d45004cea07e448b9e79bc33bbd44356It can be difficult to plan a wedding when you and your partner have different ideas about how much money to spend and where to spend it. No matter how big or small your event, trying to plan for every expense and stay on budget can be incredibly stressful. Should you spend more on location or catering? Do you really need to buy everyone favors? Can you afford to have an open bar?

If you want to avoid conflict, follow these seven steps to create a wedding budget before you even begin planning. Your relationship and your bank account will both thank you for it.

Figure Out Where Your Money Is Coming From

Are you paying for everything on your own? Getting help from parents or grandparents? Before you can make a budget, you need to know exactly where your money is coming from and how much is available. Don’t make plans in the hope that someone else will pay for it; have firm commitments from anyone offering to contribute before you begin booking anything.

In addition to the money my husband and I put towards our wedding costs, we were very fortunate to have both sets of parents offer to help out with various expenses. (For some couples, though, accepting help with wedding expenses may lead to more trouble than it’s worth, so think carefully before you take a parent up on an offer to contribute.)

Decide On Your “Goal Cost” and Your “Maximum Cost”

Once you know where to money is coming from, add up all the amounts that are being contributed. This is the maximum cost that your wedding expenses can reach.

But just because money is available doesn’t mean you should spend it! Once you know the maximum you have to spend, set a “goal” budget somewhere below that. For us, the maximum we had to spend was $20,000, but that seemed way too high. So we set a goal of $10,000.

Identify Your Priorities

When we were wedding planning, my husband and I decided to save money by hiring a DJ instead of having live music. There’s nothing wrong with that choice — except for the fact that we’re swing dancers and are used to dancing to live jazz music. While we loved our wedding, we still sometimes think about how disappointed we were in the music and wish we had cut costs on something that was less of a priority to us.

Don’t make our mistake — decide what’s important to you before you book anything. Is there a particular venue that is meaningful to you and your partner? Do you think the hospitality of a sit down dinner is important? Have you always dreamed of a honeymoon in Italy? By identifying your priorities, you’ll be better able to decide where to put the bulk of your money and where you can cut costs.

Research Average Costs

Once you know how much money you have to spend, how much money you want to spend, and what you want to spend it on, start researching costs in your area. Be prepared for some sticker shock — our goal budget of $10,000 was blown away when we discovered that the most inexpensive caterer in our area would charge us $6,000 for 150 people.

Initially, everything will seem far too expensive and you’ll probably wonder if you should just elope. But don’t panic and don’t give up — these are just average numbers. There’s a lot more wiggle room than there first seems.

Create an Estimated Budget

Using the average costs that you researched, create an estimated budget. Include everything that you will need to spend money on. Reception costs are obvious, of course, but make sure things like wedding rings, your marriage license, officiant fees, tips for vendors, and postage for all the invitations make it on there too. Total everything up and see how it compares to your maximum and goal costs.

If it’s below your maximum and close to your goal, you’re in great shape! If not, you’re going to need to do some tweaking.

Decide Where You’re Willing to Save and Splurge

For some expenses, you can go with a cheaper version or less experienced vendor to save money. Others you may be willing to skip entirely (we saved almost $10,000 by eliminating expenses that we considered unnecessary). This is where knowing your priorities comes in very handy — set aside a higher percentage of your total budget for those expenses and cut costs elsewhere.

Create a Final Budget — With Wiggle Room!

Once you know where you’re willing to cut costs, and where you want to splurge, go back to your estimated budget and assign the amount you’re willing to spend in each category. Try to get as close to your goal cost as possible, always staying within your maximum costs.

We ended up with a final budget of $14,000: $13,000 of estimated costs with an extra $1000 set aside for surprise expenses. Be sure to leave that wiggle room in your budget. From expedited shipping to the wedding rings you just have to have, extra costs can pop up everywhere. If you plan for the unexpected by staying well under your maximum budget, you won’t have to worry about being able to pay your wedding bills.

What suggestions do you have for creating a wedding budget?