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Budgeting 101

Alyssa McClure - March 6, 2015

When someone gets engaged, the world can seem like a magical fairy tale for awhile. It's easy to get caught up in the excitement, to dream big, to sit at work and imagine yourself walking down the aisle or waiting for your significant other at the other end of it. It's easy to talk to a florist and listen with joy as they describe the ways they can make your wedding fantasies reality. If you're like me, though, the excitement turns to something a little closer to illness when they hand you the bill. I have dreamed of my wedding all my life. When my fiancé, the love of my life, asked me to marry him, it was perfect. In fact, elation is an understatement for what I felt. As planning went on, my excitement became tainted by the stress of all the money I was spending. It's hard to be excited about finally booking your caterer when they're costing you $5,000. No one likes to talk about budgeting; it's boring, frustrating, and tedious. So I'm asking you, hear me out, and let me give you some advice on how to have the wedding of your dreams at a price that suits your circumstances.

One of the first things I did when I got married was buy a wedding planning book. I did this mostly because I was excited, not because I am highly organized... which I am not. As soon as I opened it, I had a troubling realization. I had totally, completely, dramatically underestimated how much there is to do when planning a wedding. As I read through the timeline checklist, my excitement drained as dollar signs made me dizzy. This is not something specific to me. Working with brides on a daily basis, I constantly hear things like, "I'm just overwhelmed. I had no idea how much there was to plan," or the ever popular, "how am I going to afford all of this?" The temptation to throw the event of the year can cause people to borrow money they can't pay back, or spend significant portions of their savings without even realizing it. That's why the number one thing on your wedding to do list should be this: budget.

I'm going to give you a 7 step outline to help you plan a wedding you can actually afford.

Step 1: Decide the Max Amount you can Spend

This step has a few parts. First of all, you need to figure out who is helping you pay for the wedding and how much they're giving you. If grandma wants to help but doesn't want to say how much right up front, guess. My advice is to guess low. It is always better to have extra than not enough. Once you have budgets from whoever is helping, figure out how much you are willing to put in yourself. For the average person, my suggestion would be to not spend more than 20-25% of your annual income (not including the engagement ring). If you have savings set aside specifically for your wedding, that is the exception. If someone else is paying for the wedding entirely, it may be easy to assume budgeting isn't your responsibility. The decisions, however, are still yours and therefore it is still incredibly important to decide where this money will be spent so that you don't over-stretch your provider. And don't forget about these little things!

Step 2: Categorize

Find a list of every single possible thing you could spend money on for your wedding. Leave nothing out: table numbers, place cards, sparklers, it's all included. Of course, these categories can be broad for now (ie: flowers, food, cake, send off, etc.). These lists are all over the place and most even come with timelines of when each one should be completed. Whether you get a list from the internet, a magazine, or make it up on your own, just make sure it is comprehensive. I recommend transferring it over to the computer so it can be easily updated - Excel is great for this. (Bonus points if you keep it on Google Drive, so it can easily be shared with your fiancé!)

Step 3: Prioritize

Sit down with your fiancé and decide which areas you want to spend the most money. The easiest way to do this is to figure out what kind of experience you want for yourself and your guests. If you want to make sure you have the party of the year, invest in a top notch DJ; if you want to take your guests' breath away when they enter your reception, invest in the venue. Sometimes you have to dedicate more money to certain areas. If, for example, you are having a wedding for 300 people and want to serve dinner, you're going to have no choice but to pad the catering budget (or cook yourself). Keep in mind that although ultimately the decisions lie with you and your fiancé, if others are helping pay for the wedding, their opinions should be considered as well. Additionally, it's our professional opinion that a photographer should always be prioritized. A bad photographer can make a $100,000 wedding look cheap, but a good photographer can make a $5,000 wedding look exciting and elegant!

Step 4: Estimate

Once you have your priorities decided, go through and write out estimates for how much you will spend in each category. Don't forget the little details like taxes and clothing alterations. Next to your estimates, write the maximum amount you are willing to spend. So if you are hoping to leave the store with a $3,000 dress, but would be willing to go to $5,000 if necessary, put $3,000 in your estimate column and $5,000 in your max column. Keep in mind the max columns should still add up to your total budget.

Step 5: Book Vendors

Your list still needs one more column: actual cost. As you book vendors write the total amounts (again, don't forget taxes, set up fees, alterations, etc.) and adjust the other columns. If your cake costs $300 less than you imagined, it is your choice to save that money or to allocate it to another category. If, however, your cake costs $300 more, that money needs to be subtracted from other areas of the budget.

Step 6: Keep a Paper Trail

Whether it be a folder, binder, or zip-loc bag, it is best to keep all your receipts together. Keeping copies of all your vendor contracts, deposits, etc. is also super important. Anytime a dollar is spent for your wedding, a receipt should be filed somewhere. To take your organization to the next level, set up events in your calendar with reminders for when final payments are due. This way, you won't be surprised when your photographer calls asking for $1,000, or your flowers don't show up on your wedding day because the final balance wasn't paid!

Step 7: Will Power, Baby

Whatever you do, do not go over your budget. This is easy to say and hard to do, especially when vendors are promising you the world, but we set budgets for a reason: they help us not to spend more than we can afford. Whether your budget is $1,000 or $100,000, it is so important to do whatever you can to keep it there. This is something you and your fiancé can help each other with. When one of you wants to go over, gently and lovingly remind them that the budget is in place because it is the best thing for both of you.

There is no reason a wedding can't be beautiful and meaningful at any price tag, but it's so easy to get caught up in the excitement and overspend. If you take away any one thing today, it should be this: no wedding is worth jeopardizing the financial stability of a new marriage. Money problems are lingering and can affect every area of your life. It is so vital that you don't add to them right before you embark on something as life changing as marriage. And if you want some more advice on how to not break your budget, subscribe to our newsletter and check out our blogs on how to Pinterest your wedding and how to make your budget go further! So do your research, take your time, budget with wisdom and thoughtfulness, and have the wedding of your dreams, at a price you can afford!

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