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How To Set A Wedding Budget

Apr 28, 2008
As a professional wedding planner, I'm often tasked with calming stressed brides and helping them work through wedding dilemmas. By far, the issue that causes the most stress is money. Interestingly, money is also one of the top reasons for divorce. Being able to set and stick to a budget is essential to a successful marriage and is also vital to a stress free wedding planning process. The good news is that budget related stress is mostly preventable if you practice good habits from the beginning. After years of working with couples to set and stick to wedding budgets, I've compiled following advice that I hope you will find helpful.

Questions to Answer: Where, How & What

The first question you should answer when setting your wedding budget is where. Where will you get the money to pay for wedding expenses? Are you and your fiancÚ footing the bill alone, or will you be assisted by family members? Will you use money that you have already saved, or money that you will be saving throughout the planning process? Gone are the days when tradition dictates who will pay for wedding expenses. While it is still customary for parents of the bride and groom to chip in, most couples are using their own money to pay for the majority of wedding expenses.

Once you know where the money is coming from, you should determine how much you are willing to spend. Notice that I used the word "willing." You may have $100,000 in savings but are you willing to spend it? Remember to consider life after the wedding. Do you want to buy a house? Have kids right away? Travel? Be very honest with yourselves and realistic about your financial priorities. You should come up with a solid number that is not based on hopes or money that you might have but what you know you can afford to spend without significantly limiting your post wedding life. This means NOT including what I call "shadow money" - money that lurks in the "shadows" of your budget but is not guaranteed. If that money materializes, great. But you don't want to depend on money that never shows up.

Now that you have determined the where and the how, you can move on to what. What is most important to you for your wedding day? Some couples want to give their guests a great experience, so they splurge on entertainment, food and beverage. Others want to have the 'wow' factor and splurge on floral design and lighting. Your desires for your wedding day should guide your budget, not rudimentary spread sheets or budget making software employed by some websites. For example, the average wedding in the Washington, DC area where I work is $42,000 and the average number of guests is 175. Based on these figures, a popular online budgeter recommends that a couple spend $3,360 on floral design and $2,520 on reception music. If, however, a bride wanted to splurge on flowers and spend $4,500 with her florist, she could easily reduce the reception music budget to $1380. The lesson here is that while wedding budgeters can be useful as a guide to industry norms and standards, you can tweak your budget to reflect your desires for your day. I recommend the budgeters at Brides.com and TheKnot.com.

When all of the above questions are answered, you will have determined your overall wedding budget and have an idea of how much you want to spend in each category. Then you will be ready to move into the active planning process. The worst mistake that you can make is to meet with vendors without having answered the above questions and setting your budget. Couples who meet with vendors and make statements such as "we don't really have a budget," are asking for disappointment, higher costs and in some cases will be taken advantage of by vendors. Having a firm idea of what you are willing to pay will assist vendors in presenting options within your budget and makes it more likely that you will stay within a comfortable price range.

Things to Keep In Mind

*Use a credit card to pay for all wedding expenses and then immediately pay them off. I recommend using a credit card because in the unfortunate event that something goes wrong (i.e., vendor no shows, missing items, etc.) it is easier to dispute charges through a credit card company than if you use cash or a check. Many credit card companies will refund your money and then go after the unscrupulous vendor themselves.

*Don't forget about the little things such as bridal accessories (veil, jewelry), pre-wedding pampering (manicures, pedicures, haircuts) and attendant gifts. These things tend to slip through the cracks and can really add up.

*The most effective way to cut your budget is to cut the guest list! Cutting the guest list will cut your budget in almost every area, including food and beverage costs, rental items (tables, chairs, linens), and flowers.

*Planning ahead can save you money. By starting early, 12 months or more before the day, you have more time to shop around and you have a wider selection of vendors to choose from. Early planning can also prevent rash and costly decisions.
About the Author
Tiffany R. Wright is a top wedding planner in Washington, DC. She is the founder of PIROUETTE, Inc., a premiere wedding planning company in Maryland, founded in 2005.
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