As much as we would love to skip right ahead to the fun of cake tastings, we’d be remiss not to steer you in the right direction, right away. Money talk can be deflating. But making plans without establishing a budget is like driving without a gas gauge: You never know when or where you’ll run out of resources. And to us, the prospect of having to undo plans you’ve already set (or cut your guest list in half) is a lot more trouble—and heartache—than having the all-important money conversation in the beginning. So before picking a venue or putting down a deposit on a dress, do yourself the biggest favor and gather your fiancé and families together to discuss finances.
WHO PAYS FOR WHAT
Traditionally, the bride and her family cover the expense of the wedding, including the cost of the bride’s attire, the flowers, day-of transportation, photo fees, travel and lodging for the officiant (if necessary), and all the reception expenditures. The bride then personally pays for gifts and flowers for her attendants, her groom’s ring, and a present for him. The groom’s parents host the rehearsal dinner, and the man of the hour pays for his clothing, groomsmen’s gifts, the bride’s ring, and a present for her.
These days, however, anything goes. Many couples fund their own celebration entirely themselves, while others get assistance from one or both sets of parents. The bottom line is that all parties should offer only what they feel comfortable contributing. If money is coming from a few sources, it’s often more palatable for each party to pay for specific elements, such as the flowers or the band, instead of giving a lump sum. This tactic also helps offset costs from you (and defuses arguments) when a parent cares more about a detail than you do. If your mom and dad have strong feelings about the venue or guest list, for example, then it makes sense that they cover the expenses that come with procuring the location or having a larger fête, like catering or stationery costs. Or if your dad and mom (or groom) have their hearts set on serving filet mignon, let them pony up for it.
If you two are personally paying for the wedding, remember that this is just the beginning of your lives together; you will want to plan and save for vacations, a home, and maybe kids one day. So the less debt you can start your future with, the better. Ideally, you don’t want to owe a penny postwedding, but since this isn’t always realistic, here’s a good rule of thumb: Avoid borrowing more money than you can afford to pay off within three to six months. To save up, create a separate bank account for the wedding. That way, you can see what you’re both contributing together, and it’s less stressful than writing a check from your personal account every time a whopper expense comes through.
WHERE THE MONEY (OFTEN) GOES
All weddings are different—some couples spring for a 16-piece band while others splurge on a breathtaking venue (or dress, for that matter), but usually most of your expenses will fall toward your reception even if you throw a low-key event (your ceremony should take up only about 3 percent of your budget, including the site cost, officiant fee, and printing programs, if you have them). It’s vital to decide what is most important to you and set priorities before you arbitrarily assign numbers.
Breaking Down the Budget
After you’ve said “Yes!” and slipped that pretty sparkler on your finger, it’s time to tackle a few tasks that will put you on the smoothest path toward the aisle. No matter how much or how little you have to spend, take these general guidelines into account. Once you set your priorities, customize them as you see fit.
From hors d’oeuvres and drinks during cocktail hour to a delicious meal and big-finish cake, this will be your biggest expenditure.
10-15% RECEPTION VENUE & RENTALS
This number can climb if you get hitched in an expensive city or place.
12% PHOTOGRAPHY AND VIDEOS
Great photos are a must, and we highly suggest hiring a videographer, too. While this is an additional expense couples often cut, we find many regret not having this amazing memento to watch or show their kids someday.
The bride’s dress, veil, jewelry, shoes, and day-of primping and the groom’s head-to-toe look fall within this budget.
Give your ceremony and reception the ultimate soundtrack via a band or awesome deejay.
You’ll need personal blooms (including bouquets and boutonnières) for your bridal party at the ceremony as well as centerpieces and arrangements for the reception.
Invitations come in a range of prices, depending on how you have them designed and printed. Include thank-you notes, and announcements or save-the-date cards if you choose to send them. And when you’re allocating funds for paper goods, don’t forget the cost of postage; it adds up quickly and often surprises couples.
Shuttle services for guests are a nice touch, especially if your ceremony and reception are in different places, or you have lots of out-of-town guests. A cool ride from the event for the couple is a fun tradition, too.
Budget now for getting a marriage license and for paying tips, taxes, late fees, and for any unforeseen extras. Down the road, ask vendors to include the cost of taxes and late fees in their contracts. Consider buying wedding insurance as well; it can protect against sudden cancellations, damages, or vendor mishaps.
FACTS TO FACTOR IN
A lot of variables go into the overall cost of a wedding. As you strategize for yours, keep these in mind:
Prime season means premium costs. If you tie the knot during the high season of your chosen locale (summer for most places in the United States, winter for ski resort towns or tropical resorts), you’ll pay more for your venue than you would during its off-season.
Holidays can hike things up. It may be tempting to wed over a holiday when you have more days off from work, but traveling during these times is usually more expensive. Your venue will likely be pricier, too, because of high demand and overtime pay for staff.
Weekends cost more. The most popular time to marry is on a Saturday, which puts places in high demand, especially if they can only accommodate one event at a time. If you wed on Sunday or a weekday—a Thursday or Friday night—you often save.
And it may seem obvious, but it bears repeating as it can be so tempting to invite everyone you’ve ever met to share in your joy: More people equals more money. The bigger your guest list, the bigger your budget.
Cents and Sensibility
Friends of this couple lent them their California property for their fall wedding. They redirected the savings on location to special touches.
1. A faux bois motif was introduced on invites and paper elements.
2. The happy couple.
3. Chocolate quail eggs graced the dessert table.
4. Linen napkins were embroidered with their initial.
5. Her bouquet included garden roses, bunny tails, and dogwood.
6. The tablecloth incorporated the faux bois motif.
7. Guests received the pair’s favorite macarons.
8. A lavish dessert spread was served.
9. Bridesmaids’ ballet flats matched their dresses.
Excerpted from Martha Stewart Weddings by the Editors of Martha Stewart Weddings with the permission of Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Copyright © 2015 by Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc.
Photo Credit: Oliveromg/Shutterstock