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Bride and groom

It’s happening! You’re engaged, you’re planning a wedding and you’re realizing just how expensive this whole thing really is.

Your wedding day will likely be one of the most memorable days of your life and certainly of your relationship, but it will also be one of the most expensive. According to Market Watch, the average cost of a wedding in America is $35,329. While that’s the average, you don’t have to spend that much or accumulate wedding debt to have the wedding of your dreams; it just takes a little more planning and prioritizing what’s really important to you.

Start with a Total Budget

Before you can start breaking down budgets for each individual aspect of your wedding, you’ll have to figure out how much you’re willing to spend overall.

“You’ve got to start with a hard number,” says Lesley Smith, content strategist for the wedding app, Ceremony. “Researching what individual services cost is great, but having an established threshold will help you focus on the things you really want to feature on your big day.”

I know what you’re thinking, “How do I figure that out?” Fair question. First, take a look at what you have saved up, that’s a great starting point. Next, plan how much you will save between now and around the time you’d like to get married.

Do you have any family members or close friends who have offered to help pay for the cost of your wedding? This might be awkward, but you need to find out how much they want to contribute. Talking about money isn’t easy, but it’s necessary if you want to make a budget.

After you add up what you can bring to the table and what your loved ones want to contribute (if anything), that’s your wedding budget. From there, you can start making individual budgets for each individual section of your budget.

Areas to Budget

Now that you have your overall budget, you’ll need to plan financially for each individual area of your wedding. This will help you stay within your overall budget and see how each additional element adds to the total cost. Some areas you may want to budget include:

  • Venue
  • Catering
  • Ceremony site
  • Wedding planner
  • Photographer
  • Invitations and paper goods
  • Band or DJ
  • Florist
  • Décor and rentals
  • Videographer
  • Wedding dress
  • Hair and makeup
  • Groom’s attire
  • Rehearsal dinner
  • Transportation
  • Wedding cake
  • Officiant
  • Honeymoon

Research Local Pricing

It’s pretty easy to find the national average couples spend for different aspects of their wedding, but remember, that’s an average. The area you live in could be higher or lower than that. For example, according to The Knot, the average wedding in New York City costs $78,464 but in Chicago, it’s only $60,035. Even big cities prices range.

Try your best to do some local research to find what people usually spend on things in your state, or even better in your immediate area. A quick google search can result in message boards or local articles showing you more realistic numbers of what you can expect to pay in your area.

Another resource is a wedding planner. A local wedding planner is aware of the average costs in your area, or they know where to go to find out. They also have relationships with other vendors in the area and might be able to save you more money in the long run.

Set Your Priorities

Sit down with your fiancé and take a look at your budget. Decide which two or three things are really important to you guys.  What is going to make or break the day for you?

If you two have a vision of driving off in a vintage car but don’t really care if the cake is elaborate, or if there’s even a cake at all, reallocate that money appropriately. Maybe you really want a live band instead of a DJ. Budget more money for the band and take away a little money from some other areas that don’t matter as much to you.

You’ll also want to talk about your guest list. The number of people you invite has a big effect on your budget. The more people, the larger venue you need, more food, more tables – you get the picture. Establishing a head count will help make budgeting more accurate.

Helpful Tips to Stick to Your Budget

Once planning goes into full swing and you’ve spent a few hours on Pinterest (It’s not just me, right? Pinterest sucks you in!) it can be really easy to go over budget. Luckily there are a handful of ways to stick to your budget and still get the wedding day of your dreams.

Honesty is the Best Policy

Want to get the best deal for your wedding? Be honest about your budget.

Nichole Wardle, director of sales and marketing for Longwood Venues says, “It is important to know that selecting your venue isn’t like buying a car.  Letting your wedding specialist know what your budget is helps them find you the best dates, customize a menu and discuss the best options to keep you on target since there are so many variable costs.”

Trying to keep your budget on the down low actually hurts your chances of getting a better deal. If the venue doesn’t know what you’re looking to spend, they can’t work with you to find something that fits your needs.

Flexibility is Key

Flexibility can save you a lot of money and maybe even free up some extra cash for you to play with in other areas.

When booking the venue, consider days other than Saturday. Saturdays are the first days to book up, if you’re flexible, you might be able to get a Friday, Sunday or weekday that has more flexible pricing.

Wardle also suggests asking the venue if there are any days they need to fill. If there was a cancellation or short-term opening, venues are willing to give discounted pricing to try to fill the slot. Booking one of those days could save you thousands of dollars.

If you want to get married at a popular venue that’s a little out of your price range or they’re booked during the peak season, consider what Wardle calls shoulder-seasons, the season right before and after peak season.

“The shoulder seasons are often the last to fill and you may be able to get these dates for a less expensive price,” advises Wardle. “Your flexibility may sometimes win you locations you thought were out of the question or allow room for beautiful enhancements.”

Think Outside the Dinner Roll

You’ll probably want to have some type of food for your guests to enjoy at your reception but do you have to have a three-course dinner? Not necessarily.

Instead of a catered dinner at $71 per person (the national average, according to The Knot), opt for something more unique like a breakfast bar. Who doesn’t love breakfast for dinner? Pancakes and waffles and bacon – oh my!

If breakfast food isn’t really your thing, consider some other cost-effective (but still delicious) meal options like a taco bar, appetizers or a dessert reception.

Austin and Sarah Young, a couple from Detroit were paying for their wedding on their own and didn’t want to spend too much on the food for the reception. Instead of traditional catering, they had food stations set up around the perimeter of the reception space with their favorite foods and dishes symbolic of Detroit like Coney dogs and quesadillas from their favorite restaurant in Detroit’s Mexicantown neighborhood.

Getting creative with how you feed your guests can free up your catering budget and give you more room in other areas of your budget.

Sail into the Honeymoon

After setting your budget and sticking to it, you can head into your wedding day (and your honeymoon) with a little more peace of mind. Weddings can be expensive, but with some planning, flexibility and a little creativity, you can have the perfect wedding for you and your budget.

Do you have any tips on how to create and stick to a wedding budget? Share them with us in the comment section!

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