Best Way to Make a Wedding Budget

February Is National Weddings Month

SAN MATEO, Calif., Feb. 19, 2007 - Last week's Valentine's Day holiday no doubt ushered in hundreds of wedding proposals across the nation, in the midst of National Weddings Month. Brad Stroh, co-founder and co-CEO of Bills.com, suggests newly engaged couples take a "pre-honeymoon" journey through their finances before diving into wedding planning. The average 2005 wedding cost more than $26,000, according to a Fairchild Group study. More than one-third of couples pay for the festivities themselves, with only a quarter of couples' parents footing the bill. "Chances are, plenty of those tying the knot find themselves tied in knots over wedding debt," Stroh said. "Before you start handing your credit cards to wedding planners, florists and photographers, take time to create a wedding budget with your partner. The process will be an excellent exercise for planning your future -- and you'll lay the groundwork for a solid financial footing for your life together." Stroh's tips include:

  1. Explore joint goals. Before talking about the wedding, talk about life together. What are long-term goals and plans? Certainly, goals will change throughout life, but some things may remain fairly constant: Relatively how much to spend on a home, general income levels, family size, and types of vacations and retirement. Research credit management and other financial basics at a site like www.bills.com.
  2. Learn about dream-wedding costs. "Dream high -- but plan cautiously," Stroh advised. "If you want a sit-down dinner for 300 at your city's poshest venue, go ahead and think about it. Then make some calls and get cost estimates." Understanding an actual budget in the context of short-term and long-term financial goals will provide a framework to move to the next step.
  3. Evaluate the true price of a "dream" wedding. In the long-term, is that wedding truly affordable? Ignore commercials that suggest spending three months' salary on a ring. "Do you have the cash in hand to pay the wedding bills? If not, can you work together to save it before the big day?" Stroh asked. "Very few couples benefit from paying off a $25,000 debt as they begin married life." In fact, many couples would rather spend for a down payment on a home, pay off debts to have a fresh financial start together, or jump-start a retirement fund. Investing $25,000 at age 30 in a vehicle that provides a 7 percent return will amount to more than $250,000 in 35 years, Stroh noted.
  4. Examine value-oriented options. Including only close family and friends can provide a memorable occasion, as can casual nuptials on the beach. Opting for a cheesecake buffet rather than a four-tier cake can save hundreds. Best of all, dozens of books and Web sites offer tips on budget wedding planning. Whether "budget" means $1,000 or $15,000, any couple can find something that fits their style.
  5. Draw on friends' talents. Consider requesting services as a gift from friends. A gourmet-cake-baking aunt, a cousin who is a professional photographer or a neighbor who is a florist might provide reduced-cost or free services as a gift.
  6. Adhere to a budget. As with any major expense, planning a wedding requires a budget. Early in the process, list expense categories and put a price tag on each one. Don't forget small items that add up quickly, like tips for service professionals, gifts for attendants, and expenses for "extras," such as a brunch for far-flung relatives the morning after the ceremony. Stay firm with well-meaning relatives who want to pad the guest list. "Explain, 'We are starting our marriage on the right foot by sticking to our budget, and I'm sorry, but our limit of 100 guests is carved in stone," Stroh said.

"With some planning, your wedding can be the beginning of a beautiful relationship between you, your spouse and your budget," Stroh said. "It can be not only a very memorable day, but one your finances will never regret." Based in San Mateo, Calif., Bills.com is a free one-stop online portal where consumers can educate themselves about complex personal finance issues and save money by choosing the best-value products and services. Since 2002, Bills.com and its partner company, Freedom Financial Network, have served more than 10,000 customers nationwide while managing more than $350 million in consumer debt. The company's co-founders and CEOs, Andrew Housser and Brad Stroh, were named Northern California finalists in Ernst & Young's 2006 Entrepreneur of the Year Awards.