The first step in planning your wedding isn't very glamorous: Budgeting. You're going to need to decide how much money you're going to spend, and also how you plan to spend it. First things first: How much are you going to spend? Determining the answer will probably involve sitting down with your family on both sides and having an honest talk about how much money, if any, everybody is planning to contribute to your wedding fund. Nobody looks forward to this conversation -- talking about money is usually awkward at best -- but it's really important to know up front what your total budget will be. Until you know how much money you have to work with overall, you can't make informed decisions about what you're going to do with it.
Once you've determined the total amount you're going to spend on your wedding, it's time to itemize your budget, or decide how much you're going to spend on each aspect of your big day. Your itemized budget will be your financial roadmap for successful wedding planning. This is where a professional wedding planner can really come in handy: It's part of our job to keep up with current wedding trends, which means that we also keep up with the average costs for all the different products and services that make up a typical wedding celebration. Most wedding planners include budget consultation as part of their full-service planning packages, but you don't necessarily have to hire a professional to help you with all of your planning to benefit from their knowledge and expertise: Many planners also offer budget consulatation as an a la carte service or will work with you on an hourly basis.
If you're going it completely alone, then there are still plenty of helpful tools out there. Websites like WeddingWire and The Knot feature online budgeting tools that will help walk you through average spending trends nationwide and apply that information to your own wedding. You may also want to check out CostOfWedding.com, which will tell you the average wedding expenditure in your area, and will also break that down by spending category. It's important to note that the average expenditures listed here may not reflect the average prices for the vendors you hope to hire, but it can still be a good starting point if you're totally unfamiliar with what weddings cost.
Don't forget to infuse your personal preferences into your budget. For example, if food is very important to you but your wedding dress isn't, then don't be afraid to bump up the percentage you're planning to spend on catering and lower the percentage you're planning to spend on your wedding gown. I ask couples I'm working with to come up with their top two or three priorities, as well as their bottom two or three priorities, and we adjust their budget accordingly.
Developing your wedding budget will probably be the least fun part of planning your wedding, but please don't neglect to take care of this important task before you do anything else. No matter what your budget, you want to spend it wisely, and the only way to do that is to come up with a plan before you commit to any vendors or locations.
Next up: Your guestlist!