Congrats on your upcoming nuptials! If you’ve told anyone at all about your engagement, then you’ve probably already endured the barrage of “Have you set a date yet?”s and “Have you guys talked about having kids?”s (yikes!) — so I’ll spare you any of that, and get right down to brass tacks: I’m here to help you afford your forthcoming wedding.
So bask in the glow of seventy million “likes” on the social media picture of a glittering left hand, grab yourself a glass of wine (I recommend some Two Buck Chuck, for budget purposes), and let me help you to…
Get Naked! (Financially)
Take that glass of wine you poured, pour one for your partner, and cozy up… to your computer. It’s time to lay everything out on the line – what assets are you bringing into this marriage, and what debts?
This is not always a fun conversation (hence the wine as a conversation lubricant – but stick to just one glass, mmmkay?), but it’s really, really important. When I asked my now-husband what he thought the best thing we did after getting engaged was, this was his answer: we talked openly about money and about what each of us was bringing to the table. (Technically we were already doing this before we got engaged, but he married a personal finance blogger and you’re probably not doing that, I’d wager.)
One of you may be hiding something from the other. Maybe it’s a large credit card debt, or the fact that you lent a bunch of money to a family member. If you’re the one hiding something, now is the best time to bring it up. If your partner is hiding something and they come clean now, try to be understanding. You can work together to change things now that you can see the whole picture. Knowing everything now will help you to build a solid foundation for a wonderful future, even if one of you is totally shocked right now.
Once you’ve laid out your entire financial picture together, you can start to…
Plan the Wedding You Can Afford
It’s okay to take a break between the “okay, how much money do we have?” conversation and this “okay, how much wedding can we afford?” one. In fact, you probably should. Take a day or two to process your financial picture, then grab another glass of wine each. Time to do some event budget planning!
With your partner, come up with a number you are willing to spend on your wedding (and honeymoon!) without going into debt.
Consider all of your possible resources for paying for a wedding & honeymoon, including any help from family. Just remember – help from family always comes with strings attached. When someone is paying for something, they want some degree of input on how that money is spent. How much creative control over your wedding are you and your partner willing to give up? Are there things you don’t care about (like table runners) that Mom and Aunt Margaret are free to decide on, and are there non-starters (like inviting your angry, drunk cousins) that you won’t compromise on? Discuss all of this with your partner before you approach any family members who want to contribute to your wedding fund.
Once you have a number in mind for your total maximum wedding & honeymoon budget, multiply that budget number by .85. This is your wedding & honeymoon budget. Why .85 (85%)? Because if there’s one thing I actually learned in film school, it’s that all productions run over budget. You need a 15% buffer between the budget you plan on, and your actual maximum amount.
You may even need more of a buffer than that. Look at yourself. Look at your partner. How good are you guys at controlling costs and staying on a budget? You don’t become better at sticking to a budget when planning a wedding – believe me. Weddings are high-emotion spectacles, even when you try to keep things cool-as-a-cucumber. So just be mindful of that now, and build yourself a bigger buffer than you think you need.
Now, use this awesome Wedding Cost Estimator from Wedding Report to see what your wedding plans typically cost people in your zip code.
Is there a big difference between your buffer-ized budget number and the number that the calculator says your wedding plans cost? That’s common. The sticker shock that comes with wedding costs is real. But what can you actually do to close the gap? (This is all assuming that the wedding you want costs more than your budget. If the gap is in the other direction, and you have oodles of cash for the wedding you want… get off my site and start planning your beautiful dream wedding, you gorgeous rich unicorn, you. The rest of us need these money-saving tips!)
You’ll either need to find more money, or make some compromises and use some budget wedding tricks to keep the costs down. In a future post, I’ll share all the things we did when trying to plan a $4,000 wedding. (Spoiler alert: in trying to plan a $4,000 wedding, we ended up with a $7,000 wedding. But that’s why I told you about BUFFERS!)
The next thing to do is…
Get A New Email Address for Wedding Stuff
Wait, Stephanie… is this even a money-saving tip? It sure is, buddy! Or, at least, it’s the first step to help you accomplish some of the tips below, so just listen up. This is a piece of advice I didn’t actually follow, and I still regret it more than two years later! Why? Because the wedding spam is still pouring into my regular email inbox. So don’t be like me, with an inbox overflowing with more wedding-related emails than I ever thought possible.
Hop on Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, whatever, and register a brand-new email address that you only use for wedding planning. Any time you fill out any form regarding anything wedding related, use that email address. You’ll thank me later when you see how much email shows up!
Follow Local Wedding Blogs
You probably don’t need me to tell you to use a free subscription manager like Feedly to organize and follow some wedding blogs — you’ve probably already got subscriptions to A Practical Wedding, Offbeat Bride, and Intimate Weddings (if not: you’re welcome).
But as helpful as those sites are (and they are!), you’ll get the most out of following blogs that are written with your geographical area (that is, the one local to where you want to hold the wedding) in mind.
It might seem counter-intuitive to look at wedding photographers before you’ve even set a date or looked at venues, but I’ve found that wedding photographers have some of the best local blogs around! Most good photographers keep a blog, and link the vendors (venue, catering, even dress/hair/make-up!) used at weddings in their blog posts.
So hop onto the ol’ Google and search for “[place of your wedding] wedding blog” and “[place of your wedding] wedding photographer” and subscribe to a few!
Most local wedding blogs will hold giveaways from time to time, which are so much easier to win than the national contests because less competition! Hey, speaking of that…
Enter Wedding Giveaways
It’s totally worth it. This is where that “wedding stuff only email address” I cajoled you about really comes in handy, because entering giveaways tends to be the main thing that fills up your inbox with wedding spam. (Though, pretty much every wedding-related anything that you do will result in some amount of spam. Argh.)
Don’t think there’s any point to entering wedding giveaways online, because you never win anything? Check this out: My best friend won a honeymoon in Australia. I won a completely free engagement photo session, $500 cash, a wedding photo app package, and an iPad Mini. All of these came from online giveaways!
Why? How? WHAT? Wedding giveaways are the best, because just like the local blog giveaways, competition is lower than your average giveaway. You’re really only competing against other couples that are getting married around the same time as you, and are planning a wedding right now, and bothered to enter the giveaway. That’s a pretty small pool compared to… pretty much any other giveaway ever!
You might win an entire honeymoon, like my BFF. Or your whole wedding budget! More likely, you’ll win a handful of small, but super-helpful, prizes – like I did.
Since you can’t guarantee you’ll win a honeymoon in Australia (only some beautiful snowflakes do, Brittney), you do need to start making alternate plans. That’s why I suggest you learn how to…
Travel Hack Your Honeymoon (But Do NOT Go Into Credit Card Debt)
If you’ve never heard of travel hacking before, it’s the act of piling up obnoxious amounts of frequent flier miles/hotel rewards points/cashback using mostly credit card opening bonuses. Then you cash all that in for a free-or-cheap trip – sometimes with awesome perks like deluxe hotel rooms and first class flights!
Sound too good to be true? It’s not, actually. Thousands of people engage in travel hacking, and get amazing vacations out of it that the rest of us just sit and dream about. I feel pretty stupid actually, because I knew travel hacking was a thing before we planned our honeymoon, and I just… forgot? Didn’t bother to research it? I don’t even know. I failed, big time. We went to Walt Disney World… and paid full price. Like idiots. Two years later, we travel hacked our way back to Disney World and paid way less than half the price… for a longer stay!
There is no better time to engage in travel hacking than when you’re planning a wedding. Why? Because travel hacking relies on you being able to meet the “minimum spending requirements” on those credit card offers. Something like “Spend $3,000 in the first 90 days with this card, and get 50,000 bonus miles!” You know when that’s really friggin easy to do? When you’re putting down huge deposits and payments for venues, caterers, bakers, florists… you get the idea.
The Big Fat Caveats to Travel Hacking Your Honeymoon
You can only do this if:
- Your credit is good and your partner’s credit is good. If either of you have lousy credit, you’re going to get rejected for credit card offers and that will deflate your travel hacking plans.
- You aren’t carrying credit card debt now.
- You don’t carry credit card debt because of this. (Paying interest on the cards negates the savings of travel hacking!)
- You’re organized and good at setting reminders and staying on top of things. (Most of the credit cards involved carry an annual fee, and need to be canceled before the first year is up if you don’t want to pay that fee each year forever.)
Okay, Stephanie. I get it. Need good credit, need to have the money to pay my wedding expenses in full and not carry a balance on my credit cards, and I need to be organized and stay on top of what I’m doing. But… what am I doing? How do I even travel hack?
I’m not running a travel hacking blog here, so I can’t tell you how to travel hack your honeymoon. I don’t even know where you want to go! But again, Google is your friend. To travel hack my way to Disney World last year, I just Googled “travel hack Disney World” and did my research from there. Do that, but, you know, for the place you want to go on your honeymoon. (If you do go to Disney World? Go to Belle’s Castle and try the Grey Stuff. It’s delicious!)
You Could Always Follow My Mother’s Advice
Elope! It’s true – within a few hours of me announcing to my parents that I was engaged, she advised me to save my money and elope!
(I didn’t listen to her.)
Get Financially Naked (on Amazon) – if you need a little help having the money conversation
Marriage Is Your Biggest Investment: Protect It – from I, Vigilante
How to Travel Hack Your Honeymoon – from The Honeymoon Guy
Wedding Budgeting Advice – from Offbeat Bride
Photo credits: Chris Graham Photo
Australia was The BEST vacation. The only catch was that our honeymoon was actually before our wedding (couldn’t pick the date) and we had to shell out some dough to pay the taxes. The contest paid for the hotels and flights, the rest came from our honeymoon registry.
If you haven’t heard about honeymoon registries, check it out. They are becoming more popular. I say skip the three blenders you don’t need and get a vacation instead.