Written by: Jaclyn Wise
Are you planning or thinking about planning a wedding? Congratulations on your engagement (or soon-to-be one)! This is such an exciting time! Before I dive into our best tips on financially preparing for your wedding, my biggest tip I give to newly engaged friends is to try to make this time slow down as much as possible. Savor every moment, and focus on being very present in it so you can remember how you felt for years to come. Most people only get engaged and plan a wedding once. While there were so many decisions to make, it was one of the funnest and most exciting periods of my life, and it only lasted about six months! When I think back to that time, I was always counting down to our wedding day, but I wish I would have been more focused on enjoying that really small window of my life where I got to be The Bride-to-Be!
Looking back on the financial aspect of our wedding, we were incredibly fortunate to have help from our parents with a lot of the wedding expenses. But because my husband and I got married in our late twenties, we wanted to contribute as much as possible along the way too. We certainly spent our money on things that we later wished we had saved, and so it’s my hope to help you navigate this season more wisely than we did. The last thing I would hate to see is this really big, happy moment in your life be one that financially haunts you for years to come, but for many people, this is unfortunately very true.
In this post, I’m going to outline my Six Budgeting Steps Before Saying I Do.
Step 1: Have a conversation with all people who might be involved financially. If you or your fiancé’s families are going to contribute to planning the ceremony, reception, and/or other parties like bridal showers or bachelor/ette parties, sit down to make sure everyone is on the same page. This might be a little bit of an awkward conversation, so make sure you have that talk as early as possible and on a day when things are relatively peaceful. Tell them what your heart is, and be honest. If you want to help contribute financially, say so. If you aren’t in a position to afford much, let them know. If you are excited about what they can contribute but also want to make sure that they don’t take backwards steps for their overall financial picture, share that. There is no right or wrong amount for you (or them) to contribute to the wedding and all related expenses, but letting them know that you want to be prepared for whatever the scenario is can be a great first step.
And then ask the hard questions. How much are they wanting (and able) to contribute? Is there a dollar amount to the limit they’d like to fund? Do they want to provide a set percentage of the overall cost (up to a certain dollar amount, perhaps), or do they want to handle some of the specific expenses (ex: cost of the food and hall rental) and let others handle the rest?
Step 2: Get really dialed in on your personal budget, outside of wedding expenses. At Fiscal Fitness, we teach our clients a better way to budget than what most traditional budgeting templates provide. You can read more about our budgeting approach in this blog post. We believe the first step to making financial decisions starts with getting really clear on where you currently stand. In general, it’s important for you to know how much income enters your bank account, how much of your money is spent on normal monthly expenses, and the average of all those infrequent, irregular expenses that hit randomly throughout the year. (We’re looking at you, Amazon Prime.)
Also look at the amount of savings you have. We recommend that you have some money set aside for emergencies (the exact amount is different for every person) and money set aside for those irregular expenses that will pop up throughout the year. So if you take a look at your overall savings, and you have enough left over to pay for wedding-related expenses (or even some of them), that can certainly be an option that puts less strain on your normal monthly finances.
Step 3: Determine the overall cost of your wedding and all-related expenses. (Don’t forget about the honeymoon if you’re taking one!) Factor in what your family can contribute and how much of your savings you are willing to use. Once you think you’ve come up with a reasonable estimate for what everything might cost, then decide the dollar amount (for either what you personally would contribute or what the overall cost of the wedding would be) that would make you absolutely sick to your stomach. It’s good to be aware of this number so that you don’t let your budget creep toward it as you get closer to the actual wedding when it’s easier to say yes to a lot of things.
Step 4: Use our Ultimate Wedding Budget Worksheet to plan everything! Start by identifying your 2-3 non-negotiables: the things you absolutely want to have for your wedding. What is most important to you? Some partners each pick one expense, and some couples decide on a few of them together. For us, it was three things – the photographer, really good food, and my dress. We wanted to make sure we had a tangible memory of the day, and we had a really specific photographer we wanted to use because we loved the job she did on my sister’s wedding. We wanted to make sure our guests felt very taken care of in our selection of a menu. And I had a certain look to my dress that I really wanted. Whatever your non-negotiables are, research the costs of them first, and get those things booked or purchased as early as possible.
On the flip side of that coin, what are some wedding expenses that you know you absolutely do not want to have in your wedding? It’s great to write these down ahead of time, because I know from experience that there are things we paid for that didn’t add as much to the day – like shoes that nobody saw, hurt my feet, and I never wore again. And there are some things our family members paid a significant amount of money to do that we don’t get much joy from now – like a custom invitation suite that I truly loved but everyone else threw away (or hopefully recycled). But there are plenty of things we COULD have bought that we didn’t miss at all – like a photo booth and a limo. (That’s not to say you can’t have those things – but we didn’t miss them during our wedding.)
In between the things that you absolutely must have and the expenses that you definitely don’t want are a bunch of other expenses that need to be planned. Use our worksheet for inspiration on which costs will be yours and which won’t, and then conduct research online for your area about the particular costs of those expenses. At Fiscal Fitness, whether we’re helping you with your wedding budget or our signature day-to-day budgeting approach we always recommend rounding up expenses. Then you’ll feel like you’ve saved money if that expense comes in under budget!
Step 5: Once you have estimated all the costs of your wedding on our worksheet, compare it to the total amount you wanted your wedding to cost. Are your current estimates over budget? How does your budget compare to the recommended percentages? Do you need to cut some things out or try to find a friend, family member, or acquaintance who can help you DIY for some of the items?
If you landed under budget, don’t reallocate those dollars just yet! As you get closer to your wedding day, some expenses will naturally arise that you’re not expecting right now. After you have made SO many decisions about your day, you might start to experience decision-making fatigue and say things like, “Just do it – I don’t even care anymore,” when somebody asks you if you want to purchase something you didn’t originally plan to buy. That’s such a normal experience when you’re planning something that requires so much detail! The extra cushion in your wedding budget can help to cover costs that arise from that experience.
One note here: when you’re looking for ways to lower some expenses, don’t include gift money as income. For one thing, some people will not write you a check or buy you something off your registry. (For instance, your coworker Phyllis might have her cousin make you the most amazing birdhouse mailbox, etc.) Rather than banking on gift money as income and trying to guess what you might receive, look at it as a really generous bonus you’ve received after the big day.
Step 6: Once you’ve got an accurate overall estimate, revisit the conversation with anyone who’s helping pay for your wedding, and make sure that they’re comfortable with the final amount. Adjust as needed. Then, subtract out what others are paying so you can determine the amount that you’re responsible to pay. At the end of the day, the goal is to pay for as much of your wedding interest free, so if you can save up for your portion of the expense and avoid high interest costs associated with credit card usage, that would be ideal!
Once you’ve calculated your financial responsibility for the wedding, divide the amount you’re spending by the number of months until the big day. For example, if you are paying for $12,000 of the wedding and have 15 months left until you get married, that averages to $800 per month. That number becomes your monthly savings target. Open up a separate savings account just for the wedding, and on the first pay day of the month, transfer the monthly target amount into that savings account. (If you get paid twice per month, you could divide the monthly target amount by two, and transfer that twice per month on each pay day.) We love Ally (ally.com) for online savings accounts with no minimum balance requirements or maintenance fees.
If you implement these six steps, you will be putting yourself in a great financial position before you say, “I do!” Even if you don’t have the full amount saved by the time you get married, imagine how incredible you will feel if you can cover most of the wedding costs and only have to put a small balance on a credit card. For even more great tips on financially preparing for your wedding, check out our throwback podcast episode, Fiscal Fitness Podcast Episode 9: Budgeting for Your Dream Wedding, where Coach Kelsa dives into some of her favorite strategies.
If you need help with freeing up more money in your monthly budget to put toward your wedding savings, reach out to a financial coach! At Fiscal Fitness, we can help you take some of the financial stress out of planning your wedding and help you develop the skills you’ll need to manage your money wisely after you’re married. Teaching our clients how to effectively save for short and long-term expenses is one of our main areas of focus, and we would love to help you learn how to do that. Book a free 15-minute Q&A call with Coach Jaclyn to learn more about how financial coaching can prepare you for your wedding, your life as a married couple, and beyond.
Jaclyn Wise is a financial coach with Fiscal Fitness Phoenix, a team of dedicated and passionate financial coaches that help hard-working people use their money to achieve their dreams. Through virtual financial coaching, Coach Jaclyn helps her clients make a plan, get ahead, and spend with confidence. When she’s not being a Budgeting Jedi, Jaclyn loves spending time outdoors with her husband and dog, traveling the world (especially Disney World), and entertaining friends in their sunny backyard. Learn more about Coach Jaclyn here.