Making Sense of Your Dollars

Determining Your Budget

Liz Von Hoene

Before you book the limos or place the order for expensive cigars and fine vintage champagne, it's important to determine a ballpark figure for what you can spend.

Weddings can be expensive. (There, it's been said.) If you have never been exposed to the cost of hosting a special event in a hotel, restaurant or club, the price tag of a typical wedding reception may shock you. Whether your budget is large or small, your objective is to squeeze the most value out of the dollars you have to spend.

Before you book the limos or place the order for expensive cigars and fine vintage champagne, it's important to determine a ballpark figure for what you can spend. If you and your fiancé are paying for your own wedding, setting the budget should be a relatively straightforward process.

Often, however, the bride or groom's family is involved in paying for parts of the wedding. In this case, you should probably sit down with your parents and have a frank discussion about the wedding budget.

Remember that the wedding budget covers more than just the reception food and beverage costs. You'll also have to consider:

  • Invitations
  • Fees for the officiant and ceremony site
  • Wedding attire
  • Transportation
  • Flowers
  • Photography
  • Gifts for the attendants
  • Gratuities
  • Wedding Planner
  • Favors
  • Décor
  • Music
  • The honeymoon, among others.

The highest-cost items are generally food, beverages and equipment rentals, such as tents, tables, and chairs. Being creative and controlled with your spending in these areas will have the most impact. Instead of skimping on the standard approach, make different, creative choices and you'll have a great celebration that fits your personality and budget.

Who Pays For What?

Deciding who should pay for what is a sensitive issue. Don't let old-fashioned ideas of traditional roles shape your expectations. Everyone's circumstances are different, and you and your fiancé are probably the best judges of what is appropriate in your situation.

In general, those who have the greatest resources should probably shoulder a larger portion of the expenses, particularly if there are widely divergent financial circumstances involved.

If your fiancé's parents are financially capable, they might generously offer to pay for the entire wedding and related expenses like the rehearsal dinner and travel expenses for the wedding party. If the groom is more financially secure than his parents, you will probably both want to step up and offer to handle a major portion of the wedding expenses.

Sometimes parents may have ample financial resources but choose to limit their contribution toward the wedding, for any number of reasons. It is then up to you as a couple to either make up the difference on your own, or scale back your celebration to fit your budget constraints.

One popular way to allocate funds for a wedding is for the parents to contribute a set amount. If the bride and groom want to spend more than what is being given to them, they can make up the difference themselves. This approach also gives the couple the option of reserving some of the money for other major expenses, such as the honeymoon or even a down payment on a home.

Sticking To It

Once you have a budget for the wedding, the next challenge is to stay within its limits. Be straightforward in talking about your budget with your wedding consultant and vendors. Let them know how much you have to spend and that you need detailed, itemized estimates in order to evaluate everything properly.

Here are a few tips that may help:

  • If an estimate seems unusually high, ask how it was developed and look at the details. Ask the consultant or vendor to suggest ways the estimate can be reduced. There's room in every budget to make reductions if needed.
  • Once you have selected a vendor, insist on a written contract with all the commitments and costs spelled out. Be sure the contract covers all aspects of the services you expect--arrival times, what the service people will be wearing, when overtime expenses start to accrue, and so on. You want everything spelled out in detail beforehand to avoid any later confusion.
  • As with all contracts, read the fine print very carefully to avoid hidden costs and other surprises.
  • If the hotel, club or other facility where you will be holding the ceremony or reception has suggested vendors, always ask if the vendor is paying a commission to the person who recommended them. Frequently, banquet managers, wedding consultants and others within the industry receive commissions from favored vendors. Not only may this inflate the cost to you as the client, but the recommendation may be based on the commission paid and not on the vendor's suitability to your event.
  • Track estimates and keep a constant running total of the budgeted items as they come in on a spreadsheet (in Excel, for example). A good system is a great help not only for keeping track of costs, but also for making sure nothing is overlooked in the planning process.
  • Finally, build in a contingency fund, usually ten to fifteen percent of your budget, since there will always be unanticipated costs. Your contingency fund will allow you to handle unexpected expenses without creating a major fiscal crisis.
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