You’re engaged! Now let me guess what happened after the question got popped and you said yes…
You announced your engagement and well-meaning friends and family immediately began asking “have you set a date yet?” In all the excitement, you looked at a calendar and chose a date that sounded nice to say out loud (after all, this will be your anniversary date for the rest of your life!), fell perfectly on your favorite college football team’s bye weekend, and thought would allow plenty of time to plan the wedding of your dreams.
But weddings cost money. So you googled and found an article from a popular wedding website with average American wedding costs and a vendor estimate breakdown. A budget needed to be set, so you went with 1 of the seemingly only 3 options:
- Shoot for the average total wedding cost
- Challenge yourself by picking a budget below that
- Aim higher because you just know you can afford it (or will have help from the parents)
Regardless of the option chosen, you probably realized quickly you’ll have to magically come up with hundreds, or even thousands, of extra dollars in the coming months to pay for this shindig. What’s worse, as you begin contacting vendors, you’re suddenly overwhelmed with the TRUE cost of flowers, food, hair, makeup, and everything else a traditional wedding includes. You learned things like film photography and a particular style of wedding dress (with names like Hayley Paige or Inbal Dror on the label) come at a premium.
The problem with the big wedding blogs/magazine’s budget breakdowns is that each city and area has a different cost of living, which means wedding vendor pricing can vary drastically. As a wedding photographer in Atlanta, my pricing may be higher than a photographer based in a rural area but less than one based in say, San Francisco. So before you know it, that budget you set is completely blown and you’re freaking out about how to pay for it all! Very few of us have the luxury of unlimited budgets while so many of us unwittingly rack up more expenses than we meant during the wedding planning process.
But what if I told you by dreaming BIG and working BACKWARDS you can actually set a more realistic budget?
This 1 simple task will help you set a realistic wedding budget.
Here’s the secret y’all: Build your DREAM team of wedding vendors BEFORE setting the budget…or setting the date!
By writing down every vendor and item you want for your wedding, then researching the costs of those specific items, you’ll have a much better grasp on how much your dream wedding will actually cost. And once you see that final number tallied, it’ll likely be a wake up call on whether you need to cull down the budget and/or set a date far enough in the future to save and pay for it. Because let’s face it, starting a marriage off in debt due to a wedding doesn’t sound like the newlywed dream.
Of course, there are several other important factors that will play into your ultimate budget and wedding date:
- Date significance – You may be engaged to someone who is active military and NEED to get married by a certain date for insurance, housing, etc. reasons. Or maybe you have a baby on the way and know next year will be much busier with a bundle of joy, let alone a wedding, too?
- The type of wedding you want – Do you wish to elope in an exotic location, hit up your local courthouse, or have a large wedding with all your friends and family in attendance? Remember, more guests typically means more expenses.
- Who is paying for the wedding – If it’s your parents, you may have more wiggle room in the budget. If you’re fresh out of college and paying for everything yourself, it may be harder to get everything on your wish list.
- Cash or credit – The decision to come out of pocket or charge your wedding expenses will certainly affect your budget and date. If you choose to use a credit card to pay for wedding-related expenses, consider using one that earns points/mileage for the honeymoon and definitely craft a plan for paying off the balance in a quick and responsible manner.
Alright ladies (& the rare gents who may be tuning in), this is the point where I keep it real and speak frankly. Put on your big girl panties and deal with it.
As a wedding photographer, I often receive leads in my inbox starting with “we’re paying for everything ourselves and/or we’re on a tight budget”, as if that automatically qualifies a couple for a discount of some sort. I hate to break it to you, but EVERYONE is on a budget. Even your vendors. They set their prices to cover their cost of doing business and still have enough leftover to take home this thing called a “paycheck”. Like you, they want to save for retirement, a vacation, a future family, a new car, their own wedding, or even something frivolous and materialistic like a new handbag or pair of shoes. And they probably deserve it because being a small business owner is HARD WORK. So from the insider perspective, I beg of you to be respectful of these things while contacting and hiring your wedding vendors. No one is forcing you to book someone you cannot afford.
A good rule of thumb? If you expect to pay less, you should also expect to get less. Love a particular photographer but not their hourly rate? Consider booking fewer hours with that photographer. Love peonies but can’t afford decking out your entire reception space in them? Opt to only use them in your bridal bouquet. Prioritize your wants and trim accordingly. Estimate each line item on the higher end so when you save money it’s a pleasant surprise. Research the hidden costs of a wedding (like postage) and ask your recently wed friends what costs blindsided them so you’re prepared. Set a date that allows you to comfortably save and pay for your wedding. Being educated on costs and learning to compromise while planning a wedding will save your sanity and checkbook! Not to mention, it’ll raise you to the level of dream client in your vendors’ eyes.
The simple task of building our dream wedding with our dream vendors is how my fiancé Daniel and I set our budget. We’re still on the fence about setting the official date until we finalize our honeymoon plans (don’t forget to include those numbers if you’re paying for the honeymoon as well!), but we’re confident when we do we’ll be able to pay for everything with cash and minimize money-related stresses.
I’m not saying this way of setting a budget is the only or right way, but I do believe if more engaged couples followed this exercise there would be fewer surprises along during the planning process. No matter how you arrive at your ultimate date and budget, make sure you’re on the same page as your fiancé. Remember, this budget planning process is something you’ll do together the rest of your lives!
How did you set your budget? Were you able to stick to it? If you’re newly engaged, did you learn something from this post that will help you set a budget?