Wedding Budgets: What Not to Do

It struck me today that we haven’t talked about the big M here at Manolo for the Brides in quite some time. Obviously I don’t mean matrimony, since that’s our bread and butter. No, today I thought I’d write about money. Let’s face it — when most of us are planning our dream weddings in our heads, influenced as we are by blogs and magazines and pictures of lavish weddings on wedding photographer we sites, budgeting is not usually at the forefront of our thoughts. Which is where it ought to be, really.


Sometimes it’s easier to remember what not to do than an endless list of what one should do. In that vein, I’ve put together a short list of DON’Ts that can help you put together a practically perfect wedding budget. (Feel free to add your own DON’Ts in the comments!)

DON’T underestimate how much a wedding costs in your area. Maybe you’re getting married in an inexpensive locale. Maybe you’re getting married in Manhattan. When you’re sitting down to create your wedding budget, plug your zip into Cost of Wedding to see how much the average wedding will run there. People where I live apparently spend between $23,560 and $39,266, which isn’t to say you *must* spend that. But be realistic in your estimates.

DON’T assume that you have to pay full price. Ever. If there’s one thing I stress over and over again in my book iDo: Planning Your Wedding with Nothing But ‘Net, it’s that you can almost always get a deal by shopping around. And you know, it never hurts to ask for a discount from wedding vendors or retailers, especially when you’re buying something in bulk or spending a lot. The worst they can say is no.

DON’T leave your spouse out of the equation. We live in a culture where dads tell sons that the best thing they can do is stand back and shut up when the bride-to-be is planning a wedding. But it turns out that guys actually have *gasp* preferences where wedding ceremonies and receptions are concerned. Don’t risk assigning a low budget priority to something that’s really important to your intended. Ask them what they’d like to splurge on. Better yet, sit down and create your wedding budget together!

DON’T assume mom and dad are going to foot the bill. My dad had $2,000 to contribute to my wedding. My mom had more. The Beard’s mom offered to pay for half our rings and our wedding photographer. And we paid for some things ourselves. If we’d assumed that our parents were just going to write us blank checks, we would have been sorely mistaken. Luckily, we were smart and asked right out (judiciously, of course) whether they wanted to contribute. Notice I didn’t say that we asked how much they would contribute. There is a difference!

DON’T go by the old “who pays for what” guidelines unless your parents have stated outright that they plan to do just that. Again, communication is everything. Your future in-laws may be surprised to discover that you expect them to pay for the rehearsal dinner, your honeymoon, and a few other odds and ends.

DON’T for the love of all that’s beautiful start your life together deep in debt because you want a superstar wedding. While that’s your choice to make and I can’t stop you, it just doesn’t make sense to use credit cards to pay for a lavish wedding or to take out a big bank loan because you just can’t live without a 500-person reception. Money causes more marital strife than almost anything else, so why not start out on solid footing?

Finally, remember there is no right or wrong where money and matrimony are concerned. Admit that your budget is that big in some of the more progressive wedding forums, and the response you’ll likely receive will be indignant at best. Ignore the haters. You shouldn’t let anyone make you feel guilty for wanting to spend eighty thou on your wedding. And if your budget is relatively small, don’t let all the “But it’s your big daaaaay” hype discourage you from throwing the bash you can afford.

Oops Alert! Smart-as-a-tack Toni noticed that I left out one very obvious option, which is “Some combination of the bride, the groom, and the parents.” Funny I should leave out that one, when it’s the option I myself would have chosen! I added that option, but editing a poll resets the results, so re-vote ASAP.

6 Responses to “Wedding Budgets: What Not to Do”

  1. Toni says:

    Where’s the poll option for “the bride, groom, and a combination of their parents?”

  2. Melissa B. says:

    The Cost of Wedding website is pretty accurate, I think, when a couple is planning a Saturday dinner wedding during peak wedding season. (My husband and I fell right smack in the middle of the average budget range for our area!) But do remember that you can have a wedding for a lot less as well!

    In fact, I really believe that you can have a great wedding on any budget. Can you have a great wedding for $5k if the average budget in your area is five times that? Sure! But, you probably won’t be able to hire the city’s most sought-after wedding photographer and wear a brand-new Melissa Sweet gown. The big thing, I think, is to be realistic about what your money can get you. That goes for parents too. Just because $5000 got you a formal sit-down dinner reception at the country club in 1971 doesn’t mean you can still do that in 2009 — so don’t criticize your kids for being “cheap” for doing a lunchtime sandwich buffet until you take a look at the current costs!

  3. Toni: Oops, you got me! Funny I should accidentally leave that one out when it’s what The Beard and I did. I can’t edit the poll, but I can make a note of my error in the post.

    Melissa B.: So your tip would be DON’T assume that you have to spend the average amount for your area or that you have to have the usual Saturday evening sit-down dinner reception. I’d add that DON’T assume that the most sought-after wedding caterer is the only one who will do a good job. There are lots of great reasonably-priced wedding vendors out there!

  4. Melissa B. says:

    NtB, that’s so true! One of our favorite wedding vendors was just starting out in the business and charged us less than half what her more experienced counterparts were quoting. Which is not to say the high-end folks won’t do a great job, but if you don’t have that kind of money, you can almost certainly find someone who will do good work for you within your budget.

  5. Mary says:

    DO write down your budget and track expenses. It seems obvious, but is easy to overlook as you get pulled in different directions during planning. There are lots of tools out there to help you figure out the major items before you start to plan.

    If you use an online budget tool to help you plan, don’t forget to add on the costs of tips, dance lessons, or marriage prep counseling if you plan to include any of those items. If you discover other things you want to add, be sure to actually add them to the budget, and acknowledge that you have to cut something else if you’ve already allocated the total amount available.