Before you set a guest list, before you find your dream venue, before you plan a single thing, you absolutely must set your wedding budget. It’s far from the most exciting part of wedding planning – indeed, may be in the running for most stressful – but it’s absolutely necessary. Today, we’re starting with the first step: figuring out how much you’ll spend.
Yes, everyone has a budget – even the women on Say Yes to the Dress with “unlimited” dress budgets have a budget; limit = infinity works only in calculus. So, let’s all agree to stop thinking of “having a budget” as a bad thing, or somehow equivalent to “things that I hate that are ugly and stupid.” Onward!
First, the questions you must answer are 1) how much you’re able to spend on your wedding and 2) how much you’re willing to spend on your wedding – these may be very different numbers. When there’s a discrepancy, we often think “able” is lower than “willing,” but that’s not necessarily true. Even if you’re able to spend a certain amount, there’s no rule requiring you to do so! Consider what expenses you’ll have between now and maybe a year after your wedding, and whether some of the wedding funding would be better reserved for those things.
How do you arrive at the “able” number? Generally, there are two sources of wedding funding: the couple and one or both sets of parents.
Talking about money
That means you’ll have to have a talk with your future spouse and/or your respective parents about money. Don’t push these conversations off, even though doing so is incredibly tempting, because they can be awkward. Your parents may volunteer that information quickly, as S’s parents did; within a few days of our engagement, his mom reminded him that they had contributed a particular amount to his brother’s wedding a few years earlier and would do the same for his wedding (lucky him – he got to avoid the conversation entirely!)
My mom had mentioned ages and ages before S and I started dating that my parents were going to fund my wedding (and Steph’s wedding), so I assumed that was still the plan, but felt weird calling her up to say, “hey, remember when you said you’d pay for my wedding? Is that a go?” Instead, I kept waiting in the hopes she would bring it up, which she did not do, so I continued to not ask. In November (now five months post-engagement), I knew I couldn’t put off touring venues, so made plans to do so when S and I would be in Pennsylvania in December.
I hadn’t spent much time thinking about the wedding – and believe me, it was very, very hard to pull that off – because I didn’t want to do anything without a budget. Finally, on the day S and I saw our first potential venue, I was talking about options with my mom and she casually mentioned that she and my dad planned to pay for the wedding (thanks for ending my anxiety, Mom!) We then talked specifics and I felt so much better; as it turns out, of course, she figured I’d ask when I wanted money, so didn’t bring it up. To recap: I was so uncomfortable asking about / for money that I waited months to even think about planning my wedding. Don’t do what I did.
Your parents (or your fiance’s parents) may be unable or unwilling to contribute to your wedding. That’s completely fine, but it’s something you should know early in the planning stage. If there’s any uncertainty at all over whether they’ll contribute, or over the specific amount they’ll contribute, ask (and if you need help navigating a tricky situation, send your questions to Ask S&K and Steph and I will help!)
Nearly every “things to do before you get married” list I’ve seen includes having a talk with your future spouse about money. If you’re reading this and are not yet engaged, don’t wait until you are engaged to have this talk! You should go into an engagement with all of the facts – how much you both make / plan to make, how much you spend, how much you owe. If you’ve done that, having a talk about how much money you can each contribute to the wedding is easy (or, easier than it would otherwise be). Be sure to think about not just money you already have set aside, but also areas where you could cut back and thus shift spending toward the wedding.
That’s it! It’s all fairly straightforward when you approach it like this, isn’t it? Two final suggestions – be wary of anything that seems too good to be true, and don’t go into debt for your wedding (or have others do so for you).
Being financially smart
Do you remember reading about SwanLuv late last year? Hundreds, maybe thousands, of couples signed up to be notified when their applications opened. The premise (having something to do with swans mating for life) was that you could receive up to $10,000 for your wedding, with one sizable string attached – if you divorced, you’d have to pay that money back with a presumably astronomic interest rate. No judgment here – I definitely signed up to learn more! S and I both felt it was way too good to be true, but figured we’d wait and see. Of course, we were right, and instead of opening applications, they announced they’d help you solicit your friends and family to pay for your wedding (see CNN’s report here).
Please, please – do not ever ask your friends or extended family to pay for your wedding (I know, I’m asking for many things in this post). There are charitable organizations whose mission is to help couples with extreme extenuating circumstances that make a wedding difficult; that’s different. If you can’t afford the wedding of your dreams, your options are two-fold: modify your dreams and fall in love with the wedding you can actually afford, or have a long engagement and save until you can afford what you want.
Relatedly! Don’t go into debt for your wedding, and don’t ask anyone to do so to help you out. In fact, if someone says they will, politely but firmly decline – I insist. I know someone whose parents took out a second mortgage on their home to pay for the couple’s wedding. I’d bet those parents are still paying for the wedding, even though the couple was separated in less than a year. You shouldn’t read causality into that story, of course (I have no proof that debt leads to divorce!); really, though, don’t go into debt to pay for a wedding.
This whole post has been more serious and scold-y than I intended when I sat down to write it, but money is a serious topic, and I will always call things as I see them. Plus, once you have this first step out of the way, you can get on to the more fun parts of wedding planning!
Steph and I hope this has been a helpful starting point; look for more budget posts (e.g. budget breakdowns by category) in the future, and feel free to send us (or leave a comment with) your budget questions!