By FPA member Nathan Gehring, CFP®
Last Updated: May 2, 2011
…the average cost of a wedding in 2010.1
I see that number and wonder how many of the couples that spent that much are happy they have done so. I wonder if they received $25,000 in value. Would they choose to spend less if they could redo it?
I’m not going to tell you about how much money you should or should not spend on your wedding. I’m not going to give you a way to calculate an exact amount you should budget for that special day. I won’t show you how to get great deals on wedding stuff.
What I do want to discuss is how to make sure you get great value for the money you spend. I want to help you feel like you’ve spent money your wisely after the wedding.
To begin this discussion, you need to first define value in your own terms. For me, value is much more than whether something is monetarily priced correctly.
For example, when my wife and I planned our wedding, we knew that high-quality food was very important to us. We were willing to spend a larger portion of our wedding budget on food and even overpay if it meant we could offer our guests a great food experience.
On the other hand, while we wanted great pictures as memories from our wedding, we saw no need to hire a major photography company that would provide us a large, fancy wedding album for several thousand dollars. Instead we looked for a well-qualified photographer who would let us have the negatives and allow us to print our own photos at a much lower cost.
We defined what we valued most in a wedding and then allowed ourselves to over- or under-spend based on those values.
Separating Your Wants & Needs From Expectations
A lot of forces come into play as you plan your wedding. You have certain things that are important to you that you feel strongly about. Your soon-to-be spouse may have a different set of important items.
You may have family demands on your wedding as well. Your extended family may have held weddings in a certain manner that you feel an expectation to uphold. This may come in the form of whom to invite or where to hold the wedding, or a variety of other factors.
Your parents, particularly if they are providing significant amounts of the money, may have expectations for your wedding. They could even attach strings to giving you money. This could come in the form of the type of music or people whom they expect you to invite or even what your wedding cake looks like.
Finally, you may feel there are some societal expectations of your wedding. You may feel a strong urge to have the big wedding because that’s what is portrayed in the media as a real wedding. It is possible that you think you need to have a designer wedding dress costing thousands of dollars because that’s “what everybody is doing.”
Planning with all these different forces pulling at you can become quite a challenge. You will likely feel a need to meet some of the expectations others place on you. You will almost certainly want to make sure your parents are pleased with your choices. And yet, you will want to have the wedding you envision and a wedding that will be memorable to you.
The critical element in working through these various forces is to recognize what is a want, what is a need and what is an expectation. This process will help you determine how to plan your wedding and where to focus your money.
You’ve already decided what value is in the first step. Next, you need to have a discussion with your partner about what is important to them. What do they need to have included in the wedding to make it a success? What do they want to have if money allows for it? And let your partner know your list of needs and wants.
Then hash out what the expectations others have of you that are impacting your decisions. There is no problem trying to meet some of those expectations, but it is important to recognize that those are not your personal needs and wants.
Recognize what societal expectations you are allowing into your own list of needs and want. Are these important to you? Or do you think they should be important even though you don’t value them highly?
What Should I Spend On My Wedding?
Once you’ve gone through this process, you have the tools you need to decide what you most want to spend money on. Now you need to bring these pieces together to decide where you want to spend your money and how much money you need.
First, list all the needs you and your partner shared. Those are the items you should place highest in priority. Second, decide if each of your unshared needs is truly a need or a strong want. If it is a need, include it on your high priority list. If it is a want, move it to the want list.
Next review the expectations that are important for each of you to meet. You might identify some of these expectations as needs…add those to your needs list. Others will likely be wants and should be included on the want list. You’ll realize a few expectations are not important to you at all. Eliminate those.
Now go back and sort your needs and wants lists from most to least important. These prioritized lists become your guides on how much to spend as you plan your budget. You’ll want to spend the most on your high priority needs. You may discover that some of your high priority wants are actually more important than low priority needs.
Through this process you’ll likely discover there are some, even many, needs and wants that really aren’t that important to you. And you might learn that there are other items that are much more important than you initially thought.
Focus your money on those items that you have recognized as high priority and spend less on lower priority items. By doing so, you are much more likely to have a wedding you can feel great about during the ceremony and for years after.
FPA member Nathan Gehring, CFP®, provides financial planning services to young couples at Couples Financial Planning & Coaching, LLC.