Check out these Expert Wedding Budget Tips from Kelly Lannan of Fidelity Investments.
Last year, I attended 12 weddings – not including three weddings I couldn’t attend because they conflicted with another wedding on the same day. Starting around age 25, when save-the-dates start rolling in, most people find their summer weekends are already booked more than a year in advance. This trend can feel never-ending as you move into your 30s and still find yourself dancing through the wedding circuit.
Over the years, I have eaten my fair share of shrimp cocktail. I have amassed a collection of bridesmaid dresses that rival the character in 27 Dresses. I’ve pulled bobby pins out of my hair around 2 A.M., only to discover more the next morning, and of course, I’ve scoured registry sites until deciding the best gift is to give cash. I feel as though there’s nothing I haven’t experienced, and while weddings can be elaborate and expensive to attend, I’ve loved them all!
That was until I found myself planning a wedding of my own.
On May 25th last year, I went from having a boyfriend to a having a fiancé. It was one of the best days of my life. Shortly after he popped the question, we met our family and friends at a bar to celebrate. I had been engaged for no more than an hour, when no fewer than five people had already asked if we had set the date. And that was just the beginning!
Everyone talks about how expensive weddings are, but I don’t think you really understand it until you start planning one. Given my job is to talk about personal finance and the importance of budgeting and planning, I’ve been determined to set a realistic wedding budget and stick to it, despite the fact that tacking the word “wedding” in front of anything seems to immediately increase its price.
Fidelity suggests a budgeting guideline of 50/15/5, meaning 50% of funds should go to essential expenses, 15% to retirement savings and 5% to short-term savings. That leaves 30% left over for discretionary spending. I try to follow this rule of thumb and treat my wedding expenses as part of that 30% “discretionary spending” bucket.
Thus far in my wedding journey, I have learned a lot and can share a few of the tips on how I’m trying to stick to my budget:
Reduce your guest list, reduce your costs
Guest list anxiety is a thing. Creating the guest list is probably the hardest part of a wedding and, what I didn’t realize at first, also dictates the most significant part of your total wedding budget. Choose a guest count that's larger than your venue's capacity and you'll be holding your breath every time you open an RSVP. It's much better to keep your number on the conservative side. If there's room in the budget, or you end up with more space than you thought, add later. I realize this isn’t always an easy thing to do when your mom or dad hands you a list with relatives you have never met, or you realize that the last time you spoke to that friend from college was at their wedding eight years ago. So while it may hurt to cross someone off your list, it could be a healthy decision for your budget.
Everything has a price tag
That sounds obvious, right? But there are all these “little” things that add up: the welcome bag, table seating cards, favors, invitations, thank you notes, wedding party gifts and flowers. Oh, the flowers. I couldn’t tell you the color of the flowers at any wedding I attended in the last year, nor what the invitations looked like. However, these are all costs to consider when planning a wedding and are often the ones that don’t have enough budget.
I think there are two ways to look at this: The first is to make a list of the things that are an absolute priority to you. Stick to this list and don’t get sucked into making a last-minute decision that seems so important the day before the wedding, as you will pay for that last-minute add. The second is to pick your battles. Say a relative insists on a traditional wedding cake for dessert, even when you know desserts often get ignored by the night’s end – if a wedding cake isn’t on your priority list, consider asking that relative to pay for it, or at least splitting the cost.
And don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Flowers, for example, are a huge cost, and creative alternatives look just as great – I’ve seen everything from candles to books to fish bowls for centerpieces.
Like life, plan for the unexpected
Just as it’s important to have an emergency fund in life for expensive moments that you don’t expect (e.g., broken foot, leaky shower, flat tire), it’s equally important to set aside a portion of your wedding budget for the unexpected.
Weddings always cost more than you think and even the best budgeter may find they want to splurge, or an unexpected fee comes up. Trust me, it is better to anticipate overages than to convince yourself that you will be the one bride in the history of weddings who comes under budget. Personally, I have set aside $1,000 for wedding overage costs.
Time is money: delegate your wedding to-do’s
I blame TV and movies for showing me that weddings are all about the bride, but that’s not always the case. In my situation, the groom wants to participate! I was pleasantly surprised when my fiancé expressed interesting in designing our save-the-date. He was determined to own this project and knock it out of the park. And I couldn’t have been happier to delegate this project to him.
If your significant other wants to take on a project, let them! You are marrying them for a reason and can trust that they will do a good job. No matter how excited (or controlling!) you are when it comes to planning a wedding, it has been my experience that any time you can alleviate stress, you should do so. Approach the wedding as a team. Make sure you discuss each decision with one another and understand what role each of you and your families will take in planning the wedding, paying for it and participating on the actual day.
Planning for a wedding can be tough, but it should also be fun. At the end of the day, it is your wedding and you want to make sure that you are whooping it up to “Shout!” at the end of the night with everyone else!
Views expressed are as of the date indicated, based on the information available at that time, and may change based on market or other conditions. Unless otherwise noted, the opinions provided are those of the author and not necessarily those of Fidelity Investments or its affiliates. Fidelity does not assume any duty to update any of the information.
Editor's note: Due to the pandemic, some of the general wedding planning advice we share may not be applicable or possible due to restrictions on events. Please adhere to all current regulations and stay safe and healthy! Get more resources for planning a pandemic wedding here.