Your Wedding Budget: How to Plan a Dream Wedding Without Going Broke

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Your Wedding Budget: How to Plan a Dream Wedding Without Going Broke

So you’re newly engaged. Congratulations! After you’ve announced your relationship status and had your fair share of celebrating, it’s time to start planning for your big day. This means putting together a wedding budget.

It’s no secret that weddings are expensive. While you may have probably laid out the wedding of your dreams in your mind — the amazing venue, the designer dress, those gorgeous florals — it's important that you set a realistic wedding budget to ensure you don't derail your long-term financial goals.

A wedding costs survey found that 74% of engaged couples will have debt because of their wedding. That's definitely not a good way to start out your finances in marriage. Being clear on what you can truly afford will help you avoid being a part of those statistics. Plus, you can still have a stunning wedding on a budget.

To avoid your wedding day becoming overly expensive, here are some guidelines to help you create a realistic wedding budget while still keeping your long-term financial goals intact.

Creating a realistic wedding budget

Wedding Wire’s Newlywed Report found that on average, couples expect to pay about $16,000 on their wedding but instead spend closer to $29,000! Why? Most couples set a rough budget before doing any research so they underestimate how much the venue or catering costs (sometimes by a lot).

Just like your monthly budget, you’ll need to make a plan for how to spend your money on your wedding. It’s so easy to go overboard trying to plan your destination wedding and obsess over tiny details that add unnecessary costs. You CAN have a beautiful wedding without hurting your financial health. A realistic budget helps you do just that.

Determine how much you can afford and who is paying for what

As you outline the details of your wedding, it's a good idea to first sit down with your significant other to discuss your long-term financial goals and what amount makes the most sense to pay for your wedding based on those goals.

Having this conversation will allow you both to set realistic expectations and avoid unnecessary disagreements down the line. It's also important to have a conversation with your families if you will be receiving financial support from them to pay for your wedding.

Some questions you'll want to answer together include:

  • Will you be getting financial support from your parents or family? If so, how much?
  • Are you and your partner paying for the wedding yourselves, or are you and your partner also contributing to your wedding expenses in addition to your families' help? If so, how much will you each be contributing?

Once you know what these numbers are, you'll want to add them up and use that final number as the basis for your wedding budget.

Set up a detailed spreadsheet that includes all your expected wedding expenses

After you've determined your "number," it's time to set up your wedding budget. Below are items you'll want to include in your budget:

  • Reception costs - Venue, food, decor, rentals, etc (This will most likely take the bulk of your budget ~50%)
  • Ceremony costs - Venue, officiant, etc.
  • Clothing - Wedding dress, shoes, suit, etc.
  • Wedding cake
  • Wedding rings
  • Florals
  • Entertainment
  • Photography/Videography
  • Invitations
  • Transportation
  • Bridal party gifts
  • Wedding insurance
  • Miscellaneous
  • Honeymoon

It's also a good idea to allot 5% or so of your total budget to cover any unplanned or surprise expenses.

Costs will vary depending on the wedding location, time of year, day of the week, etc. but you can find average wedding costs online to get a general idea.

Track your wedding spending and find ways to save

Assess the budget you’ve created. If it seems like paying for your wedding will be a stretch, consider extending your engagement. This is a great way to lower the amount you’ll need to save each month while still enjoying that exciting planning phase.

It's important to track your wedding spending to ensure you’re staying in line with your budget. Little expenses like hair accessories, place cards, and cake toppers have a tendency to add up, so use caution!

And here’s some great news — there are tons of clever ways you can save on your wedding. From DIY options to simply re-thinking the day you exchange vows, today’s weddings can fit nearly any budget.

Save for your wedding and keep your emergency fund intact

Once you know what things are going to cost you and you have your budget squared away, it's time to start saving. Build a line item into your existing budget to start putting money aside for your wedding. Keep in mind that you may need to forgo certain things in other to meet your savings goals for your big day. Things like daily coffees, gym memberships, vacations, shopping, etc. might need to be placed on the back burner while you save for your big day.

If you choose to put your long-term savings on hold while you put aside money for your wedding, it's important to keep your emergency fund intact because life happens regardless of whether you are planning a wedding or not. Your emergency fund should not be used toward your wedding expenses.

12 ways to save money when wedding planning

It’s natural to your big day reflects your tastes. Fortunately, that doesn’t require an arm and a leg, but it does require some extra work on both of your parts. Here’s what you can do to get more out of your wedding budget without actually spending more.

1. Negotiate with vendors

The first step tip that might seem obvious is to negotiate price and contracts with the people you employ for your wedding. Caterers, photographers, florists, and DJs will often work with your specific budget. Be willing to negotiate and walk away if you cannot afford a rate being offered to you. For example, ask your caterer for sample menus and prices per person, then see which areas you can cut back on (i.e., perhaps you only need two passed hors-d'oeuvres instead of five).

This will help you to go back and negotiate the price down for their services. Photographers, florists, and DJs will also usually be willing to come down on prices in order to close the deal.

2. Don't go crazy with expensive wedding stationery

Letterpress, gold foil, jeweled boxed, feathered... It's easy to go crazy over your wedding stationery, and those costs can add up fast. Some fancy letterpress invites go as high as $5 to $7 per invitation — yikes. Instead, choose to print simple, less costly invitations, you'll be amazed at the beautiful options that exist.

One of my favorite online printing presses is tinyprints.com, but there are also several designers that will work with you to create gorgeous stationery for your wedding at a budget-friendly price!

3. Skip the catered, sit-down dinner

Most wedding venues offer in-house catering services because they make a ton of money on the huge mark-ups involved. If you can find a venue that allows you to bring your own caterer, you can find one that not only makes great food but also fits your budget.

A frugal alternative is to choose a family-style dinner with shared platters that can be passed around the table. Doing this can save you up to 20% off your catering cost. Although formal catering is nice, it’s definitely among the pricier options. A family-style dinner creates a warm atmosphere for people who would like to have smaller, more intimate weddings.

Another consideration? Dinner is typically the most expensive meal when it comes to planning an event. Brunch or lunch are somewhat lighter meals and people tend to drink less alcohol during the day so you can save a ton of money there too.

4. Consider a second-hand dress

If your dream dress is out of your budget, try finding it online from second-hand wedding dress sites such as OnceWed.com or StillWhite.com. You can save up to 75% off wedding dresses that have been pre-loved, dry cleaned and preserved for their next owner.

Another alternative is renting out formal wear. You can rent a dream wedding dress instead of dropping thousands of dollars to wear it for one occasion. The same goes for the suit for the groom. Suits can also be rented and is a great way to cut costs on materials that do not have long timelines in terms of how often they will be worn.

5. Get married any day but Saturday

Saturday is the most expensive day to get married especially in the summer and fall. Why? Because everyone wants to get married on Saturday! You maybe be able to book your dream venue at a considerable discount (anywhere from 10 to 40% off) by getting married on a Sunday on a weekday. And if you choose a date that is off-peak (like in the winter or early spring), you might be able to save even more!

6. Serve signature cocktails

Serving signature cocktails is an awesome way to show your personality at your wedding. It helps you manage the amount of money you spend on alcohol (if you choose to serve alcohol) because the varieties available are limited. You'd still be serving great drinks though.

7. DIY your decor and use seasonal items

Take advantage of the talents your friends, bridesmaids, and family may have! Enlist their help in creating your wedding ceremony and reception decor. Pinterest is great for getting inspired, and you can find a ton of great decor items from your local craft store at a fraction of the cost that you'd pay to a florist or event designer.

And since floral arrangements can be a huge budget-buster, consider buying flowers, bouts, and corsages in bulk from Sam's Club and Costco. Doing so can save you thousands when compared to working with a florist.

Figure out your wedding colors, then watch a few YouTube tutorials on how to put together an arrangement. It’s totally doable!

8. Choose a cheaper photography package

A lot of people are very particular about their wedding photography, and so if there is a photographer that you absolutely must-have for your wedding, consider choosing their cheapest photography package. Do you really need a photographer at your wedding for 10 hours with your friends and family also taking pictures as well?

Once people start dancing, 30 minutes of those photos are good enough as after that it's just a bunch of repetition. Plus those photos rarely make it into the wedding album.

9. Skip the fancy wedding cake

Everybody loves cake, but that doesn’t mean you need to splurge on a three-tier wedding cake. An elaborate confection can set you back hundreds of dollars. And more often than not, guests are having too much fun to even notice what kind of cake you served.

Save money by opting for a single, six- to eight-inch tier cake atop a Styrofoam base. If you want to serve cake to your guests, purchase a few sheet cakes from Costco or your local bakery for about $40 apiece.

Your guests will never know the difference, and you can still get those glamorous cake-cutting photos.

10. Forget the wedding linens or bring your own

If your venue has wooden tables that don’t need to be covered, opt for a rustic look without linens. You could save between $500 – $1,000.

If the provided tables need to be covered, buy a pretty fabric in bulk online or at your local craft store and DIY your own linens for major cost savings. Online tutorials like those on Youtube can help you get started on customizing your own linens.

11. Ask a friend to officiate

You can save between $200 – 400 by asking a friend to officiate your wedding. A friend can easily get ordained online for around $50. Also, if you don’t feel comfortable with asking a friend to officiate for the first time, asking someone you are close to who has had experience officiating weddings is another alternative.

12. Consider a smaller wedding to save money

Small and simple weddings can be just as beautiful as large fancy weddings. The big difference is the amount of money that you'll save. At the end of the day, your wedding celebration is only for one day and your marriage is for a lifetime! So it makes more sense to step into your marriage financially sound than to blow a ton of money if you cannot really afford it on a one-day wedding party.

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Remember, your marriage is for more than just one day of celebrations! It’s important to be financially smart about your wedding costs so you don’t impact your financial future.

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