- Compile a wedding budget FIRST
- Know where your funds are coming from before spending them
A good friend and colleague of mine got engaged over the weekend, and was full of questions when she was back to work. Most of them built up to one bigger concern – where should she even start? If you have a tentative wedding date in mind as soon as you’re engaged, there are a few things you should consider before you start looking through specific details for your day. Before you start picking out centerpieces and trying on dresses, jot these down in a newly purchased wedding planner:
Figure out a guest list
You won’t need a set-in-stone guest list until you send your save-the-dates or invites before your wedding, but all of your other decisions depend on at least a fuzzy picture of who you expect to be attending your big day. A guest list of 50 versus 100 will change the way you spend your $5,000 budget. Much like the earlier budget decision, your thoughts on your guest list composition will color the picture you’ll start to craft of your ideal wedding. This decision is best left for after determining your budget. You can always scale your budget down, but it’s harder to do that with a guest list once you have your heart set on the friends and family you hope to see on your wedding day. Figure out a budget
It’s easy to get swept up in the romance of a new engagement, but making decisions, even small ones like linens and candles, without a budget can really throw a wrench into the wedding experience. If you get your heart set on a venue or guest list without first figuring out what you can afford, you’ll find yourself disappointed way ahead of time. Even if your wedding is far off in the future, or you know that you’ll need to save up a bit before you start committing to definite plans, know what your end goal is before searching for inspiration online. Have a dollar amount in mind so you aren’t reaching for the moon during your preemptive planning. Weddings can be spectacular on any budget, so don’t fret! Enjoy the moment!
For the moment, stop planning and start enjoying being engaged. Take your nose out of Pinterest and enjoy some time to yourselves. This is especially important now, as relatives and friends will likely be asking about wedding plans in droves. A simple “we really haven’t started thinking about it yet” will allow some time to digest your ideal plans in favor of some more realistic ones before you start leaking details. Let it settle, enjoy the enthusiasm around you, and start seriously planning a few months down the road.
Microsoft Excel is designed to be easy to use and helpful, and is especially wonderful during the wedding planning process - take advantage of it! If you aren't comfortable using Excel (or an equivalent program), try to get help from your new fiancé/fiancée or a particularly friendly coworker. I first learned how to navigate the wonderful world of spreadsheets by looking around on Google and YouTube for quick "basics" tutorials, as you won't need anything past a basic understanding to create a good wedding spreadsheet - it's an amazing tool, as it practically does all of your budgeting for you.
Columns! So Exciting!
Columns can be organized by different budget scenarios, with the running total on top (for ease of access), starting with your ideal budget and working toward budgets that are more specific. I recommend one column for an ideal budget, a column for projected budget (how much you think you'll actually spend. Depending on different variables, you can have multiples of these), a column for various quoted prices, and an actual money spent column. These columns will help you to keep your budget in perspective as you move forward, and it works well for testing out different combinations and package options to see how they would affect your overall budget. Sometimes it's hard to visualize all budget outcomes without a tangible guide, and Excel is a great solution. Rows! Hooray!
Your rows can be as general or specific as you like, but keep in mind that you can always add subheadings for specific items that are a part of a larger group. You can have a row for "party rentals" and a row for "tables," or you can group them together as a single expense. These groupings will change depending on how inclusive venues and packages are and you can always group them in later columns. The reason that Excel is such a great wedding planning tool is that no expense with take you by surprise at the last minute as you add up your expenses and discuss priorities with your future spouse. Excel can be a singular tool that keeps track of your expenses and helps you decide where you want to spend your money on your wedding day! Color code away!