A month or so ago, I wrote about the best day of my life…my wedding day. I wouldn’t have changed a thing! Towards the end of the article, I mentioned that I was going to write a few more articles down the road about a few things about our experiences during the year and a half leading up to the big day and some things we learned along the way. There is so much that is involved in a wedding, it is insane! So hopefully some of you will be able to learn from our experiences or conversely, share your experiences in the comment section so future readers can benefit from things you may have done differently than we did! So here it is, the first installment of my post wedding article series. Today, I wanted to share with you why my wife and I did not create a wedding budget while planning our wedding!
I know what you are all thinking, that is probably the last thing you were expecting to hear out of a CPAs mouth. I’m sure you all were thinking that I had some sort of intense spreadsheet breaking down the costs to a granular level. Cost per guest, cost per napkin, cost per coffee stirrer…you get the gist of it! My very first exposure to this was one of my co-workers a few years ago. I stopped by to ask him a question and he was taking a break entering a couple of expenses into his wedding budget excel spreadsheet. Line by line he listed out every expense, every commitment, and every dollar that was being spent on the wedding. Unlike him, I never once opened a new excel spreadsheet and saved anything on my desktop titled “Wedding Budget” or “Wedding Costs.” This was shaped by our money situation and a decision we made early on about how we wanted to selected vendors and locations for our wedding.
I’ll start with the first part of the sentence above, our money situation. This is the part where each person’s wedding planning experience is different. This article may not apply to certain readers nor interest them if their financial situation was different that ours. Some couples will have a situation where family helps support 100% of the wedding, some are responsible for the entire cost of the wedding, and many (like us) will fall somewhere in between. There is no way around it, you are going to have to spend money when you get married and put on a reception for your guests. But knowing how much money you have to work with, how much support you are getting from others, and how much of your money you are willing to spend on the evening will drive EVERY SINGLE DECISION going forward. We were pretty fortunate and our families offered to provide a nice sum of money to help cover the costs of the wedding. It was so generous of them and allowed us to help have the wedding of our dreams. The amount didn’t cover the entire amount of the wedding though, so this is where we faced our first big decision. Do we work within just the funds provided to us or are we willing to contribute some of our savings?
Luckily for us, we both are pretty frugal livers. We could be better of course (hence I still have cable and enjoy a few other luxuries), but saving a large percentage of our income and subscribing to Lanny’s “Every Dollar Counts” mentality has helped build up our savings accounts over the years. Because of this, we were definitely willing to use our savings to help us compliment what our parents were contributing to the wedding to make the night everything we wanted it to be. We answered the call needed in our first decision and once we established we were willing to contribute what was needed, we moved on to the next important decision to make. How much were we willing to contribute? A set dollar amount? What would help make this decision…a wedding budget? Oh wait, how do you think this article got this title? That’s right, we decided there wouldn’t be a set dollar amount.
Before I proceed on our decision not to have a wedding budget, I want to set the record straight on one thing. We had a benchmark for the typical amount spent for a wedding with as many guests as we were anticipating. My sister was married several years before us and luckily for me, my mom kept every single receipt from my sister’s wedding. We both are accountants, but I am not nearly as organized or detail oriented as she is (go figure)! She compiled the costs for my sister and showed us the dollar per guest for my sister’s wedding. Going forward, we would use this as a benchmark (not a final budget) to help guide us to see if we were overspending on X or being too cheap on Y. So we weren’t blindly going into this, having no concept of how much things cost, or a concept of how much we should be spending for a wedding. Having this was huge and you know what, this is a great segue to the final decision point.
WIth our decision to spend what was needed made and having a reliable benchmark to base future decisions on in hand, we were pretty darn comfortable throwing the idea of having a firm wedding budget out the window. This meant accepting that it is okay to spend more money on the areas and aspects of the wedding that you want to be the most memorable. If one venue is $59/person, one is $70/person, and one is a flat fee but requires X, Y, and Z, we weren’t going to let the overall dollar amount be the final decision point. Cost would be considered because remember, we are both frugal and didn’t want to spend outside of our means, but it would be the third or fourth factor versus the only decider. I’ll show you an example of where this applied, when selecting our wedding venue.
My sisters final dollar per guest at her wedding venue was in the $70s/guest. So that was the benchmark we were working with. The first place we visited was a former country club converted into a city park/reception hall that could be rented. Beautiful space and the cost was $72/guest (all prices are pre-service fees and include the cost of catering/alcohol). Definitely worth considering because the place was beautiful. The second option was an old mall in downtown Cleveland with a ton of character that we both loved. However, the beginning package was $85/person. While we were comfortable spending the money, we knew that spending there would force us to cut here and we would be afraid to spend on the extra details that make your wedding unique and special. We didn’t want that fear to spend elsewhere in the back of our mind so we dropped it from the final list. The third place was the budget venue of $59/person budget. But honestly, it was a little bland to us. It would have been a nice place for a wedding, but not THE place. So we slotted this as the back up option if the former country club turned city park was available. Then, at the last second like it was meant to be, we stumbled on the place we selected for our wedding. This venue was an old factory converted to a wedding venue with beautiful views of the Cleveland skyline and Lake Erie. I walked in, fell in love with the place, and luckily for me, so did my wife! The cost structure was different though. Instead of lumping all costs into a single price per guest amount like the others, we paid a flat fee for the venue and were required to buy the alcohol through their vendor. When it came to catering and all other services, we were on our own. That being said, we knew that if we could save on the outsourced caterer, we could bring the cost per dollar in the same ballpark as the other venues considered. It would still be more than the other options; however, we were willing to spend the extra amount.
This was a mentality that persisted as we booked each successive vendor. We researched, weighed the pros and cons, read the reviews, and considered the cost compared to the quality of service we would receive. Deciding to not have a formal wedding budget was probably the best decision we made and it allowed us the freedom to increase our allocation to X line item when needed or decrease our allocation from Y line item there. If we had a strict budget for each line item and expense, we would have missed out on our venue, photographer, videographer, and DJ because we paid a little more for quality. Not focusing exclusively on price allowed us to focus on booking the best vendor, and I would like to think it showed to our guests. Not having a wedding budget may not work for everyone, but it definitely worked for us.
Did you have a strict wedding budget? What was your mentality as you planned your wedding? If you didn’t have a wedding budget, do you regret that decision?