Thoughts on Budgeting for a Wedding

Our very own Karisa recently got engaged — woohoo!  And of course, since we geek out about money and relationships here at Goodbudget, Chi-En (married 10 years) shared some thoughts with Karisa (newly engaged) on how to budget for a wedding. We thought you might enjoy eavesdropping on this conversation between friends.

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Hey Karisa and Taylor!

Congrats on getting engaged!  I’m super excited for you both and I’m looking forward to seeing the way you’ll continue to be a blessing to the people around you as a married couple.

I know you two have already been working your way through conversations about important questions over the last year, and I think that’s so great!  The communication skills you’ve developed and, more importantly, your ability to hear each other’s perspectives and notice each other as people formed by life stories and deeper motivations will serve you well in marriage – and in budgeting for a wedding!

I still remember the first extremely awkward conversation that I had with Bruce about money.  Shortly after we got engaged, I had the bright idea that we should ask each how much we had saved and how much we each earned.  It was (and still is) a good idea, but I did not know what I was getting myself into.  I was living in a shared house with four other women and he and I were sitting in my downstairs bedroom.  I had been working at a community nonprofit for 3 years, and he had been working in the tech industry for 12.  He was game to answer my blunt question, so he told me how much he earned and how much he had saved, and honestly, I was floored.  So… yeah, he earned a lot more, and he had a lot more saved.

After I got past the initial surprise and set aside my unhelpful judgments about how saintly I was to have chosen a lower paying job (I know, weird), we clumsily made our way through a conversation about how much we’d want to spend on a wedding and how much we’d want to save for later.  And I’m glad we braved that first uncomfortable conversation, because that was the start to many more good conversations about money in our marriage – some of which have been tricky and most of which have really built up our partnership as two people working toward a common goal.

We’ve been married 10 years, so I don’t have up-to-date advice about vendors or the latest wedding trends.  But I’ll offer you some advice that was given to us and that I hope is a bit more timeless: start with the important questions first.  To spark your own (lovingly awkward?) conversations, I’ll offer you a handful of questions to consider as you think about planning – and budgeting for – your wedding.

1. What kind of wedding do we want to have?

Start with the basics:

  • Do I imagine a small backyard gathering with a few close family and friends?
  • Or do you envision a black-tie gala for 500?

This will affect everything from your guest list to your venue to how much food you want to serve… and all of those affect your budget.

Also ask why:

  • Why do I want to have the kind of wedding I envision?
  • Why do you want what you’ve imagined?

Chances are, you won’t agree at first, so it’s helpful to get past each person’s “ideal wedding” to the deeper reasons behind their preferences.  You might find that one person cares most about inviting their close-knit extended family, while the other wants to put on a kid-friendly party.  That will help you decide together on something that takes each person’s deeper priorities into account.

2. How much money do we want to spend on a wedding?

To figure out how much money you want to spend on a wedding, you need to think about how much money you might have and where the money would come from.

  • How much do we have ourselves?
  • How much money might we be offered by others?
  • What will it mean if we accept money from those people?
  • Do we want to accept that money from those people?

Receiving that kind of gift could come with expectations, and it could also be a way to honor their role in our lives. 

Also think beyond the wedding itself.  Not just to a honeymoon, but you might want to save for a new place, a job change, grad school, a big move, or a baby.  Or you might want to pay off debt or step up your giving. Whatever you spend on a wedding can’t be used toward other financial goals in your new life together, so it’s good to think ahead about what’s important to you before you spend everything in one place.

  • What other things will we want to budget for after the wedding?
  • How much do we want to save for that?
  • How will we save for that?

3. How much should we spend on each area?

You can use this list of categories in the photo below as a wedding budget template and start to sketch things out in the Goodbudget app.  Ask each other:

  • Which areas of the wedding do I care the most about?
  • The least?
  • What about you?

This will help you know where you might be willing to splurge, as well as where you might spend less.

4. How will we track our expenses?

My personal fave — use the Goodbudget app!

Once you know where you’re tracking, talk about what happens when things get off track.  Just like in any budget, you’re bound to overspend somewhere in your wedding budget. The key is knowing how you’ll recover.  Build a strong foundation now for budgeting in your marriage by practicing “Talk with People You Trust” — that means each other!

  • What will we do if we overspend in one area?  Will you cut back on a different part of the budget?  Or work extra shifts to pay for it?
  • How will we communicate with each other and make adjustments?

And when you’re ready for nuts and bolts, here’s how Becky recommends setting it up in a shared household in Goodbudget. (Bruce and I used a spreadsheet back before Goodbudget existed. Are we really that old?!)

And when you’re ready to start budgeting as a couple in your new marriage, remember that even though one of you is a literal pro with Goodbudget, you’re both brand new to budgeting as “Karisa and Taylor.”  Start at the beginning together and walk through the important conversations and fun learning experiments in Goodbudget 101: Budget Bootcamp. Sign up to be notified when that course is available. 

All the best to you as you prepared to be married!

Chi-En

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