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You’re engaged! You’re preparing to marry the love of your life, your best friend, your partner – and you have to figure out how to afford it.

Between Pinterest and the coverage around every celebrity wedding, the pressure to have a five-star, luxury wedding can feel overwhelming – and kind of intimidating. When you start getting quotes from vendors and what you thought was going to be a couple hundred dollars is actually a few thousand dollars, reality sets in.

Weddings are expensive. If you don’t manage those expenses wisely, you could be starting  your married life in a big pile of debt. That’s why it’s important to set a budget and stick to it.

How Much Does the Average Wedding Cost?

According to The Knot’s 2017 Real Weddings Study, the national average cost of a wedding is $33,391. Don’t have that kind of cash lying around? You’re not alone.

According to a 2018 study by Student Loan Hero, 74% of couples go into debt to pay for their wedding.  Although that’s common, it makes building a future together more difficult. Instead of focusing on saving for things you may want, like a nice non-honeymoon vacation, a new car, a house, new furniture or children, you’ll be focusing on paying down debt.

This study revealed that nearly half of couples (47%) anticipated spending $20,000 or less on their wedding. With the average cost being $13,000 more than that, it’s easy to see how so many couples accrue debt.

How Do You Create a Wedding Budget?

How do you avoid debt and create a wedding budget that works for you? We have a few simple steps that can help:

Evaluate Your Savings

This comes in two parts.

First, look at your savings. How much can you use for your wedding? You don’t want to use everything, because keeping some money back for an emergency fund is important.

Next, look at what you and your soon-to-be spouse can save each pay period. How much will that be by the time payments for your wedding expenses come due?

What you can contribute from your savings plus what you’re able to save during each pay period will be the base of your budget.

Consider Contributions

Now it’s time to have some tough conversations. Do your families want to chip in for the wedding? Do you even want them to chip in?

If relatives do want to help financially, how much do they want to help? Determine if they will assist by paying for specific aspects of your wedding, like buying the dress or the florals, or if they want to give a set amount of money toward the total budget.

If they are covering an area of the wedding, take that aspect out of the itemized wedding budget (which we’ll talk about a few minutes). Add financial contributions to the amount for your savings. This is your wedding budget.

So, if you and your spouse-to-be can contribute $18,000 from savings, and your family is willing to give $15,000, you have a total wedding budget of $33,000.

Determine Top Priorities

That’s a lot of money! You’ll be able to afford exactly what you want, without making cuts, with $33,000. Right?

Probably not.

Many couples are shocked by how much things cost. Take flowers, for example. You can get a bouquet at the grocery store for $15, but a centerpiece designed by a professional, using specific flowers that match your design, can be upwards of $80. The average amount of money spent on florals last year was $2,379 according to The Knot.

So how do you choose which priorities to focus on?

Have both of you make a list individually of the top three elements you want for your wedding.   Do you want delicious food? Or maybe just your favorite foods? Do you want an interactive element, like a donut wall or a photo booth? Maybe you want to invest more in photos, so you’ll be able to look back and remember the day.

When you share your priorities, they might be different – and that’s OK. Don’t get discouraged. Talk about why these things are important to you and decide together what your final priorities will be.

Do Some Research

Now you know your budget; you know your priorities; you even know the national average for the cost of a wedding. But do you know what vendors charge in your area? Remember, an average means some areas will run lower in cost while others can be substantially higher.

Run some searches in your area to get an idea of what you should expect. Metropolitan areas will be run at a higher rate than more rural areas, so keep that in mind.

Create an Itemized Budget

After you have your main budget and a general idea of what vendors cost in your area, it’ll be time to make an itemized budget. This can help you evaluate where you’re prioritizing and make it easy if you want to go over budget in one category or spend less in another.

Not sure what percentage of the budget you should allot to specific categories? Here’s a breakdown to help get you started. The amounts listed are based off the national average of $33,391.

Sample wedding budget breakdown

How Can You Cut Costs on Your Wedding?

We talked to wedding professionals and personal finance experts from around the country to get the inside scoop on how to scale back costs.

Use Sheet Cakes

If a grand cake isn’t on your priority list, you can save money by having a smaller cake for you and your new spouse to cut, and a sheet cake for guests that the catering staff cuts. If you still want the look of an impressive cake, but your budget doesn’t allow for it, see if your baker is willing to decorate a foam cake for display but serve sheet cakes.

Greg Jenkins from Bravo Productions in Long Beach, California, suggests, “Instead of the big wedding cake, create one faux cake for photos and use a sheet cake for the serving of guests. It can be the difference of $1,000 for a wedding cake versus $300 for a sheet cake.”

Cut the Guest List

If costs are getting out of hand and invitations haven’t been sent yet, considering trimming the guest list. The Knot’s study revealed that the average cost per wedding guest is $268.

“Reduce the number of invited guests to your reception. Instead of 200 guests, you can probably live with 150,” says Jenkins.

Book Off-Season

Wedding season is late spring to early fall, but if you’re flexible on the date, you can save money on venue rentals and some vendors.

“Consider an ‘off-season’ wedding date. November through May (depending on your location) can be slower for a lot of wedding vendors, and they may give you a discount if your wedding is in one of those months. You can also consider a Friday or Sunday wedding for even more of a deal. Venues often have tiered pricing based on what date and day of the week you book,” says Maddie Peschong, a wedding photographer in South Dakota.

Hire a Planner

This might seem counterintuitive – to spend more money to save money – but hiring a wedding planner will not only take stress out of the planning process but could even score you deals.

A wedding planner in your area knows the average price points you’re likely to experience and can help you build and maintain your budget. The planner won’t bring you options you can’t afford and may be able to get a vendor discount at your venue or with rental companies.

Go Paperless

If paper goods aren’t something you care about, drop the cost of traditional invitations and postage. Go with an electronic save-the-date and invite suite. You can even track RSVPs online.

“Sending physical save-the-dates and wedding invitations can be really expensive and time consuming, since you’re collecting lots of mailing addresses, buying stamps and envelopes, and manually tracking all of the responses,” according to Sam Schultz, Co-Founder of Honeyfi.

“Instead, use electronic save-the-dates and invitations like Paperless Post to save time and money.”

Skip the Favors

What is the last wedding favor you remember, much less use? If expenses are starting to add up, cut the favors. This can save you a few hundred dollars, depending on the guest count.

Start Planning

You’ve analyzed your resources, done your research and formed your budget. You’re armed with tips from industry experts to tackle wedding planning while staying on budget.

You’ve got this!

Don’t forget to share your budget tips in the comment section.

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