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A Wedding Planning Guide for The Budget-Conscious Bride

Every time you log into 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. Both of us recently had weddings. We both had help from our parents to pay for our weddings, but we both also paid for a good chunk of our overpriced parties ourselves. As brides and Financial Advisors, we put a lot of thought into the budgeting of a wedding. We were both able to return from our honeymoons debt free. Let’s see if we can help you get you down the aisle without the stress of credit card bills that can take months or years to pay off. Here are ten things we did to stay in budget:

1. 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 weren't all that important. She got married outside in the mountains of Vermont and the view was beautiful in its own right. By cutting back on ceremony floral arrangements, she spent about half of what most brides spend in this category. For some, the dress is everything. If you choose to spend big on a dress, maybe you'll opt for a local DJ over a band to save in another area. Spend money on the things that matter most and cut back on things that maybe don’t matter as much.

2. Open a separate checking account strictly for wedding expenses. We both did this 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.  It's impossible to stay on budget if you have no way of tracking your expenses.

3. Ask for discounts. Each vendor will supply you with a quote and most newlyweds 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 have 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, “I can make that work for you”. And if this is intimidating to you, you can always ask via email. You’ll have much more confidence asking for a break in writing than you would face to face if you’re at all shy.

4. 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 small up charges for things like local artisan bread instead of regular dinner rolls and lemonade to be served at the ceremony instead of water. By asking to adjust these two seemingly little things, she saved close to a thousand dollars! Most likely the “extras” are wrapped into your contract and you’ll only be aware of them by asking to see a pricing breakdown. Don’t just sign! Double check the math and if the numbers don't add up, find out why.

5. 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 Instagram, 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 if applicable. 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 example.

6. You can’t get what you don't ask for. 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. Grab your bold friend (we all have one) and ask for help. Ask for a discounted hotel room on your wedding night. Want an photo album in addition to a flash drive from your photographer? Tell him that it 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!

7. 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 late into the night without having to work in the morning. 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. A few people are sure to complain, but that’s something you’ll just have to deal with. This is wedding planning, not a walk in the park.

8. 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 some work friends, doesn’t mean you have to invite all of them. Be selective. At $100 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.

9. 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 friendly 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 hired friends she went to high school with for video, music, and invitations. You also might be able to find someone who is just starting a business or does their thing on the side. This will save you money, for sure.

10. 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 registering for punch bowl or a fancy dish set, register 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 that’ll end up in a closet.

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. After all, we’ve all heard that the one thing couples fight most about is money. 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!

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