Break down the budget
There are many things that affect the cost of a wedding, so create mini budgets for each category to keep you on track:
- Venue and catering
- Photography and videography
- Stationery and invitations
- Wedding attire
- Hair and makeup
- Favours or gifts for the guests
There could be other things you want to allocate funds for as well, like the officiant, wedding planner, wedding licence, rings and honeymoon.
“I always maintain if you're on a small budget, never try to spread it too thin over all areas. It is better to focus on one or two areas,” Lemke advises.
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“Don't have a wedding cake, don't have printed invitations. Get rid of those, but have really, really good food.”
She adds that there may be cultural aspects to consider in a wedding budget as well.
“If we're coming from a South Asian tradition and we need to have three days of celebrations — well, sometimes they're just as elaborate [as the wedding]. So that budget needs to be accounted for really early on.”
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Slash the guest list
“One of the things we learned over COVID-19 is quality over quantity,” says Jackie Porter, a certified financial planner in Mississauga, Ont.
“Do we need the drunk uncle, or can we skip him? Especially if he’s going to make some inappropriate speech nobody wants to hear [laughs].”
Having a smaller guest list and reducing that per-plate cost also means you have more wiggle room in your budget for other things.
“If you only have $10,000 to spend, but you still want to put on a beautiful dress and have beautiful pictures, then you can do that. You just can't have a raging dance party,” says Lemke.
She adds that a couple can use the money they’ve saved on a large wedding to go toward a down payment on a house instead.
“I think you have to really put it in perspective, especially when you're dealing with larger numbers — would you actually give this person $500 or $1,000? … You're the one who's gifting them the party.”
Look for ways to save
You don’t necessarily have to pop into David’s Bridal and spend thousands of dollars on a wedding dress for one day.
“If a man buys himself a beautiful suit, he is going to wear it over and over again,” Lemke points out. “The woman is never going to wear her dress again … Mine is sitting in a bag in the basement.”
Lemke suggests renting your wedding attire instead, while Porter recommends looking for discounted dresses or buying them second-hand.
Location and time matters when you’re planning a wedding as well. For example, Lemke decided to have her wedding in California instead of Toronto, and said this made the event less costly.
She also says planners are usually busiest May 1 to Oct. 31 in Canada, due to the warmer weather. Holidays like Christmas and Valentine’s Day may be popular as well, so avoid these dates to save on costs.
You can also save money by doing a daytime wedding on a weekday, and serving lunch instead of dinner.
“7:00 am until three or four in the afternoon, you have a really good run, you usually have good weather, and you can probably get into any venue that you want.”
Keep a 'slush fund'
“I think what my rule of thumb is, with people who are planning for weddings, is similar to a renovation. Add 20%, so you have an extra cushion for things that might come up, or even saving for a house,” says Porter.
Lemke also agrees that it’s important to be prepared for surprises and set aside a “slush fund.” She says COVID-19 forced many couples to postpone and then replan their weddings, which leads to added costs.
“Getting married two years later than planned in a highly inflationary situation has blown up more than one budget.”
She suggests keeping $500 to $1,000 aside for every $10,000 of a planned budget.
“So a $50K starting budget should have $2,500 to $5,000 in reserve as a contingency.”
Get professional help
Porter recommends hiring a financial planner first. “What's [the couple’s] one-year plan, their three-year plan, their five-year plan? And [then] factor in the plan for the wedding.”
There are financial benefits to hiring a wedding planner as well — they have plenty of resources, and they may know where to find quality vendors for lower budgets. They can also help you avoid making costly errors, like overbooking photo or video hours, explains Lemke.
“Sometimes when people are overwhelmed, either they do nothing, or they just say yes to a lot of things,” adds Porter.
Some wedding planners offer package pricing, while others come with an hourly fee. Just make sure to do your research first. Wedding planning is an unregulated profession, but Lemke says finding someone with years of experience is vital.
“If you're on a really tight budget, and you don't have money to hire someone who's got a lot of experience [for the whole event], call someone with experience and hire them for just a few hours to pick their brain,” she advises.
Prioritize what’s important to you
“It really is [about] picking and choosing what is the most important thing for you,” says Lemke.
Porter says to avoid checking your Instagram or Pinterest too often — you don’t need to include the big band or expensive flowers just because other people do.
“Practice good social media hygiene as you're getting married, because I think it can often confuse you about what your priorities are.”
She also emphasizes the importance of not compromising your financial future as a couple over the perfect wedding, so have that conversation with your partner early on.
Porter brings up an example of one of her clients, who had a “Big Fat Greek Wedding” to please the family. The couple were also weighing the pros and cons of buying a house as opposed to having a honeymoon. In the end, the couple talked it through and avoided the big honeymoon right after the wedding.
“They did want to get married to each other. They wanted to start a life together. They wanted to own a home together,” she says. “And then the following year — because, again, you have the rest of your life [together] — they went away on a beautiful vacation.”
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