Hi Honeys! Recently I had the privilege of interviewing the one and only Tara Unverzagt – financial planner, World Champion bike racer, and (hopefully some day!) future MIL of mine. I wanted to interview Tara because she knows ALL things planning and budgeting and well, this is a wedding PLANNING blog!

This post is jam packed with so, so many goodies. First, you’ll find Tara’s list of the first five steps you need to take when you start planning and budgeting for your wedding. These are GOLD. Then, you’ll find an extra treat that I created just for you all – a budget calculator to help you leave this post knowing EXACTLY what your wedding budget is. You’re welcome!

So without further ado, here’s Tara and all of her advice!

Desk with coffee, budget calculator, and laptop

All Photo Credit: Robert Unverzagt

Planning for your wedding (and how it’s like planning for a big race!)

Recently, I spent a weekend bicycle racing, my favorite activity! It was at the Master State Championship and considered a big race to some and a stepping stone to the National Championships for others. Thinking about how racers deal with ‘big races’, whether it’s the local weekend race or the World Championship, I realized how similar it is to wedding planning.

Everyone approaches both with wishful thoughts of doing a great job. But some are instantly pulled back by fear. Fear and doubt can make even the fastest person perform poorly. Why do people make last minute changes? Fear. They think that if they work harder or longer or have better equipment, that will guarantee a win. It usually leads to overtraining, poor recovery, bad form, and discomfort in the big race. If they had continued with their original plan that was making them stronger and faster, they would actually be enhancing their chance of success far more.

How does this relate to weddings? The steps are the same, the emotions are the same, and maximizing results can be achieved the same way. Start by making a plan. Don’t think about that big bill for the venue or the food. Don’t think about where the money will come from. Those aren’t the first steps. Those answers come as you work your plan.

Desk with coffee, phone, and wedding planner book

The first five steps you need to take when you start planning and budgeting for your wedding

1. Start with what’s most important.

I’m not talking about your cake or your dress. I’m talking about integrating your family into the wedding, showing your commitment to each other, or having a great party to celebrate your union. When the wedding is over and the two of you are basking in the glow of a fabulous wedding, what do you want to remember?

As you proceed through your planning, if you can’t do everything you want, it’s best to know up front and get the most important pieces included and as much of the rest as you can. What are the top three elements you and your partner MUST have on your wedding day? Remember these. Without a plan, you are likely to miss out on goals that you could have achieved if you had a plan. You might spend too much money early in your process getting save the date notices out and not be able to have the reception you want, which was the most important part of your wedding. Or, perhaps worse, you didn’t get to hire the photographer or the photo package you wanted because you ran out of funds. Better to plan for those decisions up front.

Phone on Carpet

2. Determine where your budget is going to come from.

Once you know which aspects of your wedding are most important to you, think about how much you have available to spend. Where is the money going to come from? Make sure credit cards are not on the list. You may be going into this marriage with student loans and credit card debt. That’s not ideal, but you certainly don’t want to add stress to your marital bliss by incurring debt at the wedding. See this as an opportunity to talk through your financial priorities: it will help strengthen your marriage in the long run.

Funding for your wedding can come from both of your families and from both of your incomes and savings. Think twice about spending more than 5% of your income unless you’ve been saving for this wedding for a few years. While this is the most important thing in your life right now, you will have more, very important expenses in the future (maybe starting a business, having children, buying a house, saving for college, planning for retirement, etc.) Don’t jeopardize your entire future for the “world’s best” wedding.

desk with budget calculator, pen, and laptop

3. Create your budget.

Once you’ve determined how much everyone can afford to pitch in, you have the starting point for your budget. Start by determining how much each piece of the wedding will cost. There are wedding budget spreadsheets that can help you, like this one from BrideSide, which shows you what the range of cost for each part of your wedding can be. Depending on where your wedding is located, you may not have low-end or high-end choices. Do a quick survey to get an idea of how much caterers, photographers, etc., in your area charge.

Make sure to include an emergency fund of at least 10% in your budget. This will cover little extras you hadn’t planned for: the tips to professionals, the last-minute Uncle Harry who wasn’t going to come but now is coming with a guest. Stuff happens. Be prepared for it.

If you’re using a wedding planner, that person should be able to help with budgeting and setting expectations. Before hiring a wedding planner, though, make sure the cost of the planner fits in your budget as well. Will you need to cut back on the dress or attendant gifts if you hire a planner? Planners can be very helpful giving you awesome, low cost choices, so they can pay for themselves. Make sure your planner knows that’s what you want help with before hiring, because some specialize in helping cut costs, and others specialize in high-end weddings only.

Desk with wedding planning book open to budgeting page, phone, pen, and coffee

4. Calculate if your budget will cover your costs.

Once you’ve gone through your budget, figured out what you want, and determined a cost target for each part of the wedding, does your budget balance? Are you spending less than the funds available? (Don’t forget the 10% emergency fund for unexpected costs that pop up. This is very important.) If your expenses are too high, think back to your inspiration and decide what is important and what isn’t as important to meet your overall goal for the wedding.

Using some sweat equity could help you balance your budget. Spend time researching, calling, asking friends, etc. how to accomplish what you want at a lower price. You may be able to negotiate a deal. Or maybe you have a friend getting married, too. Will a photographer give you both a discount if you book together?

Also, think about your networks. Does your brother know a guy who works at a local hotel that could give you a deal on a banquet room? Does your cousin do calligraphy and can address the invitations and maybe has a nice printer? Or is printing them yourself good enough?

Desk with paperclips

5. Stray away from emotional decisions.

People also can make emotional decisions. You see the most beautiful cake and just have to have it. You look at the price, and it’s twice the price that you budgeted. Stop, breathe, walk away, and think through the decision.
Sometimes the cake is “perfect” at that moment, but, when you look again two weeks later, you realize it’s not all that you remembered. There was something at the moment that hit you: it might actually have been the music that was playing when you saw it, the smells in the air, or the first sunshiny day outside in weeks. You felt good and thought the cake was what caused your happiness.

If you wait and evaluate again later and still want the cake, try it out in your budget. Where is the money going to come from for that cake? Are you going to cut back on the music at the reception? The food offerings? A lower photo package? Is getting an exquisite cake more important than these other items?

Don’t let your wedding be ruined by emotional distractions. If you don’t have the perfect cake, the right centerpiece, or the most popular band in town, it can still be an awesome wedding. Remember that your wedding isn’t about any of those things: it’s a time for you to make a commitment with your partner in a very special way and share that moment with your friends and family. Getting stuck on “perfect” could be what ruins the day more than the cake.

Person holding wedding planning book

A solid plan will help you figure out where you are going and how you will get there. A solid plan will help you relax, so you can maximize your money to get the wedding you really want. Remember, just like for bicycle racing “not showing up” is a guaranteed way not to win. The more you follow and trust your plan, the more likely you are to win. And hiring a wedding planner may help calm your nerves and talk you off the cliff when you’re about to make a costly last minute change.

Three books stacked on top of each other

See?! Isn’t Tara great! I hope you take her first five steps you need to take when you start planning and budgeting for your wedding and run with them. And if you want more advice from her, you can contact her HERE.

Also, if you’re looking for a wedding planning notebook to keep all of your thoughts and information, check out the one featured in this post! I absolutely adore it! You can find it HERE.

Now, as promised, here’s the budget calculator I created to help you leave this post knowing EXACTLY what your wedding budget is. Click HERE to download it!

wedding budget calculator with pen