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A Big Wedding on a Small Budget

How to Throw Your Fairytale Wedding at a Price That Your Dad Would Be Proud Of

My friend Lizzie is one of four daughters. God bless her dad, Wade. Wade has already paid for two weddings with two more on the horizon. Did you know that the average cost of a wedding is $30,000? Doing some simple math here, if all of Wade's daughters had an average sized wedding, once he has given all of his children away, Wade will have spent $120,000 on four days' worth of weddings.

That's enough for a small house.

Everyone knows that weddings are expensive, but until you have sat down to plan one, you don't realize just how big of a number 30,000 really is. Or how quickly it can be spent if you're not careful. The easiest way to avoid the huge bill (and to make your dad proud), is to create a wedding budget.

Creating a Budget, Tips and Tricks

Know the approximations. Creating a budget is one of the most intimidating parts of the wedding planning process, especially if you aren't familiar with spreadsheets or how to use one. This is a good place to start. Do your research (or use this handy dandy little template we have here) to familiarize yourself with the approximate budget breakdown for a standard wedding. If you have no idea where to start, this gives you a good idea of what line items are going to be your biggest expenses–these usually include your venue, catering, and photo/video needs.

Adjust as needed. You know your needs better than anyone else. Maybe your photographer is a family friend or your second cousin twice removed is going to be your DJ, and he's cutting you a great deal. Either way, you will need to adjust the estimations given here.

Know how much money you have, where it is coming from, and where you're going to put it. This one is really, really important. You build your wedding based upon how much money you have, not the other way around. If you start making big purchasing decisions without a firm budget in place, you begin building your budget based on

your dream wedding, and that is why the average price of a wedding is $30,000. Different couples do things differently, but depending on how you plan to pay for the wedding, it is a good idea to keep track of not only how much money you have, but where it is coming from. If only one side of the wedding is paying, you can probably skip this step. However, if you have multiple sources of "income" pouring into your budget, it is smart to track that. For my wedding, my husband and I cleared all of the money out of a savings account that we hardly ever used and put all of the wedding contributions into that account. By designating that account as our wedding fund, it made tracking our purchases and updating our budget so much easier than if we had tried to balance all of our contributions in separate accounts.

Make your budget adjustable, but once you finalize it, try your best to stick to it. The whole point of a budget is to track what you actually spend versus what you expected to spend. I suggest making an initial budget based upon the approximations that we talked about earlier, and after you start researching all of your vendors and you have a better idea of your exact needs, create an updated budget. After you finalize the second version of your budget, don't change it! That doesn't mean everything you purchase from that point forward will fit within your budget.

Reread that.

Oftentimes, if people go over budget in an area, they are tempted to adjust their budget to fit their expenditures. Don't do that! Again, that is why the average price of a wedding is $30,000. Instead, I suggest creating an entirely separate column on your budgeting spreadsheet to track what you actually spent and another column containing the value of the differences (what you budgeted minus what you actually spent.) This allows you to easily tell how much you are over or under budget.

If you are working in Microsoft Excel, you can even color code the differences to show whether you were over or under budget and by how much. Simply highlight the "differences" column that you are using to track your spending, click "conditional formatting," then go to "highlight cell rules." From there, click "greater than," and set the formatting to "format cells that are greater than 0 with green fill with dark green text." Repeat those steps to create another cell rule and set the formatting to "format cells that are less than 0 with red fill with dark red text." After setting these conditions in Excel, your spreadsheet will automatically color code the differences column. Ergo, if you have a certain area that you spent less than what you budgeted, your cell will appear green and tell you exactly how much you came in under budget for that particular item. If you want to see how you are doing with your spending overall, just total the differences column, and you can see whether or not you are over or under budget for the entire wedding.

Know Your Resources

Now that you have established a budget, the fun begins. There are so many tips and tricks for planning your dream wedding at a budget that would make your dad proud. Start by knowing your resources, and by that I mean, take advantage of the free things.

Not willing to drop thousands of dollars on your wedding venue? There are plenty of beautiful (and free) venues, especially around Lexington. Get hitched on a family member's farm or find a free space in the city that you can decorate up as a venue. Rather than dropping $3000 on everyone's favorite photographer, try to find someone who is just starting out in the business. Most of the time, they still produce quality work, and they are eager to get the experience for a fraction of the price.

Do It Yourself

Everybody loves a good DIY project. If you're looking to save money, this is a good place to start. For my wedding, rather than spending $50 online for a single welcome sign, I went to Lowe's and spent about $30 on plywood and $20 on two different wood stains. My dad cut the sheet of plywood into multiple different pieces, and I worked with my friend who owns a Cricut vinyl cutting machine, and made about ten signs for the price of one! This is just one example. Referring back to the budget you made, think of some of your most expensive line items. Those are the best areas to try to incorporate some DIY projects. Florals is another expense that brides often underestimate. If you are planning on using a lot of greenery and floral decor at your wedding, I suggest working with a local florist to purchase the flowers and arrange them yourself. This will significantly cut down costs. You could also consider looking at artificial or silk flowers, which also tend to be much cheaper.

Ultimately, everything can be traced back to the all important budget.

Establishing a realistic budget based on money that you are contributing or have received from family members is key to minimizing costs and keeping your bill below that $30,000 average. It is equally important that you are regularly updating your total expenditures and balancing your spreadsheet with what is actually represented in your bank account. You would hate to only operate off of your spreadsheet then to find out that you are actually $500 short in your account based on expenses that you forgot to include in your budget.

It is a lot of work, but it makes sense. Anything worth $30,000 ought to require a little bit of diligence. Most importantly, don't forget to have fun! Just because you are on a budget, doesn't mean you should have to sacrifice your dream wedding. If you want to splurge on the $3500 wedding dress, do it! Just keep in mind that you may have to compromise in cutting areas of the budget later.

Have fun, and happy budgeting!


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