It’s the perennial question. ‘Now that we are engaged, what do we do next?’ Unless your family has deep pockets and you know your wedding is paid for, you will be wondering what the next step is. And it is overwhelming for many, so you are not alone. Many articles and books have been written on the topic, but here is our advise from our own experiences as a couple, and our experience working with couples who have been navigating this path just like you are starting to do!
First you need to set a budget! We all hate the B word, but it is no doubt the most critical part of the wedding planning process. Without a budget you have no idea what you can afford, and most importantly what you cannot afford. The most important thing a budget is going to do is help you start your marriage without going into debt to say I do. And there are several ways you can go about determining your budget, it’s all about finding the way that works for you and accomplishes your goal of starting your life together without a mountain of bills hanging over your head. Let’s delve into what has worked for us.
Initial Budget Focus Points
These are in our preferred order of priority, but you may find your priorities to be different.
- Venue Costs
- Guest Count
- Food & Beverage Costs
- Flowers & Decor
- Marriage License
Many people get lost in the weeds while working to figure out their budget, we have found it best to start by having a discussion with your partner, focusing on how many people you want to have at your wedding and the type of wedding, church, secular venue, beach, park, etc), and one or two season choices for your wedding. Stay flexible and you will be happier through the process, don’t fall victim to yourselves, keep it open ended for now.
Once you have the scale and venue type figuring out, it’s time to determine what you can afford. Some advice columns and books tell you to start by asking for help with any expenses, our experience says that you should start by figuring out key costs. Focusing on estimates for Venue, Food & Beverage, Photography, Flowers/Decor, Wardrobe and the Marriage License costs to start, also include your Officiant costs. Even most church based priests and ministers will charge for their services or at a minimum ask for a donation to their church. You can ballpark these numbers by looking around at some venues in your area and researching their costs online, you don’t need to start calling or scheduling visits yet, but remember this is a ballpark, you may find your costs are lower or higher at this stage than what you will actually pay, don’t stress being exact, just try and get close.
A lot of caterers aren’t going to have their costs public but you can get an idea by figuring about $150 per person for food and around $100 per person for a cocktail hour. Always plan at least $1000 for photography, you can find costs range from $1000 to upwards of $10,000 for just photography. Higher cost doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best, just that they charge a lot. Next lets consider Flowers/Decor. This can be extremely variable, but for flowers you can estimate anywhere from $1500 to $2000. All of this will vary depending on where you are getting married. Wedding services in Chicago will cost more than in rural Iowa. It is better to lean into larger numbers right now than to plan too low. Don’t count on deals or anything coming your way, plan to shoulder the cost yourselves for now.
You will need to think about what you will wear; are you renting a suit or gown? Buying? Some couples may already have clothes to wear, but most don’t. Shop around for these to get a ballpark price and add that in, this is especially important if you are paying for your wedding parties clothing, be it rental or purchase. Give yourself a minimum of $200 per suit. Dresses for bridesmaids can be anywhere from $120 to $150 or more, and Wedding dresses can start anywhere from $400 and up.
Now, add all of these costs together, don’t panic when you see the final number. You haven’t committed to anything yet, but you might find that it is too much. This is a time to consider priorities. Do you have to get married at a lavish venue, or would a less extravagant venue be ok? Do you need live music, or can you get by with a curated playlist? Consider now where you can cut corners. But also allow for one thing that is important to each of you that you wont want to cut. A huge factor for most people in their budgets is the cost per head for food & beverage. Do you need a 400 person wedding? Or is a smaller group more fitting to your personalities and who really matters to each of you? You can find a lot of ways to cut expenses by just stepping back and taking stock of what really matters.
Once you have the cost whittled down, consider how long you need to save up to this final number. Don’t get hung up on the date yet, just figure out a plan for saving that will get you there and which you and your future spouse can reasonably accomplish. We found it possible to set aside a few hundred dollars per paychecks to put into our wedding savings. You may need more time, just know that you don’t have to do this overnight and you can get there with a little determination and a solid plan. Whatever you come up with as a reasonable end date for savings, you can use as a benchmark for when you can plan the occasion for.
Now that you have this all laid out, and we would recommend you do it on paper, or in a spreadsheet, you can start to talk to family about what they might be able to contribute. Remember, until they give you the money, don’t count it into your available funds, but once they do you can start to look at what you might have had to cut before and see about bringing back into the plan. But, and I stress this in earnest, leave yourself some padding in your budget. If you can leave yourself about $1000 in extra funds, you start out even more comfortable than if you go without. And most vendors should be tipped. At the minimum, catering and catering staff, photography, florists, and wedding planners should be tipped. It is also good to tip your DJ’s, Band, and yes, even your officiant, plan for this in your budgeting whenever possible.
It’s not easy, but it is not impossible. There are a wealth of online resources to help you. Just remember, that at the end of it all it’s you and your partner and the love you have for each other that will be left, and that is the most important part of all.
Ashton Bishop is the owner and lead officiant of Bishop Weddings, he has been officiating weddings for nearly 20 years and launched Bishop Weddings to invest more of this time into this profession he has found so much joy in.