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How to Start Planning a Wedding (Even Before You’re Engaged)

Today, I want to give my opinion about how to start planning a wedding! As some of you may know, I studied finance at the University of Washington in Seattle and I especially LOVE talking about personal finances! I know money can be a taboo topic, but when it’s one of the most common reasons for divorce, I think it’s worth talking about. For backstory, Michael and I planned our wedding while we were both still in school full time and each worked two jobs to pay for our small wedding. You’ve probably already caught on that this wedding planning starting point is going to be about finances. Stay with me on this!

How to Start Planning a Wedding | The Money Talk

If you and your partner haven’t started talking about money, then this is where you need to start. This talk should be more than the typical “is this person a saver or a spender?” and “how much income do you bring in?” I recommend asking questions like this:

  1. How did your family handle money? Did they talk about it openly? Did they give you an allowance? Have you ever borrowed money from family or friends? ETC.
  2. Do you have any debt? If yes, how much and what is the interest rate? What is your credit score and credit history?
  3. Have you already started putting money away into savings? This includes retirement savings (aka INVESTMENTS) AND a general savings account. Ideally, by the time you are 25 years old, you should have $10k in investments for retirement AND 6 months worth of expenses in your savings account, at a minimum.
  4. Other than normal expenses, what sort of large lump-sum spending do you typically do and how often? For our relationship, I like to spend on travel to see family 2-3 times per year and going on one international trip, annually. Michael doesn’t really spend much expect maybe the $70/mo he pays for his rock climbing membership.
  5. How do you save for your planned lump-sum spending? (This is a great way to start talking about how to save each month so these expenses aren’t such a shock)
  6. Do you have enough money saved to reach all of your deductibles? (Health, automobile, pets, etc.)

I could honestly go on forever with these sorts of questions. Not everyone was raised to have these conversations, so be patient if your partner initially reacts poorly to these questions.

Pike Place Market sign in Seattle, WA

Budgeting for Your Wedding

One mistake that Wedding Wire observed about couples budgeting for their wedding is that almost 80% of couples underestimated their budget because they put together their budget BEFORE looking up the average cost of vendors and other expenses. They also observed that “on average, couples expect to pay $16,000, but end up spending roughly $29,000 on their wedding.” I’ll be honest and admit that I put together our initial budget without looking into vendors because vendor searching is exhausting to me.

My Step-by-Step Recommendation

With all of this being said, I recommend building your wedding budget by doing these steps:

  1. Have an estimated guest count. Washington’s average cost per guest is $217 and I’d argue that your guest list makes the biggest impact on your wedding budget. If you hope to have 150 guests, then you’re going to need a larger venue, more food, more invitations, more rentals, etc.
  2. Make a list of vendors and expenses. I wouldn’t breeze through this because you’ll likely miss expenses that could be a shock later. PRO TIP: make an account with The Knot. It’s free and they break down typical wedding expenses where you can add in estimates and input your actual amount paid.
  3. Talk about priorities for your wedding day. Just because it may be $XXXX, on average, for a service or product doesn’t mean you’ll end up paying that average amount. If music in your reception is important to you, then you might splurge on a band or DJ versus someone having a brunch wedding and no dancing.
  4. After steps 1,2, and 3, put together the maximum that you’d be willing to pay for each vendor and product. I really don’t recommend making these numbers as small as possible because you’d rather have money left over after planning your wedding, than be in debt or give up things that you wanted for your big day.
  5. Add up all expenses in your budget and add 10% onto that. Again, you’ll be less stressed to save extra money than not enough.
  6. Finally, divide your total budget (minus how much your family is contributing) by the number of months until your ideal wedding month and year. For example, a budget of $20,000 with 18 months to save means you’ll have to set aside about $1,111/ month.

Before You Panic, Keep Reading

If you’re looking at your monthly income and expenses and thinking to yourself “there’s no way we can afford $XXX a month for a wedding,” then don’t fret! This is not the time to start thinking about what you can take out of the budget.

The reason I suggest starting your wedding planning process with finances is because it’s a lot less stressful to have a clear plan from the start. If you can’t realistically save enough in a shorter amount of time, then push your wedding date out. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying this short life stage of being engaged. Soak it in as long as possible!

My biggest suggestions come from my own experience. Once you and your partner start talking about your intentions for marriage, start saving for your wedding! Yes, before you’re even engaged. Don’t overcomplicate it, either. Open a joint savings account and each of you put in equal amounts every month. Worst case scenario, you two split up and have to split up what you’ve saved. My other suggestion if you absolutely CANNOT wait to get married on a specific date is to get a part-time job to bring in extra income.

Michael and I started saving for our wedding about 6 months before we even got engaged and picked up second jobs to save faster. We planned our wedding in 12 short months because we wanted my sick grandmother to be able to come. She ended up passing away a month before our wedding, but we still don’t regret planning our wedding in those 12 short months.

Money and budgeting shouldn’t have to be complicated. To make it even easier, I’ve put together a very simple EXCEL spreadsheet that you’re more than welcome to use as a starting point. The workbook has two sheets: one for estimating your wedding budget and another for seeing how that wedding savings affects your monthly household budget. You will need to input your estimated and budgeted wedding expenses AND your fixed and living expenses as a couple/household.

Here’s the Template:

I hope this helps answer the question of how to start planning a wedding and please feel free to ask any questions in the comments below!

<3 Stormy


20 Most Common Resources for Divorce | Marriage.com

Average Cost of a Wedding | Value Penguin

2019 Newlywed Report | Wedding Wire

Want to check out more resources for brides? Check these out:

What Every Bride Needs on Her Wedding Day


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