Your wedding budget is the biggest monster you have to kill in your planning process. Believe me. I understand the fear. That is one big monster. Plus it has teeth and uncomfortable conversations. But the rewards of getting a good, realistic budget down on paper are huge. You can do this.
The big number
To start off, think about what you really, truly can afford. Unless you have absolutely, positively, been offered a firm dollar amount, don’t count on help from other sources. Budget with what you have – then anything else that comes up is gravy.
To get your big number, you will need to have five uncomfortable conversations:
• Uncomfortable conversation 1: What do we have right now?
• Uncomfortable conversation 2: What can we realistically have by the big day?
• Uncomfortable conversation 3: Are we splitting the cost down the middle? If not, what are we doing?
• Uncomfortable conversation 4: Are we willing to go into debt?
• Uncomfortable conversation 5: How long are we willing to spend paying off debt?
If you are thinking about going into debt, remember in making your payoff calculations that that number will be a slippery one – it expands as you pay off interest. Debt sucks. Maybe have a bonus conversation about that one.
Once you have your big number, you should have one more uncomfortable conversation:
• Uncomfortable conversation 6: Do we really want to spend this much on a wedding? Instead of a down payment on a home?
Congratulations! You have your really-for-real big number. Those conversations sucked and you heroed your way through them. Reward yourselves.
Dividing it up
You may have noticed, as I once did, that staring at your big number isn’t all that much help. How much is supposed to go toward photography and how much for the band?
Here are a few general rules of thumb. Obviously, you’ll jigger these percentages depending on what you two care more or less about, but these should get you started.
This will include transportation for the wedding party and a guest shuttle or parking attendants if you have them. Figure about 2% of your total budget.
Weirdly enough, the key part of your wedding will only about 3% of your budget. That blew my mind. On the other hand, that leaves you a really big swing for cutting corners if you have to. Your ceremony costs include the marriage license, officiant fee, musician fees, and doodads like the unity candle, the pillow for the ring, or the epées for the ceremonial fencing match.
These will also be about 3% of your budget. Unless they’re, you know, not. Check out our article over here for some help on deciding what kind of rings you’d like. Rings that a relative gives you for free but turn you invisible may not be worth it.
This will be another 3% of your budget and includes just about anything paper connected with your wedding: invitations, response cards, printer’s fees, postage, your guest book, and your thank-you notes. On the upside, if you have an industrious niece or nephew with a really good set of finger paints, you can bring this number way down. Just be sure to budget some peanut butter for the little moppet.
Gifts for your wedding attendants and parents should run about 3% of your budget. Unless you are awful, awful people. Just kidding.
This seems like it should be the most self-explanatory category in the world, but in fact there are about 30,000 different categories of flower in your wedding. Flowers you have to think about include your bouquet, bridesmaid and maid-of-honor bouquets, boutonnières for the groom and groomsmen, corsages, the flower girl basket, and centerpieces for the reception. Plan on about 8% of your budget.
It’s the food of love, so go ahead and earmark 8% of your budget for it. That includes equipment rental and a band or DJ. Bribes for never, ever playing that song again should be budgeted separately.
That’s your supercool wedding outfits. 10% of your budget should include your gown, tux rental, shoes and accessories, jewelry, hair and makeup, your headpiece or veil, cufflinks, suspenders, tie and studs, and, yes, your fancy sexy underwear.
Photography and videography
Figure on 12%, including prints and disposable cameras to hand out at the reception even though your groomsmen will inevitably fill them with moon shots.
Kaboom. This will be whopping 48% of your budget. That includes food and drink, the cake, the location fee, and other rentals you may need.
Jigger to your heart’s content, then go ahead and put these numbers into a pie chart. Looks impressive, doesn’t it? Go ahead and wave it around or casually let it fall out of your bridal book so people can see how together you are.
But above all, love it. Your budget is your second-best ally in keeping your feet on the ground during wedding planning madness. And in the long run, it will allow you to devote 15% more of your brain to fun.