You close your eyes and imagine the grand venue. Elegant, full bouquets welcome you at every turn, and soft classical music further romanticizes the space. Your body is oh-so-perfectly snug in the dress you’ve been dreaming about since you were a little girl. The updo in your reflection – masterfully braided and pinned – is fit for a queen. Your closest friends stand proudly before you, resembling angels dressed in the perfect shade of blush. It’s all come together. The day is finally here.
Hours upon hours of planning and organizing made this day possible. Your email inbox has a dedicated wedding folder. You put together some of the decor yourself. You took dance classes with your honey. You built a seating chart. Suffice it to say – you made magic happen!
There’s only one thing that could dim your shine and minimize your happiness following the biggest day of your life – and it hits like a truck. And no, I don’t mean that your fiance’s ex-girlfriend showed up to the wedding. That’s the least of your worries. I’m talking about the stress that threatens your marital peace AFTER you exchange vows and soak up the sun in the Caribbean for a week.
You return home, unpack, get started on a bit of laundry, smack your gorgeous HUSBAND on the tushy, go out to check the mail, shuffle through cards from people who missed the wedding, and then you see it: the credit card bill from hell…
Your “honeymoon high” just shot down ten notches. It started with “just some additional decor.” But then you wanted more flowers. Then you realized you didn’t have an outfit to change into after the reception, and you splurged. You were hoping the cash gifts would help pay for your dress…only you used that cash on the cruise.
Deep down you know it’s going to be a true challenge to pay back the debt. And how do you tell your spouse? That’s a fight waiting to happen…
Your marriage doesn’t have to start off like this.
You CAN have the wedding you’ve fantasized about AND be able to afford it. It comes down to three things: discipline, precision, and consistency.
– Discipline to: control/decrease your spending habits in accordance with your budget, stick to the plan (no adding costs leading up to the wedding)
– Precision: accurate estimates for the line items in your wedding budget
– Consistency: consistent saving, consistent frugality, consistent communication with your future spouse
Before I even dive into the budget tips, I want to emphasize: you’re not wrong for wanting a big wedding. You’re not dramatic, high-maintenance, demanding, <insert negative adjective here>. (You’re also not wrong for wanting a small wedding, getaway wedding, elopement, you name it.) However, mistakes are imminent when you begin to stray outside the realm of what’s possible financially. So before you continue reading, hold your vision up high and own it. We’re going to do the best we can to make it happen (but you must be accepting if it’s not feasible).
Here are the ways you can make your dream wedding a reality and hop in that getaway car debt-free.
1. Extended Engagement
Hands down – this can be the difference between paying off a personal loan for years and cruising into married life with a clean financial slate (at least when it comes to wedding debt anyway). The longer you can save, the more you’ll have to devote to the big day. This is also great if you’re currently aligned to many other responsibilities. I wasn’t particularly thrilled about the idea of planning a wedding in less than a year given that I worked full-time and was still in grad school. HARD PASS.
2. Determine the must-haves ASAP
What is non-negotiable for you? An outdoor venue? A gown from a certain designer? A full-course meal + open bar? Whatever your musts, this is where your budget STARTS. If you do nothing else, commit to an engagement timeline/savings plan that meets every single “gotta have it!” Any additional funds just add pizzazz.
3. Line-by-line Budgeting
Put your dream wedding on paper, and budget EVERY SINGLE aspect of it. Down to the cleaning fee for your AirBnB with the bridesmaids. It’s not enough to say “Wedding dress: $2,000”. ….Does that include alterations? What if I want/need to travel to find my dress; is that travel cost incorporated into the $2k? Get specific and overestimate everything. Apps like “The Knot” offer a great place to start, but there will inevitably be things unique to your event, or items that simply don’t show up on every wedding budget out there. This brings me to my next point:
I can’t tell you how many wedding budgets I found online that were missing a key line item. I’m going to devote an entirely separate post to building a precise, comprehensive wedding budget, but for now I’ll list the commonly missed items.
– Tipping your wedding vendors
– Food the day of the wedding for everyone arriving early to the venue (bridal party, groomsmen, parents, siblings)
– Pre-wedding pampering (manicure, pedicure, eyebrow wax, etc.)
– Stationery (invites are a given, but brides often forget to budget rehearsal dinner invites and thank-you cards)
– Bachelorette party (your girls will cover your liquor, sure! But what will you wear? If you’re like me and buy a new dress for every occasion -ugh, I’m trying to kick the habit- you need to budget the attire)
– Dress preservation
4. Talk it over with your other half.
Before hubby and I set a date for our wedding, I accomplished the steps in #2 above and calculated a rough estimate for how much we might be able to save over the course of 9 months/12 months/18 months/24 months until I reached as close to my budget as possible. This meant I could sit down with Gabe and offer him a realistic solution for being able to afford our big day. Did he like the final number? No. Did he support an extended engagement so that I could have the “Princess for a Day” experience (which I’d be willing to work really hard and be disciplined for)? YES.
In some cases, an extended engagement isn’t desired by both parties. If this applies to you, you’ll want to discuss a point of compromise. Sometimes this is as easy as splitting the difference (you want 2 years and he wants 1, final answer is 18 months), but not always. Just keep in mind the wedding isn’t the marriage – and that’s what you’re here for: a life together!
Communication also serves to keep you grounded. Your fiance can help you see that maybe the dove box during the kiss is a little bit much? You may hate to hear it at first, but that advice is saving you money!
5. DIY is a motto
Channel your inner craft-lover (or call up that cousin with a passion for all things homemade)! Centerpieces, favors, and even your accessories are excellent elements to make yourself. There are HUGE cost savings here. Some of my favorite DIY favor ideas are:
– desserts in mason jars
– snack baggies with everything you need to make s’mores
– chocolate dipped fruit
– homemade jam or butter
6. Know (and use) Your Resources
Your wedding venue
A recently married friend
Decor items in your own home (mirrors for the seating chart/signage, vases, jars)
Photographer/DJ/Officiant in your family
Your church community (if applicable)
7. Don’t Spend Money you Don’t Have Yet
Budget as if your guests will come empty-handed. Don’t book that videographer because you’re anticipating a hefty tax refund. Work with current assets and record all of your payment due dates to ensure you can cover all costs along the way. If you must use a credit card, pay off the balance before the interest hits!
Sure, wedding planning is stressful, but writing out the details within your budget and meeting milestones along the way will boost your confidence and pour excitement into the journey. Tackle the preparation one task at a time, stay true to who you are as a couple, and bring your dreams to life!