How to Create a Wedding Budget You and Your Finances Will Love

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By Bennett Whitlock, CRPC®, Private Wealth Advisor

If you’re planning a wedding – whether it’s your own or your child’s – and haven’t been paying close attention to the wedding industry, you may experience sticker shock as you begin calculating costs. An average American wedding costs the newlyweds and their families just under $34,000 — and that’s without the honeymoon tab. Here is a list of tips to help you plan a wedding that works for your taste and your wallet:

1. Discuss expectations. The bride, groom and parents on each side may each have different thoughts about the ideal wedding. If you’re the bride or the groom, talk with your partner about what aspects of the wedding are most important to you. If you’re a parent, talk openly with the couple to hear their expectations.

2. Decide on a location. Do you have your heart set on a destination wedding? That’s great as long as you’re prepared to incur the added expense of airfare and accommodations (and manage the logistical challenges of long-distance event planning). However, it’s common for destination weddings to have a smaller guest list, which may help balance the budget.

3. Set your guest list early. The size of your wedding guest list impacts many wedding decisions: how large of a ceremony and reception space you need, the per-person amount you will spend on catering and beverages, how much it will cost to mail out save the dates and invitations and more. Generally speaking, the larger your wedding guest list, the more expensive the day will be.

4. Determine who’s paying for what. It’s important to have a frank conversation as early as possible to clarify who plans to contribute and how much. If you are receiving a check from another well-wisher, be clear on what, if any, expectations are tied to the money given. It’s common for others to want a say in the wedding decisions if they’ve contributed financially. Being clear up front may eliminate awkwardness tied to the gift down the road.

5. Set a budget. Regardless of who is paying, couples need to identify a wedding budget before working out the details. Allocate your dollars based on what is most important to you. Is your dream dress or venue nonnegotiable for you? If so, think about what it means for the rest of your budget. Having clear priorities can help you confidently spend on your dream items while trimming costs in areas you care less about.

6. Research vendors. It’s common for wedding vendors (e.g., videographers, caterers, florists) to have many tiers of service to cater to a variety of wishes – and budgets. Do your research and compare costs before signing contracts so you know what is reasonable. Get all agreements, requests and decisions in writing, even if the vendor seems open and easy to work with.

7. Manage cash flow. Cash flow can be tricky, even when your finances are in great shape. Ensure you understand how each vendor expects to be paid, so you can plan your budget accordingly. Some expenses may need to be paid in full to book the services, while others may require a down payment or payment in installments leading up to the wedding.

8. Don’t forget other wedding events. Are you planning other wedding events, such as an engagement party, wedding shower, bachelor and bachelorette party, rehearsal dinner or gift opening the day after the nuptials? If so, it’s important to add these to your budget. It’s traditional for parents on both sides and your wedding party to contribute or take care of the costs for these events, but every family and situation is different. Communicate openly and be prepared to foot the bill (or parts of it) if your vision is more than the host is willing to pay.

9. Put the wedding in perspective. Couples beginning a life together will likely have other financial goals, such as paying off student loans, a new car purchase or a down payment on a home. Discuss the priority and ideal timeframe of your goals to know when financial obligations are due (if you’re a parent, determine if and how much you’ll help). Then, consider how your wedding budget fits in to those other priorities. Consider working with a financial advisor who can provide an objective look at your financial picture.

10. Hire a professional wedding planner. If you don’t enjoy rigorous planning, or can’t afford the time it takes, consider hiring a wedding planning professional. While it is an added cost, the right planner will work within your budget to obtain the best vendors and help coordinate the big day.

Bennett Whitlock, CRPC ®, is a private wealth advisor and managing director with Whitlock Wealth Management, a franchise of Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc. Learn more at or call 703-492-7732.


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