So the ring is on your finger and you are picking a date. This is it! You are engaged! It is easy to get wrapped up in picking out dresses and your favorite shade of purple but before you go any further towards your wedding, you need to set a budget. My husband and I are followers of Dave Ramsey's financial advice. We got out of debt in 2013 and have never gone into business debt. We believe that if you want to pay for something, you pay cash so here is the advice I would give a friend who got engaged and wants to fund their wedding debt free.
The average wedding in America in 2016 according to The Knot is around $32,000. There will obviously be many way over that and also plenty way under. Dave Ramsey and his daughter Rachel Cruze wrote a little about weddings in their recent book, "Smart Money, Smart Kids" and suggested 10% of your wedding budget should be your photographer. We actually formulated our pricing structure around that amount. That may seem like a lot to some couples but let's start with why. I have never met anyone who had two entree options at their reception and was living with regret for not splurging on the third. I have never met anyone who looks back with tears in their eyes and wishes they had just gotten one more layer on their cake. But literally, anytime I introduce myself as a wedding photographer, someone has a story about how they really wish they had spent a little more on their wedding photography. The food will be eaten, the flowers will fade, the dresses will be packed away (and your daughters probably won't want to wear it), but your photographs are one of the few things you will have forever. Your uncle might have a nice camera but that doesn't mean he should be capturing the most important event of your life.
So that aside, how do you start determining what your overall wedding budget should be? Start with what you have. How much savings do you and your fiance have? How much can you contribute each month in the time between now and your wedding? How much will others contribute? Let's break each question down and put this puzzle together. As we go through, I will use an example couple named Brent and Emma to actually apply some numbers to this process.
Hopefully, between the two of you, you have some savings. Dave Ramsey recommends couples keep their household monthly budget money separate until are legally married but this might be a great time to set up a joint account just for the wedding. It is a also a great way to start learning about how each of you think about money. In our example, let's say Brent has $6000 saved and Emma has $2000. They open a fresh, new checking account with that $8000.
Next, come up with an amount to contribute out of your individual budgets each month. The best way to know this is to make sure each of you have a complete, zero based budget for your normal expenses, stick to it and then you will know how much extra you have to throw at the wedding. We are going to assume that Brent and Emma have about equal incomes and can put $500/each towards the wedding and they have set a date a year away so they can put another $12,000 towards the wedding as a couple.
Here comes the interesting part of what family can and wants to contribute. There are parents that plan on footing the entire bill. There are other parents who are not in the position to contribute much of anything or aren't involved in a couple's life. The biggest mistake couples make though is assuming what their parents are going to do. You have to sit down and talk about this with each set of parents/step-parents, etc. Just be honest about what you were thinking about and leave it open for what they want to do. In this example, Emma's mom can only contribute $1500 and want it to go towards the dress. Her dad and step-mom want to contribute about $10,000. Brent's parents are planning on paying for the rehearsal dinner, chipping in $500 for the photographer and are donating their airline miles for the honeymoon.
So all together, our example couple has the average wedding budget of $32,000. Next blog post, I will go into some detail about how to allocate the budget and prioritizing your money to carry out your wedding vision.