This is the latest installment of our "How To" series, where we lay out smart and easy to understand advice on how to be a financial grownup.
So you’re tying the knot. Congratulations! People are going to start giving you advice now. It’s a whole new chapter of life advice, actually. (Wait until you have kids and perfect strangers come up to tell you how to hold your baby better or how the food you’re feeding her is going to ruin her life.)
It’s all totally relaxing, trust us. And a lot of that advice is going to be about your wedding—where to have it, who to invite, what to serve, who should preside over the ceremony. And of course: how much to spend on the thing. There’s no better microcosm to get you ready for the periods of stress and intensity and compromise you’ll have in your marriage—if you’re lucky enough to do things like buy a house and have kids—than planning a wedding.
Our advice is to think about what you want and what’s really important to you, and do it. Regardless of what your mom says. Unless that means going into debt. Don’t do that. Being a financial grown-up is hard enough without starting out with a handicap.
Oh. But before you make up your mind about what to spend, and on what, listen to people who know what they’re talking about. Like the experts—some of Toronto’s leading event planners—we talked to for this Grow post. Here’s some of their advice.
1. Remember: Weddings are expensive.
Canadians will spend an average of $30,717 on their weddings in 2015, according to Weddingbells. (Americans spend an average of $32,641.) And long gone are the days of parents simply picking up the tab. In a 2014 survey, BMO InvestorLine found that 60% of wedding costs are covered by the bride and groom. Parents contribute another 13% of the budget, and 13% will go on a credit card; 5% will be covered by gifts from friends. The last 8% people scrape together from other sources. Like borrowing from friends maybe, or collecting returnables from public trash bins.
2. So figure out what you can afford. With something called a budget.
This one probably sounds painfully obvious. But that doesn’t mean people do it. A good place to start is with your family: Do either set of parents plan to contribute, and if so, how much? If you don’t want to ask your folks for a number, our experts suggest asking if they’d like pay for something specific (the catering, the dress, the honeymoon, etc.). Then figure out how much of your own money you want to spend—while making sure you’re not overlooking things like paying off debts, saving for retirement, and all the other things we do to take care of our future selves.
3. Break down that number into expenses for each part of your wedding. And be realistic!
Most planners allocate about 50% of their budget to the reception—that includes everything from venue to catering and decoration. For the sake of argument, let’s say flowers are usually 10%, entertainment is 10%, photography is 10%, wedding outfits are 10%, and then everything else gets the 10% that’s left. Do not take these numbers as gospel: This is just a rough breakdown of how much you might spend. It’s a place to start, though, and if your dream venue would eat up 80% of your funds, that’s a sign you should rethink it. “As with any other type of shopping, don't look at stuff that’s beyond your budget or you may be disappointed when you cannot afford it,” says Rebecca Chan, the owner and lead planner at the Toronto-based Rebecca Chan Weddings & Events.
4. Remember: Things don’t always end up costing what providers estimate.
Don’t get cocky just because you have a spreadsheet. Build a cushion into your budget and be prepared for surprises—5% isn’t a bad number to figure into your budget. When we asked planners what line items came as a shock to clients, their answers were rarely the big-ticket things. “It’s usually the not-so-glamorous items that come as a surprise: audio-visual, transportation, stationery, favours, and rentals,” says Chan. “Gratuities can add up as well.”
And make sure you have the full picture when you’re negotiating with your reception venue. “Landmark fees surprise people,” says Lynzie Kent, another Toronto-based wedding planner and the founder of Love by Lynzie. “They can be anywhere from 10% to 25% on top of your vendor contract.” Ouch. Make sure you ask about those up front.
5. Don’t forget to argue. With your mother, your future father-in-law—maybe even have a really big fight with your fiancé(e) that you’ll remember fondly when you’re old.
The planning—and budgeting process—can be a bruising one. It’s best to anticipate arguments the way you anticipate a budget overage. “Mothers think certain things are important that brides just don't care about anymore, like a tiered cake, or grooms can't justify upgrading to nicer chairs when brides want a Pinterest wedding,” says Kent. “With each couple it’s different, but it’s rare that a planning process is completely conflict-free.”
We might say the same thing about marriage itself.
6. Pick the things that will make your day, and don’t compromise on them.
Find a quiet moment amid the engagement whirlwind and ask yourself (and your fiancé—yes, ask that person, too) what you really care about. Is it the Instagram of you in your dress? A meal you consider world-class? Dancing your face off at 2 a.m.? “If a couple says the most important thing to them is their friends and family having a good time, we focus on great food and great music, versus chair slip covers,” says Nadine Lamanna, the lead coordinator at Toronto’s 818 Events. “But if a couple says, ‘It has to look perfect!’ then the focus is on decor and florals. I definitely prioritize joy over everything. But I make sure not to let my clients confuse joy with infatuation or shiny-object syndrome.”
7. If a great photographer isn’t one of your priorities, you’re wrong. Ahem, at least that’s our humble opinion.
Even if you didn’t have great pictures on your fundamentals list, put it on there. “Never skimp on photography,” says Lamanna. “Seriously. I know that this is the era of selfies and camera phones and all sorts of alternative methods for capturing moments; however, it's known that not hiring a professional photographer can leave a couple feeling really dissatisfied when they look at their pictures years later.”
Or as Melissa Samborski, a planner and the owner of One Fine Day Event Planning & Design, puts it: “When is all said and done, your pictures will be the only thing you have left.”
8. Numbers not adding up? Cut the guest list.
This is the easiest way to make your budget work. “The number of guests you plan to invite will be the driving factor behind what you actually spend on your wedding,” says Kent. “It's the easiest way to have exactly what you want at the price you want,” says Crystal Adair-Benning of Toronto’s Distinct Occasions, who’s been a wedding planner for 16 years.
Adios, cousin Margaret. But feel free to send a gift!
9. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Just cut it from your budget.
When we asked our planner friends how to instantly pare down a budget, they had an eye-opening list. Favours and transportation, said Kent. You could eliminate the cake, says Samborski, who is based in Toronto—people are surprised by how much that costs, and there are lots of cheaper dessert options.
A few suggested moving your date, either to a Friday (instant savings) or an off-peak month (February anyone?). One suggested a breakfast wedding. Which is great advice unless that sounds miserable and/or you plan on people having fun.
Bottom line? Dispense with anything that’s not crucial to your vision. “If you don't want it, don't do it,” says Lamanna.
10. Hire a planner.
True, all our advice comes from planners, so they have skin in this game. But what our delightful sources say makes good sense. If you’ve never planned a wedding before, then you’re probably bad at it. No one’s great the first time they do something. Planners have made all your mistakes already. And they know everyone in the business, so they’ll make sure you don’t hire the one tent guy who doesn’t know how to put up a tent and didn’t bother to show up anyway. “Planners will help you create an accurate budget, find reputable vendors that work with that budget, and be creative about ways to save,” says Chan.
There are even ways to save on this one. “You can get a day-of coordinator. You save money by planning things yourself, but then on your wedding day you don't have to worry about anything and can enjoy every moment,” says Carmen Luk, the lead planner with Devoted to You.
Got that? Enjoy every moment. Because you can’t afford to do this again.