In today’s post, we’re going to talk about one of the most uncomfortable moments of wedding planning, and that’s talking about the wedding budget.
Now, we aren’t going to get into the actual budgeting component of wedding planning, but rather tips and advise on how to talk to your family or other contributors about whether or not they will be helping pay for the wedding. For more specific help on creating and breaking down your wedding budget, make sure to check out episodes 2, 6, and 32 of this podcast, and grab the free guide, Expensive Wedding Planning Mistakes.
But before you can create your wedding budget, you need to know what your “big picture” number is. In episode 2, I talk about making sure you don’t plan your wedding backwards, and this is the first step to making sure you’re doing things in the right order. However, if you’re already past that point, it’s never too late to turn things around. So if you are in the very beginning stages of planning, or maybe glossed over the budget talk at the beginning, this episode will be very helpful!
While it’s great that the lines of old school traditions of how weddings used to be are blurring, it can also make navigating wedding planning extra challenging. For example, it used to be a given that the brides family would pay for the majority of the wedding costs, with the grooms family only paying for certain things like the bar and the brides bouquet. While that traditional breakdown may work for some, it’s much more common these days for both sides of the family to contribute, or the couple themselves to handle the costs alone. Every couple needs to make their own decisions on what works best for them, and not stress over what “tradition” says needs to be done.
All that said, talking about money can be really uncomfortable, right? We’re taught from a young age that it’s rude to talk about money, and even amongst families, it’s often kept pretty private. But once you get engaged, you may start to have family members speak in general terms about contributing to the wedding, or to let you know how they can help with the plans. But generalities don’t help you get that big picture number, or put down deposits, so how to you turn those loose comments into specific numbers for your budget without sounding pushy or rude?
Let’s start first by deciding if you want help in paying for the wedding? While it might be amazing to be able to have a bigger budget, will that come with strings attached? It’s not uncommon to hear couples complain about parents or other family members feeling like they have the final say over wedding related decisions (especially the guest list) if they are making significant contributions to the budget. And honestly, it’s hard to argue with that. Yes, it is your wedding, but if your parents are paying for the majority of the wedding, I personally think that it’s kind of fair to let them invite some of their friends that you may not have included on the list if it were up to you. And it’s much harder to have your mom make the deposit for a venue if you know she really doesn’t like it.
Whether you think it’s fair or not, having others contribute financially to the wedding does typically open you up to more opinions being shared, and that’s something you’ll need to think about before accepting their money. If you know your family will push their opinions/decisions on you in a way that you will be uncomfortable or unhappy about, it might be worth a longer engagement so the two of you can make all the payments on your own.
If you are going to have family help with the wedding costs, you need to have the budget conversation as early on as possible. Ideally, before you start inquiring to vendors, and definitely before you start booking anything. I recommend setting up a dinner, or time to meet with your family, and let them know that you’d like to discuss the wedding budget. That way they can be prepared and not feel put on the spot. If your two families aren’t particularly close, or are private about money, don’t make it a big group meeting, you can have separate conversations with those contributing. Think about what will make them the most comfortable, as it can be an awkward conversation to have.
You can start the conversation off with a simple and direct question like “I know we previously spoke about the wedding planning, have you thought about what you would be comfortable contributing?” You’ll likely get one of two responses, the first being an actual dollar amount that they are able to give, or they may ask you what dollar amount you had in mind. If you’ve listened to me discuss the wedding budget before, you know I’m going to warn you about not planning your wedding backwards, and this second question is where that typically starts.
Most couples do not have the luxury of simply not having a budget to stick to. If you are lucky enough to not be in a position where you’re making decisions on your budget, then this won’t pertain to you. But if you start making your wedding plans based on what you want, not what you are able to afford, you’re going to get in over your head pretty quickly, and risk being disappointed with what your budget will actually allow. This is what I call planning backwards, when you make plans BEFORE you have a realistic idea of what your budget is.
So how do you answer, if they ask if you had a dollar amount in mind for the wedding? Ideally, the truth would be that you simply don’t know yet. You can let them know that before you start putting together the guest list, or looking at venues, you wanted to know what your big picture number will be for the budget, which is the goal of this meeting. That will give them another opportunity to let you know what they might have set aside to help with the wedding costs, without feeling like you already have a number in mind.
From here, hopefully you’ll be able to have an open conversation about realistic numbers, making sure that you’re all on the same page from the start. Remember, we want to avoid those general comments like “just let us know what you need” or “don’t worry, we’ll take care of it”. Unless you truly don’t have any budget or financial restrictions, that’s a great way to over commit with vendors, and no one wants to find out a month before the wedding when the final payments are due that you were both on VERY different pages about that big picture number! Now THAT will be an awkward conversation!
So what do you do if it’s like pulling teeth to get them to commit to a number or range, but you know that you’re not in the lucky category of not needing to have a budget? Or maybe they have said something like “we’ll pay for your dress, or the bar”, but won’t give you an actual amount that they are thinking of. If this is truly your situation, I recommend the two of you start working on your wedding priorities (check out episode 31 for those details), and begin researching venues and vendors in your area. Don’t book anything yet, the goal here is to try to figure out what the realistic numbers would look like if you were book with them. Be generous, estimating on the high side to ensure you’re capturing the cost of the smaller details you won’t know about until you really get into planning, and add a “miscellaneous” category in there too, to help make sure the numbers are realistic. You can then take that number to your family to see if they are comfortable with contributing that amount. Regardless of the response, this gives you a realistic number to bring them, just just pulling a number out of the blue that you’re not sure is even realistic.
Why don’t I recommend starting with this approach in the first place? Well, let’s say that you bring that number to your family, and it’s way more than they are able to contribute? You’ve now put a ton of effort into looking at venues, vendors, and starting to dream of this being your wedding, and it simply might be out of reach. You now have to make a significant mental shift in what your wedding will be, which inevitably leads to disappointment. That’s not a fun way to start the planning process, but the risk you take by planning your wedding backwards.
Before you wrap up the budget conversation with your family, there are a few other things that you’ll want to address to avoid awkward situations in the future. The first would be setting those expectations that we discussed earlier. If you are absolutely set on having an intimate wedding, make sure that’s clear to the family at this point. If they only want to pay for a wedding if it’s a huge gathering with all of their friends, you want to find that out now, and decide if you’re ok with that. Discuss your other priorities with them (location, time of year, etc) so that everyone is on the same page. Most couples and their families are able to find happy compromises when it comes to differences of opinions, but not setting the expectations from the start can lead to constant arguments during the planning process, and then it just isn’t fun anymore! Get those conversations out of the way at the beginning, so you can enjoy the rest of the planning process!
The other detail you’ll want to discuss is how the bills and payments will be handled. You may be thinking that you’ll put everything on your credit card to start racking up the travel points for your honeymoon, and then having your parents pay you back. However, they may be banking on doing the same thing, or prefer to make the payments directly. I’ve heard some parents will just write one big check, and let you do with it what you’d like, while others will want to be more involved in what is being done with the money they are contributing. There’s not a right or wrong way to do it, but having the conversation early on will make the process much smoother when it comes time to make those payments.
Once you know what the various family members are able to contribute, you’ll have your big picture number, and you’ll be ready to break the budget down by category, so you can start looking for vendors. You can get much more information on that process in the Wedding Planning Blueprint Course, but remember that this is a crucial step BEFORE you start booking your vendors. And remember, check out episodes 2, 6, and 32 of this podcast, and grab the free guide, Expensive Wedding Planning Mistakes.