In the US, the average cost of a wedding is $33,000 (!!) and while everyone’s tolerance level will be different, $33,000 could feel like a lot of money to spend on just one gathering when there are a number of competing priorities in your life. So it’s important to be practical when tackling this tricky budgeting business.
The other trouble with seeing numbers like this, is that it puts the idea in your head that your wedding needs to cost this much. It’s almost as if you “can’t possibly have a wedding without dropping at least $30k”, ya know? Let me assure that there is no minimum (or maximum) limit you should spend on your wedding, it all comes down to your unique situation and values.
So before your Pinterest usage blossoms to an all time high, here are five steps for how to approach setting a budget for your wedding –– with intention (naturally).
1. Decide Your Priorities
It just so happens that the average ages that couples are when they typically get married is also around the same time that some other important life decisions come up, like purchasing a home, deciding to start a family, making a career change, or even taking 6-months off work to travel the world. And as we all know too well, all of those require a certain level of financial planning.
Before diving headlong into what can feel like mandatory wedding spending, make a list of all of the the big purchases coming up in your life. Now, decide where your wedding fits in this list. You want to make sure that your wedding-spending is not going to get in the way of something else that could feel more urgent in terms of priority.
No party is worth the anxiety that goes along with money issues, so if you have your heart set on an extravagant affair you really can’t afford right now, opt for a long engagement to allow yourself time to save up for the kind of gathering you dream of. There are plenty of other important life decisions you have to make as you enter your married life. Don’t let debt determine the answer to these decisions.
2. Decide What You’re Comfortable Spending
Now is the time to have a serious discussion about what funds you have available and what you are willing to invest on your wedding day. You might have some money already set aside for the occasion, or maybe you have to start saving now –– but either way, being realistic about what you can afford is really important at this stage of your lives together. The last thing you want is to rack up credit card bills for the sake of throwing an extravagant party, only to wake up the day after with a huge debt to kick off your new life together as a married couple. That’s a wedding hangover which could last for months and even years to come.
Just because you have the funds available doesn’t mean you should splurge on your wedding.
This about what feels like a reasonable amount to spend on your wedding celebration, is it $2,000 or $20,000?
How much you are willing to spend, and most importantly how much you can spend are VERY different things.
3. Confirm Your Must-Haves
What are the items that you are most excited to have at your wedding, so much so that you would be willing to sacrifice another element to have this one thing? It could be a 5-star venue or the city’s best DJ, or even just ensuring that your extended family of 40 cousins can join. Either way, these are the first thing you should account for in your budget.
Tread carefully, though. It is easy to confuse your must-haves with shiny, expensive things.
4. Delegate Funds
Once you have a good idea about your total budget, you can start to move some numbers around to see how much there is to cover the different areas of the wedding. A lot of wedding resources will give you some rough percentages of how much different items should cost in the scheme of your wedding –– but be warned that these really are a rough guide, particularly because your must-haves, your taste, and your vision could be entirely different to the next couples. In order to properly forecast your truest wedding budget, you will need to put in some work and get your hands dirty!
Call around and get some preliminary quotes for the major expenses you’re expecting. Start with the biggest price tags: venue, caterer (including an estimate for alcohol if you’re having it), photographer, and any other must-haves.
Don’t panic if you’re already edging close to or over your limit, and certainly don’t start stretching your budget. This is a great opportunity to check-in with your expectations and to start finding ways to get creative with your funds.
5. Get On The Same Page About Parental Involvement
It’s best to have an idea about what you are willing to contribute yourselves before you consider whether you will be getting financial help from external sources, like parents. This will help you to manage your expectations and avoid disappointment if those external sources don’t come through. Of course, everyone’s situation is different––your parents may not be in a position to help out, you may not feel comfortable with their contributions, or maybe it’s just a given they plan on paying for the whole thing. If you do anticipate some outside financial assistance, it’s important to consider if your parents’ contributions will be added on top of your own to expand your budget, or whether you will lower your financial input and keep your budgets the same. Again, this is a good time to consider why you set your budget at the number you did in the first place, and think about what other aspects of your life this additional money could go towards.
It’s not unheard of for parents to revoke their pledge when the time comes, and if the vision for your wedding pushes the boundaries of their expectations, there’s a chance they may decide to support you financially after all. Be careful so that if this happens, you won’t be struggling to pay for all of the extras you signed up for when you thought you had a larger budget. A bit of a sticky point that might come up is the greater the financial assistance your parents are willing to contribute, the greater the level of involvement they might expect to have in the planning process. So, before you discuss anything with your folks, sit down with each other and discuss the level of involvement you are comfortable with them having.
Finally, let’s talk flexibility.
Budget flexibility is the key to planning a wedding, so get comfortable with it. Planning a wedding takes at least a few months, and things are likely to change over time. You may find your penthouse hotel suite for the wedding night isn’t a must-have after all, or you might decide you would rather have a smaller, more intimate wedding, lowering your guest count from initial thoughts.
For now, just remember — even though your budget is generally a fixed amount, what you do with that budget is still up to you.
I know organization and financial planning can seem scary, but the budgeting process is actually the beginning of the creative process—it’s where you get to start making concrete decisions about your wedding. Hell yes!