You’re on a dress shopping extravaganza with your mom and your girlfriends, flutes of champagne all around. Thing is, you’re an outdoorsy, casual kind of gal, and it’s not your scene. The traditional gown is your mother’s thing. But you’ve been swept up in the messaging that today is extra special, and who cares about budget if it’s the one?
The cost of a wedding can take off like a runaway train if you’re not careful. But, as counterintuitive as it sounds, think deeply about the kind of wedding you want before you examine your budget, says Karen Cleveland, author of The New Wedding Book, a Guide to Ditching All the Rules (2021).
“Start by prioritizing the top three things that are super important to you, and then use those as your North Star,” she says. As you plan the other pieces, refer back to your list of priorities to guide you.
Most people’s wedding budgets require they prioritize what’s most important to them, says Rena Sweeney, owner of Alchemy Events in New Orleans. What’s important for one couple might not resonate at all for another, whether that’s unique flower arrangements, high-end hotel reception, live music, or intimate gathering.
Budget problems arise when people feel they should throw a lavish wedding just because they’re seeing those kinds of weddings on Instagram. “Couples should start with their values and get really clear on what kind of wedding they want,” Cleveland says.
As they brainstorm, couples should ask themselves what they really care about. Is it food? A great band? Stunning photography? A lovely venue? “Or do you just want to get married?” Cleveland says. “That can inform whether you have 30 people for brunch after a morning service or a 200-person big ballroom party.”
Here are nine ways to blow your wedding budget, and how to make sure you keep your spending plans on lock.
Sweeney says inflexibility is the number one budget buster. Once you’ve prioritized what’s most important to you, you need to be flexible on the other details. “If you absolutely love a specific flower but it’s expensive and out of season unless it gets flown in from overseas, consider an alternative that looks similar but costs less or maybe just putting it in the couple’s personal flowers,” she says.
A guest list you can’t afford
“It’s easy to get wrapped up in feeling obligated to invite people,” Sweeney says. But adding people increases not only food and drink but also the number of tables, centerpieces, and other venue elements. Stick with your original guest count.
Start your planning by deciding your wedding’s size because your food, bar, and venue are probably going to be your biggest expenses, Cleveland says. If you want to have a large group, and a sit-down meal and bar are outside your budget, get creative on different ways to host—for example, an afternoon with canapes.
Not thinking outside the box
You don’t need to Google “wedding photographer” or “wedding venue” to find a good photographer or a great place to tie the knot, Cleveland says. Same goes for wedding attire. “There’s this big machine that feeds couples in general, but women in particular, this myth that the dress needs to be this magical transformative experience. It’s not a very sexy thing to talk about,” she says. If that’s your thing, then great, budget it in. But there’s a middle ground where you can be creative for less money, including consignment shops, a dress off the rack, or even a local designer that could cost what you’d spend in a bridal shop.
Skipping the details
Small things add up if you don’t plan for them, whether it’s postage, tenting for rain at an outdoor wedding, or alterations. Try to think through the details, and plan to pad your budget a bit for unexpected expenses, Sweeney says.
People don’t talk about it as much, but it’s worth negotiating with your vendors. “Just because a vendor estimates what it’s going to come in at doesn’t mean it’s not a negotiation—ask the vendor what they can do for your budget,” she says.
Tax and gratuity
It’s easy to focus on the price per person when exploring catering companies and venues, but don’t forget to factor in the tax and gratuity, Sweeney says. That can add as much as 30% to that bill and might mean you’ll have to cut back elsewhere if you didn’t plan for it.
Video and photography can get spendy fast and really blow a budget. Do you need someone to capture the entire day on film, or do you just want some quality group shots and candids? Think through what’s most meaningful to you. If you want photos of getting ready for the ceremony, then budget for that. “If not, don’t get upsold,” Cleveland says.
Seems everyone sends save-the-date cards these days, but it adds an extra chore and cost. And those elegant, oversized invitations can triple your postage. Stationery probably won’t tip you over the edge, but it’s an area you can save on to prioritize other things you want more. Cleveland encourages thinking about whether you need to send out an invitation at all with today’s free wedding websites like The Knot. “If it’s important to you, that’s great, but I don’t think you need it,” she says. It’s yet another area where the wedding industry upsells, she says.
Rental costs for a home wedding
People often think they can save money by hosting a reception at their house or a friend’s property, Sweeney says. But the cost of renting individual components—tents, staff, plates and cutlery, dance floor, or restroom trailers—may cost more than paying for an all-inclusive venue. Be sure to compare.
These days, most couples are footing the bill for their wedding, Cleveland says. Whether you opt for an all-inclusive extravaganza or a less traditional affair, remember your guests just want to see you happy. Stick to what’s important to you, and the rest will all into place.
MORE ON HERMONEY:
- I’m Getting Married: How Do I Protect Myself Financially
- 7 Financial Discussions to Have Before You Get Married
- How to Achieve Financial Independence as a Married Couple
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