If there’s one thing I’ve learned from planning a wedding (and a wedding budget) this summer, it’s that weddings are basically a crash course in Personal Finance 101.
Am I a bride who is head-over-heels excited to plan her dream day? Nah.
But I am happy to be planning a fun event for our families and friends to celebrate with us. So I might not be all ooey-gooey about wedding stuff—especially when wedding dress websites try to tell me my dress is the biggest purchase of my life, because just no—but I’m not hating the experience either.
And you know why that is?
Because while there are very few things I will stand up and claim I am great at, I am a phenomenal budgeter.
I know, pick something better to brag about, right?
In all seriousness though, the only reason I’ve found that wedding planning has been a total breeze is down to one thing: I also find budgeting to be a total breeze, and I approach budgeting in a slightly different way than some people do.
It just happens to be a way that mirrors wedding planning—and wedding budgeting—pretty exactly. So whether you’ve done a budget and need to do a wedding, or vice versa, these steps are the ones you need to follow.
#1. Decide what’s important to you (and your people)
I got a few wedding planning books to help me muddle through a thing I’ve never done before, and the one that stood out head and shoulders above the rest is definitely A Practical Wedding Planner.
It’s the real-life steps you need to take to plan a wedding, brought to you by the only big wedding blog I can stand, and it’s amazing. And step one, before you jump to colour schemes (don’t have one) and wedding parties (don’t have one) and flowers (am getting them from Costco) is figuring out what you want—and what the people you love want.
Yes, obviously, that’s your partner, but it’s also probably some close family members, especially if they’re going to be contributing to the wedding. The easiest way to do it, whether you’re talking about budgets or weddings? (Or wedding budgets?)
I know it can feel weird to bring up both money and priorities, but it’s the easiest way to avoid guessing wrong.
Whether you want to find out what’s important to your mom to have at a wedding, or what’s important to your partner to add into a budget every month, checking in with the people who are impacted by your decisions is a great first step—as is getting clear on what’s non-negotiable for you.
Once you know what really matters—in wedding planning or budgeting—it’s time to get down to the numbers.
#2. Understand how much money you have in total
How much money do you have to spend?
No, be realistic: How much money do you really have to spend?
If you can afford to save $200 a month, and the wedding is in two years, you’ll have $4800 to spend by the time the wedding comes around. And since going into debt for a party is a bad financial plan (so bad it’s so bad omg please don’t) that is now your working wedding budget.
To find out what yours actually is, add up the following numbers:
- How much you and your betrothed can each save in a month for the wedding, without compromising your bigger financial goals (see this post, since spending money on a party kind of does count as a luxury, sorry not sorry). Multiply this number by the amount of months left before the big day.
- How much family (and friends, I guess, if they’re generous and you have that sort of relationship?) is willing to pitch in, and for what. If your parents want to gift you $10,000, they (rightly) get a say in what it’s spent on, and if you need to fund your open bar out of pocket, it’s better to know that now.
That should give you your total wedding budget, and that’s the number you can afford to spend. Kind of like how, no matter what your hopes and dreams of a fancy condo are, you’ve only got so much monthly income to budget with, you know? Some numbers are just total buzzkills like that.
But you still need to listen to them.
#3. Price out your options
So now you’ve got a maybe-scary “this is our max budget” number, and a list of things that matter a lot to the people you love—especially the ones that matter to you and your partner.
It’s time to do research! (No it’s going to be fun. Kind of.)
When you’re budgeting for general life stuff, this part is easy, because most of the time you can find prices no problem. You can creep rental listings on Kijiji, you can look up how much a car loan will run you, you can take a peek at your past spending on groceries, all that jazz.
But when it comes to weddings? The legwork is a little bit more involved.
Most prices won’t be readily available, so you’ll need to email the vendors you think you want to work with, and ask for quotes. Some of them will have standard price lists (bless) but some will need to work with you to provide an accurate quote.
When you get the prices, first step: don’t cry.
Second step, it’s time to align those prices with the work you’ve already done: your budget and what really matters to you.
#4. Pay for the must-haves and the big stuff first
So let’s say that you, like me, care about being able to host your whole family at the same time, and thanks to a plethora of uncles, that makes for a long list. (Hi guys, we love you.) That probably means you need a space to host everyone at once, unless you’re blessed with a giant backyard in the family—but since it would be awful advice to assume everyone has that, let’s say for now you need a venue.
But in this case, you need A Venue, not The Venue.
You’re not getting it because you always dreamed of getting married there, you’re getting it to have everyone in one place.
So in that case, don’t allocate 75% of your budget to venue rental fees, you know?
Make sure you fit the things that really matter to you—whether it’s great food, an open bar, a venue, a long guest list, etc.—into your budget first. Once you’ve handled your priorities, and the necessities (yes, your guests need to eat, even if it’s a cake-and-punch reception in the afternoon) then you can move on to the other nice-to-haves.
And if you’re worried this means you can’t have an awesome day, creep this list of real-life wedding budgets, and then this one, to see how other people did it on budgets ranging from $2,000 to $50,000.
Obviously, the same goes for regular budgeting too. You need a place to live, and you need to eat. Make sure those things get handled before adding other things into your budget—and don’t make the mistake of thinking a budget means you’re going to hate everything! So not the case.
#5. Decide what you won’t spend money on
You’ve got priorities, and not-unlimited money, so you are going to have to decide on compromises, too.
Maybe there’s a long list of things you absolutely don’t care about, which is amazing! This is going to be easy for you.
If, however, you kind of care enough to have those things, but don’t want to spend a fortune, this is where craftiness and thriftiness become your best friend.
Let’s say your list of non-priorities includes flowers, a rehearsal dinner, expensive diamond rings, and signage. If you’re hardcore and just not going to spend money on those things? Amazing. Good stuff. Move on to step #6.
If you do want them, but they don’t make the list of priorities, start to figure out other options.
Not too concerned with flowers? Look at fake flowers, research cheap flower options, buy potted plants that can double as favours, make paper flowers, or go without them entirely.
Not a big fan of spending thousands of dollars on a rock? I feel you. Look at gemstones, lab-made diamonds, eternity bands, pearls, plain bands, or diamond-ish alternatives like moissanite.
Don’t have the budget for fancy signs? Learn to DIY by learning calligraphy, buy a font on Creative Market and do some basic signage with a free Photoshop trial, or rope in a crafty friend or family member to DIY for you.
The same goes for regular budgeting, by the way. Want to eat at restaurants, but need to stick to a small budget? You can research happy hours, use coupons, drink water, or avoid apps and dessert. It’s still a restaurant, but like, on a budget.
That’s the mindset you want for anything that’s not a priority if you’re looking to stay within a set budget—for a wedding or a month.
#6. Track. Your. Spending
Would it be a real Half Banked article if I wasn’t all “track your spending for the love of all that is money”?
No, no it would not.
As you commit to spending money, and as it leaves your account, write it down.
This is the best way to keep yourself honest when, halfway through the planning process, you realize you really do want that open bar / wedding planner / fancy wine. If you’ve already got a record of all committed spending (aka, anything you’ve signed a contract saying you will pay a certain amount) and everything you’ve spent so far, you’ll have a better idea how much is left.
And for the love of love, make sure to include your other estimates in these decisions. If you haven’t bought a dress yet, but you’re estimating you’ll spend $500, that’s not $500 extra dollars in your budget just because you haven’t spent it yet.
Clearly, this is a lot like that one insurance bill that comes out of your monthly budget on the 26th. No, you don’t actually have an extra $100 to spend, and it’s important to remember that when you’re making decisions, like whether you need the crazy-cool giant wall calendar (which you do, as do I, which is why I bought this one—and you can grab 10% off with this discount code).
#7. Spreadsheets are your friend.
No one is surprised to hear a personal finance nerd advocate for spreadsheets, I know. But for real, they are the organizational tool your wedding needs—for literally everything.
Sure, a budget spreadsheet is going to be key (for your wedding or your life) and my best suggestion is to use some simple formulas so you can easily change up the number of guests, because if you’re anything like me, that number will fluctuate.
Never done it? All you need to do is this.
- Pick one cell where you’re going to record how many guests you have.
- Whenever you have a budget number that depends on the number of guests, use this formula in the sheet: =PRICE*COLUMN-ROW.
- That looks silly, but in practice, it’ll look like =35.00*E4. That would give you the budget number for something that costs $35 for every guest, where the number of guests is stored in the E column, in the 4th row.
But you can use spreadsheets to track everything. Want to divide and conquer who needs to find email address or regular addresses for your guest list—or both? A spreadsheet, colour-coded by responsibility, is your friend.
I’ve even set up our wedding website to request full addresses when people RSVP, which will auto-populate a spreadsheet to make thank-you cards a breeze. It sounds tricky, but is actually really easy since I’m cheating on WordPress and using Squarespace for our wedding website. (Highly recommend, by the way.)
TL;DR? Here’s how to plan your wedding budget
The steps to planning a wedding budget are basically the same ones I’d recommend you take if you’re trying to figure out your monthly budget:
- Decide what’s important to you
- Understand how much money you’re working with
- Price out your options
- Pay for your must-haves or needs first
- Decide what you won’t spend money on
- Track your freaking spending
- Use some spreadsheets, they’re good stuff
Any other steps you’d add? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter!