fees.
If your budget is $25,000, here's how that would be allocated:
Site fees $500
If you want to host a wedding for 200 people, you will find it exceptionally difficult to do that with a $25,000 budget. Most of the categories above are more expensive the more guests you have (the exceptions are planning, photography, attire, and music).
This is the whole point of budgeting—to let you know what you can afford. If you know at the outset that you have $2500 to spend on all attire and beauty, you can rule out any wedding gowns that cost more than $1000. Remember, this category covers your dress, your shoes, your undergarments, your wedding-day jewelry, your day-of hair, nails, and makeup (as well as trial sessions), your veil and hair accessories, and your fiancé(e)'s attire, shoes, and accessories. Those items add up fast!
Another advantage of a budget is that you can reallocate funds to suit your needs. If you know you want killer music at your wedding and you find an amazing DJ, but she's over your budgeted amount, you'll have to cut that same amount from another category. Budgeting helps you prioritize what's most important to you.
The folks over at creditloan.com have put together a nice list of hidden costs that you may not think of when it comes time to prepare your budget. The more you plan for in advance, the better off you'll be in the end.
This wedding cost estimator can help you get a ballpark figure for what you can expect to spend on your wedding based on where you live and a few other parameters. If the estimate is way over what you were expecting, don't panic! There are ways to trim back expenses.
Stay tuned for some tips on how to save money while still having a beautiful wedding!