If only money was no issue we would all have royal sized weddings! But, alas for most couples out there money is a major concern when planning a wedding. Which is why we suggest setting an organized and prioritized budget as one of the first planning steps.
Step 1: Who pays for what?
The first step in planning an organized budget is figuring out who will pay for what; luckily this can be simple and fairly stress free with a little bit of foresight and honesty.
There are as many ways to pay for a wedding as there are couples getting married, so you should not feel obligated to stick to tradition. Most important is that all parties involved in paying feel included and comfortable throughout the process. The best way to accomplish this is start the conversation.
Many couples choose to approach their parents individually to discuss money matters. Consider the comfort level of your parents and soon to be in laws with money talk when deciding on the right approach. The next step might be bringing both sides of the soon-to-be family together to discuss the big day, especially if a larger wedding is being orchestrated. Some parents will want to know what the other side is contributing. When it comes to how much, some parents will want to base their contribution off the bride and groom’s estimated costs, while others might choose to announce to the bride and groom how much they will contribute.
Old school tradition calls for the groom’s family to cover what we like to call F.L.O.P. (Flowers, Liquor, Orchestra (band), and Photographer), plus the rehearsal dinner and honeymoon costs. Meanwhile, the bride’s family pays for everything else. For more details about the traditional way to pay for a wedding, check out our article, “Who pay’s for what?”.
But this day is all about you; so don’t be afraid to buck tradition! A more contemporary approach might be for each side to pay the per-head cost for “their” wedding guests, which also helps to keep the guest list count under control. Dividing expenses based on interests or connections works well, too. If the bride’s uncle is a florist the bride’s side might be better off paying for the centerpieces.
As the average age of marriage increases (putting more nearlyweds in stable financial positions), many couples will pay for weddings themselves or shoulder a heftier portion of the financial burden. As with parents, couples should put pencil to paper and figure out how much they can save in the “wedding planning piggy bank” between the engagement (starting point) and the actual wedding day. If you set goals and identify a percentage of your monthly income you can save, and are diligent about putting it aside each month, you’ll reach your target and feel great about it. Of course, this method only works if you actually do it!
Who pays for what brings us to the next important thing to consider: priorities.
Step 2: Identify your top priorities and stick to them!
Contact all parties involved in paying for and planning the wedding, and then ask them to list their top three priorities for the event. This is a solo activity, so make sure everyone gets a moment alone to consider what really matters to them. The list of priorities is an excellent place to (1) look to when compromise is needed and (2) refer back to when arguments arise. Most arguments over money are really about where the money should be spent, aka priorities. If you find you are fighting about centerpieces or other little budget details look back to your priorities, are centerpieces someone’s priority? If not, ease the argument down and figure out what to really pay for.
Remember money is influence. If your parents are paying for the entire wedding they will undoubtedly have more influence on all the details of the event.
Step 3: Keep track of your expenses
Couples with longer engagements can get pretty smart about saving and tracking wedding expenses, but these tips will work for everyone, no matter how short the engagement. Take a look at our beyond handy priority-based wedding budget sheet and our article on how to best maximize the sheet.
Gently asking all paying parties to start a savings account for the big day is a great idea! Putting the money in one place makes tracking expenses easier and gives a snapshot of your entire budget at any given time. Check your banking options, a high interest CD account might be better than a regular savings account if you have the time.
Opening up a credit card with perks such as airline miles, cash back bonuses or other extras can help pay for expenses or help with the honeymoon. Just be careful to not get into credit card debt. Money is the number one cause of fights for newlyweds and all married couples, so begin your marriage as debt-free as possible.
All right, you have communicated with all involved parents and family members about who is paying for what, collected and talked about a list of strong priorities, and figured out the best way to track and organize your spending. What’s next? Well, a few important details are the keys to an organized wedding budget.
Step 4: Know where your money is going
The average cost of a wedding depends greatly on location, as a hotel ballroom in Manhattan will cost much more than a similar venue near Indianapolis. But the ratio of expenses (or how much of your total budget you allocate to each major expense) is fairly predictable. Adjust suggested ratios (like the helpful list below) based off of your priorities; non-alcoholic parties can worry less about reception costs, and couples that love to dance can make sacrifices elsewhere to ensure they are getting the music they want. Really this depends on how you want the big day to look!
Reception (food, beverage, rentals, and site) 42%*
Rehearsal dinner 6%
Reception music 4%
Groom’s attire 3%
Hair and makeup for bride and bridal party 2%
Invitations and announcements 2%
Ceremony music 2%
Ceremony venue 2%
Wedding cake 2%
*Based up on estimates featured in “The Wedding Book: The Big Book for your Big Day," by Mindy Weiss
Big No No’s
We've told you what to do, but as always there are a few huge things never to do!
Go into debt
Under no circumstances do we suggest going into debt for a wedding. Ultimately a wedding is a celebration of the fact you are starting a new life together, not a celebration of how many credit cards you can max out. As stated above the number one cause of fights in any marriage is money; why set your marriage up for failure by starting off in unnecessary debt? If parents are helping to pay expecting them to go into debt is equally foolish and risky, especially if they are closer to retirement or living off of a fixed income.
Not know the costs of the little extras
When your caterer asks you if you want gold runners for the table settings, do not say yes until you know how much extra they will cost. Keeping in mind the cost of little details and add-ons can save you a bundle and lessen sticker shock at the end of the night.
Pretend credit cards don’t need to be paid off
We could write a novel about the reasons not to go into credit card debt, but we are not here to lecture, just advise. High interests rates, finance charges, and hidden fees can add hundreds or thousands onto your wedding costs if you do not pay off the monthly balance every month. Only use a credit card if you can pay off the monthly balance in full.
Splurge without scrimping
It is ok to go over your expected budget in one area if it is a priority and you reduce your costs in another area. But going over here and not reducing costs there is the same as overspending, and simple math will help keep your wedding budget on track!
Pretend you aren’t that popular
Always assume you will have a few extra people show up because this is your big day and people love you! Planning for fewer guests than expected is not safe; it is always better to conservatively overestimate.