At one point in my life, I almost considered myself a professional wedding guest. My now fiance and I went to eight weddings in one year a few years ago. Now, we’re in the midst of planning our own. I knew the wedding industry was expensive, but I had no idea just how expensive it is until I started this process myself. Costs can quickly get out of control, so it’s important to create a budget for yourself up front. It’s also important to be realistic about the costs for the type of wedding you want. Here’s how to create a wedding budget so you don’t lose control of your spending, and can enjoy your special day without going into debt.

Costs can quickly get out of control, so it’s important to create a budget for yourself up front.

Figure Out How Much You Have

Do you and your beloved have savings set aside that you can use for your wedding? And no, you shouldn’t use your emergency savings for this. You’ll need that money if something bad happens and you need to be able to pay your rent. If you have other savings, add up how much you have to put towards this. Something is better than nothing, so any small amount will help!

If you think your parents or other family members might want to contribute, talk to them. I loved A Practical Wedding’s advice for this: “Now it’s time to sit down and have a chat with your families. Are you asking for financial contributions? Have you thought about what kind of input you want them to have? Are there traditions you want to include—or traditions you want to eschew?” This combines the money conversation and also explores expectations for the wedding. It’s good to get this conversation over with early on in the planning stage, but make sure that you and your partner are a united front first.

Decide How Much You Can Save

If you’re already living bare bones and don’t have much money to spare, you probably don’t have much money to save for your wedding. You have to be as realistic as possible when planning out your budget, so you don’t end up in debt after your wedding. So take a look at your budget together and calculate how much you have leftover to put towards your wedding savings.

You might have to get creative if you don’t have much money to spare each month. Stash all the extra money that comes in, like bonuses, birthday or holiday gifts, and tax returns. You may even want to consider taking on a side hustle or part-time job during this period.

I want to stress: try your hardest not to go into debt from your wedding. The beginning of a marriage is a time when you want to set yourselves up for success. Starting off with joint debt from your wedding is not getting off on the right foot. You don’t want to spend the first few years of marriage worrying about paying off your wedding, rather than figuring out how to be married, and working towards your other joint goals. So do your best to keep costs down and/or build up your savings.

Get Clear on What Matters to You and Your Partner

This is hugely important. There are so many expectations involved in the wedding industrial complex these days. You have to know what it is that you want, not what you’re expected to do. Expectations can get really expensive, and leave you feel resentful and overwhelmed.

I personally wish that I didn’t want a real wedding. My desires for my wedding day directly conflict with my values as a financial coach and frugal person. However, our joint vision for the day actually outweighs our desire to spend very little money. We’re getting married at a vineyard that we fell in love with, we’re providing an open bar, and we’re inviting most of the people we want to invite. Of course, we are incredibly privileged to have the disposable income to go towards this expense, and if we didn’t, we certainly would have made different decisions.

Sit down with your partner and list out the things that are the most important to you. There is a really helpful worksheet in A Practical Wedding Planner that helps you go through this part. You can identify your must-haves, the things that don’t really matter, and the things you definitely don’t want as part of your day. This will help you get clear on where you want to prioritize and where the money should really be going. And having this conversation together will make you a better team when other people try to influence your decisions.

Find Out How Expensive Local Vendors Are

This is where I definitely screwed up. I had never planned a wedding before, so I had no idea how much things cost. It’s even more expensive being in the Washington, DC area. I knew it would be too expensive to get married in the actual city, but I didn’t realize how much it would cost to get married within a 50-mile radius. I also didn’t truly know how much things are marked up when you add “wedding” to the inquiry.

In all honesty, we’re spending a lot more money than I wanted to spend. I put aside a certain amount last summer when I got the settlement from my shoulder injury, and naively thought that would be plenty to pay for the wedding. Boy, was I wrong. We’re spending more than double that amount. Just typing that makes me want to cry. But in the end, we’re going to have the wedding we both really want. We’re making it unique and very aligned with our personalities and values. It just costs a lot more than I expected, and the sticker shock has been pretty painful.

Do your research and get a reality check early on so that you know what kind of budget you’re working with. And if that budget is a non-starter for you? Find alternative options for your wedding.

Open a Savings Account Specifically for Your Wedding

If you’re going to be saving up for your wedding, you should have a special savings account just for that. It’ll make it a lot easier to track your progress. If both you and your partner are contributing to this savings goal, it might even be best to open a joint account so you both have access. You both can see how close you are to your goal, and be on the same page. I like opening accounts like this at online banks so that I get the maximum amount of interest while not being as tempted to spend the savings.

Automate Deposits into the Account

If you read this blog at all, you know that I’m a huge proponent of automation when it comes to personal finance. Automation takes human error out of the situation. If you set up direct deposit or have your bank automatically transfer money into your savings, you won’t have to think about it. You won’t give yourself the chance to spend the money instead of saving it. So set up that automation and set yourself up for success in wedding planning!

Do you have stories or advice based on your own wedding plan adventures? Share in the comments!

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