How to create a wedding budget and stick to it

Amanda Gibson is here to calm your bridal and/or groomal (?) nerves. You can do this, and you only need a pen.

Photo by: kern.justin

I love weddings. Beautiful dresses, good food, dancing late into the night with your loving spouse or your girls from college or your best friend. Also wedding cake. And handmade things. And champagne. And the opportunity to wear pearls. Yes, I love a good wedding.

But something tells me that stroking checks for all that catering and yards of tulle and photography isn’t quite as fun. So you have found that special someone you’re ready to bind yourself to forever. And you have wedding dreams. How do you do that and still pay your rent for the next year?

You’ve come to the right place. Welcome to budgeting, wedding edition.

For specific planning tips and tricks from the experts, stay tuned!

Step 1: Don’t think about money

I’m about to write something crazy: brainstorm with your beloved the type of wedding you want before you budget. Stay with me here. Yes, I want you to not think about money when you are budgeting. This conversation could include your family too. (Especially if the actual monetary figure is going to include them.)

Ask yourselves: What are your values? What wedding features have you always dreamed about? How do you want to remember the day? Who is going to be there? Your goal is to create a shared vision of what this special day will entail. Maybe one of you has always dreamed of getting married in a little country church. Maybe one of you doesn’t care where you get married as long as your families can be there. Maybe you have strong feelings about meatballs and lil smokies. The point is to agree together on what is really important. (Hint: this is going to guide where the money goes–and you thought you weren’t thinking about money yet–MWAH HAHA.)

Step 2: Set the budget

Add up all the money you have that you plan to use to pay for the wedding. This should not include your rent money, money from your 401K, money that you have to borrow, money that you WAIT WHAT I CAN’T BORROW FOR MY WEDDING?! Calm down, calm down. Take a breath. Relax. I love you, so I am going to give it to you straight. It is a bad idea to borrow money for a wedding.

Borrow money to buy a house that will hopefully keep its value. Borrow money for a college education that will enrich you the rest of your life. Borrow money for a business that will double in value. But do not, under any circumstances, borrow money for a wedding.

The reason is simple. If you are borrowing money for a wedding it means that for the next few years you will be paying it back instead of putting your $500 or whatever a month toward a house, your retirement, or any number of way more important things.

I’m not saying weddings aren’t important. Again, I love weddings. I had a ball at my own. Weddings are a beautiful celebration of a couple’s love for each other and their family and friends. But if you have to choose between a celebration of love and a retirement in which you can afford medical care, go for the medical care.

Opportunity costs, man. You can only spend each dollar once. If your budget is so tight that you can’t afford to pay for a wedding without borrowing, then adding a payment each month is going to bump something else out. Often that something else is saving. Trust me, it is not worth it.

But if you’ve got the cash, or your parents have the cash, by all means party down in wedding town. Also, I am a great wedding guest. Did I mention I love weddings?

Step 3: Compare your vision with your budget

Have you noticed that we are on step 3 and we have yet to spend a dollar? Stay with me, these pre-spending steps are the most important part.

Did you envision a wedding at the Jefferson with celebrity chef catering but then you ended up coming up with a budget of $37?

Assuming you are a normal, non-obscenely-wealthy person, here’s where the vision becomes so important. Ask yourselves: what is it about the Jefferson? Is it that you love the idea of a Richmond landmark? Is it the cache of the name? Maybe there are other locations in Richmond that accomplish that goal and at the same time better align with your budget.

Or is there a way to beef up your budget to match your vision? Could you pack lunch or cut out a hobby for the next few months and divert that cash to your wedding budget?

The beauty of matching your wedding vision with your wedding budget is it sets you up for success. Once these things are aligned, they will reinforce each other. If you have a mom’s-back-yard budget and a mom’s-back-yard vision, you probably aren’t going to accidently go over budget and purchase 1200 monogrammed folding chair covers (unless your mom has a really big back yard).

Step 4: Use the budget as a guide as you plan

Note that we still haven’t actually bought anything. (But, don’t worry, we will soon.)

Now that you have your budget, write a list of the major expenses for the wedding and how much you expect to spend on each one. You can get as fancy as you want with this. Some folks like spreadsheets. While I like a spreadsheet for lots of things myself, for budgeting I am fond of a piece of paper and a good pen. Keep it high-level here. You don’t want more than ten categories of spending. These are things like dress, food, photography. We’re not at groom’s cake and welcome packets for out-of-towners yet.

Note that the total of said expenses cannot be greater than the overall budgeted amount. If you are a little bit over, adjust line items until you come close. If you are a lot over, go back to step 3. It’s also not a terrible idea to have a failsafe too. Like, your budget is X, but you know that if you start to go over a little (a LITTLE people–this is not an excuse to cheat on the budget) you know you can pull a little from your honeymoon cash or something.

Then as you actually start to engage vendors, just cross those line items off as you go and consider that money spent. If you budgeted $1000 for the photography, but find a photographer you like for $1200, adjust somewhere else in your budget to make up the difference.

The point of all of this is that by the time you are actually gasp paying for the wedding, you just execute a plan already in place. It helps you avoid flying blind financially and swiping your card willy-nilly on anything that looks pretty or makes you (or your fiancé) feel all warm and fuzzy. Willy-nilly swiping is a good way to get into debt or overspend your hard-won dollars.

And that is definitely not how you want to start this next exciting phase of your life. Because now there are two of you. And I’ll bet you have a beautiful shared vision of a life together. Done right, a budget will get you there with fewer headaches and a fatter wallet.

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Amanda Gibson

Amanda Gibson used to teach folks about money at the Fed. Now she spends her days reading history books, raising kids, and thinking of ways to rule the world.

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