9 Helpful Tips For Navigating Your Wedding Budget + Free Printable Checklists

Wedding budgets- you can't live with 'em, you can't plan without 'em.  Am I right?

Unfortunately, setting your budget and creating a financial game plan is likely the most important aspect of the wedding.  If you think about it, paying for a wedding is a lot like paying for a car or for college (yikes); its a huge financial investment, no matter what your budget size.  So before you dive head first in to wedding planning, take a step back, Eager McBeaver, and really hone-in on your budget.  After all, a fabulous wedding starts with thinking ahead, having a plan, and deciding what you're realistically able to spend.  It might not be the easiest or most glamorous part of the adventure, but doing the hard stuff now will only ensure a smoother experience down the road.

Setting Your Wedding Budget

Everyone want's to have an epic wedding day, but that's kind of impossible when you don't have a huge budget, right?  Wrong!  Having an amazing day isn't based on budget size, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. (I'll just pretend that rhyme was on purpose....)

If you don't believe me, check out The Budget Savvy Bride, run by Jessica Bishop.  Her website beautifully illustrates the ability of brides to have their dream wedding without going into debt.  Not only does she have amazing tips on how to save vs. splurge, but she's got a million swoon-worthy DIY projects that will turn you into the next Martha Stewart.  And you will be blown away by the real weddings section conveniently categorized by either budget, location, color, or season!  If you're looking for some serious wedding inspiration within your price range, just click on the budget appropriate number and you'll instantly be transported to several real weddings by brides who give you the scoop on how they pulled it off.  Learn from them, ladies!

But enough chit chat, let's get down to some actionable steps you can take to get your wedding budget off on the right foot!

1. Talk it out.

First things first, have a conversation with anyone who you feel, or know, will be wanting to contribute to your wedding.  This is usually the people in your family, like your parents, grandparents, or maybe a very close Aunt or Uncle (re: people who really care about you and want to see you happy).  Some of them may have already told you that they are going to contribute (awesome!), which will make your job that much easier.  The main thing is to figure out who is going to be contributing and how much. 

I know what you're thinking. Hello, awkward conversation.  Even though I'm extremely close with my parents, I still found myself struggling to initiate the conversation- especially since they've already been so generous to my FI and I (like that time they gave us money towards a new mattress while we were both working nights and suffering from awful insomnia).  But, it is because they are so generous and supportive of us, I knew they were probably planning on helping with the wedding; so I went for it.

"Mom & Dad, I really appreciate all you do for me, and how supportive you've always been.  As you know, FI and I are getting married, and are trying to get organized.  Before starting anything, I want to have my budget in place so I know where I'm going.  You guys are under no obligation to contribute, as we really just appreciate your support.  But because you're my parents and this is my wedding, I am just asking if you are planning on contributing, so that I can get a financial plan ironed out before taking any further steps." 

It was as simple as that.  Short, to the point, and it showed them that I am trying to be fiscally responsible.  They were, of course, planning on helping us with the budget, but hadn't yet discussed an amount.  We gave them time to think about it and discuss what they were comfortable with, while ensuring them that they were under no obligation.  We also had the same discussion with FI's parents.  It worked out very well. 

On a side note, I really think this all depends on your relationship with those close to you, their financial situation, and overall, what you are comfortable with.  It is important to note that, as etiquette goes, no one is required to pay for or contribute to your wedding.  These days, the bride's parents are (usually) no longer the ones paying for the bulk of the wedding.  In fact, most couples are now paying their own way, as there are really no set traditions in financial responsibility anymore.

2. Determine What You Can Realistically Save

As I talked about in this post here, having a longer engagement can really help you to save up for the big day.  Regardless of your time frame, sit down with your fiance and have a heart-to-heart about what you can realistically set aside, without coming up short in other areas (like your B-I-L-L-S).  Whether you have a long or a short engagement, you should start setting aside funds as soon as you get the ring.  It might be difficult at first, but the Knot recommends saving about 20% of your monthly income as a goal.  You can read more about that post here

Try to be as honest as you can with yourselves when considering the amount of money you can comfortably save.  At no point should saving for your wedding interfere with responsibilities, like paying your rent.

3.  Have A Budget Cushion

This might sound slightly counterproductive to a tight budget, but its important to factor in a splurge/overage/rainy day cushion.  The sad fact is, you just never know when an emergency situation may arise.  What if someone accidentally orders 3 bridesmaid dresses, but you've got four girls standing up and end up having to put a rush order on the last gown to get it in on time?  By setting aside some cushion funds, you'll find yourself in much better shape when the unexpected happens (or at the very least, less stressed).  Martha Stewart Weddings suggests you should allot for a cushion between 5-10% of your budget.

4.  Know Your Bottom Line

I don't know about you, but I'm a firm believer of not going into debt for my wedding (or many other things, for that matter).  An important goal of mine is for my fiance and I to start off our new lives without any financial burdens.  If you think about it, the beginning of married life is difficult in itself- you're living with a new person (if you weren't already), combining ALL finances, and making joint decisions that require two different people to come together as adults and reach mutual agreements.  For many people, it can take some getting used to.  So why start off with an added burden of debt, because you spent more than you were comfortably able to on your wedding day?

My point is, know your bottom line.  Discuss in detail what you both are comfortable with paying and HOW you intend to pay for it.  Create a set number that you absolutely cannot go over- and stick to it!  Remember that this is your future life together.  After the wedding has come and gone, it will be the day-to-day events and responsibilities that make up the life of your marriage.  To quote a popular Paula Patton movie, "The magic isn't in getting married, its in staying married."  Simply put, make married life easier on yourself by not adding more unnecessary stress!

5.  Research, Research, Research!

Once you have a set number in mind, DO. YOUR. RESEARCH.  Look up weddings and what they generally cost in your area.  Lucky for you, I've already done this step with the help of CostofWedding.com.  Click here for the average price of NOLA weddings.  (Note: I did this for weddings in the French Quarter- zip code 70130- but you can plug in any zip code for a more personalized estimate.) 

Research venues, photographers, florists- anything you can think of that fits your vision- and get ballpark prices.  This will give you a good idea of if your budget is realistic, and where things on your list might need to be tweaked.  It will throw a major wrench in your plans if you find out that the average photographer prices are $2,500 minimum, when you've only budgeted $1,000 for photos. 

Also, read my venue reviews on Pat O's on the River, Rosy's Jazz Hall, the Irish Cultural Museum of New Orleans, the Jaxson on the River, and the Columns Hotel for a round up of prices in the New Orleans area.  And don't forget to plan for the Second Line, if you intend on having one!  I will go into more depth on Second Line planning in a future post, but, for now, keep in mind that an average Second Line adds anywhere from $1,000-$1,500 extra to your budget.  I'm definitely not trying to discourage you (because Second Lines are unbelievably amazing), but I want you to be prepared for the costs.  Trust me, they are so worth it!

Photo Credit: www.costofwedding.com

Photo Credit: www.costofwedding.com

6.  Be Flexible

Remember when I talked about the different times of year and how they effect wedding costs here?  Well, that can be a game changer for budget planning.  If you have an ideal wedding date in mind and absolutely can't imagine yourself getting married during any other time of year, then you should research what the typical costs are for that season.  In New Orleans, fall and spring wedding dates are more popular, and thus, more expensive.  The same concept goes for certain days of the week.  Most brides would ideally like to get married on a Saturday, but a Friday or a Sunday can be just as epic, and usually less expensive.  If you want to really cut costs, try getting married on a weekday!  And if you're seriously looking keep things under budget, consider having a wedding in the morning or early afternoon.  An earlier start time generally means less demand in the bridal world.  Bottom line: If you're on a tight budget, you might need to be more flexible in the time of year, day of the week, or time of day for your wedding. 

7.  Know Your Priorities

Once you've settled on a budget, the next hurdle is figuring out where to allocate your funds.  Contrary to popular belief, there are ways to save money, while still getting what you want.  The best way to do that is to first decide what is really important and nonnegotiable to you.  For example, if you know that amazing wedding photos are something you absolutely cannot live without, you should be willing to spend more money on a talented photographer, and less money on something else, such as flowers.  My wedding, for instance, is in October, and while there are lovely fall flowers, they just aren't a priority for vision.  (My decor is going to be mainly pumpkins!)  For me, spending more money on an awesome photographer was the priority, because at the end of the day, I'll only have my memories and my photos to cherish.

Really take a moment and talk about what is important to you and your fiance.  Maybe you're both foodies and can't imagine not having the best caterer in town?  "Go for it," I say!  But be prepared to cut costs in other areas that aren't as vital to you.  Knowing where to spend your money is a huge part of budget planning.  Once you decide what you absolutely cannot live without, you can then divide up the rest of your budget accordingly.

8.  Have Your Guest List In Mind

To accurately search for a venue/caterer/baker/stationer/etc., you really need to have a ballpark of the number of people you'll be inviting to the wedding.  While, at such an early stage, it is hard to know for sure, having a general number in mind will help to you narrow down your choices.  For example, if you're having an intimate wedding of 50 guests, you really don't need to have a venue that fits 250, and you definitely don't need to pay the minimum requirement for it!  So, before you go any further, work up a preliminary guest list so you have a ballpark number.

9.  Track Your Spending

The BEST way to stay on point with your budget is to keep a running log of what you are spending.  While it may seem tedious, accounting for dollars spent will keep your budget and sanity in check.  Below, I've created some FREE printable budget checklists that you can download here.  It's got the budget items found in most weddings, plus some that are only exclusive to NOLA brides.  Check it out!

How have you been staying in budget?  Where you just as unenthusiastic about setting a budget as I was?  Use the hashtag #NOLAweddingbudget to share your thoughts with me on Instagram and Twitter, or in the comments section below!  I'd love to hear your saving tips!  You can also follow me on Pinterest for all things NOLA bride!  I will also continue to share helpful budget tips that I come across during this planning adventure, as well as some DIY projects I've been working on! 

Until next time!

-The Newly NOLA Bride