The Budget: And You Thought Congress Had A Tough Time

The budget is probably one of the touchiest, most volatile parts to planning a wedding for most couples.  It requires you to sit down and have a serious discussion with your future spouse and your respective parents about one of the most taboo of subjects: money.  I know some people who would rather talk to their parents about sex than about money.  It’s an odd conversation to have, and an even odder conversation to try to start, but it’s one that must be had.

 Your budget is going to dictate a large portion of your wedding.  You need to know how much is available to you before you try to relegate parts of it to the various aspects of your wedding.  It’s surprising how expensive some parts of the wedding can be, and you’d be surprised how quickly you can blow through your budget, so it’s important to have a plan.

 Tradition dictates that the bride’s family is the one to foot the bill for the wedding.  Some cultures and some families still strictly believe in this “rule”, but it is falling to the wayside as couples are getting married later in life after they have established careers and can provide their own wedding funds.  It’s quite possible your parents expect you to do this, or maybe they expect to pay for it, or maybe they fall somewhere in the middle and want to make a contribution to your overall wedding budget but can’t pay for it on their own.  Whatever the case may be, you don’t know until you talk to them.

 Wait 2 or 3 weeks at a minimum after announcing your engagement before broaching the subject.  No doubt your parents will want to talk about it amongst themselves first, and you want to give them time to do that.  It’s quite possible your parents will approach you and say “here is what we can/can’t do” and you get to avoid having to start the conversation yourself.  Chances are you won’t be that lucky and you will have to initiate the conversation.  Have an idea of your ideal budget before sitting down with them, and be prepared for the possibility of facing that number alone as a couple.  Tim and I had come to the conclusion that we could probably have the kind of wedding we wanted with around $15K.  I had started putting money away each month a while ago since I knew that my parents would probably not be able to contribute much, if anything, to a wedding, and if I kept up my contributions to that savings account I could feasibly have that number by next summer if we had to foot the bill ourselves.  If you haven’t started doing so, I would suggest doing the same, even if you’re not engaged yet.  It doesn’t have to be much, but it’s always good to be prepared.  In a worst case scenario, you don’t need the money you’ve reserved for the wedding and you can put it towards something else.

 When there’s a non-pressure moment to bring the subject up (don’t ambush them as they’re getting in the car or going to bed), all you can really do is dive into it.  The less pressure you put on them, the less awkward the conversation will feel.  Since I knew my parents were a little on the financially strapped side, I didn’t really expect them to say they could help us out with the wedding costs, but I wanted to ask anyway since my parents are the type that would be offended I assumed they couldn’t/didn’t want to help.  I went with a “I in no way expect you to say yes, but Tim and I were talking about our wedding budget, and I didn’t know if you guys had wanted to contribute to it at all.”  They gave me the “we knew this was coming but still don’t know what to say” kind of look and told me they had discussed it, but hadn’t really made a plan yet.  I assured them that it was fine and told them that we had already worked out that we could fully supply our own wedding funds, and any assistance would just allow us to save some of that money towards a future house.  This visibly relieved some of the pressure they were feeling, and made the future conversations that took place much more relaxed.  They told me they would love to help us out as much as they could, and that they’d get back to me once they had a chance to discuss it more.  They came back to me about 2 weeks later with a number that they felt they could safely contribute, and everyone was happy as a clam.

 Tim’s parents actually came to us and said that they would like to make a contribution as well (which was completely unexpected considering they had just paid for the whole wedding when his sister got married a few weeks prior).  While we now had more money at our disposal, we still resolved to stick as close to our $15K mark as possible and only dip into the extra funds if necessary.  Rule #1 of the wedding budget: have a plan in case you go over budget.  Extra and unexpected cost can (and most likely will) show up.

 To ease the tempers of anyone who picked up on the lack of “Tim is saving for the wedding too”, he is doing his share.  Tim has a few more financial obligations than I do currently, so he can’t save as much.  Since we’re planning on doing our honeymoon in the winter (we want to head to a beach, and what would be the point of going somewhere tropical when it’s already warm out?), he’s saving for that.  I’ll address honeymoons in a later post, but if you haven’t discussed where your honeymoon budget might come from (is that coming out of your overall wedding budget?  Are you saving separately?), discuss it!  It’d be a shame to realize you forgot to save some of your wedding budget for a well deserved vacation.

 After you decide what your budget is and where the money is coming from, you need to divvy it up.  It’s best to look at your budget in terms of percentages instead of absolute numbers, where those percentages reflect both realistic numbers and what is most important to you for that day (that’s right, it’s time to get out your priority list!).  Here is a spreadsheet template I put together while deciding my own budget with recommended percentages already in place if you want a starting place.  Adjust your percentages based on what’s realistic for your area and what you want to put the emphasis on.  Be aware that where you plan on holding the wedding (a suburb vs NYC) could push parts of your budget to extremes.  In general you should plan on approximately the following percentages:

  • Reception: 45%
  • Ceremony: 2%
  • Attire: 10%
  • Flowers: 9%
  • Entertainment/Music: 10%
  • Photography/Videography: 10%
  • Stationary: 2%
  • Wedding Rings: 3%
  • Parking/Transportation: 2%
  • Gifts: 2%
  • Miscellaneous/Cushion: 5%

As I said before, adjust the percentages based on what’s most important to you.  If you don’t care as much about your invitations and would rather have more room to play with flowers, then drop the invitations down a point and give it to the flowers category.  Realize that the reception will be the largest chunk of your budget because of the simple fact that it’s the longest part of the day and you’re feeding a mass group of people.  Any money you save in one area can ultimately be applied to another, so be careful about short-changing yourself when planning your initial budget.

If your honeymoon is coming out of this budget, remove the money for that and THEN figure out how much each of the percentages translates too.  Don’t try to make the honeymoon a percentage alongside the rest of the wedding pieces, that’s a recipe for disaster and for accidentally shorting yourself on your honeymoon funds.

 Sticker shock is likely to hit you when you start looking for vendors for your wedding.  Try talking to friends who have gotten married to see what they paid for certain parts of the wedding.  It can help to know what is considered “normal” in your area.  You may also realize you can move some of your money in your budget around after you see what some of the pricing is.  The important part of your budget is the overall number, so if you go over in one area but go under in another, and you still stay within your bottom line, you’re okay.


Posted on September 1, 2011, in Budget, Priorities, Wedding Planning Isn't For Sissies and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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