Congratulations! You’re getting married — or at least planning to soon.
As you begin to ponder all-important decisions about cake fillings and floral arrangements, not to mention the dress, it’s important to take a step back. Weddings aren’t cheap, so you need to decide how much you can afford to spend on your big day.
Here are a few ways to keep your matrimonial expenses in check.
A budget is one of the oldest money-saving tools, and for good reason. If you track spending and limit expenses in discretionary categories, you can save more for a financial goal, like a wedding. Even if you’ve never built a budget before, now’s the time to start.
A budget should be put in place well before you book a venue, says Anne Chertoff, trend expert for WeddingWire, an online marketplace for wedding planning.
Before you lock in any elements of your wedding day, decide how much you can afford to spend. This will likely depend on how much you can save each month toward your goal. Then, make your selections accordingly. WeddingWire created a budget breakdown that estimates how much you can expect to pay in wedding categories like the venue and photography.
Don’t settle on a ballpark figure until you start calling vendors and caterers so you can make realistic estimates, says Ricky Eisen, founder of Between The Bread, a catering and events company in New York.
You’ll also want to prioritize which elements are most important to you, says Kristen Maxwell Cooper, executive editor of digital at The Knot, another wedding-planning online marketplace. For instance, some couples opt for a larger guest list, while others choose a more elaborate experience for a smaller set of guests.
Don’t feel tied to old-fashioned financial etiquette, at least for the most part. Payment traditions nowadays can be more flexible, Chertoff says. That’s good news, because as the bride or groom, you’re likely not on the hook for all of the wedding costs.
“Traditionally, the bride’s family pays for almost all of the wedding costs, but today the couple, both sets of parents and sometimes grandparents will all chip in to help cover the costs of the wedding,” Chertoff said in an email.
Tradition still persists in that the bride’s side typically foots a larger portion of the bill. On average, the bride’s parents contribute 44% of the overall wedding budget, the bride and groom contribute 42%, and the groom’s parents contribute 13%, according to The Knot’s 2016 Real Weddings Study. Your family situation may be different.
Talk with your relatives and significant other from the outset about all of the things you’ll be responsible for. This step goes hand-in-hand with creating a budget. Talking about finances may be difficult, but Nora Yousif, an associate vice president at RBC Wealth Management in the Boston area, says it’s essential.
“I get that this kind of conversation can be tough and a little uncomfortable to have, but it’s so important, so that way the couple that’s getting married will know exactly what their capacity is, how much they can work with and how much they’re each going to have to contribute to make the wedding happen,” she says.
A financial conversation can also open the door for the couple to talk about post-wedding money matters, like shared or separate checking accounts and life insurance, Yousif adds.
» MORE: 19 ways to save on a wedding
You know that old saying, expect the unexpected? Borrow that as your motto for wedding budgeting. Unexpected costs can and will pop up, and it’s best to leave room for them upfront before you’re left at the altar with a stack of bills.
If it rains on your big day, you may find yourself chipping in for umbrellas, Chertoff says. And your officiant may need a taxi from the airport, Eisen adds. Build an “other” or “miscellaneous” category into your budget from the outset for things you may not anticipate.
You don’t want your wedding expenses to leave you feeling blue — or send your bank account into the red. Some newlyweds resort to personal loans or credit cards to finance their nuptials, but starting your marriage in debt is always the wrong thing to do.
Don’t spend more on your wedding than you can afford. There are a few financial tools and tricks that can help.
Open a savings account to separate wedding money from day-to-day funds so you won’t be tempted to dip into wedding savings accumulated in a checking account. A savings account can also earn interest.
Use a rewards credit card responsibly. If you charge some of your wedding-related purchases and pay off the balance in full each month, you’ll be building credit and earning rewards at the same time. And you could use travel rewards for the honeymoon, Chertoff says.
Make adjustments to your monthly cash flow. Cut out unnecessary expenses in the months leading up to the wedding so you can bulk up your savings, Yousif advises.
Something to remember
Whatever you do, don’t get talked into spending more than you can afford. “I think the most vulnerable people in the universe are brides and their mothers,” says Eisen of Between The Bread. Stick to your budget and don’t cave in to vendor attempts to upsell you, she adds.
And don’t hurry your timetable. If the saving process looks like it’ll take longer than you expected, remember there’s nothing embarrassing about a long engagement or an intimate ceremony.
“Stay level-headed, remembering this is one day and you don’t want to start your union on weak financial footing and a basis for any kind of animosity,” says Yousif, a third-generation financial advisor.
Ready to get started? NerdWallet’s wedding calculator can estimate your total wedding cost. We pre-filled it with average 2016 wedding costs, as determined by The Knot.