Why sticking to a budget is crucial for wedding planning

#Family and finance

Start your marriage off on the right foot financially by managing wedding costs

Book venue. Order flowers. Send invitations. Buy wedding party gifts.

If your to do list looks like this, you might need some wedding budgeting help.

Most brides say they will spend more than they had budgeted for their weddings. According to a 2015 survey by Wedding Bells, Canadian couples expect to pay $30,717 for a wedding, and 75 per cent of brides report they will likely spend more.

Here are some ideas from three Canadian couples about how to plan a wedding that doesn’t break the bank.

Start with a budget

Tyler Warren and Amanda Kelly, both 28, started wedding budgeting online shortly after their engagement. They used this worksheet to establish a budget of $15,000. “I was a little hesitant about that number,” Amanda concedes. “We went to 10 weddings last year, so I had a good perspective on wedding costs. I knew that $15,000 would be hard.”

To keep costs down, Tyler and Amanda have had to get creative. They booked a museum in a small town on a Sunday rather than a Saturday, and they enlisted friends and family to help. “What I’ve learned is that people are very excited when you get married, and they want to help,” says Amanda who has found a photographer, baker and a band through social connections. She says these gifts of talents are more meaningful than cash gifts. To save money on printing and postage, the couple also used a website to send save-the-date emails.

Deciding on a wedding budget took a bit of compromise for Adam McSweeny, 28, and Megan McIlmoyl, 27. “I thought the budget would need to be a lot higher and he thought it would need to be a lot lower,” says Megan. “It took some negotiating at first, but we got there, to a number we could both live with.” Before deciding on the wedding budget, Megan did a lot of research into venues, catering and services to learn what they cost. Adam began planning by looking at their own balance sheet. “I track what we spend and what we make,” says Adam. “After everything else is considered, I figured out what we could realistically spend on the wedding.”

Set priorities

For Sarah Emms, 26, and Justin Pilon, 26, a wedding is all about good food and good wine. The self-described “foodies” opted to splurge on the wedding meal, but they found cost savings in other areas. For example, instead of buying gifts for the guests, they made jars of peach jam, and they’re planning to cook the food for the rehearsal dinner themselves.

When it came to clothing for the day, the couple made some practical decisions. “We’re watching the budget not only for ourselves, but for what people need to spend to be part of our day,” says Sarah.

Rather than selecting a specific dress, Sarah allowed her bridesmaids to pick whatever dress they liked, as long as it was in a certain colour and fabric, giving them a choice about how much they wanted to spend on a dress. Justin asked his groomsman to wear navy suits, but allowed them to choose between renting or buying. He bought a suit for himself that he could wear again. Although Sarah says her wedding gown is not something she would re-wear, she bought shoes and accessories that could be part of her regular wardrobe after the wedding.

Adam and Megan prioritized food as well, but had to compromise on the drinks. “In a perfect world, I would have loved to have a free, open bar,” says Megan. “But we had to say, ‘what’s realistic?’” They decided on a ‘Toonie bar.’

Put the wedding day in context and make sure you have enough money for the kind of lifestyle that you want to live. - Justin Pilon
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See the big picture

When you’re planning a wedding, it can seem like the most important thing in the world, and of course, it is a ‘big day.’ But if you look a little farther into the future, you may be less tempted to spend all your savings on a wedding. Perhaps you want to purchase a house together, start a family or a business. Finding the right balance is different for each couple.

Adam and Megan chose to buy a house before getting married, and they delayed their wedding to have enough time to save for it. To have time to save for the wedding they wanted, Justin and Sarah planned to wed almost two years after their engagement.

“I think it’s important when setting a budget to do it in the broader context of your life together,” says Justin. “It’s important to have a sense of the broader priorities that you have as a couple, so you can put the wedding day in context and make sure you have enough money for the lifestyle you want.”

Don’t wait to plan

If you’re spending weeks—maybe months or even years—planning your wedding, why not spend a few hours planning your financial future? Justin and Sarah met with a financial security advisor shortly after they got engaged. “We set up good [financial security] plan beforehand that included what we could reasonably set aside for the wedding,” says Justin.

Even if you don’t plan to get married right away, meeting with an advisor can be a good way to start the conversation about how to merge your income and expenses. Nothing is less romantic than debt. With money issues being one of the leading causes of divorce, starting your relationship off on the right foot financially can save you a lot of stress before and after the wedding.

Jen O'Brien, “Wedding Trends In Canada 2015 Opens a new website in a new window.,” Weddingbells.ca, 2015.