The Q: I am so excited to say that I am engaged! (yay) Because I’m in graduate school and my fiance is in medical school, there is a really brief window that we can have our wedding in if we want to do it this year, and I’m really anxious to get started. I went to see 7 venues this past weekend!!!! That said, I’m not totally sure of what our budget is, as we want to ask my parents for help, but I feel weird having that conversation over the phone and I’m not able to get to see them for another few weeks. Do you think it’s a good idea for me to book my venue if I’m not 100% sure of our budget? I’m nervous that I won’t get the dates that I want if I wait too long.
The A:Yeah, NO. Don’t book ANYTHING unless you have a sense of what your total budget it. When it comes to money, and family contributions there is really no guaranteeing anything, and so it is simply imprudent to count your chickens before they are hatched.
I think unfortunately, when it comes to weddings, brides often see a BUDGET as a confining and stressful thing: “I’m on a budget” or “I can’t have what I want because I’m on a budget”. In reality, creating a budget before you do ANYTHING is one of greatest stress relieving tools that a bride can create for herself. And that goes for brides who can only spend $20,000 and for brides who can spend $200,000.
How can a budget be a stress reliever? Very simple: a budget acts as a road map for you to work on your wedding. Before you start looking around and checking people out and getting attached to ideas, locations, vendors and stationary that are beyond your reach, a budget can help direct you of where to look first before you begin to get into things that are beyond your reach. If you are on a tight budget there is nothing that can make planning a wedding feel frustrating than meeting with vendor after vendor and feeling that you can’t afford anything. Secondly, and this is particularly true with brides with a bit more wiggle room: starting with a budget will help prevent you from spending yourself into a corner. For instance, you are 150 guests and an $80,000 budget, but you spend $15,000 on renting your fantasy venue (without catering). That one decision is going to mean that you now are on a very tight budget for entertainment, floral and decor and all those other decisions that sometimes come a little later down the line. And, when the last minute unexpected bills come in (and they always do) suddenly you will go from feeling like you had a really nice budget to feeling like every decision is a stressful compromise.
So the next question, and this is usually why most girls don’t START with the budget, where do you even begin in creating a budget? Well, the first thing is to figure out approximately how many people you think you are going to have and then to have the “funny money” conversation where you talk to everyone about what everyone can actually contribute. It’s sometimes hard to lock people into numbers, but you have to be straightforward and let them know that you just want to get the best sense of what your realistically working with so that you can make the best decisions.
From there, I usually recommend calling a few venues to get a sense of pricing in your area. My rule of thumb that will give you a good sense of what is a “realistic” budget or the “actual” cost of weddings at a particular location is to take the cost of venue, food, beverage, service, tax and gratuity and to double that cost. For instance, for a wedding of 100 guests, a venue that is $90pp including all of the costs above is likely to yield a wedding that comes in around the $23,000 (not always including gown and attire stuff that is more subjective). For some reason things tend to scale out… i.e a venue that is about $250pp is feasible for someone with a budget of $65,000 for the same 100 guests. Knowing that, it’s easy to see which venues will come in around the right price point to make your budget work. If you are still feeling tripped up, or dealing with things like tents, off premise catering, etc, it’s a good idea to get a professional on board to help you out.
I have a dear friend, and we nicknamed her Captain Crunch, because when we were younger and carefree (aka, silly), we’d all make these elaborate plans for big nights out on the town or weekends away and she’d always say “Let me crunch the numbers, and see if I can join you.” Needless to say she’s about to buy her 2nd beautiful home and I have a large collection of lovely handbags.
I mention Captain Crunch because when she was a bride, she was the most calm and chill bride I’ve ever seen. She decided on a budget, and was very clear when something was beyond that budget, no matter how appealing it would be…. “Thank you, that’s lovely, but not withing my budget” and she would go on to the next vendor to see if they were more in line with her line item. We aren’t all able to be so strong willed, but if you use your budget as a tool instead of a chain, I think you’ll be a much happier bride-to-be in the long run.