6 Steps for Planning the Wedding You Want With the Budget You Have

With the average cost of weddings on the rise, planning a beautiful, meaningful wedding within your budget may seem daunting, but it really is possible. Whether you have $4,000 or $40,000, here are six steps for planning the wedding you want with the budget you have.
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Only 6 percent of couples manage to come in under budget while planning their weddings, according to The Knot's 2014 Real Weddings Study. With the average cost of weddings on the rise, planning a beautiful, meaningful wedding within your budget may seem daunting, but it really is possible. Whether you have $4,000 or $40,000, here are six steps for planning the wedding you want with the budget you have.

1. Create a Wedding Philosophy

A mission statement guides a company's decision-making process, just like a wedding philosophy will guide your wedding planning process. You can view sample wedding philosophies here. Before you pick out napkin colors, you and your partner should ask yourselves these questions:

  • What is the purpose of our wedding?

  • How do we want to feel about our wedding?
  • How do we want our guests to feel about our wedding?
  • What are our values and priorities?
  • Your philosophy might be, "We want to honor our guests and our culture's traditions." Tough decisions will come up like, "Should we spend an extra few hundred dollars to buy an arch to stand under during the ceremony?" You can look and see if the purchase aligns with your philosophy. Is the arch an important part of your culture? Is it an important family tradition? Will your guests feel more honored seeing the arch? If the answer to these questions is "no," your decision has been made for you.

    2. List Negotiables vs. Non-Negotiables

    Using your wedding philosophy to guide you, you and your partner should create two lists: one of the non-negotiable items you absolutely can't imagine your wedding without, and one of the negotiable items that would be fun to have, but you could skip if you need to. For every couple, these lists will be different because every couple has unique priorities. When you have a strong sense of your priorities, it will be easier for you to determine how to spend your wedding funds.

    3. Splurge and Cut Costs

    Financial expert Ramit Sethi says you should spend extravagantly on the things you love, "but you have to cut costs mercilessly on the things you don't." While Sethi's advice is for general spending, this approach is greatly effective for wedding planning. You can have the non-negotiable items you've dreamed of at your wedding, as long as you're willing to cut expenses for things that aren't as important to you.

    One couple might hire an experienced photographer and use faux flowers in their ceremony while another couple would ask a friend to photograph their wedding so they can splurge on professional floral arrangements. It's up to each individual couple to determine the areas in which they'd like to splurge or cut costs.

    4. Research Supply Costs

    Your wedding budget should have columns labeled "item," "projected cost," and "actual cost." Use Google Shopping to get a feel for the cost of the supplies you think you might like to purchase, and enter the prices under "projected cost."

    Start with non-negotiables, then move on to less important items like that rhinestone encrusted "bride" bathrobe. Leave wiggle room for unexpected expenses because they will pop up. (You hear it will be 30 degrees hotter on your wedding day than you expected? You better buy more water bottles!)

    Once you've projected what you'll spend on supplies, you and your partner may need to go back and cut supplies that aren't important to you in order to stay within budget. As you make purchases, track your spending in the "actual cost" column and tweak your spending as needed.

    5. Don't Let Vendors Beat Around the Bush

    When you contact vendors, explain the services you're envisioning and the amount of money you're planning to spend. Then, ask which services they could offer to maximize your budget. Save time by insisting on a price quote before attending an in-person consultation. This will help you quickly weed out vendors who are out of your price range and find vendors who can creatively work within your budget.

    6. Get Creative

    It may take some creativity to cut costs in negotiable areas. Skip any traditions that aren't meaningful to you, consider DIY projects, and ask friends and relatives for help. Invest in professionals who will execute services you're passionate about, but ask volunteers to assist you with things that you don't mind being done without experienced help.


    You can absolutely plan the wedding you want with the budget you have. Rather than agonizing over every penny or going way over budget, your wedding philosophy will guide you in spending lavishly on the items that are incredibly special to you, and ruthlessly cutting costs on those that aren't.

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