The proposal was perfect. You’ve told friends and family the exciting news and shared pictures of the sparkly new ring on Instagram. Now it’s time to plan the wedding. Setting a realistic budget is a smart first step.
But throwing out a number is one thing; sticking to it is the hard part. According to The Knot’s 2017 Real Weddings Study, 45% of couples who married in 2017 reported spending more than they had planned.
“The last thing you want to do is begin your formal life together with a lot of debt because you were under pressure to have a certain type of event that you didn’t want and couldn’t afford,” says Marguerita Cheng, a certified financial planner at Blue Ocean Global Wealth in Gaithersburg, Maryland.
It’s important to discuss what you’re comfortable spending and research wedding costs. Here’s how to make a budget you can commit to.
Add up your funds
Review your financial situation before you choose the cake, put a deposit down on a DJ or even set a firm date. Contemplate how much time you’ll need to save your target amount if you’re not there yet.
“If you just start spending willy-nilly, then you might not have enough money for something that you really need,” says Anne Chertoff, trends expert for WeddingWire, an online wedding-planning marketplace.
As a couple, build your budget around your current savings (excluding retirement and emergency funds), what you can save from your monthly income and any contributions from family members, Chertoff says. Don’t spend money you can’t immediately repay.
“A lot of couples go into debt planning a wedding because they don’t have the money that they need right now, so they either take out a loan or they put a ton of expenses on their credit cards,” says Ivy Jacobson, a senior digital editor at The Knot, another online wedding-planning marketplace.
Remember your other goals
In planning your dream wedding, don’t lose sight of reality. You likely have other financial goals to consider, such as paying off credit card debt or saving for a house. Are you comfortable delaying those goals by a few months or years in favor of wedding-day expenses? Decide where to make trade-offs.
“It is a little bit of give-and-take,” Cheng says. “Sometimes you are going to have to give up something, but then you can say, ‘OK, honey, if we’re spending less on the reception, maybe we can have a better honeymoon.’”
Envision your wedding
Do you picture yourself arriving by limo or carpooling with your bridesmaids? Are you imagining a plated, three-course meal or buffet-style dinner? Discuss every detail. If you and your betrothed don’t see eye to eye, try to meet halfway.
“If one person wants 300 people in a ballroom and the other one wants something more intimate at city hall, that’s a huge difference in style,” Chertoff says. “But maybe they can compromise and say, ‘OK, maybe we’ll have less people but we can have a little more of a grand venue than just city hall.”
Start by individually writing down your top three priorities — such as location, food and photographer — and look for similarities, Jacobson says. If you can’t agree, get an unbiased third party, such as a wedding planner or financial planner, to weigh in.
Finally, find out whether your budget and vision align. Look up average wedding costs, but note that prices can vary widely by location, season and day of the week.
“If you want a Saturday wedding in June in Manhattan, you’ll be paying top dollar. But if you’re looking at a Thursday wedding in March in Brooklyn, it’ll be much more affordable,” Jacobson says.
For the most reliable estimates, get quotes from local vendors, then plug the numbers into a calculator. However, expect a larger final bill. Couples underestimate their spending by 40%, according to WeddingWire. Chertoff recommends adding between $1,000 and $2,500 to your budget for last-minute emergencies and miscellaneous expenses, such as postage and cake-cutting fees.
If the initial estimate exceeds your budget, identify ways to adjust. Trim the guest list, nix the open bar or extend the engagement to allow more time to save.