A New Way To Think About Wedding Budgets

If you are on any sort of a budget (which in the common parlance seems to mean that you don’t have a money printing press for your wedding in the basement), the minute you get engaged people tell you that you need to prioritize what’s important to you at your wedding, and build you budget from there. This seems like such deeply sensible advice, that I never gave it a second thought. It seemed so obviously true that I took it as gospel.

But here is the thing. I don’t think this is helpful advice. Not really.

In some ways I *do* think it’s a good way to think about things. If you have a limited amount of money to spend, it’s smart to do one or two things well, instead of doing everything in a way that leaves you feeling over stretched. Maybe this means that you hire a great bluegrass band, but then have a potluck dinner. Maybe, like us, you hire a great organic and local food caterer, but then do your own flowers and have an ipod playlist. Maybe this means its all potluck, and there is no band at all, but you get to invite everyone you love. All of these plans are smart.

But. But. What the idea of priorities assumes is that things that are “good” or “of more value” to you cost more money then things that are of less value to you. And this is false.

When we sat down at the beginning of planning to talk about priorities for our reception they went something like this: I cared about a dress, flowers, good photography, and dancing like crazy. I did not care much about food, because I figured the real importance of food was just to refuel your guests so they could keep on dancing. David thought my priorities idea was nuts, so he only participated by sighing deeply, and saying “Sure.”

Turns out he was right. This is how spending money has played out for us:

  • When I said I cared about a dress, it turns out I meant that I cared that I had a wedding dress that reflected who I am and didn’t look like every other wedding dress in the world. In the beginning I figured this might mean I needed to spend more, and I was ok with that. After trying on a million and one dresses at a million and one salons, from Lazaro to David’s Bridal, it turned out that no amount of money could buy me the dress I wanted. A dress that was a powerful ritual garment for a important milestone in my life was not something I was willing to outsource to the wedding industry. So, we’re making the dress. It’s costing a fraction of what I thought it would, and its still very important to me. Yesyesyes, if I had a bajillan dollars, I might have gone with a lace dress, but even making a lace dress was out of the question because well, my taste in lace runs towards the French.
  • Turns out when I said I cared about flowers, it meant that I cared about *having* flowers, period. More to the point, it meant that I cared about having flowers that didn’t look like standard issue wedding blah. So, we’re doing the flowers ourselves, at a fraction of what I thought it would cost.
  • But now we get to the food. The food that I had dubbed as not important at all. Well, it turns out when I said that food was not important, I meant that I didn’t want to spend money on expensive steaks and trendy appetizers so everyone could be impressed at our fancy food. But after talking to a few caterers we discovered that, in our particular situation, we could pay less and get standard issue wedding food that didn’t taste like much, or we could pay a little more and get simple local organic food that tasted like heaven and reflected our values. We chose the later option. It’s simple food, we’re paying more for it, and we’re happy.
  • And then there was the photography. It was something that was important to us, so we found a photographer who was very talented and experienced that would give us a simple package. We paid about what we had hoped to.

I tell you all this not because I think your values should be our values, or our choices should be our choices. They shouldn’t be. The whole point is that your choices should reflect who you are as a couple. But, be wary when you set your budget based on your priorities. Sometimes you find that the way you care about things is more important then how much you care about them.

There are times when things that didn’t top your “priority” list end up being things you spend more on, and that is fine. It seems to be a common mis-perception that I think that the “practical” option is always the cheapest one. Heck no. There are times in wedding planning where you will 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 a bit of money at the problem to make it go away.” And you know what? That’s the sane part of my mantra.

And sometimes, as each of the wedding graduates have reminded us, the things that you care the most about are the things that cost the least. A dress that you made yourself. The toasts people make around the table. The time you spent with your mom putting together your flowers.

So, think about your priorities with your wedding, think about what you care about and what you don’t. But be very careful when to assign a dollar amount to those values, because that just may miss the whole point.

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  • Beautifully said, as always. Since I started reading your blog, the whole wedding idea no longer brings on a cold sweat. Thanks, Meg! xo

  • I think you are on the right track. We went from planning to elop to planning a wedding overnight which means we spent a lot more than the $30 we’d planned on. But, and you know how I feel about this, every dollar we spent was meaningful, and I don’t feel like it was frivilous or wasteful at all. Good work!

  • 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 a bit of money at the problem to make it go away.

    I totally had that moment with our invitations. Thanks for helping me see it as sanity-saving rather than just wasteful.

  • I think this is one of your best posts in terms of keeping sanity in the wedding planning process. Very well said.

  • This is an excellent post, Meg. This probably goes without saying, and I think you’re getting at this here, but working out how to spend money with your partner during wedding planning will probably involve some misunderstandings, some disagreements over priorities, and eventually, some compromising. All of which is great practice for…marriage.

    For example my husband wanted more expensive wine for our wedding than I did. I kept trying to talk him into cheaper wines. I couldn’t see that the wine was important to him for a number of reasons, including buying it from our local wine shop to support their business. Once I finally GOT IT, I just let go of the bottom line. And decided that I could save money elsewhere, if the bottom line was really important. (At the end of the day, it wasn’t.)

  • well said. go meg!

  • I have thought about this a lot as our “priorities” have shifted. and you have once again put it into perfect words! Thanks!

  • Anonymous

    Amen! I think I knew all this in the back of my head and in my heart but it is so helpful to see it so clearly stated. This is exactly how things are panning out for us as well. Thank you!

  • Fantastic thoughts. Thanks for always presenting clear thinking in such a crazy world.

  • Meg

    Very much agreed Erika. I think that might have the seeds of it’s own post in it too. What your partner wants is such a under discussed aspect of wedding planning, which is such a disservice to all of us. Plus, it makes me sad, all these grooms who think they have no vote, no rights.

  • So well said, as always !

  • Meg, if you have a post in you that might convince grooms they have a voice, please write it so I can make my fiance read it! He had lots of opinions at the beginning of the planning (it HAD to be a Saturday night, we HAD to have dancing, we HAD to serve a full dinner) — but after all of that got nailed down, his mantra became “whatever you want, sweetie.” He even refused to give opinions at the tux rental place, insisting that it was all my choice. (I should have threatened to put him in a light pink tux!)

    Also, I totally agree with the idea of spending a bit more to save your sanity sometimes. Your time and your mental health are valuable commodities too!

  • as always, so well put. you are a graduate before you even graduated!!

  • Another post that seems to just “get it” and articulate it so well. And because your posts are so often this way, I gave you an award which you can see here:


    Happy Thursday!

  • LPC

    Personifying sanity. Go you.

  • Spot on, as always.

    I’m with you. Practical = sane. I am in love with crafting and baking, so I know my problem isn’t going to be the budget so much as letting go. I’m going to have to accept the fact that handcrafting a wedding would be a full time, somewhat stressful job, and some things will have to be farmed out. And that’s okay. I have to prioritize about the things I care enough about to spend my time on and then decide which things I’m willing to delegate, which is a bit like budgeting, I guess.

  • Yes! Absolutely! We spent the most money on the things we cared the least about, particularly because the most memorable and touching parts of our day (vows, a homemade cake, guests’ contributions to the ceremony, etc.) were free!

  • A truly fantastic post, one of your best!

  • I think this is really true, and totally agree. We ended up basically separating our budget into two categories: things we’re willing to be flexible on to save money, and things where we’re willing to be flexible with money to get exactly what we want. So maybe we didn’t spend more money on our priorities, but I think that willingness to spend more really directed the research we did and the way we thought about different options.

  • Amy

    Well said.

  • Anonymous

    Please, please, please do not stop blogging once you are married!

    All the weird, amorphous worries I have you put into words and then disregard. This site has been the source of so much inspiration and has given me the confidence to make my own choices.

  • “Sometimes you find that the way you care about things is more important then how much you care about them.”

    i want to hug you. well, you and your words. and you.

  • I think this post speaks to questions about how we approach our weddings in general, and not just the budget, per-se. By that, I mean the process seems to be:

    1. Yay! Engagement! Let’s set a date!
    2. How much do we/our parents/combination thereof have to spend?
    3. What are our priorities and how do we make the budget fit?

    I think maybe, the disconnect you talk about in this post comes between one and two. The discussion might make more sense to begin with brainstorming what we want from our wedding/marriage, which might lead us then towards a more meaningful allocation of wedding weekend activities and dollars. Do you want a stress-free (ha!) day? Maybe hiring a DOC is a good idea and fancy flowers seem less important. Does your fiance dream about playing golf that morning with his dad and college friends? Than making time for that is a priority. I think it starts with that vision/feeling/sense of what you want, and then using your budget, accordingly, to achieve that feeling.

    Great post. Thanks.

  • Desaray


  • Oh yes, these ideas were just starting to bubble around in my head without proper expression. My partner and I were ‘not prioritising’ photography. That is, we didn’t want to pay a bomb for a big fancy album. Just wanted a pro to take some snaps and give us the digital negatives… turns out that to get someone we like to do that, it’s going to cost a lot more than we wanted to spend on photography. Ah well. ce la vie.

  • Meg

    Mmmm… very thoughtful parsing Becca.

  • MegsDad

    “Sometimes you find that the way you care about things is more important than how much your care about them.”

    Sometimes your find that you did not just not fail when you reared your children, but that you succeeded.

  • Thank you so much for this. While I have already spent what I consider to be a ridiculous amount of money on our venue and catering, I still have not actually written a budget. I know I want to come in under 10k and I think I can pull it off because I have axed many things from the typical budget, but the thing that always gets me is the advice:
    "First, set your budget."
    Except that, being new to wedding planning as many of us are, I had no clue how much to anticipate things would cost. And as much as I love the blogs of the Style Me Pretty and Snippet & Ink sort, no one really wants to let anyone in on the real cost of things. Once I start tallying things up, I'm going to start posting exactly how much I have spent on everything, if only for the four people who might read my blog (brokensaucer.blogspot.com).

    So, for anyone else out there reading this comment on this amazing post, can we all just start telling each other how much stuff costs? And down to the flowers on each table too – because it's great if you only spent $100 on flowers but if you only had six centerpieces and a bouquet, that's a factor that changes everything.

  • Thank you very much for an excellent post that verbalizes exactly how I feel!

  • C

    Some helpful thoughts – thanks!
    A further reflection, kind of a tangent: i would find it helpful if people wrote / spoke about time to extent that they speak about money. For me, I don’t have much of a problem seeing that money does not equal value – i learnt that doing jobs that don’t make money but that I valued and believed in!
    However the main resource I seem to be spending on the wedding is time. Time is something i like to give liberally – to people, to jobs and now to the wedding. But making wise choices about what to spend this ultimately limited resource on – that’s something worth some further reflection…

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