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Why yes, we do keep our rainy day savings in a Kool-Aid man jar from 1987.

Why yes, we do keep our rainy day savings in a Kool-Aid man jar from 1987.

There are two parts of planning a wedding that can reduce even the toughest couple to tears, fighting, and pricing flights to Vegas: the Budget and the Guest List. We’re going to try to tackle that first beast today.

Budgeting can be broken down into two parts:

  1. How much money do we have?
  2. How should we spend it?

STEP ONE: I’d like you to note the absence of “How much does a wedding cost?” above. Because here is the thing – a wedding costs whatever amount you spend on it. YOU. Not everyone else that ever got married in the history of ever. It’s critically important to remember that. You have what you have, and you can have an excellent wedding using whatever dollar amount that is (provided it is at least enough to buy your marriage license.) So the first thing you have to do is figure out what that magic number is. Many of you may be paying for your entire wedding yourselves, and so it’s easy to figure this out, if only because you know exactly how little money you have. Some of you may have enough money available that you want to research costs of venues and caterers and photographers before you settle on a total (you should check out our Real Wedding Budget series). Others will need to (tactfully) find out if parents plan to contribute. About that – get a firm dollar amount from your generous relations. Do not accept “as long as it’s reasonable” or “not too much” because those are totally subjective things that only the person holding the cash can actually decide. Keep in mind that the person who says “I’ll pay for the cake/dress/band/flowers/etc.” may have no idea what those things cost. Also, find out if there are any strings attached. Do they expect to be part of decisions made with that money? To have input on the guest list? If so, you may need to decide whether or not want to accept a gift with limitations on how you spend it.

STEP TWO (the hard one): Armed with your wedding mission statement and a total dollar amount, you can prioritize what are your real must-haves and what you can ruthlessly just say no to in order to stick to your budget. There are all manner of breakdowns on wedding websites telling you to spend x percent of your budget on this and y percent on that; those guidelines can be helpful, but you shouldn’t be afraid to change them! Maybe your priority is a really good meal; your reception might cost 70% of your budget instead of the recommended 50%, and you may cut back on flowers or use an iPod playlist instead of a DJ in order to make it work. When in doubt, go back to that list of priorities you made and ask yourselves: does this fit with our wedding priorities? If not, scale it back, go with the cheapest option, or cut it out completely.

Questions? Fire away in the comments. Next up: wedding planners – do you really need one?

→ Need more help? We offer a 90-minute budget strategy session, where we go through your wedding budget line-by-line with you, and figure out how to make what you want happen with the money you have. After the session, you’ll have online access to an awesome budget spreadsheet we create just for you. We can do it in person in the Chicago area, over the phone, or online. Schedule a consultation time here.

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