Feeling overwhelmed with wedding expenses? Ariel Anderson, CFP®, shows you how to plan for a beautiful wedding on a realistic budget.
When my fiance and I got engaged last year, first came the wave of “congratulations,” and then came a never-ending stream of wedding planning advice, with budgeting tips both big and small. While many advice-givers intend to be helpful, for some Grownups (like me), it’s simply overwhelming. And so, I decided to rely on my training as a CFP® when it came to budgeting for our wedding—and I found it came in very handy.
If you’re feeling similarly unsure of where to start with wedding planning and budgeting, don’t panic! Here are five ideas for how to get organized during one of the most exciting (and chaotic) times of your life:
Insure Your Ring
While your ring may seem priceless, it did, in fact, have a price tag (and if it has something shiny on it, a hefty price tag at that). Insuring your ring can be surprisingly cost-effective and will provide peace of mind in the event of loss. Policies can be easily obtained—you’ll just need an appraisal from your jeweler—and cover against events like theft, loss, or even your main stone falling out. (Think of all the things your ring could experience over the course of a lifetime!) For those Grownups who already have homeowner’s or renter’s insurance, read the fine print before assuming your ring will be covered with your other personal property. Many policies impose limits on the amount of jewelry they’ll cover, or specifically exclude jewelry altogether. In these instances, work with your insurance provider to either obtain a separate jewelry policy or add the additional coverage as needed. You’ll have one less thing to worry about.
Talk to Your Loved Ones
Family support varies, and there is no “normal”—the old etiquette of a bride’s family paying for the entire wedding is (frankly) outdated. Don’t get me wrong—some families will take great pride in paying for the nuptials, but before asking someone to write a check, pause for a moment and think about what you want out of your big day. Is there a string attached to that check? Will the giver expect some say in important decisions, like the venue and guest list? If this is the case, before accepting the assistance, make sure their ideals are aligned with yours. It’s your day, after all.
If you have no idea whether assistance is coming, be prepared to talk about it. When my fiance and I started wedding planning, we’d get these kind of soft offers from our loved ones—“count on me to help” or “let me know what you need.” Thoughtful, yes, but also vague. And it’s hard to build a budget without knowing what “help” actually means.
So, be prepared to ask for clarification. It can feel kind of cringe-worthy, but it doesn’t have to be. Take them out to lunch, or give a call if long distance, and say something along the lines of“We’re so thankful you want to contribute to our wedding. We have so much to plan and every little bit helps! We’re finalizing our budget and were hoping you could share more about how you’d like to be involved.” Or, if you’re sure they want to help financially, just be direct and ask what the number is.
Whichever route you choose, do some research in advance to have an idea of what different things cost. This will help you demonstrate how any dollar amount would be impactful by tying it to something tangible, $100 for save-the-dates, $5,000 for the deposit at a venue, or even just giving their time to make DIY centerpieces. Importantly, always express gratitude and respect the privacy of those giving to avoid competition between family members or in-laws.
Open a High-Yield Savings Account
Whether you’re footing the entire bill or just covering your honeymoon, chances are you’ll have some sort of financial obligation for your wedding. Regardless of budget size, consider establishing a high-yield savings account and nicknaming it “wedding savings.” Clearly separating this bucket of funds from your other money will allow you to easily track progress toward your big day, as well as create an emotional tie to it. Want to drop $500 on a ski weekend? You may think twice about withdrawing it from your wedding fund—spending $500 might mean shortening your honeymoon by a couple of days. Is the trade-off worth it?
Start Thinking about Your Guest List
The size of your wedding is the largest driver of cost, as most food and beverage plans are priced per person. Start creating an A-list, B-list, and even C-list for your guests. Think about how many people are musts—this will help you figure out the venue size required and how much money you’ll need to book at a particular location. Then, you can save yourself some time by ruling out venues that aren’t right for your guest list.
Come to an agreement with your partner on plus-ones and children, and communicate your stance with your loved ones. If you set expectations early, you’ll avoid hurting feelings later.
Set a Target Budget
Talk with your partner to get an idea of what kind of wedding you both imagine having and do some research to understand what it might cost. Day of week, time of year, geographic location, and size all will have a substantial impact on the expense. To arrive at a feasible target budget, consider your available resources, including any financial assistance you may have coming to you, as well as your monthly capacity to keep saving. Importantly, as you determine what’s affordable to your budget, keep in mind your other financial goals. Some couples may value the opportunity to celebrate their marriage with loved ones in a big way, and others may opt for a smaller gathering in order to realize their goal of homeownership (for example) that much quicker. Have a conversation with your significant other to make sure you’re aligned in how you prioritize wedding expenses against other goals.
When building our budget, my fiance and I found it helpful to immediately identify our “non-negotiables”—the dress, a talented photographer, and good food—to understand where to allocate money first. We also discussed the areas we were willing to nix or DIY to save money—for us, it’s the cake, centerpieces, party favors, and decor. There are countless wedding websites, blogs, and podcasts full of money-saving tips that can help you trim costs on an array of different items. Be creative, be aware of what things cost, and be prepared to say “no, thank you” to things you don’t value as you get your money plan squared away.
Lastly, leave room in your budget for miscellaneous expenses. Trust me—you will forget to include an item or two in your budget. Who knew dress alterations could be hundreds of dollars, and that some venues charge cake-cutting fees? The thing about planning a wedding is you’ve probably never done it before. Leaving a line item for things you’ve forgotten to budget for will provide a little cushion. (I wish someone told me to do this!)
Overwhelmed with wedding planning? Take our online class, Spending Plans: A Better Way to Budget, and start plotting your goals.
Any third-party resources or websites referenced above are not under Society of Grownups control. Society of Grownups cannot guarantee and are not responsible for the accuracy of the resources, websites, or any products or services available through such resources or websites.
While Society of Grownups hopes the information is useful, it’s only intended to provide general education. It’s not legal, tax, or investment advice, and may not apply or be useful to your specific financial situation. If you need recommendations geared to your personal financial situation, schedule time with a financial planner.