Wedding Budgets & The APW Book

Hello All!

So now that I’ve FINALLY gotten to tell you that I’m writing the book, I can ask you guys to weigh in on it. Actually, I sort of cheated and did already back here (because I really wanted your input and I couldn’t tell you why), but now we can talk about it for real. Obviously, Team Practical is all over the pages, in spirit and in quotes, giving advice to future brides, but I want more specific input from you guys in some areas.

Like budgets, because budgets are a total b*tch.

Most wedding books give you a break down on what you should spend on budgets (5% on favors? Really?) which are total nonsense, because obviously there are as many ways to do budgets as there are people. That said, I don’t want to stick future brides with a SWAG budget,* so I need to give them some details.

So that’s where you come in. I’m hoping to give four examples of real life budgets in the book, that break roughly along the following lines:

  • Under $5,000
  • Around $15,000 in Manhattan
  • Around $15,000 in Manhattan, Kansas (by which I obviously mean big city and not big city)
  • Around $25,000

If you’d be willing to share your budget with me, email budget at apracticalwedding dot com, with the rough amount of your budget and the location of the wedding in the email title. If I pick your budget to go in the book, I’ll get back to you with forms to sign, and if I don’t pick your budget (it really is not you, it’s me) then I’ll make out with you on the book tour anyway. Deal? Deal!

And now that we’ve brought it up, let’s dish. What was the best thing you learned about money while planning your wedding? And, rather specifically, what did you learn about who pays? If your parents helped pay, how did that work? If you paid for all of it, how did that work? What advice would you pass on? Because for serious, I’m going to use whatever you say to help me figure out exactly what needs to go in this chapter, which pretty much means you’re all in the Library of Congress. But we knew that when I got the book deal, right?

Ok, and now I’m all excited about the book! And you about guys!



*To quote the excellent Sarah: “SWAG = seriously wild a** guess.   I think that what it’s called when you Google ‘how much does a DJ cost?’  ‘how much does a live band cost?'”

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  • schmemily

    Hey, I am getting married in Manhattan, Kansas! Although our budget is $3000 and not $15000. (And last night my fiance told me he has serious doubts about getting married, so maybe I get to skip this whole wedding planning thing after all.)

    • meg

      Ohhhh HUGS.

      • schmemily

        Thanks. :) I’m a bit dazed.

        • I did it in Burlington, VT for about $1,500. It can be done, don’t lose hope! I was amazed what people offered up to help out. If you want anyone to talk to who’s been-there-done-that you can email me at trisha dot partlow at gmail dot com.

  • What about a few tips on the virtue of a court house wedding? It’s budget friendly. But can still be personalized in little ways. I am so facinated by them and have seen a few that were sweet. I love seeing a gorgeous bride with beautiful flowers having a super special simple wedding.

    • meg

      Of course that’s in the book! It’s not in the section about budgets though, because that section is just about numbers and money, no matter how much you spend. It’s in ‘types of weddings’ in the first chapter. I think. For now.

  • Mallory

    I can’t contribute my thoughts from a post-wedding perspective yet, but I think it’d be great to talk about having the conversation with your families about budget. My fiance and I talked to our families over Christmas about what they realistically could and wanted to contribute. It’s definitely a less pretty side to starting your wedding planning, but so essential to really see what category you fall in. I know I would have appreciated some tips on how to talk to them about that.

    • meg

      In the book. Helpful. Awesome. Thank you.

    • Amy

      Oh gosh, such good advice. Also good to have a rough sense of what things cost in your area so you can give them guidelines. I learned the hard way that my parents ideas of what things cost was easily 20 years out of date for our area.


        Yes, very important to do this. We actually wanted to do something that came in much less than our current budget, but were lucky enough that our family really wanted to and were able to contribute because their visions of what they wanted for our wedding were a bit bigger than ours. So keeping the communication open is key.

    • Madeline

      Kind of along these same lines…Pretty much all of the wedding-related publications I’ve seen seem to assume that the couple’s parents will be contributing to the budget, with maybe a passing glance at couples who pay for it all themselves (if you’re lucky). And that sucks for people like my fiance and me. We never even brought it up with our moms (neither of our dads is in the picture, for two very different reasons) because we know that their financial situations won’t allow them to help. APW is one of the only places I’ve ever come across that talks openly about all the options for the origins of the money that goes into the budget fairly equally. So I hope that’s included in the book!

      • Also, I think, it would be interesting to hear from people who have a parent who is totally and completely incapable of helping out, but that very same parent wants to make a generous contribution. My mom just recently offered us money to go towards wedding planning and while I appreciate how much she wants to help, I also feel enormous guilt taking any of her money and don’t know how to reconcile that. I’ve thanked her profusely, and she knows deep down how much I appreciate it, but it doesn’t keep me from feeling guilty for using her money. At this point, it’s a day by day struggle of gratitude and guilt.

  • SarahP

    I think giving your contributor’s something tangible to say they contributed to is a good idea rather than just taking their money and adding it to the budget. My parents paid for a large chunk of our venue and my dress. It also allowed them to get the visa points which they loooooove. So I got my awesome dress and venue and they get points towards their next vacation. Everyone wins!

    • Lizzie

      This is exactly what we were thinking when we were married in September. Though my parents had first brought up the idea of pitching in financially, we just didn’t feel right about accepting a check for the dollar amount they had proposed–especially so because I was not the only one who got married last year–two of my sisters did too.

      We were absolutely able to reduce our costs–collectively–by buying certain items in bulk (wine glasses, appetizer plates, etc) and then sharing them throughout our year of family weddings! So some of those items my parents purchased to help all three of us–and some of them we picked up ourselves.

      My parents picked up the food bill for our wedding and I believe most of our liquor as well–though we were fabulously frugal and well below what they had initially offered to share with us.

      • abby_wan_kenobi

        A friend of mine contacted two other brides using her reception venue the same weekend and they went splitsy on decorations. They were able to agree on a neutral white & silver color scheme and shared a candles, a fabric ceiling-hangy thing, a bunch of twinkle lights and a couple of floral arrangements. Awesome deal if you can get it, double points for spending less time in set-up and tear-down between events.

        • Liz

          That is so freaking clever! I hope this works out for me. I love APW.

  • Everyone says this but its true: figure out what is super important to you and spend more money there and figure out what isn’t the important to you and dont feel guilty for skimping there. We’re spending a lot on photography and almost nothing on (silk) flowers. My best friend did the opposite. I went to a chef’s wedding last weekend and the food was amazing (duh) but all their paper was the print at home kind. I mean, it seems so obvious in that case, that spending money where YOU think it counts will result in a wedding that feels like your own.

    That, and Google Docs. Google Docs for life!

    I have so much more to say on this. The accountant wants to talk budgets like crazy. So expect an email from me : )

    • I’ve heard this a lot, too and it makes sense. But, I think it is important to feel around for special “deals” that you can come by based on your family connections first. If you happen to know a baker, have special access to a venue, have a friend that loves to arrange flowers etc. Figure out if those options will work for you before you set a budget on that item. I spent extra by going with a family friend for the photographer. But I did save a ton by choosing a free reception venue in my parent’s residential community.

      I guess part of the priorities list would include your connections and *who* you want as much as *what* you want. Also, keep in mind that hiring friends might not be cheaper in many situations and that when it is much cheaper you might have to relinquish some control over the details.

    • Jessica

      Speaking of Google Docs, have you seen this?

      • Ashley B

        I saw it and totally squeed over it. My love of Google and spreadsheets all in one happy planning place!

      • Holy awesomeness! Good to know about! Thanks for that link!

  • Heidi

    We funded our wedding ourselves (though the rehearsal dinner was paid for by my in-laws), mostly because we didn’t want to burden them with the costs. They supported us in other many ways, like being our people on the ground to check out reception venues as we live 2,000 miles from them.

    At the beginning of planning we actually came up with two budget numbers. We had the “goal budget” of what we wanted to spend and then we had the “maximum budget” we were willing to spend. In the end, we went a little over our “goal” but we had that built in buffer.

    But the most useful lesson I learned was getting quotes from three local vendors before making a decision. Googling really gets a wide assortment of SWAGs but calling/emailing three places helped me to compare more realistic values specific to my location.

    • Ohhh, I could have REALLY used that advice.

    • I love your “goal” budget and your “max” budget. If we’d done that, and aimed closer to a “goal” budget, I think we would have done a little better. Having a buffer is really helpful.

      • Karen P.

        I never understand why the budgeting tools you see don’t have a “slush fund” line to absorb costs in case you go over on something (because, let’s face it, we all do). I plan events for a nonprofit, and whenever I do a budget I build in a 10-15% slush fund so that I can say to my committee, for example “you have $2,000 for a band” but if the chair falls in love with a $3,300 band (true example) I’m not over budget.

        • It just makes SO MUCH SENSE. And we had a slush fund! Until my mom got laid off. Ouch.

        • Me and the man are doing this: aiming for $8,500, but okay with (unless he doesn’t find a job!) $10k. Which still seems like wayyyyy to much for us.

          The whole thing kinda makes me feel like I’m on one long Ross shopping spree–What kind of deals can I get today, wedding wise? And then I want to show off my deals, you know how when someone comments on a cute outfit you scored a bargain on, and you HAVE to tell them where and for how much you got it…or is that just me?

  • Chelsea

    My advice is that if you are accepting help from family, plan to have about 10-15% less to spend than they tell you they’ll give. It’s really awkward to ask for that last $500, and even if they do give you everything they offered without complaint it’ll build goodwill if you return some of it, either in cash or unexpected-thank-you-gift form.

    Because, honestly, some people say they want to help and then can’t or don’t – and while I honestly don’t mind that my MIL couldn’t contribute anything to the wedding expenses, I was annoyed that she offered to pay for certain things and then never came through. I’m so glad I had wiggle room in my budget!

    • Oh I’m so glad you brought this up. My mother offered to help pay for our wedding photography, but in the end she couldn’t/didn’t/wouldn’t/who knows. Wiggle room was key.

      • Amy

        For the most part, when accepting money for the wedding we mostly mentally earmarked it for “extra stuff” that we knew in the back of our mind that we could do without it, or if necessary, cover it ourselves.

    • Lauren

      This. Totally. My mom wouldn’t even give me an exact number, and when her ballpark suddenly jumped from “maybe 6k” to “around 4k”, I was so glad I had gone with the cheapest options I could on as many things as I could, because she was insistent I would pay for NOTHING and at the very end I ended up shelling out money I didn’t have to pay for things she couldn’t quite afford. So I guess I would say first make sure they GIVE you a number- and then remember that things come up and money they might have meant to put towards your wedding might go to their car repair/mortgage payment/impulse buying instead.

    • Ha! Just be super cheap ;-) My mother-in-law informed me that they would be paying for the ceremony flowers. We each had our one sibling as an attendant and that was all, and I made everything using artificial flowers. So, when my father-in-law got wind that the ceremony flowers were less than $100, I’ve been told the exact wording was, “Write that girl a check for $200 and include a note that says ‘Way to be frugal!'”

      On the other hand, I never asked my dad & step-mom for a dime, and they never offered anything (but gave us a nice monetary wedding gift). My mom and step-dad told me they would pay for the caterer, which seemed fair, since they were the ones who insisted there be food other than cake & punch… and my mom’s family is giant and probably made up more than half of the guest list.

  • My parents gave us a huge bulk of the budget, but this came with my father planning our wedding. Yes, my father. He basically picked out the venue, the menu, etc. Definitely bent gender expectations, and we had quite a few awkward “mother-daughter” conversations.

  • hmmm.. i had a small town, roughly $11,000 wedding. minnesota’s pretty close to kansas, right? ;) maybe i’ll see if i can write something up for ya.

    things i learned about wedding budgets:

    1. if people pay, then their opinions should probably at least be considered.
    2. if people pay, they will think their opinions matter a lot. most of the time. which is sometimes false.
    3. things you are willing to pay up for can fall through, and other (cheaper) things will still be awesome.
    4. having your parents help you out is awesome, but sometimes the discussions (arguments?) take an interesting turn. like when your dad wants to pay for a hugely expensive open bar and you don’t want one. or when they want to treat the WHOLE guest list to hotel rooms, which you think is crazy. or when you choose a cheaper photographer than the one you really wanted out of guilt.

    our budget was not very carefully planned at the detail level… it was more of a ballpark number than anything. that being the case, it was hard to know whether we were staying within it or not. i sometimes wonder if it would have been easier for all involved to just put a lump sum somewhere and stick to a strict budget. ah well… all’s well that ends well. :)

    • meg

      Email me that budget. And these are really helpful thoughts on who pays, thank you.

    • Emily Elizabeth

      I actually had a similar parent experience. I found that my parent’s didn’t think them paying was an option, but was what was happening, and that turned out to mean many, many arguments happened over what they thought weddings should be like versus what we wanted our wedding to be like (for example, getting married at a country club versus getting married at a camp in the woods). The were helpful being “on the ground” for us since they live near where we were married, and we live in another country, but making all those plans (having all of those arguments) over the phone was terrible and made for some surprisingly terrible nights (or days at work). Looking back I think setting out ground rules at the beginning would have helped keep those almost daily discussions from feeling like a battle. That would be my biggest piece of advice: not letting help with paying for the wedding turn into a fight over “control” over the wedding, focusing on compromise or going without that help altogether.
      (also… ditto on going for the cheaper photographer out of guilt)

    • abby_wan_kenobi

      I found it helped to have a general vision for the wedding before I went into budget discussions. “We would like to have a big wedding, 200+ guests, very formal, not at all religious. We’re thinking live music, open bar in Chicago. I know you’ve always said you wanted to help out with expenses, can you take some time and think about what you would be interested in contributing to our wedding?” That way no one is blindsided by unrealistic expectations. If that’s not the type of wedding they’d like to support financially they can choose not to contribute.

      • Exactly! We had already talked through a lot of what we wanted before we spoke to our parents. That meant we could already give them a rough idea of budget and the things we would/would not be including within that. Plans changed somewhat of course but already having some lines in the ground was hugely hugely helpful.

      • Amy

        Oh god, can we also discuss the expectations vs. what things cost? I do events for work and knew very well that the Saturday night, full open bar, sit down dinner with band my parents wanted simply was not going to cost what they thought it should (roughly $25k all in, in NYC, for 150 people). Maybe 10-15 years ago, or on a Sunday, or during the day, but they weren’t hearing other options. Sigh.

      • meg

        This is very wise, and something I already have down, and will triple underline. Let people know what they are helping out with, and then see if they want to help. No surprises is good for everyone.

    • I can relate to the parent’s having a say if they pay. His actually offered to pay for a different (more expensive) church that was prettier and closer to our reception venue. In the end, although it was hard to turn down money, I went with my gut and had it at my home church – acoustic tile ceiling and all. And I’m definitely happy with that decision.

  • Ours was $6000 if you take out the honeymoon and flights. Let’s chat! I even have a Google spreadsheet I can share.

    What was the best thing you learned about money while planning your wedding?

    I need more. Seriously, it inspired me to get off my butt and get a better paying job.

    And, rather specifically, what did you learn about who pays? If your parents helped pay, how did that work? If you paid for all of it, how did that work?

    Self-funded, but we didn’t do a lot of “traditional” things like a rehearsal dinner. I am so old (haha) that I cannot actually imagine what would happen if someone else told me what to do – no one ever tries. Which means I’m a beast, but whatever. Yes, no one had opinions. They wouldn’t have if they paid, either. I’m bossy.

    What advice would you pass on?
    Even at $6000 I felt like we spent too much. That’s not advice. I did this thing where I’d pick things up thinking I’d use them later (ribbons, gold tape, little trinkets) and instead while I was getting dressed well meaning people wrapped the cake table with crazy. So. Don’t buy anything you don’t have a 100% use for. And don’t leave it laying around!! Things I left out because I needed were hidden (like film!?!??!) and things I didn’t need were used as questionable decor.

    • meg

      YES! Email me. SUPER DONE.

    • liz

      i did the SAME THING. i would see something pretty and buy it, not knowing how i’d use it. i ended up with spools and spools of ribbon, yelling in the catering hall “quick! tie bows on SOMETHING.”

      • I had fake robin’s eggs. as of today, they’re still in the box. what was i thinking?

    • I need more. Seriously, it inspired me to get off my butt and get a better paying job.

      TRUTH. Complete and utter truth. The experiences of the past year have inspired me to get off my ass and go find a job/promotion/life that is more worthy of what I can do. It’s pretty awesome.

    • Oh god, I totally fear this will be me. I bought all kinds of fabric and lace at a store going out of business. I hope to hell I don’t have elves wrapping lace bows around the trees just to use the sh*t. Argh.

  • Emma O

    I’m not married yet, so I won’t submit my budget for the book, but here’s how we’re rockin’:

    We’re looking at $10-$15 (live in St. Louis, wedding in Southern Illinois)
    Parents are contributing what they want to/can, which included some lump sums ($1,000 from one side and $5,000 from another) and some select items that they wanted to support (flower girl dresses from one and rehearsal dinner from another)
    We’re covering the rest!

    Our decisions have been based on looking at our budget and saying, “Is this about right? Is booze about as important enough to us to be the 3rd largest item?” Answer: HECK YES, we want to party. (also, HECK yes we want to feed everyone and go on a relaxing vacation afterward and feel confident that perfect photographs will be taken) Pretty much everything else is done by friends, ourselves, or small vendors. We feel good about it so far, and our favorite part is that we found ways to give our money to great causes vs corporate vendors. We’re getting married at the summer camp where we met (nonprofit), having our ceremony at another local camp (division of a university), and we’re using local vendors or places when possible. So far money has been almost no source of stress for us, once we got over the initial shock of this costing (no matter who’s paying) more than we’ve ever had in an account.

    • Emma O

      One additional comment: Part of when we decided to get engaged was when we felt ready to plan a wedding, financially. (We’d been dating for 5 years, living together for 3, but just getting out of school/grad school and into jobs where we could actually save.) I think this was the key to us being able to avoid stressing out about money. I know it’s not how everyone would want to plan (but the engagement was still a surprise to me!), but it helped us not jump into a huge expense and process that we didn’t feel confident we could conquer. And thus, having been thinking and talking about weddings and living together for a while, adjusting to this new cost in our lives was not so overwhelming. Our engagement will only be 9 months, but it’s been fairly peaceful and celebratory!

    • elyse

      wait, someone else here is in st. louis? i think that makes 2 of us, so meg, now you have to come here on your book tour :-)

      • Emma and Elsye,
        I live in Chicago, but I am from St Louis and am getting married there in August 2012. I would love to pick your brains at some point about APW spirited vendors.

  • The thing I learned about money, and my relationship with money, through the wedding planning process is that sometimes, sometimes, it is okay to just spend the damn stuff.

    I’m not one of those people who likes spending money on clothes and other pretty things. I’ve been known to go to the mall in dire need of new attire and return home with nothing because I couldn’t bring myself to spend money on something I totally loved but that was over my self-imposed idea of How Much Things Should Cost. (I have a pretty good idea that I got this from my dad who I spied washing out his paper coffee filter the other day.) And since my parents surprised me with a good chunk of money that I could spend on my wedding when my husband and I decided to get hitched, I also wanted to stay true to their and my own thrifty nature. I thought for sure my husband and I could plan our wedding on the cheap and then have tons of money left over for traveling or a downpayment on a house or whatever.

    But, when we started talking about what we wanted, and then started looking at how much that would cost, I almost threw up because it all went against my ideas of How Much Things Should Cost and our very thrifty budget started getting continuously bumped up and our potential travel funds started to shrink. We wanted good food and lots of booze. I wanted pretty pictures. I wanted a dress made in the USA. That all cost more than my idea of How Much Things Should Cost, and so I was annoyed. But at some point I just had to recognize that I was paying people’s salaries. They’re independent business owners and artists and they deserve to charge what they charge and because they are providing a service I want, it is OK to spend the damn money! I think that by trying to shop around to find the cheapest options, I ended up grating away at my sanity and probably even spending more money than I could have because I ended up buying a few things twice to get it right. If I’d just paid for the thing I liked the most in the first place I could have made the whole deal more practical and sane.

    • This, so much. I walk a fine line between guilt and happy spending on the wedding EVERY DAY.

    • abby_wan_kenobi

      This has been a big thing for my parents ever since they crossed over from “scrimping and saving” to “really comfortable”. Things they used to scoff at for the expense they’ll now splurge on. My mom often says things like “It’s worth $15 extra dollars to me to see the look on that self-employed woman’s face when I buy her product.”

      I tried to compare the gains and losses – would I rather get a massage on our honeymoon or another hour of photos of our reception? Would we have more fun with a dessert bar or welcome baskets for out-of-town guests. Where possible we tried to do the thing that would be the most fun or the least stress, though it helps that we were always making decisions within our set budget. We re-evaluated and raised our budget just once early on, and we raised it enough that all the extra $$ wasn’t already allocated. We had some room to make new decisions or upgrades.

  • Stephanie

    My advice is to include EVERYTHING in your budget. It was really powerful for my then-fiance and I to list out everything we would need to spend on related to the wedding, not just the ceremony and reception. We included things like the engagement ring, the wedding rings, our rehearsal dinner, our bachelor/ette parties, our flights to Texas for a shower, the day after brunch, the hotel rooms we paid for our bridal party and grandparents, the honeymoon, thank you gifts to our parents for after the wedding, our photo album, name change fees, etc. Including all those things certainly made our final number bigger than we wanted to see, but not accounting for those costs at the beginning of planning would have led to more trouble in the end when costs we hadn’t discussed together popped up.

    Many of the budgets I see in wedding magazines or blogs are basically just talking about the cost of a reception, which, at least for us, was only a small part of our total wedding-related costs.

    • Absolutely yes to this. We almost didn’t get to go on a honeymoon because we simply hadn’t included it in the budget. We ended up registering for our honeymoon, which helped, but there was a time when I thought we wouldn’t get to go on a honeymoon, and I was so disappointed. Plan ahead.

    • Marina

      Yes! We got our clothes custom-made by a designer in Seattle, about a 350 mile round trip drive from where we live. Gas costs for driving to the fittings were a wedding-related expense–not including them in the budget wouldn’t have made them disappear.

  • We spent roughly $28,000 for our January wedding in Boca Raton. That did not include our honeymoon or my ring. We paid for our wedding with the assistance of my parents. Money was a difficult subject to initially approach; when we first got engaged my mom said, “We’re so happy you’re getting married, but it is not a good time to pay for a wedding.” So we figured out what we had to have, who had to be there, and then where we could save (and save a lot). Ultimately my parents were able to contribute and that made a huge difference. The other difference was knowing very seriously what we could spend, tracking it on a spreadsheet (I lived and planned via Excel), and steeling myself to negotiate. Mazel on the book!

  • I already sent over a quick e-mail on our roughly $4,800 budget for a wedding at the Chicago Cultural Center in downtown Chicago. It was basically a civil ceremony and our 22 attendees got treated to a sweet luncheon at the Italian Village, a Chicago classic.

    I couldn’t agree more with the person above who said to focus on what is most important to you. For us that was a memorable honeymoon (we spent about $8,000 to do a Mediteranean cruise, obviously not listed in the budget above), a great dress for me and a nice suit for the husband, getting to hand make fun invitations, and having our immediate family there to see the ceremony. We got all of that and it was an amazing time! I remember sitting at lunch seeing the 22 people in the world who love us most sitting there with us and I was almost in tears. At the end of the day it didn’t matter that we didn’t have favors, real flowers or any of the other things we’re told you should have. Before we knew it we were on a plane to Barcelona to start our honeymoon and the rest of our lives… and we were married….and it was fantastic!

    • The Chicago Cultural Center is absolutely gorgeous. What an amazing place to get hitched!

  • Here’s something I learned along the way. If you have a broken family and lots of different people are helping pay, try to avoid giving numbers to anybody. My dad loves to compete with my mother, so when it came to wedding financing he wanted to budget his contribution based on what my mother would contribute (yeah, they’re *those* people). I kindly refused to let either one know what the other was contributing because it seemed unfair that their weird relationship should dictate their level of generosity. Money frequently means power and politics when it comes to weddings and inevitably you’ll end up in the middle, but you don’t have to answer to anyone’s pissing competition if you don’t want to.

    Now, of course not all separated families operate this way. But if you know you have fragile egos in the room, keep in mind that $$ is usually very closely associated with self-worth, so the less anyone knows, the better.

    Luckily, if you’ve been dealing with your crazy parents forever, you probably already know how to handle this situation.

    • Chelsea

      “But if you know you have fragile egos in the room, keep in mind that $$ is usually very closely associated with self-worth, so the less anyone knows, the better.”

      Um, yes. Not to get too down on my MIL (she’s great, really), but she was very into giving the appearance that she paid for things when she didn’t. So when she wanted to act like the “host” at the rehearsal dinner because “that’s the groom’s family’s job,” I just let her even though my FIL paid for it. not her. But I did draw the line at letting her dictate the guest list.

    • oh my yes. thank you!

  • Ahhhh, the budget. My arch-nemesis.

    The best thing I learned about money? Saving money is amazing and fun, and debt really, really sucks.

    My parents and my husband and I paid for the wedding. We sat down and sketched out a game plan. They would pay half- the first half, mostly, paying for everything that would crop up as we went (deposits, invitations, etc). We would save-save-save our little butts off, and at the end of the year, we’d pay the second half. This is basically what happened, with a little credit card debt thrown in for good measure.

    Don’t do what we did, chickadees. I hate our credit card right now. That was some bad budgeting on our part, and some bad luck. My mom lost her job about six months out from the wedding, and our little “cushion” or “slush fund” that we’d talked about for months had vanished. Hence the credit card debt. Looking back, I’d make some changes (definitely our baby-family budget, possibly our photographer, possibly our menu, possibly our guest list), because as much as I ADORED our wedding, the fallout we’re dealing with now is frustrating. I was practical and reasonable and fiscally responsible… and still got stuck with money issues. Go figure.

    However, we were lucky that we didn’t have any big family drama about money. My parents never threw a fit even though they paid for half, which was amazing. We’d given them (and my in-laws) the opportunity to tell us their Big Important Issues (“get married by your childhood minister!”), so they felt like their voices had been heard. We couldn’t necessarily do all of it, but by asking and talking to them about it, they felt satisfied.

    • abby_wan_kenobi

      This is really good advice. We waited to formally get engaged until we were ready for the wedding financially. Our budget didn’t include anything that wasn’t already in the bank, and that money set aside for the wedding. We credit-carded everything (for points!!) but we were able to pay the bill every month. This was amazing and meant that we were never stressed about where the money would come from, plus we didn’t accidently do anything we couldn’t afford. Same story for the money my parents contributed.

      • We knew we could save a significant amount of money in one year (yay for PhD stipends we didn’t have before!), but misjudging our “slush fund” and my parents financial support is what put us in trouble. Thankfully, we didn’t get too crazy with our credit cards, and our tax refund this year is helping immensely, but it’s still a lesson that I’m happy to pass along. :)

    • ka

      This excellent advice. I know credit card debt is frustrating–I once had thousands–but I’d like to blast some shame lady!! It sounds like you guys sat down and came up with a responsible plan and then shit happened. Well, shit happens. And you can’t predict or plan for every single possibility–believe me this is coming from someone who tries incredibly hard to do it anyway! You WERE practical and reasonable, so give yourself some credit for it. You will get it all paid off, and that will feel like an accomplishment in its own way. And also, if you want to feel better about your financial situation, I highly recommend the show “Till Debt do Us Part” on CNBC (?) where couples cluelessly spend thousands more than they make each month on random crap and make you want to scream and throw things at the TV.

      And now I’m off to comment on your lovely grad post. :)

      • Oh, wow, THANK YOU for the shame blasting!! I didn’t realize how much I needed that. Incurring debt for the wedding is a HUGE no-no, and I was a little ashamed to talk about it. But you’re right– we slipped up and shit happened, but we have such an Awesome Game Plan right now, and we’re both working at it.

        Thanks for the TV suggestion… I love watching shows like that; where in comparison, your problems seem so much easier. It’s a guilty pleasure, but it will help with my (irrational) anxiety and shame.

        You’re the best– thanks!!

    • Chloe

      ” We’d given them (and my in-laws) the opportunity to tell us their Big Important Issues (“get married by your childhood minister!”), so they felt like their voices had been heard. We couldn’t necessarily do all of it, but by asking and talking to them about it, they felt satisfied.”

      THIS is BRILLIANT. Why didn’t I think of that?
      (Maybe because they would have said something I didn’t want to hear?)

      • Thank you!! It really saved us. They got to think it over and picked what was Really Important, and we either accommodated them, or talked about it. We couldn’t get married at my childhood church, which was my Dad’s Big Thing, so we talked about it. I talked about how I WISHED we could have done it there (it was a scheduling/timing issue), and we let go of that idea together. He didn’t mention it again, and it wasn’t a problem. It gives one big opportunity to get things out in the open, and then you can wrap it up and move on, without people being passive aggressive or holding grudges.

  • Oh, also, one of the most important thing I learned was this:

    It defeats the purpose of not putting any of your wedding expenses on credit cards if you pay for your wedding in cash, but live off of credit cards while saving up for the wedding. Don’t play the shell game with yourself. :)

    • What, Maddie, are you reading my mind? Did you follow us for the last three months of our engagement??

      SIGH. Don’t, don’t, DON’T do this, chickadees! Even if your tax refund is coming to the rescue like ours is!!

    • Amy

      Ugh, hated the pre-wedding debt accumulated this way. Such good advice!

    • We are definitely of the mind set that anything that needs to be paid for, either in life or for the wedding should be paid in “cash.” It’s waaaaay too easier to fall into the trap that we can put just one thing on a credit card to be paid off later, which turns into everything can go on the credit card to be paid off later. Paying each bill as its due keeps us accountable for spending only what we absolutely need and/or hold dear.

  • Elissa

    I emailed but I’ll answer those questions here.

    I learned that money sucks. My parents had paid for my college tuition so they did not want to pay for a wedding. That was cool.. I was fine with it. So Walt and I had to figure out the budget on our own. Being organized was important. I made a spreadsheet of estimated costs and updated it when things were paid for. If we wanted something, we’d have to readjust the budget and remove extraneous things that didn’t make fiscal sense. Sooo many ideas were dropped because of this, but in a way, it was a good thing because we ended up with a very distilled, very-Elissa-and-very-Walt wedding, where all of the items present were important to us, and what wasn’t there wasn’t missed (too much).

    We looked at how much we could each save (realistically) every month from our paychecks for the wedding, taking out rent/groceries/other bills, and put that aside. Even then, we were both kind of on the poor side so our budget was pretty tiny for an Austin, TX wedding.

    I’d advise people to stay organized when it comes to the budget. (I was in charge of the spreadsheet.) I also waited at least a month on every purchase we made to make sure that we weren’t being rash about our decision to buy it. In the end, we wasted maybe $80 on decorations that we didn’t use. We didn’t go into debt and we still had a rockin’ wedding that 115 people enjoyed.

  • Oh, and on the money front. We paid. My mom helped fund my dress (because she offered to after the fact, not before it was purchased). We never even considered asking for help from any of our parents. It worked out perfect for us because we didn’t want to really have to worry about what anyone else had to say. It was our wedding and we were going to do it our way. I always figured if you got “help” from parents, you’d have to justify how much things costed, or why you were making the choices you were and we didn’t want to go there. Maybe that makes us selfish, but I’m fine with that. :)

    Various parents did give us generous amounts of money for gifts, which we used to pay off credit card debt we had before the wedding (not from the wedding) and to purchase a few things for our home. I’m happy to say that we 100% paid for the wedding and the honeymoon ourselves and paid it off without paying a dime of interest… which is an awesome way to start a marriage!

  • Amy

    We don’t really have a budget. By that I mean, we don’t have an infinite supply of money and spending money all willy nilly. But we set an approximate amount where we feel comfortable and are shooting for a ballpark. We focused on spending what we could afford on things that are important to us, cutting back or out things that don’t matter to us, and not really keeping track of the rest. As long as we don’t buy things we don’t give two peeps about and aren’t crying about our financial statements we feel comfortable and happy. So maybe it’s just a really lazy budget where we kind of know what we’re spending but don’t track the actual amount.

    Our parents seem to have a hard time with our organizational methods for the wedding in general, so they just sort of jumped in and claimed certain things they wanted to cover. As far as parental participation in the budget, I just wish I had some tips or advice on how to let people spend their money the way they felt. I have SUCH a hard time spending money that I was the one trying to talk my parents out of spending anything. It was probably annoying to them, so I think it’s important to remember that you have to allow people to spend what they are comfortable spending both ways, either more or less, than what you can/want/wish, etc.

  • Amanda

    Oh oh OH! I am super excited about this post! It had kind of been assumed by both of us that we would be funding our own wedding. Never for a second did we plan on asking the ‘rents to fund it, although they did offer up some assistance. So, with that said, of course we were in budget mode right off the bat. And PS-the secret to funding your own wedding with zero savings and living paycheck to paycheck?? Buy a house and wait for the big fat tax refund that comes along with it!! Not that first time homebuyers credit crap that only certain people get if they bought a certain year. The actual tax refund itself. THAT, my friends, was our budget! Coupled with my hubbys annual bonus check, which-another secret-we claimed EXEMPT on–our total came to a whopping $7000. Woot! The best thing we learned about money? How to find badass deals! Once we would find something we liked, we dug and dug til we found it a little cheaper and a little cheaper. Fake rose petals on Ebay 99 cents, HIS wedding ring on Ebay (the only one we could find anywhere with the pattern we liked in the metal he wanted) $39, Videographer on Craigslist for $500, Photographer on Craigslist for $100 an hour (who now charges minimum 5 GRAND now!), had 5 groomsmen and BM’s instead of 4 so we could get our tux for free, and it goes on. I learned how to be creative in other ways besides the DIY kind of creative. And I took huge risks, obviously, but made a point to contact past clients for advice and read reviews galore on all items. The best thing about funding our own wedding? Making our own decisions and not having to consult ANYONE! Yayaaahhh!! The worst thing about funding our own wedding? No budget for honeymoon. But itll come later. We were mentally prepared for it. We had a ball planning the wedding, made a budget, made a checklist and went to town. My advice is, as hard as it is for some people, DONT STRESS. Like this website always reminds us, its NOT about the production, its about the union. Have fun with it. Its a par-tay! And the ONE day you will have ALL (hopefully) of the most important people in your life under ONE roof. How cool is THAT?!

    • Amanda

      Oh and BTW, my wedding was in Sacramento, CA on the Delta King. Awwww :))

  • Our wedding was the first time my divorced parents were going to be in the same place at the same time since the divorce papers were finalized seven years earlier. Needless to say that brought up a lot of anxiety. Budget-wise, it meant I was having to negotiate how to get my dad to pay his fair share (he has a much larger income) and making sure my mom did not take on too much – they generously paid for the whole thing, minus the costs for our invitations, table numbers/guestbooks, etc that we DIT’d.

    I had originally hoped that my dad would pay for anything with an invoice (venue, food, booze, cake, flowers) because I knew my mom would end up paying for things by default since she was an integral part of the planning process. In the end, it didn’t work that way. Dad paid for the venue (minus the membership fee which mom paid and gave us a huge discount), food and booze and mom paid for everything else.

    This negotiation (and knowing that my mom would end up paying for more than I wanted her to) is what made our wedding have a strict budget. I chose based on what I knew my mom could afford just in case she ended up paying for it. I ended up enlisting the wedding planner (who was included in our venue and was AMAZING) to simply call my dad to get his credit card when we finalized the menu and to discuss booze with him exclusively. He ended up buying way more than we needed and telling everyone he paid for way more than he did, but I felt I had done as well as I could protecting my mom’s finances while still fulfilling her need to feel as though she had provided for a union she was so excited to be a part of (dress, flowers, cake, decorations, etc…she did more than her fair share!).

    My only regret is that I caved in letting my dad have a first dance and give a toast, since he wouldn’t be walking me down the aisle. My mom said she didn’t want to give a toast so I think that that public role made guests who didn’t know any better think my dad had paid for the whole thing.

  • keely

    Our wedding is this summer, so it’s not fully paid-for yet, but my manfriend and I were planning to pay for it ourselves. When we told his dad and stepmother that, they were like, are you kidding me? They insisted that they were paying for it. I’m the kind of person who feels INCREDIBLY guilty accepting help from other people, so it’s been hard for me to accept that they are throwing a bunch of money at this day. I remember sitting in the car with manfriend’s stepmother as we went over an estimate for rentals that seemed positively astronomical to me. I said something to the effect of “oh god, this is going to cost so. much. money” for about the millionth time in the planning process. She threw the estimate paperwork on the dashboard and looked me square in the eye. “I make a damn good living,” she said, “and I WANT to do this.”

    It really surprised me to see that– I hadn’t considered that this was something that she felt like she really *wanted* to do, not just *was able* to do.

    • Ali

      That’s so awesome and so sweet!!! You’re a lucky bride-to-be!

    • Ha, I feel the same way about the gift/funding from my parents (“What?? I can’t just accept this! I have to protest! Or something!”).

      My fiance has been really good at keeping me grounded, and always puts it like this: If I were in a position to make a really generous financial gesture to help someone I loved, would I want them to feel guilty? Of course not!

      Somehow it’s always harder to remember that when you’re on the receiving end though. It’s funny how navigating money and family are tricky enough on their own… navigating them simultaneously is seriously difficult!

      • This. My husband’s parents are veeeerrrrry well off. Mine are comfortable, but not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve really had to learn in my marriage to be gracious and grateful when his parents give us things that I find extravagant – realizing that it’s not a power play but rather the way they are used to showing love and blessing those around them.

  • My husband and I paid for our wedding ourselves. But we also both paid for college ourselves, our first home ourselves, our cars ourselves….you get the point. The way we dealt with paying for our wedding was the same way we deal with paying for everything else in our life: we had the very best wedding WE could afford…on our own!

    (Also: we’re 35 and 36 years old. We have good jobs. I mean, having our parents pay for it — really? We did accept gifts from our parents, which in reality amounted to less than 10% of the total bill, but it was with the understanding on all sides that it was strictly a wedding gift, not an expectation.)


    Budget advice! Nothing earth shattering here, but:

    -Before even setting a budget, do some research about what things cost. If you want a sit-down, 5-course meal with a full bar and live band, you’re going to be disappointed when that doesn’t fit into your $10K budget.

    – Prioritize expenditures….what’s important to you and your spouse? (Aside: please include your spouse, it’s his/her wedding too!)

    – Actually do the work to make the wedding happen. Turning your wedding planning over to someone else — whether it’s a family member or professional — ALWAYS comes with a price tag…and sometimes that price tag is an emotional one!

    – Discover and then use the resources available to you. My friend is a graphic designer, my brother is a chef, and my mom is a floral designer, so I was lucky to have that kind of talent available to me. I’m sure you know people, too. Use them!

    – Word of mouth! Post requests for vendor recommendations on the social media channel of your choice. It really is all about who you know. You’ll get the best prices and service if you establish a connection.

    – Pay for things over time, if you can. This really helped us in being stuck with huge bills post-wedding. We worked out multiple payment plans with our larger vendors and then would do a Costco trip one month, a craft store trip the next, and so on…

    – Take your honeymoon months later to avoid that added expense.

    – And this was the best advice I got: People don’t remember the food or the drink or the flower arrangements, they remember how you made them FEEL. You don’t have to be ultra crafty and creative or ultra rich to have an awesome, meaningful wedding. People remember authenticity, personality and LOVE above all. That;s what you will remember about your wedding too!

  • Cydney

    Kate and I will be getting hitched in May, so wedding budget is ALL we are talking about right now. Since we’re having a destination wedding, we did semi-unconventional things (like spending a gajillion dollars on our venue because it doubles as lodging for 20 of our nearest and dearest) that meant we would have the wedding of our dreams – with the folks that make all our dreams come true. I’d be happy to send along our spreadsheet if you’d like. It’d be nice to let other brides know that destination weddings don’t have to be at an all-inclusive in Mexico (although gosh, those are nice, too!) but can be at an old country house in Cape Cod, too!

  • Anna

    My parents and his parents paid for my (first) wedding. And that was a disaster, in our case, because the parents (especially his) had a lot of influence over the decision-making process. The wedding we ended up with was completely the opposite of what I wanted. I wanted a small wedding on a small budget with just close family and friends, and a civil ceremony. We had a large wedding, a Jewish ceremony (in Hebrew, so I didn’t understand it at all), and half of NYC was invited. Oh, and it was $28,000 and in Brooklyn, NY. As far as I’m concerned, it was a complete waste of money (although it was a fun party, so that was good).

    (Because that marriage did not work out,) whenever my second wedding happens, I’ve already decided that it will be financed by me and my fiance and that way we get to make all the decisions ourselves.

    Oh, and I’ve been following this blog for a few months, this is my first comment, and I just want to say that Meg, this is awesome! Thank you so much for writing! And I am looking forward to the book.

  • KB

    If at all possible, don’t plan to go right up to your maximum budget. It’s not unusual for people to go over budget for many reasons, and if you have a little bit of a cushion you can deal with things as they come. You never know what you’ll fall in love with or what you’ll want to throw money at later in the game, just for peace of mind.

    Also, budgeting is not a competition. We didn’t hit our targeted (and somewhat arbitrary) budget number and I beat myself up a little bit, as if I were getting graded and had failed. I liken it to no one knowing the size that’s on the label of your dress… why squeeze into a 10 when you can breathe easier in a 12?

  • m

    I was surprised that some people still believe the bride’s side should cover most of the wedding cost. I kinda thought we had moved into a time when its about ability and desire to help. Well ok, I knew some people still think that, but my fiance’s parents are very liberal and open minded, so I didn’t expect it of them. But we found out we were wrong when we asked them if they would be willing to help out.

    • Amy

      The greatest gift my husband’s parents gave us was a sizable, but much smaller chunk of money than my parents contributed but to be spent however we wanted. Without strings, without whining, without guilt. Seriously, I was so so grateful to them.

    • Courtney

      It’s interesting you should bring up “bride’s side pays” tradition because my guy’s family cultural tradition is groom’s family foots the bill. It’s been a little tough balancing the different cultural norms between our families. Family money=shared money in his parents’ culture.
      The socioeconomic differences between our families are another matter entirely. I know that I shouldn’t, but I can’t help but feel *shame* for having a $60k budget. I’ve cried and struggled with it a lot during the planning. I’m so grateful, but I don’t want to tell people because I feel dirty. It’s not my money, and I feel like the pride of saying, “I paid for my own wedding” has been stripped away (as someone who always took pride in being an independent, self-supporting adult).

      • Sarah

        “I know that I shouldn’t, but I can’t help but feel *shame* for having a $60k budget. I’ve cried and struggled with it a lot during the planning. I’m so grateful, but I don’t want to tell people because I feel dirty.”

        Yeah, can we talk about that? Our parents are paying for the whole thing and splitting costs based on percentage of guests (which, while not $60k, is certainly not a small number). While we’re happy and willing to contribute, my father made it clear from the beginning that he does NOT want us paying for anything. He’d rather we save our money for a house and post-grad school life. I’m hugely grateful to all our parents but, as someone not paying for the wedding, I feel like I need to ashamedly cover up the fact whenever budget discussions arise online.

        • bts

          Ok, stop with the shame!

          I mean, yes, it makes sense to be sensitive around other people who have smaller budgets and not bragging about having the finest imported spun gold napkins or whatever. Your parents are uncommonly generous, and that is a *good* thing! (Assuming they can afford it and are not going into debt or tapping into retirement savings for it.)

          I think it is totally helpful to have people representing what a $60k wedding looks like, because honestly, I think many people just don’t know. Because it probably doesn’t actually buy the spun gold napkins, even if it does buy, say, top shelf alcohol a three course dinner and a kickass fancy cake for 300 people along with a good photographer and photog assistant and a string quartet for the ceremony and a live band for the reception and a nice venue and pretty flowers and some nice clothes.

          (Also, since you are so fortunate, you might think about earmarking some amount of your own money for a favorite charity. That way you can share your good fortune with others who need it.)

          • Anon

            I actually totally agree that it would be helpful to show a higher budget, for exactly the reasons BTS raised. Based on my planning experiences so far, in my area of the country (SF area), at least at the types of venues we researched (wineries, etc.), it might be a struggle even at $60K to cover “say, top shelf alcohol a three course dinner and a kickass fancy cake for 300 people along with…” everything else BTS lists. (That big guest list and live band are really killers!) I think that’s really valuable information, because it means that some of the weddings I’ve been to, or have seen in magazines, must easily be breaking $100K, and having that information would let me just let go of some aspects of those events. By understanding how much it really costs to put on an event that we see in a glossy magazine or a shiny blog, it would help us understand whether it’s even a bit realistic to measure our own plans against that image. (Of course, the urge to measure our own plans against that image is a whole ‘nother topic of conversation, but that’s for another day!)

    • Yes, definitely discuss who is paying for what with everyone involved!

      My FMIL assumed she would be in charge of the rehearsal dinner since that’s the “tradition”, which will most likely be less than what my mother and FFIL are contributing to the wedding, so I think now she might want to give us more money but we don’t know yet. It gets confusing for everyone. We hoped for a “tell us what you want to give (we expect nothing) and then write us a check and we’ll keep things in budget” but some people do want to carry out the “traditions” and/or know exactly which things they are paying for.

      • m

        We are having the same experience. We assumed they would give us the set $ they said (towards the reception) but then my future MIL started asking us where we wanted to have the rehearsal dinner (which we have been planning on paying for with what’s left in the wedding budget). Now we don’t know wether its on top of the $ or out of it.

        We would be very happy if they were offering to pay for it above what they offered for the reception, but if not we would rather plan it ourselves. Its getting awkward. I have been begging my fiance for weeks to straight up ask what is going on, as I feel extremely uncomfortable every time she asks me if I have any ideas. hehe anyway, nice to know someone else is dealing with the same thing.

  • Laura

    My wedding hasn’t happened yet, but almost everything is reserved/has a deposit. We’re looking at $7k – $8k in Austin, TX (not including e-ring and honeymoon). Having a Monday morning brunch got me my venue for about 90% off, bulk flowers online from Costco for $250, awesome friend that designed invitations so I only had to pay for Kinko’s printing, amazingly talented pastry chef friend who’s doing my wedding cupcakes…we lucked out a lot and me and my Mom love to bargain hunt. Oh, and we got all the vases for the center pieces for $1 at Goodwill!

    Splurged a bit on the dress (although 70% off by buying off the rack) and photographer (15% off for getting married on a Monday).

    I’m a grad student, so I don’t have the capability of saving (the equivalent is trying not to take on additional student loans) and this is my fiance’s second wedding, so I didn’t feel comfortable asking his parents. My parents are footing most of this bill and I REALLY, REALLY didn’t want to have a wedding that would cause them financial hardship.

  • Nicole

    We are getting married in July in DC, and we have two budgets that we made when we first started this process. One, our low-end budget, was how much we thought each item should cost. The other, our high-end budget, was a combination of the average costs for each item in general, information we found in a wedding planning book, and an honest look at what is the MOST we could possibly pay for the wedding. Our goal is to stay between those two numbers, but much closer to the low end. We know we COULD go up to the high end if we need to for certain important things, but try not to.
    So our low-end budget is around 12k and our high end is around 23k. It’s looking like we will end up around 18k. A big chunk of that is our venue, which has on-site housing for our family and friends and which we rented for a whole weekend. A big splurge, but it was important for us to create a sense of community.
    I’m not sure what I’ve learned from the process yet since it’s not over, except that I am shocked at how much money we’ve been able to save in a short period of time. Part of that is paying on our student loans only minimally for the 1.5 years we are planning, which is a shame, but part of it is also just cutting out lots of unnecessary spending. I hope these habits stick w us after the wedding.
    When we first got engaged, we were total dorks and started out w a wedding mission statement. A big part of the mission was to not be saddled w more debt after it was over by paying for the whole thing w cash, and it looks like we’ll achieve that mission, which is awesome.

    • Laura Mc


      I am in the DC area and looking to get married in summer 2012. Just starting out in the planning process, so the first thing we are looking at are venues. Any suggestions? Where did you guys end up booking?

  • Our budget was in the $25,000 range, in a mid-size city (Pittsburgh) and we invited all our family. Guest list was around 275, but about 200 or so showed. The majority of our money went towards our guests – food, alcohol, and the venue itself. We had our reception at a hotel primarily because everyone was from out of town and it was pretty convenient. It may have cost more, but from a practical standpoint (planning from about 1,000 miles away), it was the right thing for us and so we threw our money at that. I used family friends who had businesses (a florist (my neighbor), the DJ (hub’s cousin), etc.) and I think that helped keep our numbers lower than they could have been.

    I know I could have spent less, but for us, having family be present (all 200 of them, including kids – we only invited a handful of very close friends) was the first priority. Because of this, a smaller wedding wasn’t an option. And while I’m sure our family would have been fine with hot dogs in a very large backyard, we wanted to feed them a good meal, in a nice location that was convenient for families even with little ones. We scrimped and saved for a year or so to make it happen and got some help from his (part of the food costs) and my parents (the dress and flowers).

    I wouldn’t change it now, looking back. We spent money the way we wanted and even though it cost more than we would have liked in an ideal world, for us, being able to see all of our family in one place to celebrate us starting our life together is something worth much more than what we spent.

  • I wish we had eloped or thrown a small backyard shindig rather than cave to the pressure of having his family pay for everything and, therefore, have things at our wedding like guests who were invited because they are business associates and had nothing to do with sharing in our joy. That was a yucky feeling.

  • Marina

    I think the advice I would give would be to trust your instincts. Wedding prices can be so inflated, and most of us have never planned a wedding before, so it can be easy to think, “$100 per person for a meal? Plus $50 to rent the plate that goes under it, and we still have to wash the plate before giving it back? Well, I guess that’s just what the price is.” Your budget should fit YOUR values, not just what the WIC thinks your values are. If $150 sounds like a nice meal to you, go for it. If in your normal life you refuse to pay more than $20 at a restaurant, it’s worth it to figure out a way to stick with that value at your wedding.

    For me, the most terrifying part of my budget was photography. My initial research showed me that to get a good photographer in Portland, OR, it would cost at least $5000, and for the photographers that I really loved it was more like $10,000. And EVERYONE SAID that photography was the most important thing to shell out for, and the more I looked into it, the more I realized that was a very reasonable price for the equipment and work good wedding photographers put into their art. But I had never paid $5000 for art before. I had never considered paying $5000 for art before. And ultimately my husband and I decided that what fit with our values, the values we’d been living with and not just our wedding values, was to trust our gut assessment of how much we really felt comfortable spending. We relied on our amateur photographer friends to take photos. And yes, sometimes I feel jealous of other people’s gorgeous wedding photography, the same way I sometimes feel jealous of other people’s nice cars. But I have never, ever doubted that it was the right decision.

    So my advice: Take the wedding out of it–you don’t have to change your values because it’s a wedding. You know what’s important to you in every day life. And it goes both ways. Maybe like me you feel deeply uncomfortable with spending money on anything transient. Maybe you love seizing every opportunity possible to live in the lap of luxury. But don’t feel like you have to spend what feels like too much because it’s a wedding, and don’t feel like you have to have a “budget wedding” or you’ll be kicked out of some mythical club. Trust yourself.

    • alyssa

      wow, i love the analogy to the cars! totally clicks. I often look at people with nicer cars and start daydreaming, but quickly realize that I don’t want to be car-poor for something that gets me from here to there. Similarly, not having every fancy wedding-related item wont mean I can’t get where I’m going!

  • Anonymous for this

    The hardest thing for me was the fact that my in-laws did not offer to do a thing for the wedding. They don’t have a lot of money, so I had figured that if they offered to host a rehearsal dinner I would suggest something like home bbq’d hamburgers or pizza – something cheap and easy (and tasty!). We were having a small wedding, so the rehearsal dinner would have been 10 people, max, including my parents. But…they didn’t offer anything. Zip. Not time, not money, nothing. When another of my husband’s family members had a very specific dietary need, we got lots of “how are you going to handle this” type emails and phone calls with no suggestions and no offers of help. It was just really, really frustrating.

    It was really hard for me to let go of that. I don’t expect extravagant gifts from people, and I’m not spoiled. We paid for 75% of the wedding ourselves, my parents chipping in the other 25%. So it wasn’t a money issue, necessarily, it’s just that I felt that their complete lack of interest in the wedding meant a lack of interest in me as a daughter-in-law and us as a couple. I know that sounds petty and stupid, but there you go. And, like I say, it wasn’t just a money issue. If my in laws had said “let me know if you need help with anytihing” or shown any interest in our wedding plans (besides laughing about where we were getting married), it would have made a HUGE difference. So, I guess it’s really not about money. Anyway, I took it pretty personally for a while. But, everything turned out ok – we turned what is usually the rehearsal dinner into a thank you dinner for the people who did help us, and that was awesome (and we paid for it ourselves :) )

  • One of the biggest things I learned was – if the parents put money towards the wedding, they get some stake in it too. Let them choose what they want to pay for, and give them guidance for what you’d like, but you’ve just given up some freedom by accepting that money from them. If you want complete control, pay for it 100%. Or quit your bitching. The second biggest thing was knowing that there were some things that were worth paying for (Wisconsin microbrewery beer! tiny Michigan winery wine! my dress!) and some that are not (real flowers! centerpieces! jewelry!). Now, those worth it / not worth it lists are different for everyone, but you should lay out what’s important / worth splurging on when doing your budgeting.

    Oh, and also – I found that having a set-in-stone budget was just too stressful for me. We both had good jobs and generous parents, so we just spent wisely. Yes, we went over our original budget, but we were less stressed and generally happier about the entire experience for it. And that was worth the few extra thousand we threw at various vendors.

    • And I’m not going to lie – I have no real idea of how much the wedding cost us. I realize that’s a luxury most people can’t afford, but in order to not get into fits about it, I just said – do we have the money for this? Yes? Okay, then we’re still safe. I know we spent more than our original $10,000 budget (hell, the alcohol was half that!), but beyond that? For my sanity, I don’t even want to know.

  • RachelLyn

    O man. Money. It makes my gentleman of choice and myself very anxious in our own special ways, so talking about it is FUN. We walked into a wedding with the following situation: I am broke while my partner brings home the bacon (we aren’t combining moneys till the Big Day) and my folks are struggling while his folks have plenty of funds.

    We have divided costs by what is fair. I am so grateful that my parents wanted to help pay, but it was not fair for my parents to scrimp and save and not take a vacation to pay for my wedding when neither his parents nor us would have to do the same. It was not fair for me to shoulder crippling expenses when the same things would be meaningless costs to my fiance.

    In the end, his parents are paying for much of the reception – the food, venue, and booze, while my parents are hosting a home cooked rehearsal dinner and helping out by being on the ground (planning a destination wedding on Cape Cod!). While my fella is paying the bulk of the other costs, I am picking up most of the decorating expenses (and DIYing the heck out of it) so I feel more empowered in making those decisions. Those of us without cash to spend are more than making up for it in our own hard work, which, let us not forget has value too.

    We are getting married in June, so we’ll see how the budget will come out, but we are spending just under $20k right now, including everything and everyone’s contributions. I am actually hoping to come in under budget. Seriously.

    The wedding has become a great way for us to begin the larger conversation about finances for our marriage. We have created and kept a budget together. We have learned to be more comfortable talking to each other about money, even if we had to make mistakes first. We are getting used to thinking about *our money* rather than *his and my money*. This stuff is hard, but I think that the wedding has forced us to look at it, talk about it and find ways to deal with our anxieties over it.

    And Google Docs. O god yes, Google Docs.

    • I really like the idea of dividing up the responsibilities like that (reception, rehearsal dinner, decorations, etc.). That way, everybody can own their piece a little more and focus on making it the best it can be.

      It sounds so much less stressful than say, just putting everybody’s contributions in one big pot… but then feeling like everybody has to be consulted on every decision, and then does a bigger contribution mean your opinion carries more weight and just AGH.

      Good luck on the combining finances journey too… we’ve been on that journey for a while now, and I don’t know if things are going to change at all after the wedding. We’ll see.

  • G

    I’d love to see in your book a breakdown of what to include when calculating wedding costs, so we’re comparing apples to apples. Does it include the rehearsal dinner? Brunch the next day? Immediate family dinner on Thursday? Honeymoon? Hotel? Dress? Rings? Hair and makeup? Sales tax?

    For example: my dress. I paid $850 for a designer dress that I got on uber-sale as a sample at a small boutique. The dress itself was less than half of what I budgeted, but I need to get it cleaned and altered. So did I pay $850 for the dress? Or will I pay an estimated $850 + $400(cleaning) + $400(alterations) + $120(tax) = $1,770 for my dress?

    To me, I’m paying $1,770 for my dress, which still brings it in under my $2,000 allotted amount. It sounds like a no-brainer but many people don’t include everything — that shell game with yourself. As a result our $25,000 budget seems like a lot to some people. But in talking to friends we realized we’re spending less on the actual dress, ceremony, flowers than many do. Our big expense? We are paying for more events for guests over the weekend. Many guests are coming from far away, will spend a few days here and we want to spend more time with them. We are including that in our overall cost. Not everyone does.

    Also — we are paying for everything with cash. No debt.

    • abby_wan_kenobi

      I totally agree with this. In our official wedding budget we included all the travel and beauty expenses for my MOH (my sister) and my mom – they travelled out of state for parties and since my sister was still being supported by our parents, they paid for her dress and other wedding-related expenses. Since they also paid for the lion’s share of our wedding I insisted that we included their personal expenses in the budget. I didn’t want them dropping thousands on The Wedding and then paying another $4K “off the books” for dad’s tux, mom and sis’s dresses, hair, etc and plane tix for everyone.

      We did not, however, include all the honeymoon costs. Husband and I paid for the honeymoon ourselves and it was too confusing to include the stuff we were paying for in the same budget as joint expenses.

    • meg

      As far as I’m concerned their is no “what to include.” I realized when I was planning the wedding that you can end up with a lot of internal pressure about “what your wedding budget is.” Until I realized, OH YEAH, I’m not publishing my wedding budget anywhere so who cares! I can include and not include whatever I want. Freedom!!

      I will give budget breakdowns in the book though, and they won’t count honeymoons (as far as I’m concerned that’s a totally different set of decisions.)

    • Kendra

      I just want to quickly reinforce this bit — SALES TAX. Easily forgotten at the beginning of budgeting. In Chicago proper, it’s 10.25%.

  • Stephanie

    My wedding isn’t for about 6 more weeks, but our budget is $25,000 (Canadian) for our wedding in Toronto. If you can wait 6 weeks for our final numbers I’d love to send them! My parents are paying for pretty much the whole thing. They gave us the total budget and it was up to us how to spend it. It worked really well for me because I almost feel more guilty spending other people’s money so I’ve been pretty good about keeping costs inline! We’ve kept them involved in all the choices and its worked really well.

    The biggest thing I’ve learned is that I place a high value on stress and time. For me, once we found a vendor or option we liked and that was in the budget, that was that. The time and effort to keep looking for a better deal wasn’t worth the possible savings.

  • april

    Our wedding was held in San Diego in the Fall and was a relatively small wedding (65 people). We did choose to splash out on some fancy stuff we just had to have (photographer, DJ, fancy food & booze / nice venue / 5* honeymoon).

    That said, when I think of what we spent (and I don’t often like to sit and mull it over), I’m equal parts nauseated and strangely relieved. While it’s numbing what the final amount was, we didn’t have money stress, didn’t have a strict budget and were very fortunate to have the kind of wedding we both wanted. AND we paid for the entire thing ourselves, had no debt afterward, and still managed to buy a house a year later. I’m high-fiving myself right after I type this…

    But I don’t want to ever look at those spreadsheets again. I just might barf. ;-)

  • My parents paid for nearly everything, and it meant I gave in on a lot of things. My mom thinks that weddings are competitive bloodsport for the grown-ups. I obviously think this is bunkum. But I think there was a certain kind of pleasure in giving in to my mom and letting her do what she wanted. If she wanted “blush and bashful” to be the colors of all the flowers, I wasn’t going to fight it. And that made her so haaappy, so it made me so happy.

    I did make a point of creating some boundaries for her mostly when her whims butted up against people I really care about, like my bridesmaids. I would not let her dictate what they wore. I would not let her insist they get their hair done. You get the idea.

    • abby_wan_kenobi

      Thank you so much for making a “blush and bashful” reference. That made my whole day.

      I agree with that though – there were certain things at my wedding that my mom thought were totally important and I thought were totally stupid. You have to pick your battles. As long as her thing wasn’t cutting into my budget for the stuff I cared about, I tried to let her have it, or at least have as much as we could afford. But if it was her thing, it was HER THING – she was totally in charge of it.

      Welcome baskets were the perfect example. She really wanted them, but over 60% of our 250 guest wedding was from out of town. I told her she could do them just for people invited to the rehearsal lunch – only 20 people. And then I never thought about it again. She made the decisions, bought the stuff, assembled the bags and distributed them. Weeks later one of my new brother’s-in-law brought up how much he loved the locally brewed beer in the welcome gifts. I was able to pass the compliment to mom, but I never stressed about those things *at all*.

  • Chelsea

    This isn’t really “budget” advice as much as money mindset advice, but…

    Think about what you’re getting for the money you’re spending. It sounds so obvious but it’s so easy to forget to do this in our pursuit of a good deal and staying within the budget. When I first saw the catering estimates I almost had a heart attack, until I realized that I was buying a delicious dinner for 120 people, so of course it wasn’t going to be cheap. Even if I took them to McDonalds it would have cost $1,000. Meanwhile, a limo didn’t seem too expensive until I realized that I’d spend a total of about 5 minutes in it and suddenly it became really easy money to cut.

  • ka

    Well, I can’t give any insight from the other side, but we are well on our way to pulling off a wedding in the ‘burbs of NYC for ~$12,000 cash this coming September. We are paying for this 100% on our own and only started saving in August of last year. We also make around $70k combined — working/living in and near NYC.

    What I’ve learned so far:
    1) A goal is a magical thing.
    I know it sounds hippy-dippy, but just writing down and verbalizing and being honest about what you need can achieve crazy things in terms of the universe bringing it to you. The husband-to-be and I hammered out the budget last fall because I insisted that if we knew what we needed we’d be able to find the money, however if we were just saving “as much as we can” we wouldn’t get very far. We had done this previously with some “large” (like $600 haha) purchases and it worked crazily well. Well, as soon as we put numbers on paper, both our freelance businesses picked up insanely and we literally had half the wedding saved for by December. Which brings me to #2:

    2) Like Verhext said, sometimes you learn that you need to make more money. If you can’t afford to pay for what you want in a wedding (or in life), the best thing you can do for yourself is find a way to make more. While staying sane and happy. Or *temporarily* insane and crazed. Both the boy and I know we want more in life than our right-now jobs (which in “times like these” are safe and comfortable), and the wedding has been a great kick in the pants to get us moving towards loftier goals in our professional lives.

    3) Being ruthlessly unconventional can help slash costs. Our venue is a non-profit historical home that has just begun hosting weddings: similar places in our area charge 4-5x a much, and we’re even working out a barter with them, so the rental fee could go down even more. Food will be an awesome vintage pizza truck including gelato (inspired by wedding grad Selina:, a couple of kegs of beer and cases of wine. We’re also doing DIY flowers and an ipod dj, and we’re not having an “official” bridal party or cake.

    4) You won’t know unless you ask–tactfully. It never hurts to ask if there’s a way to barter, or pay cash, or do something else to reduce the price a bit. But on the other hand, sometimes you should be groveling at the feet of vendors whose standard rate is a flipping steal and who should, and will, be charging 3x as much next year–like in the case of our photographer!

    For those who are trying to keep a tight grip on the purse strings, I also second the above advice of Heidi’s to have a “budget” and a “max budget” and Stephanie’s to include everything. Our budget was $10k, but I knew this would go up once we had saved enough to feel comfortable bumping it up, as it has. But I also know that this includes rings, and lodging, and other extras above and beyond the “party.”

  • One thing I’ve learned is there are two types of budgeting/saving/paying for the wedding. One is to save all the money up before hand, so you have a lump sum to work with — which requires a tighter tracking method to how much you are spending.

    The other is more of a cash flow way about things. You plan how much you’ll need at which points. For instance, we are saving up for our big expenses that need to be paid during the month of the wedding, but other expenses that come along as we go are based on what we can afford at that time. If we only have x amount of dollars available, our invites have to be x amount of dollars. We’ve paid less attention to the details of the budget, and more on what we can afford as we go along. Not everything gets recorded. We don’t have a set budget for each line item. If we can’t afford something, it gets bumped either off the list or to a later point when we’ll have money. It seems a bit haphazard, but it’s working really well for us. It also helps us prioritize exactly what we need and what we don’t need.

    • Ruth

      I agree with the importance of considering cash flow, assuming you’re planning on paying cash and not using the credit cards.

      We kept our money totally separate until we got engaged. At that point we opened up a joint checking account to use as the Wedding Account until we got married, and then it became our Life Account once we wed. We chose to contribute equal percentages of our income (not necessarily equal amounts) to the Wedding Account. Direct deposit is a beautiful thing. When either of us had a bit of a surplus, we’d deposit it into the Wedding Account. There were times (due to deposits, multiple vendors needing payment at the same time, etc.) that the balance on the Wedding Account got low, so we would have to move some cash from our personal accounts to the Wedding Account. Those weeks we simply had less to spend on life and we made do. Or, like you said, Ms. Bunny, sometimes we decided not to make a particular purchase because there just wasn’t enough in the bank.

      The best thing about having a totally separate Wedding Account is that it was so easy to track spending and keep a record of what payments had been made at any given point. There was just one place to look, which was a necessary element of simplicity during a time in my life when it felt like everything else was swirling and way too complicated.

  • Amy

    Meg, just curious, is $25k your upper limit budget? I ask because while I’d rather not get into it in the comments (I saw what happened to the higher budget brides the last time), I’d be happy to share our budget for our Saturday night NYC wedding. While higher than $25k, it definitely wasn’t outrageous for our area, the venue we used, or the very traditional Saturday night sit down affair we had.

    • meg

      Of course, send it along. I’m still figuring out what is going to make the most sense to use.

  • AKP

    I got married in San Francisco in September and spent around $28,000 all told, and that number still freaks me out. I never thought I would have so much to spend (because I’m severely indebted graduate student who has never made real money in my life), but I was lucky enough to have parents and in-laws who eager and able to contribute. However, having multiple contributors really is a double-edged sword (as many of you have already pointed out). From my experience, I learned that if you want it your way, you will have to pay in dollar terms and in relationship terms. When my husband and I told our families that we wanted a 50-person wedding, and that we would pay for it all, they just about all fainted. They wanted to contribute, and they wanted to throw a huge party for us, and to say no would have really hurt their feelings and added a lot of strife to our planning process (and how do you say no to your mom’s dream of throwing a big grand wedding celebration for her only child??). In my case, I was more willing to give up control over my vision in order to keep the peace, but every situation is different.

    I also learned that I am especially uncomfortable spending money on myself…which I really didn’t expect! It was much easier for me to shell out money for an open bar, a fantastic meal, and a great DJ to make sure that my guests had a blast than it was for me to spend money on my hair (did it myself), my make up (did it myself), my nails (who needs a manicurist?), my bouquet (did all of the flowers myself), my wedding photos (hired a family friend/photography student for basically free). It’s like saying it was “for my guests” made it justifiable in my eyes. Now looking back, I think the DJ was way overrated, and I think that I could have saved myself a lot of stress if I had reallocated some of the budget to taking care of things that really were important to me, but that I refused to recognize as valuable at the time.

  • I have never found it easy to talk about or spend money without feeling guilty. I work in the international development sector and spending my working hours thinking about poverty and sickness makes me want to sell everything I have and give away the money. But of course, living in Europe is not a cheap existence and things cost money, even more when it is related to a wedding.

    The hardest thing I had to learn was that some things were more important than not blowing my (small) budget. The only fight-with-tears I had with my mum (she is awesome) was over hiring serving staff for our afternoon tea party reception. I did not want to because all I could see was the figure I was going to have to add to the budget.

    I had to learn to lift my eyes from our budget spreadsheet and recognise that not spending this money would make the wedding reception stressful and hard work for my wonderful family, which was not what I wanted or they deserved.

    • Amy

      The other thing that I think is important to note, is that if you can afford it, budgeting for assistance can be so so worth it. Not everyone needs servers/coordinators/etc., but sometimes spending those extra few hundred dollars to make sure that someone else is setting up your venue/carting out trash/telling vendors where to go/etc. is so worth it

  • Willow

    Are you just seeking US budgets? I have the google spreadsheet of my (awesome) $10k wedding 2 weeks ago in Wellington, New Zealand. I would be happy to send it through for comparison!

  • Caroline

    Ours was 20,000 euros, which is kind of 25,000 dollars, but not sure if that really helps with all the funny conversions. Honeymoon & rings all in.

    We paid for half, and our parents contributed to make up the other half. Besides asking that a couple people were invited (most of whom didn’t come since it was an international wedding), our parents stayed out of the decision making completely. It was no strings attached, and we are really lucky for that. But they didn’t pay for specific things – they just gave us the money and we managed it. This way I didn’t feel like we were using someone else’s funds really – it just felt like we were managing the pool of money we collected, and were concious it was a group effort.

    The worst part for me was going from a thrifty mindset (I was unemployed when we starting planning) to throwing around what was, to us, huge amounts of money. And now, it’s kind of hard to stop!

    • abby_wan_kenobi

      The “pooled money” versus paying by item might be a good thing to talk about in the book.

      For our wedding we dumped all the cash into one account (one of my parents’ savings accounts) and my mom wrote all the checks. Husband and I made all the final spending decisions, albeit with a lot of guidance from our parents, but all the cash came from the same place and that worked really well for us. Especially because if my book-keeping slipped it was easy to check the balance.

      I’ve MOH-ed for a wedding that did the opposite. The bride’s mom paid for the food, her dad paid for the venue, the couple paid for the church and wardrobe, the groom’s parents paid for the booze and flowers, etc. etc. For that couple, dealing with divorced and remarried parents and their own semi-combined finances this worked well. They made a huge list of everything they might spend money and each contributer offered to pay for something. They worked out their own budgets and the couple made choices on each thing accordingly, then sent the bill to the paying party. Worked well for them, probably a more realistic option for couples with antagonistically divorced parents.

  • Rachel

    I don’t have time to read through all the comments at the moment (but I promise to come back later and read them all, because I’m sure they’re full of amazing wisdom!) so I apologize if I repeat what somebody else has already said, BUT here I go anyway.

    I’m not yet married, and formally, not yet engaged. I know on APW the general concensus is that if you and your partner have decided you’re getting married, you’re engaged, even if there hasn’t been a proposal, or a ring, or all that jazz, and I do agree, but we still won’t call ourselves engaged until we reach a certain milestone – and that milestone is having enough money in our savings account to pay for the wedding in full, in cash. This means that when we DO get formally engaged, and create a budget and set a date, we are making these plans with the full knowledge that the money is definitely there. There’s no speculation, no guesswork, no praying for a big tax refund, and no falling into the ‘a couple hundred more dollars on the credit card isn’t THAT bad’ trap. While you can totally save during your engagement and planning, and for most people this will go fine, there’s always that small chance that something could go wrong when working with money that technically doesn’t exist yet – someone could lose their job, a major unexpected expense could crop up (needing to replace an essential vehicle, crucial home repairs, an illness, etc) that drains your extra income that would normally go into savings, etc, etc, etc. By ensuring that we have all the money we’re going to need BEFORE we start planning, we can instead put any extra money we earn during wedding planning towards our future together, rather than towards the wedding.

    That being said, this is obviously not the right approach for everyone :) My partner and I are uber-savers, and relying on speculative money would be a huge unnecessary stressor for us, so this is the right approach for us. However for those who prefer save-as-they-go, that’s another totally legit approach!

    • Marina

      It sounds like you’ve done some of the planning, though, to know how much the wedding is going to cost, right? I don’t mean to nitpick, and correct me if I’m wrong, but for my own experience, I wasn’t able to put together a budget until most of the details (who, where, what are they eating, etc) were planned…

      • Rachel

        We definitely have an idea of the sort of feel we want, but the most important factor for us was having an understanding of how much we’re willing to spend on the wedding, and aiming to save that number. If we end up spending less than that, awesome! Extra money for our savings account, but spending more is non-negotiable – we know that the amount we’re saving is enough to cover an awesome meal, great music, and a beautiful outdoor location (with rain backups!) in our rurual area for the number of guests we want to have. So we don’t have a formal budget set up or any formal planning done yet, but we have decided on the max we can afford comfortably, and that amount is non-negotiable.

        Again, this is definitely not the approach for everyone, some people are more flexible on their bottom line, which I think is totally fine! (as long as you’re not going into debt – don’t do it!) But in our case, we have a number of other financial priorities for the next few years, such as saving for a downpayment on a house, and taking a wicked epic trip through South America, and those other financial priorities have helped us figure out how much we’re willing to spend on the wedding, and we’re not willing to go over that number, as it would be at the expense of our other financial priorities.

        I don’t know if that rambling response made sense, but I hope it did :)

  • We paid for it all ourselves.

    I learned that sometimes, money is just numbers on paper. If there was something that we really wanted, or felt that we needed to do, then we paid for it. No, I didn’t want to go above a certain amount, but that arbitrary amount became less important than what it paid for. Does that make sense? The stuff we paid (more than we thought we would) for, we felt good that we did so.

    I also learned that while flexibility with the budget is important — no really, it will save your sanity — we were both able to put our foot down when necessary. You want me to pay how much for that?? Nuh-uh, no way. And we felt good about that, too.

    • I agree. The important things rose to the top of our budget. We made sure that we had money for that stuff. Other, not-so-important things were purchased as we have money available or not at all. If we felt good about the vendor and service provided and had the available funds, that seemed like a much better way of spending our money than going by a fixed list of needs and budget amounts.

  • Natalie

    We planned a budget and stuck to it pretty well, with one exception — we forgot to plan for tipping vendors! So my advice is, don’t forget to factor in tipping; it can add up to more than you think. Also, because we were frantically scouring the interwebs at the last minute to try to figure out who and how much we were “supposed to” tip, we definitely went the SWAG route. Not ideal.

    • N

      I always get really nervous about tipping anywhere but at restaurants (I know how much to tip at restaurants, anywhere else I am lost), so I would LOVE a post about how to tip appropriately. Because otherwise I see SWAG-ing it in my future.

    • YES!!!! Especially since most tips were taken care of on the day of, in our case.

  • every time you mention this book I get so freaking excited all over again. but anyway.

    The biggest thing I learned during this process was regarding the relationships my partner and I have toward money, and how we differ in that. We were coming from two very different perspectives, and this process helped us come back from our extremes and meet more in the middle. I mean I knew he was a saver and I was a spender, but through the whole budget determining process we really got to understand each other better in that department. I won’t try to speak for how he learned from my way, but I definitely learned from the way he approaches money.

    Regarding family contributions… We did not bring this up with our families at all, we just started planning the wedding we could afford to pay for on our own (basically we determined how much money each of us could afford to set aside each month between engagement and marriage, and made that our budget). With my family, we didn’t bring it up because we knew there was no money to contribute. With his, we didn’t bring it up because we felt uncomfortable and just didn’t know how to bring it up (womp womp). Also I just generally have an “I can do it by myself!!” approach to basically everything, and just didn’t want to ask anyone. But then his parents came to us and said “We’d like to give you X amount for your honeymoon, and you can spend it all on the honeymoon or you can put some of it towards your wedding. Also we’re going to take care of the rehearsal dinner. If you don’t mind.” And then they went on to say that they had absolutely no interest in dictating anything about the way we planned the wedding. Of course we kept them in mind and consulted them on certain things anyway, but ultimately we had the final say on everything. which. I’m really thankful for.

    If you can give some ideas for ways to thank parents for their contributions, that would be awesome. OK I actually know this is a really personal thing and I just need to get more creative. But I just don’t feel like we’ve done enough to show our gratitude (for the wedding stuff but just in general), and since we share an anniversary now, and that anniversary is coming up fast, I just want to DO something, and I’m at a loss. ack! /rambling

    • To thank parents for contributions like that, I always lean toward experiences rather than presents. Take them out to dinner, write a thoughtful card detailing how much you appreciate their contribution, etc.. Honestly, if I was a parent I would want to hear how you feel rather than receive a tangible gift.

    • This is what we did to thank our parents: Two nights before the wedding we took our immediate families out to dinner . We found a restaurant that had a private dining room that they would allow us to book. We had presents for all that were thought out and not terribly expensive. And we thanked them. In person, repeatedly.

      Note: we had to give the credit card to the waiter ahead of time so there would be no sneaky parents paying.

      They were really touched.

      We still owe them wedding albums.

      You are already married, YAY, but you could plan a nice evening for both sets of parents (maybe even with a little wedding slideshow…) could be at your home or where ever.

      Also- I like to give our parents gift cards to a B&B (Bed and Breakfast dot com is amazing).

      • Amy

        Oh, a big yes to the wedding albums! Parent albums were part of our package, but we definitely would have paid for those as well if they weren’t. We also made sure that each of our parents got a copy of the wedding video as a thank you. I think they’ve watched it more than we have!

      • hoppy bunny

        I loooove this. Stealing it and tucking it into my budget.

    • Amy

      We did get our parents gifts as thank-you’s for the wedding, but they were of the personal nature. For my parents, I gifted them an after the wedding family photoshoot with just them and my brother and I, along with having a picture of their choosing framed. It was something my mom had wanted for ages, but never got around to doing. And since we already had a photographer we liked for the wedding, she was more than happy to make up a gift certificate for us to give my parents.
      For my husband’s parents, we paid for their hotel rooms and part of their airfare for them to join us on an overseas trip during a long weekend. It was a place they’d always wanted to go but never had been able to before. We paid for the hotel rooms using travel points so it wasn’t terribly pricey, but very much appreciated.

    • Karen P.

      We’re getting an album of photos professionally made for each of our parents, as a thank you, and so that they can remember the day and how happy it made us. (His parents aren’t contributing to the budget, but his Mom in particular has been a big help in planning). We also try to say thank you pretty much any time we talk about the wedding.

    • Another Alice

      Um, hello, are you me?

      This is *exactly* our situation. I didn’t ever consider asking my family, as it’ll be a stretch for them to come from out of town for the event, and didn’t think to ask his, since I wasn’t asking mine. Turns out his family didn’t want to offer since they thought it would offend me, since I appeared to want us to pay for it ourselves… In the end, my fiance sat down and had a talk with them and they are very happy to be able to contribute. The amount they cheerfully offered for combined wedding and honeymoon just blew me away. I think it would amount to 2 years of tuition at the public university I went to…

      I can still barely fathom the idea of someone actively wanting to buy a fancy day for me and my loved ones (I know a wedding is a lot more than that, really, I do, just sometimes when we’re talking about money, that’s all it feels like), but I’m working to accept it, and I think it’s generous beyond belief.

      I also have made a point of accepting what my side *has* offered, which is help DIYing things, like the food and anything else. My dad is designing the paper stuff and maybe learning to roast a pig for the reception. I think it’ll mean a lot to them to be able to contribute in that way.

  • N

    The main thing I learned about the budget is this: weddings cost WAY more than you think. I remember fondly the conversation I had with my fiance in the days after we got engaged, where it went something like “We’re simple people, right? We can do this for $(1/3 of what its actually going to cost), yeah? Totally.” Ha! Blissfully ignorant. This is not to say that you can’t have a low budget wedding, but my original “budget” would have fed both of our families and not much else.

    The other thing I’ve learned: your time and sanity have value. If you’re able, sometimes it is okay to spend a little more money to move something from your plate to a vendor’s plate.

  • Karen P.

    Does anyone else have budget guilt?

    When we first got engaged, I was really excited about planning us a DIY, shoe string budget, laid back love fest, but then my Dad handed me a check for $20,000 with “for the wedding” in the memo line. Granted, $20,000 is less than the avg. wedding costs, but more than double what I’d originally planned to spend. We’ve talked to my dad, and he wants us to keep whatever we don’t spend on the wedding as a wedding present, but I feel compelled to spend what he’s given us. On the flip side, though, when I think about how far that money could go towards paying off student loans or a down payment on a house, for example, I feel guilty for spending $20,000 on one day.

    • Ali

      Heh, I know it’s not always this simple, but just be glad you have that problem :)

    • Aaah I totally got that! I was in tears when my Dad told us he was giving us money for the wedding, because I had always thought we would just get married many years down the line (10 max) when we had surplus funds (y’know because I have to buy a house and pay off my student loan and build a pension and then save for future children’s school fees and have money to visit family (all fiancé’s family live on different continents……it’s a logistical nightmare!!!)).

    • Carreg

      I have parents-are-paying guilt. (Oh all right, since you gave numbers, I will — 5000 pounds, which is equivalent to $8000 or so, or in my dad’s words ‘mumble mumble about five?’)

      For what it’s worth — do ignore me if this is unhelpful — I would explain to your father that you’d rather pay off the student loan than have a grand wedding. (I mean grand in the sense of big and posh, not grand as in good like in Yorkshire. It will be Yorkshire grand whatever.) And also show him how you plan to organise a wedding on less that what he gave you. He may well just think that’s what weddings cost. My mum’s parents paid for my parents’ wedding, and my parents aren’t really sure how much it cost. But my point is, your dad wouldn’t necessarily want to impose a certain kind of wedding on you, he may just be trying to make sure you don’t have to go into debt over it.

      There’s a bit of an implication that if parents are paying then all ability to be adult about money has been whisked out of the couple’s hands. But I don’t think it has. If we manage to stay under-budget, the spare is going towards my brother’s university fees, no argument. I don’t see why you shouldn’t organise an amazing shoe-string wedding and use the spare to pay of student debt.

      But different families are different, so if I’m being annoying just ignore me.

  • We have a 4:4:2 split for our budget, my parents contributing 40%, my fiancé’s parents contributing 40% and we are contributing 20%. Really incredibly happy with this, plus both lots of parentals are being nicely hands off but interested in our wedding planning. And interested in totally good ways like…….my dad has got us fireworks in addition to the contribution from them. Fireworks not so important to us (people enjoying lots of lovely food and wine is) but my dad was like ‘Well when else can I have fireworks? We’re having them!’. So that was pretty fabby. I was a bit stressed with our budget before, because we both have large families that we are close to, so we were trying to figure out how to have everything we thought we should have on our budget, but turns out we didn’t even want half of the everything we thought we should have, so now we’re just doing all the stuff we really like, and the budget is happy like a sleeping cat. Love from the UK (I wish the annoymous ‘tell us your budget’ post had more UK respondents). I joined the APW bandwagon too late for that one!

  • Don’t accept the gift if the terms are unacceptable; but don’t feel guilty about asking or accepting the gift simply because you want to be independent. Weddings are EXPENSIVE, and as much as they are primarily about you and your partner, other people love you and want to share in your happiness, and may want to help make things happen for you. If you’re comfortable with the terms of the gift (if there are any – many times there are not), then by all means, accept with a gracious thank you.

    My husband and I paid for most of the wedding ourselves. My MIL gave us an “advance” on our wedding gift to use toward the wedding, which helped a LOT. I wasn’t concerned with accepting money from her, because she just wanted us to have a wedding. She loves weddings, and so do her sisters. Initially, I wanted a small, semi-private affair, but she really wanted a Wedding. I wasn’t totally committed to the semi-private affair (I wanted to do that, really, because I wanted to do something affordable), so I was OK with doing this for her. That she gave us a generous gift to help us out was truly appreciated, but we were prepared to do this for her (well, and for us) even if she hadn’t done this.

    My mother, on the other hand, was initially quite upset that we wanted to get married with an 8 month turnaround. She wanted us to “wait” an undetermined amount of time so she would have time to save an undetermined amount of money to give us toward the wedding. I told her, flat out, no. That if she wanted to give us money and could afford to do so, we would appreciate it, but we were not going to alter our timeline based on that alone. She was upset, but in the end, she understood and respected where we were coming from.

    Later on in the process, my mother wanted to give me money toward inviting her coworkers. She had been in this job about six months at this point, and I had met these people once, briefly. I had recently started a new job myself, and I said to her, “Mom, it’s not just about paying for people to come … I’m not inviting *my* new coworkers. I just don’t feel comfortable with this.” She understood and was gracious.

    I think that’s important – if you are accepting money, accepting the terms that may come along with it (and, before you accept it, make sure you find out what those terms are), and if you are not comfortable with the terms, you need to frame it and explain why. In the beginning, I was much shorter and harsher with my mother – “No, sorry, we don’t want to do that.” Months later, I learned this was not the best approach, and said, “I’m really not comfortable with this arrangement, and here is why.” I think sometimes parents just revert to the, “I want you to do this and I’m going to pay for it so it’s OK, right?” and sometimes it is OK, but sometimes it’s not.

    • Carreg

      Exactly. I think it depends on the family. I think maybe some parents give their offspring money to make them independent, not to take that away. You can’t give someone independence of course, any more than you can digest their food for them, but sometimes that truly is the intention (giving independence I mean, not digesting food…). And there will be other opportunities for independence.

  • Stephanie

    We’re not married yet, but it looks like our budget is going to be about $3200 in Los Angeles, plus another $2000 for the honeymoon. FI’s dad is a pastor, so we get the church for free. And pretty much everything else is DIT. :)

    Don’t forget the stamps when factoring out the cost of STD’s and invitations. If you send out 75 of each, only using one stamp per envelope, that’s $66. Lots of invitations take two stamps, which brings the total up to $99.

  • I think we learned we have amazing parents. :) When we told our parents we were getting married, and we started talking about money, my husband’s parents said up front that they wanted to pay for the rehearsal dinner and half of the reception costs. They’d done this for their older son’s wedding and were happy to do this for us. My parents were happy with paying for half of the reception. We decided we wanted to pay for our own wedding clothes and other misc. expenses. Both sets of parents wanted US to handle the money and tell THEM what they needed to pay and when. There were no fights, ever. We told our parents we wanted to spend around $5000 total and that we didn’t want anyone racking up credit card payments or taking out loans. It was just so easy. So I don’t have too much to offer except, try to have awesome parents? hehe. Or try to get your parents to allow you to handle the who owes what scenarios that arise if they are paying.

  • We paid for the wedding ourselves & budget was important. The major exception was my attire- my Mom generously paid for my dress, veil, shoes, hair & make-up. Besides those things, the rest fell to us. We decided on the type of wedding we wanted to have & top priorities, then made “sacrifices” to work with our budget. We got married in January, not exactly prime wedding season in NY which gave us discounts on everything from the venue to vendors. We chose a hotel ballroom with tables, chairs, linens & candles so we didn’t need rentals or many decorations. We had a friend do our flowers & chose mostly cheap carnations because flowers were low on the priority list. We splurged on photography & band because those things were important to us. Still, it was expensive. I can’t imagine how much it would’ve cost during wedding season!!

  • Ash

    We were fortunate enough after assuming we would pay for everything ourselves. (I liked the idea of this. No one to answer to.) My fiancées mother stepped up and told us she would help pay for what we needed, when were were in a pinch. So very generous, she told us she was planning on giving us 5,000 as a wedding gift but if we needed to use it On the wedding than that was our choice. So that has eased the financial stress quite a bit.

    Our budget was something like 3,000, but now will hopefully come in under 5,000 with our intimate friends and family wedding and swanky dinner reception for 30 people and our summer bbq camping party for 90ish people w/ honeymoon with all the extras. Under 5,000 it can be done! And it will be lovely.

    We are trying to pay for things as we can. Not keeping any kind of spread sheet as that sounds unnecessary and stressful. Paying for everything cash is our highest priority. We do not live beyond our means in daily life, our wedding is no exception. Our wedding is not an opportunity to show off how much money we can blow. It just isn’t.

    • Ash

      I’m still learning what I’m learning so I will get back to you in a few months….

  • Anna

    It’s so easy to spend too much. A fiver here, twenty there, a few hundred elsewhere and BAM suddenly you’re looking at a chunk of debt which is real. And scary. Slush fund is a good idea. Also a scary degree of organisation, and I don’t mean being good at choosing details, I mean keeping a handle on logistics, what is *acutally neccessary*, how it will fit. Who will do this or that, and if you’re not willing to ask friends and family to help realising someone will have to be paid for it, you can’t do it all yourself.

    I say… don’t get *too* caught up in the super duper cuter wedding magazines and blogs. Don’t start thinking you *must* have this or that. Welcome bags, favours, matching groomsmens bow ties and socks, elegantly styled and mismatched tablewares in the right shades, unusual flowers arranged just so, a special car, champagne, and so on, and so on. Thing like that are nice, they’re lovely. But you don’t need them.

    Make it special, yes. Be generous, yes – but generosity doesn’t have to be in money, it can be in time, in gestures, in attention. And oddly enough guests will appreciate and respect that more than lavish spending. Put it this way, I’d rather attend a backyard, pot luck, paper plate, cotton dress, loved up, relaxed wedding than a swans on the lake do any day.

    And don’t for fucks sake buy stuff at the last minute, bury your head in the sand about how things are adding up and wind up in tears in front of the atm on your wedding morning when you suddenly realise you’ve run out of cash and haven’t yet paid for the unexpectedly expensive and yes, unneccessary bridesmaids updos… not that that happened to me you understand *cough*

  • Roxanne W

    So, we had a ridiculously small budget in a big city. I was really inspired by , and I wanted to buy a car. I was convinced we couldn’t do it, but honestly, if you have awesome friends and family, you’d be surprised what people can do! We got a string quartet for the ceremony for free, and had a student that I met that cooked for our reception. For 130 people. 130!!

    We also were able to cut out some expenses by “settling” or to me, being logical. I made our invitations using a trial version of photoshop. They were single 5×7 sheets of cardstock. Probably underwhelming compared to a lot of invites, but in the end, most people throw them away. And no one is going to decide whether or not to actually come due to how they feel about the invites, right? (Hey, if it’s your thing, go all out for this. But it really was just stressing me out.)

    I also had a second hand dress. You couldnt tell it had been worn at all, and cost me all of $60. I’d suggest looking at used dresses if you’re looking to save a little money there.

    I don’t know, I guess I’m coming off as really more frugal than practical, but for me, thats what practical was. It’s what I needed.

  • Marley

    Our wedding is still a ways down the road and we are paying for it ourselves. My future in-laws are doing something that I think is really great of them: we plan and budget ourselves and when we get a little closer give them a copy of our expense spreadsheet and they will pick a “thing” to pay for. I like this because we’re going to be planning the wedding we want and then they help us with decisions we have already made. I’m guessing if there’s a decision they don’t care for that wont be the “thing” they kindly help us with!
    This has been a nice start to the relationship of the in-laws and our baby family!

  • future Emily P

    The wedding date is in a month, so the budget isn’t finalized yet, but our goal was 10k and it’s looking like we’ll be right around 12k. This is for about 80 guests (we invited 175, don’t even get me started on that…) in Savannah, GA (not a big town but major wedding destination where things cost more) and includes travel, lodging, rehearsal dinner, clothing, all day-of expenses, his wedding ring (I’m not getting one, just using my current engagement ring) and our honeymoon. We’re paying for it all ourselves and it’s been somewhat of a roller coaster since I was unemployed for almost a year until a few months before we got engaged, and he’s been unemployed since the month before we got engaged.

    The biggest lesson I’ve had to learn so far is balance. I hate the thought of debt or paying interest, and had never been in any kind of debt in my life. But, I’ve had to let go of that a little to balance out our emotional needs from this whole process. At first all I could think about was the bottom line and how much money weddings cost. After doing some research, I though 10k sounded like a reasonable amount but where was that money going to come from?

    He had a decent savings account from before he became unemployed, but we didn’t want to touch that without knowing when he’d be employed again, so saving for the wedding fell to me (in addition to supporting both of us). I had many freak outs where I thought…let’s just go to the courthouse and be done with this and not spend four months of pay on one day of our lives. But I knew in the end that wasn’t what we wanted and I wouldn’t be happy. We could have also done it in San Antonio, where we live, and gotten off a lot cheaper but it wouldn’t have had the same meaning for us. In the end, we have purchased things as we could and saved as much as possible, but have also had to put a fair chunk of it on a credit card to keep easily accessible emergency funds intact. However, the card is interest free until about 6 months after the wedding (and will be paid off by then) and we have enough in those savings accounts that we could pay it off tomorrow if we really needed to.

    Reminding myself that this will be the experience that I want for us and for our friends and family, as well as spending money on vendors that I feel great about supporting, has been so important in balancing out the part of me that freaks out every time I see a number that big. It’s been about finding that sweet spot where what I would love to have intersects with what I can justify paying for, all while taking into consideration the meaning or emotional value beyond cold hard cash.

  • Natalia

    My father very generously paid for most of our wedding. I live in a area between Boston and New York where an average wedding is around $35,000 and weddings in the 50k-100k are not uncommon. We spent around 10-15k for a 75 person wedding. We saved by having lunch reception on a holiday monday.
    what worked for my family (who are for the most part very easy going)
    1. we planned our wedding in 4 months. Thus we were limited to what we were willing to spend out of savings and what we could cash flow.
    2. we divided up the costs – my husband and i payed for anything related to the ceremony( the JoP, rings, my dress, his suit, makeup and hair for myself and my family and the photographer) My father paid for anything related to the reception (flowers, catering and the venue). His parents and my mom split the rehearsal dinner.
    3. It was really hard for me to let go of the cost and actually spend that much money. My Stepmother actually stopped telling me the final numbers when i suggested that we cut the alcohol to save money. I am so incredibly glad I let go. I have never seen my father as happy and smiling so much as he was at our wedding. My parents really like to entertain so i let them (and yes that meant that they had some input into things like the guest list and catering choices but they definitely did not abuse that in anyway.)
    4. My husband and i thought about what type of wedding we wanted to have and what our priorities were (casual and small) before even discussing money with my parent. This way i was able to sit down and say we are thinking of having a small (50 people) wedding with a Great Gatsby lawn party to follow. And we want to serve lobster rolls for lunch. I think this will cost around $7000. We ended going over budget but some of that was my parents choice. They wanted a live jazz band while my husband and i would have been OK with an Ipod. I come from a family that is not great at DIY. For us it was worth paying someone to do small things like make the table runners it meant in the days before the wedding we were able to spend a lot of time with out of town guests.
    5. We meet or got quotes from 3 different vendors for all of the major items (catering, flower, band, photographer). To me 3 was a reasonable number that gave us an idea if the price were were being quoted was fair and kept me sane by not over analyzing the choices. In nearly every case the prices were roughly comparable so we went with the vendor we thought best understood our idea for the wedding and whom we personally liked.

  • Haven’t had a chance to read the other comments yet, so sorry if this is a repeat:

    The most important thing I learned about money from planning our wedding was that the amount of money that you spend does not make you more or less righteous than anyone else. That is – the budget that you can afford and that you are comfortable with is the right one for you, and you shouldn’t let anyone who spent less or more make you feel bad about yourself. (And you shouldn’t look down on anyone who spent less of more.)

  • We didn’t really have a budget because we knew the type of wedding we were planning wasn’t expensive despite being in a majorly costly city. We accepted it would just cost what it would cost and that would be it. It was a morning ceremony in a local park, sunday lunch with family in a nice restaurant, large party in bar downstairs. No bridal party, no paper details, no band, no cake, simple flowers etc. All this came to under $8, 000 with no DIY or shopping around or official ‘cost cutting’ anywhere.

    On a personal budgeting level we considered peoples feelings and pride. My husband’s family are lovely and proud people but are considerably less wealthy than my family. For example: when they offered to contribute to a house deposit they were concerned my family would not be able to match their amount, but we don’t tell them that the deposit contribution from my family was about 5 times theirs. So for the wedding instead of making everyone’s contribution public we divided up the costs subtly. We paid for the marriage part (ceremony, rings and clothes). My family paid for the more expensive lunch and his family paid the bar tab plus food at the party. It helped that we didn’t really have ‘vendors’ so it was only one bill for lunch and one for the party. No one saw each other’s bill and everything was fine. I am not advocating family secrets, more just discretion as money and emotion are so closely linked (hence all the mentions above of $$ promises not being followed through). Sure if people stopped to think about it of course the lunch was the most expensive part but publicly, face was saved and people were able to contribute what was comfortable for them, and $8000 split (unevenly) three ways was pretty comfortable.

  • Loz

    I’m in Australia, so I’m assuming you don’t want my budget (the numbers don’t really translate anyway – everything is so much cheaper in the US!)

    But I would like to say this. Before we announced our engagement, we were very worried about accepting any money from my husband’s parents towards the wedding. They are very overbearing and controlling, and we were worried that we wouldn’t be able to say no to them if they contributed.

    In the end, they didn’t offer. However, they did insist on inviting an extra 20 people (in fact, they just told them they were coming), wanted to see each venue before we were “allowed” to book it etc…

    My parents, on the other hand, contributed generously and never interfered.

    What I am trying to say is that a lot of people worry about accepting help with the wedding, because they lose some of the control. But the reality is that the personalities of the people involved is going to have a far bigger impact on how the lead up to the wedding goes, than whether they have pitched in or not. So don’t be afraid to accept help.

    Also, on a more practical note, we prioritised our top 3 things (good food and wine, my dress, waterfront location) and spent money on that. Everything else we scrapped or did on the cheap.

  • angela

    If you want overseas budget (Spain, spring court wedding, around 150 ), i will give you our spreadsheet….but maybe that it is not a good idea for you book, but if you think it will do the trick just email me away.

  • Stevie

    I have just scan-read all of the comments (And Im at work, shhh), and I am impressed by the amount of wisdom between everyone! I am a UK bride-to-be and thought it would be good to throw a few more UK numbers in the mix. We’re paying for the whole thing ourselves and having a 75 person wedding in London at a cost of around £6000. This doesn’t include the ring or the honeymoon but it does include everything else. The average spend in the UK is £18k, and higher in London, but my experience has been that if you think ‘celebration’ rather than ‘wedding’, you can make things cheaper straight away… not just because vendors don’t immediately up the price, but because you’re taking away YOUR expectations around what you think a wedding SHOULD be.

    Me and my future husband had a long, really fun, chat about what kind of party we would like to throw for our friends. Then we talked about how we would incorporate the official wedding-y bits. It enabled us to keep away from the WIC and all the bullsh*t that comes with it, and focus on what things we most like to do together (cocktails, dancing, wearing fancy dress and collecting junk).

    We also thought about what was essential and what was gilding – In order to throw a brilliant party for two people getting hitched I do *not* need silver plated pineapple name card holders (props if you have them tho, they’re a-mazing) but I *do* need 75 vintage champagne glasses found in charity shops. Figuring this out helped keep the ‘crazy bride’ part of my brain under control!

    By finding a lovely Victorian registry office and hosting the reception in a quirky Victorian pub, who have never done a wedding before but throw amazing events all the time, we were able to take off £8k without even compromising.

    Finally, then I’ll stop writing I promise…. I haven’t read one single bridal magazine (though I have read lots of blogs. LOTS) and if I start acting crazy about candles, napkins and flowers, I go and read the list of marriage commitments H2B and wrote together and tell myself that these, crazylady, are what it is really about. Budget big, budget small, you’re going to end up just as married as everyone else!

    ps. This is LONG. sorry. And its my first comment!

    • Ah Stevie nice to know there are other UK brides out there! We recently had a big discussion about everything we *thought* we needed, and everything we actually wanted, turns our half the stuff we thought we need was just because the magazines said so!! Gah. So getting rid of stuff we don’t actually want has helped our budget loads. We too have moved away from traditional wedding vendors, we have hired a big self catering place and are having the wedding there, so much less expensive than a dedicated wedding venue. Our main problem is that 80% of our guests are flying in especially for our wedding, all of my fiance’s family (except him and his gran) live in NZ, AUS, USA and Italy. Plus my mum’s side of the family is Polish so they’re all coming from there. And as it is the first wedding in my family since my parent’s got married………everybody is excited! Which is fabby but… means all these people want to travel all the way to the UK and they will all require feeding and watering, and I sort of feel like I need to provide plenty for them, since they are all travelling especially for it. I would like to escape the feeling of thinking I need to ensure my guests have sufficient food or drink but I can’t and that’s the hostess in me. But so far we have yet to come up with a plan that works for our budget.

      • Stevie

        Hello Holly! I know there must be other UK brides out there, but this is still exciting – I love APW and Im glad some fellow brits have discovered its genius…. I completely understand where you’re coming from about catering. We can’t afford an open bar, but want everyone to feel spoilt and want to give everyone lots of food but don’t want to choose something tacky… before we go totally off point in the comments, I just wondered whether you have looked at any local festival vendors? There are loads of amazing little food vans taking their organic/local/quirky food to markets and festivals, and they might be able to feed the five thousand for not too much…. anyway, HIGH FIVE to the UK brides!

  • Erin

    My fiance was laid off 3 weeks before we got engaged – ironically enough, the day after he picked up my engagement ring. This is relevant if you know him, because one of his big things he wanted to achieve before proposing was financial stability, getting laid off turned his world upside down. There’s a lesson in there about never being able to fully plan for anything…

    We were both optimistic he would get a job soon so we dawdled a little in the planning but we hit a point where I wasn’t willing to wait longer. Our finances were co-mingled at that point but not totally joint and he was contributing at a far reduced rate given that his only income was unemployment wages. We made a budget, ran sample fiscal scenarios and started booking vendors. I paid deposits from my savings and we kept track of where the funds were going. 10 mos later when he finally found work we started an accelerated savings plan and he picked up paying for a few items. We saved the money we normally allocated to extra mortgage payments and that added up pretty quickly. We were able to pay for our portion of the wedding and the honeymoon in cash (or check cause you know some of the vendors…that’d be a pretty big pile of cash!)

    His parents were amazing in their offer to loan us whatever amount we needed if we ran short on cash due to my husband’s lack of work. We didn’t need to borrow the money, I never even considered borrowing the money (unless my husband was still out of work at the time of our wedding) but knowing it was there was all the safety net that I needed to help me sleep at night and figure out a solution with the funds we did have. They also were quite excited to host the rehearsal dinner and that wasn’t factored into our budget at all after they offered.

    When we were first engaged my mother was also temporarily out of work. (Can we just agree 2009 sucked for jobs? ugh.) Once my mother found work again my parents agreed to contribute 1/3 of our budget and my mom picked out what she wanted to pay for – the dress and then eventually settled on the catering when that bill was roughly equal to what they had left to spend. :) I learned that giving options with your ideal choice for them highlighted as the best fit best, really helps in getting folks to pick the option you want.

    In planning our wedding we learned that we are much more financially solvent than we thought and that we really can save up and afford some rather large purchases that before I thought were definitely out of our range. Being a very devout saver and always trying to live off 1/2 to 2/3 of my income often makes me forget what funds I do have available.

  • elyse

    well, our budget doesn’t fit into any of your categories so i won’t spend too much time commenting. but for those of you who are still planning, have a budget on the higher side, and are struggling with that. . . during the planning of our wedding, i knew there was no possible way it would end up costing less than $40,000. I was pretty sure it wouldn’t cost more than that either, but I had a really hard time telling myself that it was OK to be spending that much even if we were fortunate enough to be able to. my parents had a set amount they were able to give us for the wedding (a very generous $25,000 but not a penny over) and my in-laws insisted on splitting the costs 50/50 (or more, if we somehow ended up going over $50,000 – which made me even more uncomfortable!) So that said, my advice would be that some things are going to cost a lot no matter what you do (we wanted our food to be amazing, and it had to be kosher – and that’s really hard to do on the cheap). Some things you can control (for us, things like my dress, his suit, our invitations, the flowers, being totally fine with house linens). And while I still realize that we spent a lot of money, looking back I now know it was (almost all) well spent and (inevitable arguments during planning aside) our families were really happy and we’re settling into a fabulous and practical marriage.

  • Kim

    I thought our budget was $18k, but I just looked and it was more like $22k when I included every detail like trips home for the bridal shower, last minute preparations, honeymoon, etc. Yikes. That said, for the wedding and reception, it was about $16k or so, for our wedding on one of the Finger Lakes in Western New York.

    Here’s what I learned during the wedding money process:
    Your wedding day is 24 hours long, and it should be pure joy. But the wedding process is like 365 days (give or take!) which gives you a lot of time to practice other relationship skills!

    I’m good with money…good at tracking it, saving when it’s something I’m passionate about, finding deals, cutting corners, and spending it freely. I’m also a debt survivor, having just finished digging myself out of the post-college-living-off-more-than-I-earn credit card debt I’ve been battling for the last 11 years. But that’s not what the wedding was about for us. It was about supporting family businesses, local companies we love, and good causes…it was about not getting in to more debt…and it was a chance to set boundaries with our families by creating no majority stakeholders. So when we set our goals, we pledged to have a “green” wedding – environmentally friendly, without going into debt.

    Each family (me and my now husband, my parents, and his parents) contributed 1/3 of the original $18k budgeted costs. My husband was in school at the time, so I paid for our third almost entirely, and our third ballooned to cover the extras we didn’t originally budget for…So in total, I spent about $10,000.

    My advice to future brides:
    Your wedding may be the most expensive thing you’ve ever paid for. It can be overwhelming to spend that much and costs can creep up on you. For example, spending hundreds/thousands on a dress was too much for me. I didn’t feel right, after spending all that time crawling out of credit card debt, tossing so much money away for a dress that I would look great in, but only get to wear once. And it seems so commercially driven. So I went to a Brides Against Breast Cancer event (look them up and go to one of their events! They let you try on as many dresses as you want, which helps you figure out what style works best with your body) and came home with a dress, after donating $500 to a great cause. It’s like a free dress with a donation to women with terminal breast cancer. It was really moving.

    Try to balance the power/money situation out up front. I know brides who felt beholden to their parents’ wishes, even though it wasn’t what they wanted, because they were so appreciative of their contributions. There will always be guest list struggles…which was the case (my family is huge comparatively, so we decided to invite more of his family’s friends). But we didn’t have much drama because we were all getting equal opportunity to include people on the guest list and contribute in other ways (my mother-in-law hosted the rehearsal dinner and my grandmother’s lake house, allowing all of my relatives to help set-up; my parents helped with a lot of the decorations; my husband and I enjoyed managing the paper stuff – placecards, programs, invites, wedding elf powerpoint presentation). And throughout it, we enjoyed working with great vendors/friends we’ve know (about) for years.

    Its ok to hash it out. Repetition is the mother of skill. And this is an important skill to practice and learn. So each time my husband and I were faced with a money-based decision, we talked through it (and usually one of us ended up frustrated or in tears, but that’s how we roll). And we lived to tell. If you bottle it up, it gets worse. So, when you’re both in rational moods and not exhausted or hungry, talk through it. Problem solve. And once you’ve decided something together, stick with it. Hold onto it. Defend it. And love it.

    • Sylvia

      Brides against Breast Cancer?! That sounds AMAZING!

  • lolo7835

    So much to read! I’m still on the pre-wedding side of budgeting, but some things I’ve learned.

    1) Google docs are AWESOME. Also awesome for RSVP’s, but awesome.
    2) Plan for the buffer. We didn’t have a buffer and oh my gosh, the costs coming in at the end of the process are killing me.
    3) If you are lucky enough to have your parents contribute (I am), aim for under what they’ve said they can spend (see #2). However, don’t allow yourself to fall into the realm of guilt about spending x amount on y or z. I had a complete meltdown when we got our alcohol budget-how can my parents afford that? Why are they being so great? We can not put them into debt-to which my dad responded he is an adult and can make decisions for himself. Trust them to know what they can afford. The only thing you can control is yourself, what vendors you pick-don’t yell at your parents for throwing money away (not my finest moment)
    4) Get 3 quotes for each vendor. Any less and you aren’t getting enough input. More than that and you can’t keep them straight.
    5) Think about not only the budget for your wedding, but the budget for your life. Start talking with the partner about how finances are going to play into your daily existence. Things you weren’t expecting about your partner will totally come to light during planning.

  • i’m a bit funny about spending money. as such, i believe our wedding budget so far has been based primarily on what doesn’t make me want to puke.

    which has been surprisingly effective – if stressful. i have to say that this rather took me by surprise, as a lists and budgets sort of girl, but i found that i was in no position to put together a sensible wedding budget when we began because a) i had no concept of what a (our) wedding entailed or how much any of it might cost, and b) all the information i could find to guide me…made me want to puke (i like to think that your book will help others with the latter).

    two more specific things that have helped so far:

    first – prioritizing things by their usefulness beyond the wedding. this is helpful because the part that made me most sick about the money/wedding thing is the idea of spending a lot of money on a brief shindig. right off the bat, i knew that i didn’t care to cost-save on rings, under the “hopefully we’ll wear them forever” measure of worth. it took me a while, but i finally realized that i want to apply the same logic to everything else. so, wedding dress? not a priority. i’d like it to be pretty, but i can promise i’ll never wear a long white dress for another occasion. wedding suit for my girlfriend? high priority – getting it custom made so that she will have nice dress clothes for a long, long time – and for the first time. very worth it.

    second – a budget worksheet on google docs. the thing that really made that helpful is the “estimator” feature – put in a total amount at the top and a percent to spend on each part (apparel, photos, ceremony, etc.), and it splits it up for you into the more detailed budget list. it came pre-loaded with suggestions (helful for “ahh! i’m so clueless!”), but is totally customizable (for “5% on favors? Really?”). and, in this case, i really like working on the computer because it’s easy to take the list of stuff you must have at your wedding (“flower girl basket”) and change it to suit (“flower boy basket”). mostly, i found it to be an excellent way to take my intuitive “10% on flowers makes me want to barf” and turn it into dollar amounts that i can wrap my head around “but if i move that 10% to the reception, it gives me $___ for food”.

    p.s. with regard to parents, just don’t forget that you probably know yours really well by now =)

    • Several points in here that I really like! Especially:

      “…i believe our wedding budget so far has been based primarily on what doesn’t make me want to puke.”


      “…prioritizing things by their usefulness beyond the wedding.”

      I also thought a lot about what would happen to things after the wedding. Would they go in a landfill? Would they be re-usable? I tried to use things I already had, as much as possible, and buy mostly things that I would use again after the wedding. When I knew I was putting money towards something that was for more than one day, it was a easier choice for me to invest money in that area.

  • Melinda

    We’re getting married later this year and have started a rough budget, that I’m adding more detail to as I go.
    My parents have made a much more generous offer than I expected, saying they’ll pay for the catering which is our single biggest expense. I initially told them it was too much and I couldn’t accept, but they insisted, and I know they can afford it.
    Now we’re left with the dilemma that his parents want to contribute too. They divorced about a year ago but still get on well, thank God! We don’t want to tell them how much my parents are chipping in, because my fiancee’s dad is very generous, and will want to match it. And to be honest, we both have good incomes, and could afford to pay for the whole thing ourselves if we had to. We don’t need or want him to match my parents, but don’t want him to be offended either.
    I’m sure other people would love to have this dilemma (#firstworldproblems) so sorry if I sound like a spoiled princess!

  • hoppy bunny

    Thaaaaank god for this post. I have learned so much from the comments. I am stealing so may ideas.

    Budgeting for tips? Budgeting to thank your parents for being rad? Travel costs and pre-parties? Yes and yes and yes and yes.

    I am not asking our parents for money–they already support us in so many ways, and don’t have the extra scratch–it would just be too bold, methinks. However. They RAISED us and LOVE us and SUPPORT us, even if we don’t get married. And I want to thank them for that. With an experience, because that is what they’ve given us our whole lives.

    Thank you Team Practical!!!

  • FLG

    We’re planning our wedding to be around $5,000, in Tennessee. Ideally it would have been Memphis, but due to our budget we’re having it in my fiancée’s hometown (very close to Memphis).

    We’re paying for it ourselves, and we’re having to fly from New Zealand (I’m a kiwi and at university, currently), so if you were including tickets it would be more like $9,000.

    Our families are all ridiculously in debt, so we have basically no help monetarily, but her mom is helping out with logistics which is very much appreciated.

  • CIC

    I’m not married yet but have decided not to have a budget anymore! The budget was the hardest moment (so far) because I had a kind of identity crisis over it. It’s not that we can’t afford the wedding we want…. it’s that we can. And that was kind of terrifying to me!

    We’re paying for our wedding ourselves and when we started making wedding plans and adding up all the numbers, I was horrified. I had such an emotional attachment to the number itself, not the things behind it, and wondered what it mean about me as a person that I would spend that much money on a wedding. I grew up without a lot of money and have been supporting myself and steadily saving away to build my own financial safety net for the last 8 years – so it really rocked my sense of myself that I would spend a lot on a wedding.

    So we made a wedding values list – list of what matters to us in the wedding in order of priority: having all our family and friends together for a weekend and having it be affordable and accessible for them was the top priority. Having it BE FUN for us and everyone else was a close second. Good food was on the list, not having to be organizing things ourselves on the day of also was important, and in general minimizing the stress of wedding planning (ie no DIY projects beyond our capacity) was also a priority for us. Budget was at the bottom of the list in the end — it had to be within our means, absolutely (which for us means two things – does not affect our savings and does not limit us from other important life goals like buying a house) but beyond that, we’ve decided the number doesnt matter.

    So now that we’re not adding it all up in the end, I dont have an emotional attachment to the price tags. Instead, we’re skipping the things that dont matter to us (no band or dj – ipod is all good) but investing in the things that we really want (great photos and delicious food) – and hopefully having a kick ass fun wedding that feels just right for us.

  • I have learned that money is relative. Spending what I consider to be an obscene amount on my dress was really hard to swallow. Thankfully, I can afford it. The idea that it is worth 4 times my winter coat – I live in Canada, we take warm winter coats seriously – really bothered me. Until I realized that it doesn’t matter, that much, because I can afford it and I love it. It’s okay to spend the money because it will not impact other aspects of our life.

    If the wedding were putting us in debt and setting us back in our goals as a couple, that would be different.

  • Good luck with writing your book, just please don’t tell people they can get a great photographer who has skills in technical and customer service for the sum of $500 – they can’t. They can get an amateur for that amount, but expect less than stellar results. Pictures are worth a thousand words. My tag line is “Portraits are not expensive, they’re priceless”. Thanks, Karen

  • elemjay

    Didn’t make a budget – how IRRESPONSIBLE! My husband refused to – he said “it will cost what it needs to cost and that’s the end of it” and he was right.

    Don’t let money stop you from getting married. All you really need is enough money to pay for the marriage licence. Everything else is gravy…

  • I love that you’re writing this book. The more I read about budgets, the more I’m afraid that what I THINK should be spent on a wedding is probably much less than will be.

  • Becca

    We started out with the idea of a small, closest friend-and-family only wedding. And… then we made our wish-list of people to invite, and showed it to my dad, with the intention of paring it WAY down. Like, in half. Or more. But Dad looked at the numbers, and the caterer’s numbers, and said that he wanted us to have the wedding we want to have, and the people there that we care about. And the wedding that we could have if we paid for it all ourselves is a very different wedding than the one we will be having, thanks to my amazeballs parents. They are paying for catering and dress; we are paying for everything else. Their paying for catering is allowing us to have exactly what matters to us: a giant party, surrounded by all of our friends. No, this is not going to be the best food ever. Yes, we are skimping on other things, like flowers, and FH’s suit, and decorations. The chairs are literally the cheapest ones that the cheapest party rental has. The runners will be made out of recycled muslin. The videography will be a friend with a cheap hd pocket camcorder. There are no where near enough flowers for all the tables. Whatever. None of that matters. Because we get to celebrate the start of our life together surrounded by tons of friends and family. And that’s all that matters.