Planning your dream wedding

Getting married is a momentous occasion, and everyone wants their wedding day to be perfect. But if you overspend, as most couples do, you risk starting your marriage on shaky financial footing. A well-planned wedding can include all the elements for a memorable day without breaking the bank. The key is to work strictly within a budget, which may require a bit of legwork to bring it all together.

How much do weddings cost?

The Knot’s Real Weddings Study put the average cost of a wedding in 2021 at $22,500. That number includes the rings, wedding dress, groom’s attire, gifts for the wedding party, officiant, venue, catering, wedding cake, flowers, rehearsal dinner, photographer, videographer and entertainment. However, it doesn’t include the honeymoon. That expense can vary widely depending on where it takes place.  

The more important number is the amount a couple determines they can spend without going into debt, which is why the wedding budget is so critical.

Creating a wedding budget

The sooner a couple can sit down and work out a wedding budget, the more time they’ll have to prepare financially. That starts with creating a clear picture of what kind of wedding you want: Large or small; swanky or casual? Assuming money is an object, your expectations need to match your budget.

When you have a general idea of what you want, establish a budget limit. What can you both expect to save between now and your wedding date? How much, if any, will your parents contribute? If your wedding is in ten months and you can comfortably save $800 a month, that’s $9,600. If you have $5,000 in savings and receive a contribution of $10,000, you have a total budget of $24,600. It’s not advisable to use all your savings as you should have several months of living expenses set aside for emergencies after you’re married.

Next, prioritize your expenses. Make a list of everything you expect to spend money on, regardless of how trivial they are. Then separate the must-haves from things you could do without if you had to. Look to see where you can save money on items, such as creating your own wedding favors and centerpieces rather than buying them—or hosting a barbecue for the rehearsal dinner instead of having it at a restaurant.

If you use a caterer, they will give you a per-person cost. If you budgeted $10,000 for the reception, and the caterer’s fee is $150 per person, you can afford to invite 66 people. You can save money on catering by having your wedding in the afternoon and serving appetizers and desserts. Instead of a full bar, serve wine and beer.

After you think you’ve accounted for all expenses, add another 15 to 20 percent to your budget as a cushion to cover unforeseen expenses. If your final number is more than what you budgeted for, look for areas where you can downsize, or consider pushing the date back to give you more time to save.

Ways to save on wedding costs

You can expect to pay more for venues and caterers during the peak wedding months, which are June through September. Consider an off-peak month in the late fall, winter, or early spring when there’s less demand. Deals on wedding dresses can be found in the winter months, January and February, and wedding rings in March or late summer. Just remember to check the fine print on return policies in case you change your mind about an item.

Some wedding couples issue each guest a disposable camera and encourage them to take photos throughout the wedding and reception. It almost always produces great memories and images to fill a wedding album. Consider using a professional photographer for just the formal wedding pictures.

For all your wedding purchases, be sure to shop and compare everything. When you’re given a quote from a vendor, get it in writing, including the date a quote expires.

The bottom line

There are countless ways to make your wedding day special without breaking your budget. Time is your greatest asset. Having the time to thoroughly plan, research, shop and compare can bring down your wedding costs, and ensure you have a solid financial union as well.

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