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Sometime early on in the wedding planning process, your or your partner-to-be will want to discuss a wedding budget. Like all discussions in the wedding world there are so many factors to be considered. Alex and I pretty much nailed this aspect of our wedding so I feel highly qualified to talk about it! This post is all about how to set a wedding budget without killing each other.
(I kid. Mostly.)
So you’ve gotten engaged! And you’ve decided about how long your engagement should be. Perhaps you’ve started cruising Pinterest for inspiration, or you’ve chosen your venue or dress already. There is no one correct order to wedding planning!
For us, the wedding budget talk came very early on in our engagement. Even though we’d decided on a longer engagement there are some things you need to select way before the wedding date, like the venue and potentially your wedding dress.
As two of the last people to get married in my friendship circle, and on the later side of Alex’s circle, we had plenty of knowledgeable couples to give us marriage prep advice! One of the best tips I received was to wait for the right moment to have the budget talk. Because if you don’t, this very important chat could easily devolve into an argument. That’s why it’s so important to know how to set a wedding budget without killing each other!!
What does the right moment to talk wedding budget look like?
1. Firstly, you should both be relaxed. Don’t do it when one of you has had a bad day at work, or when the vacuum suddenly breaks, or when you’ve had a stressful day. You both want to be in a good mood to talk about your celebration!
2. There should be no distractions. Put your phone in another room while you have this chat. Make sure the TV off, perhaps play some romantic music if it won’t distract either of you! Whatever helps get you in the right frame of mind for this chat is good.
3. Create some romance around the chat. It may sound silly but this tip is really good!! On your wedding day you and your partner are both going to have such heightened emotion that every decision you made is going to seem brilliant, and you won’t regret anything you spent on. But months (or years!) before the wedding day, that romance might be hard to picture. So if you can, create some romance around the budget talk. Go on a date and talk about budget sometime on the date. Cook dinner at home together, watch a romantic comedy and take an intermission to chat, or cuddle together on the couch while you talk.
In addition to knowing what the right moment looks like, it’s good to set your wedding budget chat for success. It’s part of how to set a wedding budget without killing each other!! Here are three tips to help your talk go smoothly.
1. Have the chat before you make any wedding-related financial commitments or purchases. Aside from the engagement ring there is nothing to buy or commit to before you’ve set a wedding budget. In fact, committing to anything before you’ve had a budget talk is a recipe for disaster! We’ve all read the stories of couples who were far apart on wedding budget and how it can cause arguments or drive otherwise happy couples apart. Finances can be a tricky subject! By setting a budget before you buy anything wedding-related, you can confidently make your choices knowing where you stand in regards to your total planned output. That’s how to set a wedding budget without killing each other.
2. Ask your partner ahead of time to have the chat. Even the best communicator will likely have a hard time having the wedding budget chat on a moment’s notice! No one likes to be surprised by an important talk. You don’t have to come up with some grand proposal — one of you already did that once!! Just be very plain about it, “Honey, I’d love to chat wedding budget sometime in the next couple of weeks. When is a good time for you?” That way you can both start to gather some information for your chat.
3. Come to the chat open and be willing to compromise. This sounds like a duh statement. Maybe for you it is! However, I have heard tales, sometimes recounted in humorous ways and other times not so much, of one partner who comes into the budget chat with a number in mind. And let’s be honest, it’s usually the bride!! There are so many factors that go into setting the budget (more on that in the next section). Who’s paying, who’s helping, where you live, the list goes on! In most couples there is one financially savvy person and one partner who is less financially-oriented. Yet even if you’re both finance experts, it’s important to hear your partner out on their budget number and their reasons for that number.
4. Do some very general research before the chat. Along with #3 above, I don’t think it’s a good idea to start your wedding chat with your heart set on a particular venue, dress, or any wedding-related item. Not if you want to know how to set a wedding budget without killing each other. That said, I do think it’s a good idea to know about how much weddings cost in the state or city where you plan to get married. (Here are two great references: 1 | 2) Here’s why: if you know that weddings in your state cost on average $75,000 and you can’t imagine spending more than $50,000 on your wedding, then from the get-go you know that you’re going to need to find ways to spend below-average amounts on your wedding. And that’s totally fine — we did it!! Your partner may have no idea how much average weddings cost where you’re getting married, and this knowledge will help the conversation flow from an actual factual place instead of a pie in the sky or shoestring place.
When you sit down to have the wedding budget chat, it’s easy for your mind to suddenly go blank. What exactly do we need to talk about you may wonder. Below, some questions to ask each other so you know how to set a wedding budget without killing each other. It’s ok if you don’t have the answers immediately — ask the questions and then set a date to find the answers.
How much does the average wedding cost in our state/city?
Do we want a destination wedding, a local wedding, or a wedding in one of our hometowns?
Do we want a traditional wedding with a religious service and a reception, or do we want something else?
What is most important to us: the ceremony, the reception or the number of people we can have?
Are we willing to invite fewer people to a more expensive venue?
Are we open to a contemporary setting like a restaurant or park?
Do we want to get married during wedding peak season or off-season?
Do we want to get married at a venue we’d need to pay for, or do we want to look for a free spot?
Will we be paying for the wedding on our own?
Is a family member going to help pay for the wedding?
Do we want a full-service wedding or do we want to handle vendors ourselves?
Do we want a large guest list, medium or small guest list?
Do we have any money set aside (wedding fund, inheritance, stocks, savings, etc.) that we plan to use towards the wedding cost?
Are we in debt?
Do we have savings?
Will the wedding deplete our savings fully?
How much of our savings are we willing to put towards the wedding?
How much additional income will we make between now and the wedding that we can put towards the wedding cost? (This is helpful for setting an approximate date too!)
Do we want to pay for the entire wedding up front, or are we comfortable putting certain parts on a credit card/taking out a loan?
Do we want to cover expenses for our wedding parties or will they be paying for their own expenses (i.e. dresses/suits, bachelor/bachelorette parties, etc.)?
Who earns more?
Do we want to split the wedding 50-50, or is there another proportion that makes more sense?
Is there an amount of money that we both feel comfortable spending on the wedding?
Is there a number that in hindsight we’d feel is too much to spend on the wedding?
Alex and I knew we’d be paying for our wedding on our own. We’re both adults; we both work and we’ve both been out of our parents’ homes for quite some time. In the end our families both helped out generously by covering some of the traditional expenses parents take care of (for me, my dress, for us, the rehearsal dinner).
When we sat down and had the wedding budget chat, Alex and I together looked at many factors to settle on our final budget number. Both of us were very clear that we didn’t want to take on debt to have the wedding. Living in New York City where the average wedding costs close to $90,000, we knew we’d be aiming for some amount below that.
We looked at how much we each earn. We examined our savings. There was an honest talk about what percent each of us could contribute. We also talked about waiting to have the wedding until we could save up some more money, which is part of why we had a long engagement.
As the talk moved towards hard numbers I was not surprised to hear that Alex had a much lower number in mind than I did. This wasn’t a problem. Instead we together agreed that if I could get sponsorships for some of the things we wanted that would allow us to increase our wedding budget without spending any additional money.
The budget talk also drifted into other aspects of the wedding. We talked about the parts of a wedding that are important to us. For Alex, he was picturing a wedding on or near the beach with all of our friends. I imagined a city wedding that likewise would have a large guest list. Alex’s top priorities were good food and bar, a good DJ and not going crazy with expenses. My top priorities were travel convenience for our friends and loved ones, a great photographer and videographer, and good food.
In the beginning of our wedding budget chat, Alex and I were about $30,000 apart on what we wanted to spend. In the end, we compromised much closer to his (smaller) number. Wisely, Alex had the foresight to know we’d probably end up going over. And he was right — we went just under 10% over because of some expenses we hadn’t anticipated. (Much, much more on that in a future post.) It was ok because he’d factored it into his mental math.
For me, I was able to make up a lot of the budget spread between Alex’s ideal and my ideal via sponsorships. I’m of course super appreciative to all of our wedding sponsors for this!! Beyond sponsorships I also took on extra freelance work and we went into super savings mode about 12 months before the wedding.
Alex has purchased a home before but for me the wedding is the most money I’ve spent yet on one event for myself. The numbers can be downright daunting! That’s why it’s so important to get on the same page regarding the budget early in your wedding planning process. The numbers may seem big but I promise you can do it! It’s amazing how once you have a number set in your mind and on paper, the Universe will provide avenues for that money to show up if it’s not already in your bank account.
We’ll talk more about wedding budgets as Wedding Wednesday continues. For example, we’ll chat in a future post about those hidden expenses Alex and I hadn’t thought to plan for. In the meantime, I’d love to know how you and your partner set your wedding budget! If you’re not married or not with the one yet, how much money do you envision spending on your wedding someday?