Getting engaged is a wonderful thing. You share your joyous news with family, friends, and random Facebook acquaintances you dated briefly back in 2011. You sip champagne and imagine what an awesome party you’ll have to celebrate this major milestone in life. A party that involves flowers, music, amazing clothes, easy-breezy updos, and beautiful photos that’ll last a lifetime…and budgeting for your wedding.
Or maybe…not. Maybe you’re the practical type and you and your beloved are all about eloping or heading to City Hall and celebrating at your local dive bar afterwards. If that’s the case, then congratulations to you: You can put that money you would have spent on your wedding towards a house or a honeymoon.
After I got engaged, eloping was discussed — briefly — but the thought of our friends and cousins and aunts and uncles not being there to celebrate didn’t feel right to me. I wanted a wedding, dammit. Not a giant, extravagant wedding with martini bars and cigar rooms and Beyoncé as our special musical guest, but a wedding nonetheless. And those things can get pricey, fast, with or without Beyoncé.
If you’ve decided to take the plunge and have an actual wedding, here are a few tips that might help you stay sane(ish) as you’re budgeting and planning your big day.
Make a Pledge
If you and your fiancé are planning a wedding without a planner to act as a mediator, get ready to take a lot of deep breaths and do a lot of mantra chanting along the lines of, “I love this person and I will not murder them as they sleep because I want a DJ and they want a band…” It’s extremely stressful to plan a wedding on a tight budget, so before you start, sit down and make a pledge that you will listen to your partner, have patience, and practice deep breathing, even if they think it’s OK to pay $500 extra for roasted potatoes. It might not keep you from freaking out and fighting once or twice or sixteen times, but at least it’ll set you off on the right foot.
“I love this person and I will not murder them as they sleep because I want a DJ and they want a band…”
Budget Out Your Essentials
Though it’s all relative — one person’s $800 gourmet butter cream cake is another person’s $40 Costco pie — here’s a general cost breakdown to get you started on a realistic budget:
- Reception (drinks, food, site, rentals): 40-50%
- Flowers: 10%
- Photography: 5-10%
- Music: 5-10%
- Clothing: 5-10%
- Music: 5-10%
- Ceremony: 5-10%
Those percentages will change depending on your taste (maybe flowers will be two percent), but that breakdown will help you agree on a set equation for how much goes to what.
Write It Down
Things can get heated when you’re talking about wedding finances. One way to take the emotion out of budgeting for your wedding is to use one of the most unemotional props on the planet: a spreadsheet. If you record all of your potential expenses in Excel, print it out, and literally put it on the table in between you and your finance before you have any serious wedding talks, it’ll allow you to focus on the facts. So instead of blindsiding each other with statements like, “The roasted potatoes cost an extra $500!” You can calmly point to that item on the spreadsheet and discuss. It’s not a surefire way to avoid all conflict, but it does help.
Plus, you should be recording everything on a spreadsheet anyway, so you may as well use it to your advantage. Include categories like site rental, flowers, food, drinks, dress, suit, shoes, hair, makeup, bridesmaid/groomsman gifts, officiant, music, or programs. And give yourself a ‘miscellaneous’ section as well — there will be little unexpected expenses that pop up — like giving gifts to out of town guests (if you’re doing that). Having a small contingency fund for these costs ($200-$500) will ease the stress.
…and leave some wiggle room
I woke up on the morning of my outdoor wedding to learn that it was going to be 55 degrees that night instead of the predicted 75 degrees, thanks to a freak cold front. Instead of having a meltdown, I nicely asked my sister to call around and find some cheap heat lamps, which she did. It was an unexpected but, having that contingency safety net helped.
Finally, as you’re writing it all down, don’t forget to first come to an agreement about the size of the wedding and number of guests and who is paying for this thing, because until those variables are hammered out, you shouldn’t even be looking at bouquet boards on Pinterest.
One way to take the emotion out of budgeting for your wedding is to use one of the most unemotional props on the planet: a spreadsheet.
We’ve all heard about the DIY weddings where the bride knits her own dress on the bus to and from work and the groom’s banjo-playing cousin provides the music for free. That’s nice for them, but most of us just aren’t that crafty – or patient. You can still get creative and save money, though — I spent a whopping $250 on my dress because it wasn’t, technically, a wedding dress. (You can also do something like Rent the Runway and just pay for a temporary dress.) Think outside the box when it comes to flowers, locations, cake, or clothes — it’ll ease your financial stress, and guess what? No one will remember the centerpieces or your hair or the programs or the invitations. They’ll just remember that you looked really happy.
Think outside the box when it comes to flowers, locations, cake, or clothes — it’ll ease your financial stress
Remember What’s Important
On that note, when you do feel yourself stressing about finances leading up to your wedding, remember to take a step back and focus on what’s important: your relationship, your health, your wallet, your future. If the photographer quotes you $7,000 and you feel a meltdown coming on, remember that there are other photographers out there – cheaper photographers. After endlessly searching wedding sites and Googling wedding photographers in my city, I put it out to Facebook: Anyone know any amazing (and not crazy expensive) wedding photographers? Like magic, I got about five referrals, and ended up finding an amazing and not crazy expensive photographer.
In short –
Spreadsheets are your friend, go DIY when you can, communicate calmly, and remember what’s important – you, your fiancé, and having fun when the day finally rolls around.
Dina Gachman is the author of Brokenomics: 50 Ways to Live the Dream on a Dime.
Photo by Carli Jeen