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Whether you’re throwing a celebration that’s bare-bones or blowout, here’s how Washington, D.C.-area planner Carol Marino, of A Perfect Wedding in Fairfax, Virginia, suggests divvying up your budget. Just remember to include sales tax in your calculations.
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Reception (Food, Beverages, Rentals, and Site): 40 percent to 50 percent
Flowers: 10 percent
Photography/Videography: 10 percent
Bride’s and groom’s attire: 5 percent to 10 percent
Music: 5 percent to 10 percent
Planner or Coordinator: 10 percent to 15 percent
Miscellaneous (Favors, Transportation, Etc.): 10 percent
Cushion: 5 percent to 15 percent
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To arrive at a realistic budget, start by researching the price of weddings in your specific area. The average varies wildly across the country—from around $20,000 in Little Rock, Arkansas, to $75,000-plus in the ritzy suburbs of Chicago. At Cost of Wedding, you can enter your ZIP code and get a snapshot of costs in your area.
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Research the Costs
If you have your heart set on a specific site, florist, or band, call that vendor to get a sense of their fees. During this preliminary planning stage, you’ll also need a ballpark figure for the number of guests you’d like to invite. All this early deliberation and fact-finding will give you a more accurate estimate of how much your fantasy wedding will cost.
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Talk About It
Armed with this information, it’s time for you and your fiance to have an open, respectful talk about how much you can actually afford. Whether to include others in this conversation depends on who will be contributing to the wedding. Though more and more couples are paying their own way it’s still common for the bride’s and groom’s parents to take care of at least some of the expenses. If your families are willing to open their checkbooks, it’s crucial to get their input up front, and to be mindful of your hosts’ limits and gracious about their choices.
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Once you’ve settled on a hard number, the next step is setting your top priorities. Perhaps your top priority is a gourmet dinner, a breathtaking location, or mind-blowing live music. Once you can determine that, it will tell you where you should put most of your budget. Keep in mind that you and your groom may not agree on what’s most important, so you’ll both need to come to an understanding.
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As couples often find, your dreams may be far bigger than your pocketbook, and you’ll need to cut back your expectations. Although it’s always tough to realize you can’t have everything, there are all kinds of creative ways of saving money that don’t look like you’re saving money. Some of them are sneaky and simple, like cutting down on the number of tables at your reception, which translates into fewer expensive centerpieces. Some of them aren’t quite so pain-free.
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Track Your Spending
Remaining within your budget also means staying organized. Track your expenditures by saving receipts and recording your spending. File copies of every vendor estimate in a folder so you can refer to them if need be. And remember to keep a cool head and just say no to things you can’t afford.