How Much Does a Wedding Cost?
There are two basic questions you need to consider: How much does a wedding cost? And how much is my wedding going to cost? Though it's helpful to get an answer to the ﬁrst question, try not to get it confused with the answer to the second question. As previously discussed, in the past twenty years or so, the price of weddings in the United States (and the expectation of professionalism at weddings) has gone through the roof. So, when you start researching average wedding budgets in your area, it's easy to become convinced that you will never be able to aﬀord to get married, ever. So, let's just lay this out now: throwing a wedding costs a lot more than it should. That said, you can aﬀord to get married, no matter how much or how little you have to spend. In this chapter we'll discuss researching wedding costs, ﬁguring out who is going to help you pay for the wedding, putting your budget on paper, making the seemingly endless budget decisions, and even making the occasional happy splurge.
Do Your Research (It's Scary but Necessary)
There is a reason to research average wedding prices, scary as they are. If you're not experienced at throwing events, you just don't know what they cost. And because reality matters, you need to establish a framework before you start making plans. If the average catering cost in your area is $10,000, and you have $5,000 to spend on food, it's good to know that you will probably need to get creative and make some compromises. Maybe you'll do your research and hire an up-and-comer, or maybe you'll have a breakfast wedding. But chances are, you're not going to get the most popular joint in town for a Saturday night lobster dinner, and the sooner you realize that, the happier you'll be.
Figure Out What You Want to Spend
Once you've researched average wedding costs in your area, you're ready to ﬁgure out what your wedding will cost. Here is the most important part: trust yourself. Marie-ÈveLaforte, who married in an apple orchard outside Montreal, said, "Don't listen when anyone tells you that you simply have to spend this and that much on something. You really don't. In fact, you don't have to do anything that does not feel right to you, or that makes you feel ﬁnancially uncomfortable." If the cost of something feels unsettling, chances are, you shouldn't do it. Let it go. Move on and look for other options. If you're willing to compromise and be creative (not to mention ruthlessly cut things from your budget that you don't care about), you absolutely will be able to ﬁnd a solution that lets you sleep at night.
Not Everything Is Equally Important
Make two lists: things you want to put more resources toward, and things you want to put fewer resources toward. Be ruthless. Sure, everyone says you have to have wedding ﬂowers, but if you don't want to spend much on ﬂowers, put them on the "fewer resources" list. This doesn't mean you won't have ﬂowers or you won't spend any money on ﬂowers. It just means that you're de-prioritizing ﬂower spending. Maybe you'll have fake ﬂowers, or maybe you'll use grocery store ﬂowers that your maid of honor arranged for you day-of. But mostly you're not going to worry too much about ﬂowers when you're building your budget. Think of it this way: it's better to do a few things well than to do a lot of things poorly. If you go to a wedding with a great bluegrass band and potluck food, you're just going to remember how much fun you had dancing, not that they didn't have fancy food. So put your money toward a few items that are worth it to you, and don't worry too much about the rest.
But try to avoid falling into the trap of thinking that how much you spend on something indicates how much you care about it. Sometimes items that didn't top your priority list end up being things you spend more on. There will be times in wedding planning when you think, "I do not care about this thing, and I will rip out my eyes if I have to think about it for one more second. Hence, I will throw money at it." Or as Kimberly Eclipse, who married in Long Island, New York, said, "Sometimes money is just numbers on paper. If there was something that we really wanted, or felt that we needed to do, then we paid for it. No, I didn't want to go above a certain amount, but that arbitrary amount became less important than what it paid for." There are also times you'll want to pay money to make a problem go away.
And sometimes the things you care the most about are those that cost the least: a dress you made yourself, the toasts people will make around the table, the time you spent with your mom putting together your ﬂowers. Sometimes how we spend our money is more important than how much of it we spend. So if you buy aﬀordable fabric to make your wedding dress with your mom but then throw $1,000 at hiring a day-of coordinator so you don't ever have to think about logistics again, that's a sane choice.
When building your budget, I recommend stealing tips from the event-planning pros. For example, know that all events go over budget, almost without exception. The way to go over budget without causing injury to life, limb, or your credit score is to plan for it. Karen Palmer, who married in Burlington, Vermont, and also happens to plan events for a living, suggested budgeting in a "slush fund" line that is 10 — 15 percent of your total budget. This money is not to be touched except in case of emergencies, which might mean booking the DJ you fell in love with, or could mean true, last-minute, the-caterer-canceled emergencies. If a slush fund doesn't make sense for you (or your budget isn't quite that organized), it might be helpful to think in terms of a target budget and a maximum budget. Maybe you really want to spend $20,000, but you know that if it comes down to it, you can spend $24,000. Aim for the lower number, and if you hit the higher number instead, no harm, no foul (and no guilt).
Another tip worth stealing is deceptively simple: include everything in your budget. When looking at the massive sum of money you're going to spend on your wedding, it's easy to start telling yourself little lies. Lies like "invitations don't cost that much; we don't really need to include them" or "postage — that's a totally negligible expense." Stephanie Marienau Turpin, who had a joyful wedding in Washington, D.C., said, "It was really powerful for my then-ﬁancé and I to list out everything we would need to spend on related to the wedding, not just the ceremony and reception. Including all those things certainly made our ﬁnal number bigger than we wanted to see, but not accounting for those costs at the beginning of planning would have led to more trouble." I'm not suggesting that you make yourself crazy trying to think of every two-dollar expenditure you have to make, but a lot of negligible expenses will add up to a sizable expense. The more things you can count, the more realistic your budget will be.
From A Practical Wedding: Creative Ideas for Planning a Beautiful, Affordable, and Meaningful Celebration by Meg Keene. Copyright 2012 by Meg Keene. Excerpted by permission of Da Capo Lifelong Books.