You probably remember the famous grocery store scene in Father of the Bride that lands George Banks in a jail cell: Fresh off the heels of a wedding planning meeting, the already stressed FOB freaks out about the unfairness of having to purchase more hot dog buns than he actually needed. This hilarious Steve Martin performance sums up the total chaos many people feel when they start analyzing the costs associated with hosting a wedding.
To alleviate some of the stress of planning, and to hopefully save you from a similar wedding budget meltdown, the best thing you can do as a couple is set a clear, realistic, and firm budget from the very beginning. As many couples don't set budgets while they're dating, this alone can be a truly daunting task. Here are a few tips on discussing your wedding budget with your fiancé.
Determine where the budget is coming from.
Whether you do it over dinner or over a cup of coffee, starting the conversation about budget should be your number one priority after you get engaged. While it was once tradition for the bride's family to pay for her wedding, many couples are now paying for their own celebration and some couples combine their own finances with contributions from both sets of parents and/or grandparents.
So, the first thing you'll want to figure out is who you're expecting to help with the wedding, and when you'll be able to have those conversations with your family. You may want to discuss whether it's best for both of you to be present for those conversations, or if it's more comfortable for each of you to handle your parents on your own.
Be sure you're using accurate numbers when estimating.
Two of the biggest mistakes couples make when planning a budget are overestimating the amount of money they'll be able to get their hands on and/or underestimating the true costs associated with planning a wedding. In order to avoid overestimating the money you'll have access to for your wedding, err on the lower side. You'll always be pleasantly surprised if you end up with extra money, but you can't always come up with additional money if you've overestimated. Regarding approximate costs that go into a wedding, you'll have to do diligent research and ask around. Wedding planners generally give the best estimates on budget and are often willing to talk you through an average wedding cost (based on your location) prior to being hired. Some venues may give estimates of cost as well, but you should clarify whether they're taking all vendors, décor, and attire into consideration in the range they give you.
Discuss worst-case scenarios early.
What if something unexpected happens along the way? Say one of you loses a job or gets sick—you need to know going into this that you can cancel the wedding and forfeit deposits if you need to. Rather than having this conversation when you're hit with it, it's good to discuss priorities with your fiancé upfront to make sure you're on the same page if something happens. You might also consider purchasing wedding insurance if you think this is a strong possibility.
Keep each other in check.
Learning how to hold each other accountable with spending is one of the biggest marriage lessons you'll start to learn while planning your wedding. If one of you chooses foie gras and the other knows you have a BBQ budget, you've got to be able to navigate those conversations without driving each other crazy.
Probably more so than anything you've ever done together previously, planning a wedding incorporates a huge amount of trust in each other. Trusting your partner to pay invoices in a timely manner, trusting that they'll keep an eye on the budget bottom line, trusting that you'll both make wise spending decisions. One of the biggest takeaways from the planning process is figuring out how to keep each other in check while still making both of you happy.
Decide who is managing the funds.
This is probably one of the easier conversations you'll have about budget. Deciding who will be in charge of the wedding funds usually boils down to whoever is "better" with money management. It's likely that one of you will prefer to manage the wedding bank account based on your experience handling budgets, spreadsheets, and spending. It's often easier to have one person devoted to writing checks and balancing the books so that you don't find yourselves in a pinch by accidentally overdrawing funds or double paying a vendor.
Be communicative, patient, and compassionate.
Marriage is full of difficult conversations about finances, and at times planning a wedding is just the beginning of figuring out how you and your partner will manage shared funds. Being a clear communicator and being completely honest with each other about what you're comfortable spending is so important. If you're able to be patient and compassionate when the money just doesn't exist, it'll make cutting costs a lot easier on your relationship.