The average cost of a wedding in the U.S. is a whopping $33,391, according to The Knot 2017 Real Weddings Study. That’s a huge chunk of money to spend at once, especially if you have student loan debt and other living expenses.
Yes, you could save up for a few years or take out a personal loan to afford the affair. But wouldn’t it be great if you could lower the cost?
Well, you can.
Aside from eloping, which could save you a ton of money, there are lots of ways to cut costs and create a reasonable wedding budget. In fact, many couples make big budgeting blunders when it comes to nuptial planning that could cost thousands.
We spoke with Amy Shey Jacobs, a wedding planner and founder of Chandelier Events, to find out exactly what those money mistakes are and how to avoid them. Here are her top six.
1. Waiting too long to have the money talk
Many people avoid having tough conversations because it’s easier to talk about the beautiful, fun, and dreamy aspects of weddings. But waiting too long to talk about your budget is one of the biggest mistakes couples can make.
“It’s crucial to get financially naked and put your money contributions and expectations out on the table early on,” said Jacobs.
Have a conversation about who is going to pay for the wedding. Are both sets of parents contributing? Is just one set of parents putting money in the pot? Or are you going it alone and footing the bill?
Answering these questions will help you figure out your bottom line and each person’s point of view regarding how money should be spent. It also will limit fights about money when the bills start to mount. The last thing you want to do is turn a happy occasion into a stressful one.
2. Not having a budget
Playing it by ear when you’re planning a wedding isn’t a good idea. Once you know how much you have to spend altogether, make a budget. Open a Google spreadsheet, use an online budgeting tool, or get out a pencil and some paper.
“Knowing that about 50% of your total budget will go towards your venue, food, and beverage for your guests, you’ll want to make a budget that you can stick to and know how much you’re willing to spend on each element of your wedding,” said Jacobs.
Come up with numbers you’re comfortable with before you buy a dress, book a band, or sign a venue contract. That’ll help you get to the end of the planning process without running out of money.
3. Inviting too many guests
It might seem obvious, but some couples overlook the correlation between their guest list and their budget. And it isn’t just the number of meals you need to buy that ticks up when your guest list grows.
“More guests equal more tables, more flowers, more linens, more invitations, more favors, more transportation, more welcome bags, and the list goes on and on,” said Jacobs. “So, I always caution couples to write down their guest list first and get their families’ must-invites as well before [they] start planning to avoid runaway expenses.”
One way to avoid offending anyone is to decide on a cutoff point. For example, you could say that no family members beyond first cousins will be invited and that guests who’ve been dating someone for less than a year don’t get a plus-one. That makes it less personal when you have to explain why someone can’t attend.
I saved nearly $8,850 on catering alone by cutting my wedding list from 150 people to 100. That’s a lot of money to put toward other costs or in your pocket.
4. Not budgeting for the small things
Budgeting for a wedding brings the big things to mind: entertainment, decor, food, invitations, and fashion. However, many couples forget to leave a cushion for details such as programs, place cards, hair, makeup, and gratuities.
“While these costs may be much less than the big things, they can add up to big anxiety when you haven’t put them into the budget in the first place,” said Jacobs.
So, research the costs of some details you’ve been saving on Pinterest and put money aside early in the process. The best way to do so is by writing down every element you want to have at your wedding.
On my wedding budget spreadsheet, I included everything from the antique-looking books I wanted to use as table decor to dance lessons. It was only a couple hundred dollars here and there, but that adds up. Also, writing down these items helps you figure out what’s important and where you can make cuts to save money.
And be sure to add a line item labeled “miscellaneous” or “contingency” with a reasonable amount set aside. It’ll help if you have a last-minute expense that wasn’t in your original budget. For example, when the temperature dropped, I needed to bring in heaters the day of my wedding.
5. Not negotiating with vendors
One of the best pieces of advice I received for my wedding was to ask vendors for a better price. It worked every time. I was able to bring down the price of some of the most expensive items — including the florist, caterer, and band — and didn’t feel like I was missing out on my dream wedding.
“Some wedding professionals may be willing to negotiate upfront just to land your gig,” said Jacobs. “But you have to be flexible too. For example, some photographers would be willing to give you one or two more hours in your package if you were willing to sign on that day. If you ask for specific ways the deal would be sweeter for you while also respecting their profession, then negotiating with respect is definitely on the table.”
The original quote I got for my flowers was cut in half after the florist and I talked about cheaper blooms we could use and how many spots we needed arrangements for. Remember that your guests won’t know what you decided not to have. No one noticed we had a wreath on only one of two fireplaces.
6. Not tapping your family and friends
Believe it or not, you might have some hidden talent and manpower among your nearest and dearest.
“While we caution hiring friends, especially when it comes to wedding photography and video (leave this to the pros, please), you can lean on your talented friends and family to chip in on the planning and design of the wedding,” said Jacobs.
My mom made all the table numbers, a bridesmaid created some cute signs, my sister made the flower girl dress, and my cousin did my hair.
Have a master carpenter uncle? Have him build an arbor for your ceremony. Have a best friend with beautiful handwriting? Have her help address invitations and make place cards. Pool your resources, and you never know the savings (and special touches) you might find.
Don’t overspend on your wedding
It can be tempting to drop a lot of cash to make your dream wedding come true. But is it worth going into debt for? Try not to get too wrapped up in the romance of it all and stick to a budget for your big day. Following these simple tips will help you stay on track without feeling like you’re making sacrifices.
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