Wedding Budgeting Basics

With the glow of your recent engagement not far behind you, it’s time to take a deep breath, steel your nerves, and make possibly the most important decision as it relates to your wedding. The Budget. Why the capital B? Why the drama? The Budget affects almost every element and detail of your wedding. And in these uncertain financial times, a tighter control of your wedding budget is more important now than ever! From how cheap your wedding invitations will be, to whether you have a DJ, twenty-piece band or iPod as your source of music. It all starts (and ends) with how much money you are prepared to spend.

As you start down the twisty, confusing road of wedding planning, you’ll soon see that The Budget is difficult to manage, hard to wrangle, and a cloud that hangs over every decision you make. The basic wedding budget tips offered here are to help you to achieve two main goals: 1) to help you get the most for your buck; 2) to prevent any “surprise” expenses. If you’re an adult with your own income and budgeting is a new concept for you, you might not understand (or believe) in its importance. It’s for this reason, I feel compelled to make the following claim: Budgeting is not the same thing as “saving” or “discounting”. Those are activities you can achieve through coupon-cutting or hard-nosed negotiating. No. The point of budgeting is for planning. And the point of planning is to avoid the unexpected. And the point of avoiding the unexpected is to reduce stress. And the point of reducing stress…ok. You get it! I cannot overemphasize the importance of budgeting your wedding to you, so now that I’ve hopped off my soap box, here are my recommendations and ideas for you should consider your wedding budget.

As you plan The Budget, we have these essential tips for you:

  1. Start with a number but give yourself a range. It’s close to impossible to create a budget and hit it right on the bullseye. For this reason, we recommend you do what most big corporations do when it comes to setting your budget and that is to give yourself a range. Set three different scenarios and call them: low, medium, and high. As you go through your vendor negotiations and contracts, you’ll see how the estimates you receive help you to achieve one of the three scenarios you’ve defined for yourself. It might seem a bit excessive – after all, this is a wedding you’re planning, not the launch of a new business start-up! But like I said – A big part of budgeting is to prevent surprises. Giving your budget a range allows you flexibility while planning while still preventing surprise expenses .
  2. Know the averages. Our site does its best to research what the “average” price for a certain wedding expense is. Why do we do this? One of the real challenges to a wedding budget is that your purchase decisions are made in isolation of one another. That’s another way of saying: You buy your wedding dress from someplace different from your flowers. In fact, every item you’ll need for your wedding comes from a different source. There’s almost no such thing as one-stop shopping when it comes to your wedding. Knowing the average price for a certain item, therefore, allows you to see how the estimate you’ve received for a certain item compares to what other brides are spending these days. We know that no one wants to be thought of as “average” and we certainly do NOT want you to have an “average” wedding, but knowing what the industry benchmark prices are for large ticket items is an important way to ground your decision making in reality
  3. Track your expenses. Back to the “avoid surprises” soap box. In order for your budget to work, you MUST track your expenses. And I mean ALL expenses. Not just the ones that show up on your credit card statement either. I’m talking EVERYTHING. Many non-budgeters are disillusioned by the budgeting process because of the tedium and discipline required to do it correctly. These people have difficulty with budgeting because they’ve never developed a system that works for them. A very simple system (and simple is always better!) is to keep a shoebox next to wherever it is you pay your bills (the kitchen table, on your desk, on the coffee table), and EVERY time you get an invoice or estimate, PUT IT IN THE SHOEBOX! Don’t file it or alphabetize it. That will only add a step that will add to the tedium that will add to your list of excuses for not budgeting. Just PUT IT IN THE SHOEBOX. Don’t have a receipt? Write down what you spent on a piece of scrap paper and PUT IT IN THE SHOEBOX. Once a week (or more frequently if possible), open up your shoebox, pull out the receipts, and add them up. Compare the number that you’ve come up with to The Budget that you decided on. If the number is negative, you know you’re over. It’s really that easy. To help you with this process, we’ve even created our own wedding budget spreadsheet that you can download and use for free!
  4. Know the “all-in” price vs. the “bait and switch” price. I’ve worked in the wedding services business long enough to know that – for better or for worst – many vendors hide costs, or provide complicated pricing arrangements that make the final price tag hard to decipher. Some vendors charge rush fees for getting things done within a timeframe that most would consider slow! Some mark-up shipping and handling costs, or attach an excessive premium to hourly rates that go past the scheduled timeframes. And others might nickel and dime you with items you thought should be included (like vases for your flowers!). While it’s important to know the itemized prices to your purchases, I feel it’s MORE important to know the FINAL price. In other words: The number of dollars moving from YOUR account into your vendors. In my opinion that’s the number that matters the most, and the one that should be PUT INTO YOUR BUDGET. As you have your discussions and you negotiate pricing with your vendors, make sure you are always getting the final price, and as many times as possible, ask your vendor to put the final price into your contract or estimate. I don’t think it’s inappropriate to go so far as to ask them to write: Final Price next to the dollar amount so there’s absolutely zero confusion as to what you’ll be paying. Remember what I said about surprises, right?

These are general tips to help you think through your wedding budget and all the things to watch out for. As you browse through our site and take a look at the articles we’ve posted, you’ll read more specific advice on how to budget, negotiate or think creatively about specific items. After all, our advice on how to save a fortune on wedding invitations will be vastly different from how to negotiate with your wedding photographer!