Every time you log on to Facebook or Instagram someone has just gotten engaged and is sharing pictures of their ring with captions like “I said yes” or “He put a ring on it”. We’re not sure what there’s more of: babies or weddings. We’re guilty of those ring flashing photos, too. Samantha got married last September and Jessica is next with a recent engagement in November. As brides and Financial Advisors, we have put a lot of thought into the budgeting of a wedding. Samantha and her husband returned from their honeymoon with virtually zero wedding debt and Jess plans to do the same later this year. Today’s couples are footing the bill for the majority of their wedding expenses and The Stock Sisters want to help get you down the aisle without a pile of debt. Want to stay on budget? Here are the top ten things you can do to stay on track:
- Prioritize. This may sound obvious, but it’s worth emphasizing. Is food your top priority, the view, your dress? Once you make a list, you can decide where to splurge and what to cut back on. For Jessica, flowers aren’t all that important. She’s getting married outside in the mountains of Vermont and the view is beautiful in its own right. She’s chosen to use greenery instead of expensive flowers. By doing this, she’s spending about half of what most brides spend on their florist. For some, the dress is everything. If you choose to spend big on a dress, maybe you’ll opt for a DJ over a band to save in another area. Simply spend money on the things that matter most.
- Open a separate checking account strictly for wedding expenses. We both did this immediately after getting engaged. Establishing a new joint checking account with a checkbook and a debit card will make keeping track of spending a piece of (wedding) cake. Don’t pay wedding bills from your household account that you pay rent or utilities from; it’ll be impossible to keep track of what’s what. When you get engagement or shower gifts, put these funds into your wedding account. When vendors require deposits or when you buy your dress, these transactions won’t interfere with your regular bills, making your life a whole lot easier.
- Ask for discounts. Each vendor will supply you with a quote and most shoppers simply agree to it or not. The thing is: these vendors are looking for work and in most cases there is some wiggle room. Samantha’s photographer came back with a quote that was over her allotted budget, so she simply told him that. He surprised her by telling her that he would make it work without cutting any services or time. Many bridal dress shops will sell you a dress off the rack if it fits you correctly (or close to it). Jessica’s been to many bridal boutiques and has heard discounts range from 10% to 50% for buying the sample. If they don’t bring it up, definitely ask. For every quote you get, ask if they can do it for less. You’ll be blown away by how often they just say, “yes”.
- Use an alternative wedding registry. If you’re like most brides today, you’ve been living with your fiancé or on your own for some time before your engagement. You might already have the home essentials our mothers didn’t have when they said “I do”. Instead of asking for items you don’t need like towels and toasters, ask for cash. Fortunately you can do this subtly. Websites such as Honeyfund.com allow you to register for flights and honeymoon excursions which is then delivered to you in the form of direct deposit to your bank account. Cha-ching! Your guests will feel good about helping save for a down payment or a vacation instead of things you’ll never use.
- Read the fine print. Before you sign any contract, read it twice and then hand it over to your fiancé or maid of honor to do the same. Often times, your venue will include hidden upgrades to your overall price that can easily be removed. Samantha discovered upcharges for “local artisan bread” with dinner and refreshments at the ceremony site. By asking about these two things that were never discussed she saved almost $1,000. Instead of infused tea, lemon water was provided at the outdoor ceremony and Italian dinner rolls were served at no extra cost. These extras might only be displayed if you ask to see a breakdown of pricing. Don’t just sign! Double check the math and if the numbers don’t add up, find out why. Point these items out to the wedding coordinator and they should adjust it for you.
- Think outside the box and do your research. Almost every venue will provide you with a list of preferred vendors. This doesn’t mean you are restricted to use only them. Search elsewhere for vendors in the area. You can use Facebook and Google, read reviews, and ask your newlywed friends for referrals. You should be able to find quality work for less than the first ad that pops up. Just make sure you speak with your vendors on the phone, take notes for comparison, and ask to see their portfolio. This will help you get a sense of their personality as well. You’re going to want to get along with these people. You can save money by choosing a venue that allows you to hire your own caterers and bartenders. Places with an exclusive caterer or onsite restaurant tend to be pricier, for the same quality food or drinks.
- Just ask. Sam is the queen of this. She is never afraid to ask for something extra. On the other hand, Jessica tends to go with the flow and just accept prices as they come. Through this wedding planning process and the need to stick to a budget, Jessica is learning to be a bit more pushy. Put your pride aside and just ask. Are you spending the night at the same hotel where you are getting married? Ask for a free night’s stay on your wedding night. Want an photo album in addition to a flash drive from your photographer. Tell him that would seal the deal. There’s no downside; worst case scenario is they say no and you’re back to where you started. It can’t hurt to ask!
- Be flexible with your dates/times. Most people want to get married on a Saturday night because they want everyone to be able to enjoy themselves with no thought of work the next day. But, let’s be honest; how many people on your guest list, given enough notice, wouldn’t gladly take a Monday off to attend your wedding? In many cases the discount for doing so is more than 50%. Jessica chose a Sunday over a Saturday and saved $6,000! It won’t change the feel of the day; by the time the wedding starts and the bar opens, no one cares what day it is! Sunday weddings also mean your rehearsal can be on a Saturday, which is convenient, too.
- Trim your guest list. There’s no easy way to say this: the guest list is an absolute nightmare. You and your fiancé probably already know who you want to celebrate with, but your parents will have their own ideas. Be honest and upfront that while you want them to enjoy themselves, that this is your day. This is especially true if you’re paying the bill. There are no hard and fast rules here anymore. Just because you are inviting a few cousins, doesn’t mean you need to invite all 20 of them. Be selective. At $75 per person or more, you’ll save yourself a ton of money by trimming this list. You’ll also have more time to spend with the people you really care about. Prepare yourself to remind anyone with hurt feelings that you are having an intimate wedding on a tight budget. They’ll get over it.
- Work with people you already know. Before you book anyone, take a look at your friends list. Surely some of your friends are musicians, caterers, calligraphers, or are awesome photographers. If you’re close with them, they might be thrilled to work with you and charge accordingly. Plus, you’ll have the peace of mind of working with someone you trust rather than a stranger. It’s always nice to support a friend or local small business, too. Samantha and her videographer, DJ, and invitation designer were each friends from high school.
Wedding planning is supposed to be fun and we hope this list helps you to enjoy the process. Don’t forget that the whole point of getting married is for you and your partner to start a life together. Ideally, that life will start without debt and with a sense of control over your finances. If you can successfully plan your wedding under budget, you and your spouse will be off to a great start. Congratulations on your engagement and best of luck with your wedding planning!
Please feel free to ask your wedding planning questions. Working in finance, and with one of us just married and one in the midst of planning a wedding now, we’re bound to have a good answer for you.