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How to Budget for Your Wedding

Updated on June 12, 2016

First Things First

You've got the ring, you've told your family and friends, and have been basking in the happy glow of being engaged and all the possibilities that brings with it.

But then, you start planning.

And suddenly, you realize how little money you actually have in your bank account, or your parents tell you how much they're willing to spend and it's far less than you had anticipated. It hits you that there's no money for the live doves or airplanes with banners and you start to question everything and panic.

Don't panic! It will be okay. You just need to, say it with me now, budget.

I know, some people consider it a curse word, but in planning a wedding its a HUGE deal. I also realize that there is a lot of advice out there about how to do it, and when I was planning my own wedding, I read every article I could dig up on the subject. A lot of it is repetitive and you really have to look for the gems, but once I had done all that, I came up with a two-step plan of my own to figure out how I should budget everything.

Le Plan! Step 1

First of all, take a step back and consider what is most important to you in regards to what you'll have to spend your money on.

Is it the dream dress you've been hoarding pictures of for the past 10 years? Is it that gorgeous place you've always pictured yourself getting married at? Is it the caterer or photographer you would kill to have for the big day? Is there a DJ or a band you can't imagine your reception without?

For most anyone, even the woman (like myself) who never pictures her wedding until after she's engaged, there should be at least one thing that stands out. For me, it was the photographer. My friend who had gotten married several years prior ended up with the most amazing photos ever and I knew I had to have her photographer for my wedding.

So, I found out how much it would cost to have him and immediately struck that amount from my budget. Luckily, his services were only $2,000 for the whole day. Many photographers start there and go up, as I found when e-mailing around for quotes from other places, just because I wanted an idea of what prices were like. That made it a bit easier on my budget.

A Side Note on Photography and Ettiquette

Now, if photography isn't something you're worried about, please DO NOT ignore it! I know everyone says it, but I found it to be more true than I would have guessed; you won't remember most of the day and you will definitely want to have pictures of it to look back on. One particular former bride I talked to on the subject said that one of her biggest regrets was not getting a specific person to take pictures of the day.

So maybe you don't want to hire a professional, because you want to spend the money elsewhere. Wonderful. Go find an amateur instead (trust me, in cities especially, there are "starving artist" everywhere) and see what you can find among them. Some of them have real talent and will still get you great photos, but at a much lower cost.

The other option, of course, is if you have any "starving artist" photographer friends who would be willing to do it, and not necessary for free. Don't expect freebies from friends just because they're your friends and it's your wedding. That is NOT how it works. If they decide to give their services as a gift, that's one thing, but don't suggest it to them.

For my wedding, that person was my makeup artist. She is a professional and I was fully prepared to pay her for her time, but she insisted that it was her gift to me. That was entirely her choice and she did an amazing job.

On the other hand, one of my friends recently got married and my husband is an organist on the side. She asked if he would play her wedding, which he was more than happy to do, but rather than waiting for him to offer it as our gift to them, she asked if it could be. Now, he still did it, because he's wonderful, but he was pretty offended that she didn't even give us a chance to offer it as a gift to them. Don't do that to your friends. Be prepared to pay them like you would for any other professional and it will be a happy money-saver if they choose to gift their services instead.

My amazing makeup artist really did a fantastic job. :)
My amazing makeup artist really did a fantastic job. :)

Le Plan! Step 2

Alright, now that you've identified what's most important to you, found out how much it will cost, and taken that out of your budget, the next thing to do is make a list of everything you'll have to spend money on and decide what is LEAST important to you, from the bottom to the top.

Is it food? Photography? The place for the ceremony? Your dress? The reception place? Decorations? Flowers? The DJ?

Once you've established the pecking order of these things, consider how to cut costs for each of them, starting with the one least important to you.

Personally, the least important thing for me were the flowers. I ended up buying fake flowers and making the bouquets and boutonnieres myself. This was in part because I didn't want to spend the money on something that was going to be dead by the end of the day, and partly because my father has very bad allergies, bad enough to keep him away from church on Easter Sunday because he can't stand all the lilies. I only spent about $75 on all the flowers I needed and another $15 on the ribbons, pins, and wire to put everything together, which was much cheaper than real flowers from a florist, and my dad was able to enjoy the ceremony in peace.

Doing fake flowers saved me several hundred dollars, which I happily kept in my budget for later.

The reception place was my next least important thing. I only had two major things I wanted out of it. 1) It had to be big enough to house 250+ people (We had invited over 300) and 2) I had to be able to decorate it however I wanted to. I looked through dozens of places before my then-fiancé came to the rescue and found a place that met both requirements. It wasn't anything fancy, but a fancy reception wasn't my goal; a fun reception was. As long as I could decorate, I could make it fun.

Doing this meant that I wasn't spending a ton on a room to hold the party in and gave me a bit more leeway for other things, like decorations, which were more important to me.

Friends and family having a blast at our reception hall. :)
Friends and family having a blast at our reception hall. :)

Other Ways to Cut Costs

Now, I know most articles suggest cutting the guest list down to save money and you can read my thoughts on that subject here: http://hubpages.com/relationships/The-List-of-Infinite-Proportions

This article will make it quite clear that, for me at least, this was not an option and I was rather miffed that every article I read seemed to suggest it as a solution.

We also did a lot of things ourselves, such as set-up the day of (courtesy of my fiancé, his groomsmen, and several of my co-workers at the time), making the favors (which my mother-in-law did about 70% of, bless her), and rather than going to a fancy restaurant for the rehearsal dinner, we borrowed our church's basement and hosted a pizza party for everyone. It doesn't have to be complicated and expensive unless you want it to be.

One other thing I did find helpful was to avoid anything (as much as I possibly could) that specifically had "wedding", "bride", or any other such related words in the title, because it jacks up the cost immediately. The industry knows brides will pay for the big day and they do take advantage of it. So instead of going to "wedding" stores, I went to party stores. Instead of going to a fancy "wedding" boutique, I went to a place that sold all sorts of formal wear to find my dress, and even caught a sale on top of that.

A Few Other Thoughts

Wasn't that easy? It's a simple two-step plan. :)

If you're working off a budget, stay in your budget. Don't go crazy into debt just because you thought you needed those doves. Prioritize above all else and it will help immensely.

I would note that a chunk of my budget went into decorating the hall and having things for people to do, since our focus was on having fun with everyone there. This included table cloths, center pieces, lights, coloring books and crayons for the kids, and the coasters we made as favors.

The little things do add up, so don't forget about them!

Also, consider if the groom's parents will be willing to contribute at all. My in-laws, being the wonderful people they are, paid for the catering and half the hall. This may not be the case for everyone, but if you feel comfortable, have your fiancé talk to his parents about the topic.

That about wraps it up. I hope I helped, even just a bit. :)

A Little Music to Inspire You

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