How to Plan a Wedding On a Small Budget

Congratulations! You are about to marry the love of your life and, of course, you want your wedding day to be perfect. You start planning the perfect wedding—an occasion that your friends and family will remember for years. The only challenge is how to pay for it. You don’t want to begin your married life burdened with bills from an elaborate wedding that cost more than you anticipated. As with most milestones in your life, organizing your wedding requires careful financial planning.

The cost of getting married continues to rise. The average cost of a wedding in 2017 was $27,000, but according to Brides magazine, average wedding costs rose to $44,000 in 2018. That’s a year’s salary for many people. This increase in cost is happening not because there are additional costs, but because couples are spending more on everything.

A Brides study shows that the proportionate costs of things like wedding invitations, the wedding cake, the rehearsal dinner, and wedding favors remained roughly the same from year to year, but couples spent more on every item. The cost of flowers, for example, more than doubled from $1,274 to $2,629, the average day-after brunch went from $691 to over 1,500, and even the average cost of engagement rings rose from $5,023 to $7,829.

It’s easy to go overboard and spend more than you really want to on a wedding. Careful financial planning can help you manage those costs so you don’t start your life together deep in debt. Here are some budgeting tips to keep in mind.


1. Start with your budget

You need to inventory everything that you want in your dream wedding and assign costs to each line item. It might help to plan out your wedding as a timeline and consider costs at each step, e.g., invitations, the wedding dress, the rehearsal dinner, transportation, the wedding venue, the reception venue, the wedding cake, food, drink, transportation, gifts, photographers, decorations, and so on. There are a number of online calculators and checklists that can be helpful. One strategy is to start with the guest list and determine how many guests you want to invite, then estimate the cost per guest based on what you can afford. You can then work backward and estimate costs for food, drink, and so on, based on the guest list.


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2. Consider shared expenses

Financial planning requires calculating the money you have available as well as how much you plan to spend. How much of your wedding expenses will you be paying for, and how much help can you expect from your parents and other relatives? If the amount of cash available is substantially less than the budget for your dream wedding, you can delay the date and save more money—or, if your household budget can handle it, consider a small loan to make up the difference.


3. Prioritize your budget

Be sure to organize your budget into “must have” and “would be nice to have” categories. Determine what you really need for your wedding and what you can eliminate or scale back. If you take a hard look at each line item in your budget, you will probably find some you can spend less on or even eliminate. Also, be sure to research various options. Chances are you can shop for a better deal that could make things more affordable.


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4. Develop a timeline

Give yourself as much planning time as possible. The more time you allow before the wedding, the more you can save. You will have more time to shop for things such as venues, and you can negotiate better deals than if you wait until the last minute. Also, if you can plan ahead, there is less likelihood you will forget to include something in your budget.


5. Expect the unexpected

Despite the most carefully laid plans, something unexpected is likely to come up. There may be a last-minute problem with transportation or the caterers, or you may need to add more guests at the last minute. Setting aside extra cash as an emergency fund is a good idea.


6. Start saving right away

Once you make the decision to take the plunge and before you even start financial planning for your wedding, you should start setting money aside. Choose a bank account that will help you get more for your money until you need it. You can use a savings account or a money market account, where your money will earn interest while you plan the big day. You also should consider opening a checking account that can help you save with regularly scheduled transfers to savings accounts or accounts that offer cash back.

Your wedding is an unforgettable personal milestone, and the secret to a terrific wedding is organization and preplanning. If you take the time to map out all your costs in advance, develop a comprehensive budget, and create a plan to cover your expenses, then you can have a less stressful wedding—and you won’t have to face unexpected bills when you return from your honeymoon.


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