Today is part two of our wedding budget how-tos – setting your priorities as a couple and starting to think about how you’ll actually spend your overall budget. First things first – if you haven’t yet established your budget, meaning a dollar amount you’re willing and able to spend, don’t make any decisions until you do! (and check our our post here to help you arrive at that number)
If your budget is set, it’s now time to get more specific! Before you start wedding planning in earnest, here are four steps to follow:
- Establish your wedding priorities as a couple
- Create a (rough) sample budget by category
- Think about your wedding realities
- Revisit the category breakdowns
Establish your wedding priorities as a couple
How do you envision spending your wedding budget? What does your fiancé see? Now is the time to sit down with your fiancé and talk about your respective top priorities, if you haven’t yet done so. Each of you should pick two or three things (e.g. food, music, honeymoon) about which you care the most, meaning you care enough about these things to sacrifice other things.
That doesn’t mean you’ll end up spending more on these items than on any other, though that might be the case. For example, if attire is your top priority, that doesn’t mean it becomes your largest line item (though it could… but even I would probably discourage that).
Even before we’d set our budget (which we should’ve done sooner, as I discussed in this post – my fault!), S and I talked about the things we most wanted in a wedding. We were completely on the same page, with food and beverages (and making sure our guests had a great time) top of both of our lists. We also agreed that we wanted venues we absolutely loved, and were willing to cut back elsewhere, if necessary, to have that. My remaining top priority was attire for both of us. I wanted to pad the attire budget line to ensure I could have the dress and shoes I wanted, and so S could get a nice suit and/or shoes.
If you’re concerned that you and your fiancé might not have overlapping priorities, you might choose to come up with your top few items separately and then reconvene to discuss them. When comparing lists, try to find common ground. If that’s easier said than done, perhaps you could agree to splurge on your respective top priorities, and then cut back on areas you both identify as low priority (e.g. you want to spend on a band, your fiancé wants to spend on the food, but neither of you are fond of flowers – maybe that’s the area from which you start borrowing).
Create a (rough) sample budget by category
You can find budget guides from nearly every wedding magazine and wedding website – be careful not to rely on these too heavily, however, for two reasons.
First, these guides should be treated as a suggestion; your priorities as a couple should be the deciding factor of how you spend your money (hence, why we say you should talk about that first). It’s helpful to know that, for example, the reception tends to eat up about half of the budget – but that doesn’t mean it must (or will) for you.
Second, the math supporting these guides is often questionable. You’ll notice that a number of (often sizable) wedding purchases are completely absent in wedding budget guides. Items for which many couples will pay – wedding rings, the honeymoon, a wedding planner, welcome and/or farewell gatherings for guests, etc. – are often omitted (see the below image).
I believe that anything wedding-related for which you pay should be part of a budget category, and, as I said in the last post, any money being spent by any interested party (i.e. the couple and their parents) should be counted in the budget total. Maybe you and your fiancé are paying for everything yourselves, except the rehearsal dinner, for which your parents have said they’ll contribute $2000. Great – if you’re planning to spend $20,000, add that $2000 to the money you’re spending, and allocate 9% ($2000/$22000) of your budget to the rehearsal dinner.
Remembering that you need money to spend on something (like a rehearsal dinner, or transportation, or stamps, or sales tax) once you’ve already spent your money elsewhere can be easily avoided with a bit of careful planning at the start.
Back to the budget guides – further, and more frustratingly (for me, at least), is that the percentages listed don’t always add up to 100. As shown in the table below, for example, the low end of the ranges suggested by The Knot sum to 100% – the high end takes you up to 115%. Neither of these percentages include their suggested 5% set aside for unexpected costs, or their reminder that you may want to pay for your honeymoon (see the table below).
Sources, wedding budget category guides:
Think about your wedding realities
Even if your planning is fairly early-stage, you probably have a sense of where you’d like to get married (in terms of city, rather than venue) and how many guests you’re likely to invite (e.g. you know you have a small circle of family and friends, vs. you both have massive families and want everyone to come). After going through the previous two steps, perhaps you’ve decided you’ll allocate 50% of your $22,000 budget to your reception. That $11,000 will go much further with a guest list of 45 (about $244/person) than it will with 250 people ($44/person).
Your location plays a role in this, too – $44/person is far more manageable in certain parts of the country (or the world) than it is in others. According to the 2015 survey on The Knot, Philadelphia was the twelfth-most expensive city in which to get married, coming in with an average wedding spend of $42,429, just after South Jersey, where weddings averaged $43,223. That doesn’t mean you will – or should – spend that much on your wedding, but it’s useful to consider the average costs of goods and services where you’ll be married.
Here’s where my professor side comes in (apologies) – averages are sensitive to outliers, of course! That $42,000-ish average could mean all couples in Philadelphia spend $42,000 on their weddings, or that 75% of Philadelphia couples spend $25,000, while 25% spend $93,000 – the averages are identical. There’s also the issue of who responds to surveys about wedding budgets, but that’s a topic for a different day!
Locations also bring different sets of taxes and fees, both of which you should incorporate. Depending on where you get married, you may face state and/or local sales tax, alcoholic beverage taxes (I’m looking at you, Philadelphia), plus service charges of 20% or more.
To illustrate this – S and I are paying, on top of our pre-dinner food and beverage, 8% tax, an additional 10% tax on alcohol, plus 24% service. Let’s say we were spending $5000 on the cocktail hour, of which $2000 was alcohol, to make the math easy. Our $5000 budget item has now become a nearly $7000 expense – imagine how disappointed you’d be if you found your dream venue, picked out your food and drink, and then realized it was over your budget.
Revisit the category breakdowns
Finally, return to the rough categories you established in step 2. Given your realities of guest list and location, will these percentages work?
It’s worth repeating, as even wedding experts seem to forget this point, that percentages should add up to 100. If you need to increase a category’s percentage, you have two options – cut back elsewhere or increase your budget. If the $44/person isn’t going to work for your 250-guest reception, adding $4000 to your budget would take the per-person max up to $60, which may allow you to do what you want. Or, perhaps you decide to scrap hiring a live band in favor of a less-expensive DJ (or a nearly free iPod setup) and switch to an in-season set of flowers, allowing you to shift $4000 to the reception.
We’ll cover this more in a future post (including a huge list of things on which you may spend money), but as you keep track of your wedding expenses, don’t neglect the categories you’ve set! If you decide that you’ll spend 5% ($1100) of your budget on a wedding planner, for example, and then sign a contract for $2000, that $900 needs to come from somewhere.
What are (or were) your wedding budget priorities? Leave a comment and let us know! If you have budget-related questions, feel free to include those in the comments, as well.