For the past five years, I've spent the majority of my weekends working weddings as a professional bridesmaid for complete strangers through my company, Bridesmaid for Hire. I've been to over a hundred weddings, where I've helped brides feel more supported on their big day, acting as their stand-in friend, personal assistant, and unofficial on-call therapist.
I've walked dogs down the aisle, dealt with maids-of-honor dropping out of the wedding last minute, actually given maid-of-honor speeches, helped find missing grooms, and have acted as a sounding board for more than a handful of brides who suddenly got cold feet.
I've also spent hours on the phone with stressed out clients who find themselves spending way more than they budgeted when their wedding planning spirals out of control. It happens fast. One decision leads to another, and before you know it, the wedding is costing you $15,000 more than you hoped it would.
After getting engaged four months ago, I started to think about the kind of wedding I wanted. You might think that having all that insider knowledge would make things easier, but instead I felt paralyzed, inundated with decisions I couldn't make — I had seen too much at all of the weddings I had been to.
The average cost of a wedding in the U.S. is $29,200, according to The Knot's Worldwide 2019 Global Wedding Report. For that price, you could buy a car, put a down payment on a house, or even quit your job and travel the world for a year. But for many of the over 2 million couples who get married every year, the cost is worth it.
Even with all my wedding experience, I felt that way too. It was going to be a big purchase but one we wanted to make, to create a memorable day for us and our friends and family.
So I eyeballed Excel spreadsheets and shared headaches with my fiancé over what our special day would look like. The constant back and forth over what we should do juxtaposed with the advice that was pouring in from loved ones to strangers, made us feel like planning our own wedding, just the two of us, was going to take years.
Here's how we figured out a wedding budget that complemented our financial situation and didn't make us feel eager to spend more and more on a one-day celebration.
So many brides I've worked with have become overwhelmed by the stress of their big ideas and favorite vendors not aligning with their wedding budget.
While getting engaged can be a burst of excitement that sends you into never-ending Google searches and Pinterest boards of wedding inspiration, you don't want to have to stretch the cash in your accounts or lean on your credit cards to pay for it all. Always plan your wedding budget first before your imagination runs away with your checkbook.
Before my fiancé and I created a list of decisions we wanted the world to vote on, like where to get married or what types of flowers to have, we sat down and wrote out our budget.
To stay realistic, we looked at the money in our savings accounts, talked about our financial goals for the year ahead, and thought about how much we were willing to spend on an eight-hour day for our loved ones. That's how we picked our number — a number less than the national average.
Once we had our spending maximum written down on paper, we took our first wedding vow: That we wouldn't go above that amount, no matter what. This helped us manage our wedding expectations, know our limits with vendors, and keep us out of that gray area of "well, maybe we can pull some money out of other accounts to make a 10-piece wedding band work."
After going to over a hundred weddings in my career, I've started to see that what makes any wedding incredible is the food served, the drinks offered, and the music playing all night long.
So those are the three things my fiancé and I have decided to focus on with our wedding budget, leaving the other details, such as centerpieces, flower arrangements, and even the style of the chairs, to be less of a priority on our wedding must-have list.
Knowing what the three to five things you must have at your wedding will help you see where the majority of your money should go.
For the rest of the items, you can cut costs by getting crafty with DIY centerpieces and decorations, buying used over new — for decorations or even your wedding dress — or finding less expensive vendors.
It can be easy to compare and contrast your wedding with ones you see on social media that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, or even other weddings you've been to as a guest. As someone who spends most of her weekends at weddings, I'm guilty of that.
But whenever I find myself feeling unsettled about what I can't afford to have at my wedding, I try to take a look back at some of the best weddings I've ever been to. I remember that those were often the simple events, the ones done in backyards or with homemade food, and realize it's not about how much you spend, it's about how much heart goes into it.
With a wedding budget that's less than the national average, it's empowering to challenge myself to think outside of the box and have the wedding of my dreams — one where I won't be haunted with credit card debt and outstanding payments to vendors that last years after the one-night celebration does.
Jen Glantz is the founder of the viral business Bridesmaid for Hire, the creator of the project Finally the Bride, the voice of the podcast You're Not Getting Any Younger, and the author of the Amazon-bestselling books, All My Friends Are Engaged and Always a Bridesmaid for Hire.
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