Creating a budget is one of the most stressful aspects of wedding planning. Talking money can leave you feeling frustrated and burned-out just a few weeks into your engagement. To help you navigate this part of the process, we've put together some tips for creating your wedding budget without ever threatening to just call the whole thing off and elope. Here are some ideas to help get you started.
Figure out what sort of wedding you want to have. You don't have to get super detailed here, but it helps to go through the major elements of the day, like location, season, type of venue, photography, approximate guest count, entertainment, and food, and think about what you really want for each item. As you do so, figure out what's most important to each you. Is being married on the beach more important than having your extended family there? Would you rather have great food or a great band? This is also a good time to ask your families what they envision for your big day. What relatives and friends do they want to invite? Do they have strong feelings about any other parts of the wedding in particular?
Estimate what you and your partner and your families can reasonably contribute to the cost of your day. Maybe you already know what your parents can contribute, or perhaps you know they won't be paying for anything. In any case, it helps to have a ballpark figure in your head as you being your initial research. So set up a time to talk to your parents and once you know their number, sit down with your partner to discuss how much you can comfortably put towards the big day.
Do some research. Starting with the basic elements you and your partner decided were important, figure out what it would cost to have that wedding. Is it reasonable? If not, go back to the drawing board and see what you can adjust to make it work. Would you be willing to get married on a Sunday in order to book your dream photographer? Can you try a different location if it meant you could afford to feed 250 people?
The research phase is one of the most time-consuming aspects of creating your budget because it plays a crucial role in determining where you'll be able to spend your money. As you start digging a little deeper and asking very specific questions about your ideal venue (particularly with regard to catering, decor, lighting, and rentals), you'll uncover any additional costs you might need to think about. Give yourself time to work through it all; it can take a few weeks to gather the information from all your potential venues and vendors and then re-think what kind of wedding you want to have. We recommend figuring out what your wedding would look like at three different price points, or figuring out three ways your wedding could look at the same price point. It's important to stay flexible until you sign on the dotted line.
Talk to your families about what you're thinking. If your parents are paying for part (or all) of the wedding, they will probably want to have a say in any big ticket items. So once you've done your research, go back and get their input. Be willing to compromise and negotiate. We recommend telling them what sort of wedding you're hoping to have and what it will cost based on your research. This is where it's really helpful to have three different venue examples to show them. Then if they say, "There's no way a venue should cost $10,000" you can say, "Well, here's what a $5000 venue looks like...are you OK with it?"
Decide who will pay for what. There a lot of items that need to be factored into your budget, so it's very important to know who is covering what before you get too far along. If your entire wishlist can be covered by the overall budget, you're all set. Hooray! But if not, you need to decide what you and your partner are comfortable paying for out of your own pocket — like your attire, your hair and makeup, or gifts for your bridal party — and what you'd like to have your parents pay for. If they can only contribute a certain number, it might make sense to ask them to cover something specific, like the videographer or band, rather than just accepting cash. If you take that route, consider removing those items from your budget spreadsheet so you can just focus on how much you as a couple will need to bring to the table.
Make your actual wedding budget. Create a spreadsheet and enter all the aspects of a wedding you plan to include, followed by your estimated allocations for each. Under each main category, list all the items that are included in that budget and give each a dollar amount. Then add a line for miscellaneous items and additional fees and factor in an extra $100-$500 for each category to account for unforeseen costs. As you finalize the budget, you'll realize where you might need to reduce what you hoped to spend, where you can redistribute the money, and where you can save. Don't be surprised if you have to revisit your budget and renegotiate the breakdown several times during your planning process.
Once you've created your spreadsheet, you can officially say you have a wedding budget! From there, determine how exactly you'll pay and whether or not you need a monthly savings plan. Then start booking vendors and making deposits!
Feeling overwhelmed? Yeah, we feel you. Our best advice is to remember that your wedding budget and major wedding decisions will likely be a moving target for a few weeks. Keep in mind that having to re-think your original vision is totally normal, and that you will get through it and be well on your way to planning a wedding that will do you and your partner proud.
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A version of this post was originally published on Lover.ly on January 30, 2014. It was written by Rachel W. Miller and contributed to by Claire Aven.