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Whether you're working with money from parents (yahoo!) or your own savings, it's essential that you work out a budget. "I have heard time and time again that couples went ‘over budget,' when the truth is that they never had a realistic budget to begin with," says Geneve McNally, principal planner at DreamGroup Productions in Vancouver. A budget is the first thing you'll need to figure out: everything down to your timeline will depend on it.
Work out precisely how much you can spend
A 2013 BMO Financial Group survey found that couples in Canada expect to spend an average of $14,281 on their wedding, with about half of that figure coming from their own savings.
Establish where the money is coming from and when and how it will be available. If a family member offers to pay for a particular item, such as your wedding dress, find out if they intend to be there with their credit card at the dress shop or if they plan to cover the bill later.
Fulvia Cantarutti, Scotiabank district vice-president for GTA North, recommends talking openly with your partner. "Have an honest conversation about goals and dreams that goes beyond your wedding and honeymoon plans," says Cantarutti. What do your first five years as a married couple look like? Do you plan to buy a home? Travel? Start a family? "Iron out those things and learn your future spouse's financial goals."
Next, speak with someone at your bank about what they can offer you. It might be helpful to open a savings account strictly for wedding spending so that you can keep it separate from other bills and see a clear balance at any time during the planning process.
Be careful to distinguish between money you "will have" and money you currently have. The BMO survey also found that about 10 percent of couples were relying on impending cash gifts to help cover their costs. But that money isn't guaranteed, so be cautious about factoring it into your budget.
Write out all your costs
The logistics of paying for a wedding are complex—you have to pay each vendor, shop or service provider separately, which means budgeting precisely.
"The best place to start is with the expected guest number," says McNally. For food, drinks and venue rental, "prices range from $70 per person—all-in with rentals, taxes and gratuity—to $300 per person." She suggests multiplying the cost of the venue by the number of guests. The resulting figure is about half of your projected total costs. "The other 50 percent covers various items like invitations, photography, flowers, decor, music, dresses, hair and makeup, transportation."
If you need to rework your budget, adds McNally, you can either reduce the number of guests or adjust your vision for the big day. Could you be happy with just a brunch, lunch or cocktail reception instead of a formal dinner? What can you DIY?
Once you've prioritized your must-haves, create an itemized list in a spreadsheet and assign a maximum cost for each item, from rings to flowers. Adjust each line until your total matches up with the money available.
Factor in time
If your timeline is six months to a year, consider how much extra money you can save between now and then. If you'll be receiving money from relatives, Cantarutti suggests exploring investment options. You may be able to earn a little bit of interest on it in a short period of time.
According to McNally, most wedding professionals require advance deposits of 10 to 50 percent, and they expect the remaining balance on the wedding day (or up to two months ahead). Policies vary, but initial deposits are often nonrefundable.
Dos and don'ts
Cantarutti offers these simple tips for saving for your big day:
DO identify your goals
DO create a prioritized wedding plan
DO map out a path to reach short-, medium- and long-term goals
DO make goals measurable
DO transfer some savings into a special account with every paycheque
DO capitalize on credit card offers, such as travel rewards (medical insurance, lost luggage or rental car insurance) you can use for your honeymoon
DON'T waver from your commitment to saving
DON'T be afraid to ask for help
For more useful wedding tips inspiration and advice, check out our special weddings feature page.