Monday, February 25, 2013

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Making and Sticking to a Budget

Grab a pencil, a notepad, and a calculator. It’s time to crunch the numbers and determine your wedding budget. If you’re like most brides, you want a memorable wedding, but you don’t want to break the bank. These tips can help your bottom line.

In 2011 the average American wedding cost $25,631, according to The Wedding Report, a company that tracks wedding industry figures. According to brides polled on two popular wedding websites, in Chicago the average wedding in 2011 cost $53,069. No matter which number you look at, it’s clear a wedding is an expensive affair. Manage your money wisely in order to stick to your budget.

The first order of business? Figuring out your guest list. The next question is how much money would you like to spend per guest? How does that figure compare to the money you can afford to spend? Get practical and make the comparison between your wish list and your reality check. The result is a budget you can live with.

Your budget needs to be realistic— otherwise your planning period will be filled with stress. Don’t budget 25 percent of your budget on food when you know professional estimates say 40 percent to 50 percent of a wedding budget is spent on food and beverage. The best thing to do is prepare a sound budget and stick to it. If you go over budget, you’ll be scrambling to pay for a pricey party. You’ll have added stress, worry, and a big bill to pay well after the wedding is over. So, early on in the planning process—i.e., the first month—work with your groom to develop a pretty solid idea of how much money you’ll spend, how you’ll spend it, and who will help you cover the costs.

While your budget should be solid, it’s also subject to change. Be flexible whenever possible and re-evaluate your budget from time to time to make sure you’re on track. It’s an ongoing process and you need to be prepared to make revisions if necessary. After all, you don’t want to be surprised by a lack of cash during the final stages of planning your big day.

Don’t look at your budget as just one blank check. You’ve got to break down the budget into categories. Ask yourself how much you think you’ll spend on wedding essentials including photography, decorations, DJ or band, and flowers. Suggested budget percentages, such as 3 percent for the wedding cake, are just starting points.

Don’t feel these figures are a strict formula. If you love dessert, splurge on the sweets and make budget adjustments in other areas that make sense for you and your groom. If you’re wearing your mother’s wedding gown, for example, you don’t have to worry about spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on a dress. Reallocate that money to another category such as stationery to cover the price of place cards and programs, especially if that’s a priority for you.

Many brides say the hardest part of creating a budget is deciding how to spend the money. That’s why you and your groom have to prioritize what matters most to both of you. Once you’ve come to an agreement, you can spend the most money in that area. If dancing and great photos are your main concerns, then focus your budget on hiring a great band and a skilled photographer. Your satisfaction means money well spent.

Ideally, you’ll budget more money than you’ll actually need. You could end up saving a few extra bucks. Say you set aside $500 for favors—try to spend $400. If you come in under budget, you’ll have more financial flexibility to spend on other wedding-day needs and wants. Don’t forget to keep extra flexibility in the budget for last-minute details such as footing the dinner bill for a few extra guests or ordering favors at the last minute because the ones you thought you would get are out of stock.

Additionally, remember to budget for tips. Many couples forget to include gratuity in their financial plan and that’s a surefire way to blow your budget. While not every vendor gets a tip, many wedding professionals depend on tips to make their living. Photographers, musicians, caterers, and service staff usually receive tips.

You may not think about etiquette when deciding on a budget, but it’s definitely something to consider. If you’re on a fixed budget, there are lots of ways to save money, but don’t do anything that would effect your guests’ good time. If tray-passed appetizers are too expensive for your budget, consider food stations as a way to feed your guests and still stay on a desired financial track. It’s in poor taste to skimp on food, either in quality or quantity. Your guests will know you cut corners, and that’s a sign of bad manners. Make sure your financial decisions don’t have a negative impact on your guests.

Etiquette is also a concern when you’re getting financial help from your friends or family. These days, paying for the wedding is a family affair. Often, the tab for the wedding is picked up by many people, including the bride and groom, their parents, grandparents, siblings, and friends.

If your grandparents offer to pay for the cake, they may want to offer some suggestions on flavors and decorations. They probably think their financial support means they get a say in the final decision. You may or may not agree with them, but know your position on this matter before you accept their contribution. It’s normal for them to want to get bang for their buck, but you want to have control over the details of your day. Take a deep breath, think before you say anything you might regret, and remember to be grateful and respectful to those who want to help you.

Formulating and sticking to a budget is never easy, but it’s the right thing to do when you’re planning a wedding. Your budget shouldn’t limit you; it should keep you focused and out of debt. Be realistic, analyze your wish list, and tally the price tag—you need to make the most of your money to pull off the wedding you want.

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