They say you can live on love, but love alone won't pay the wedding bills. As of 2012, the average wedding in the U.S. cost about $27,000, according to Reuters, and half of all couples spent more on their wedding than they planned. To budget successfully, you must find the point where the wedding you can afford matches up with the one you've dreamed of, or comes as close as possible. It's not just the total budget you need to consider but how you prioritize. For many weddings, paying for the venue takes up 50 percent of the budget.
Establish your budget for the big day. Base it on the cash you have to spend, including donations from family or friends, rather than how much of the cost you can put on plastic. You'll probably have some unexpected expenses along the way, so build in a cushion. If your total budget is $22,000, plan to spend only $20,000, leaving you with $2,000 for a reserve.
Divide up your budget by expense categories such as photography, flowers, rings and the wedding dress. List the items you'll need to buy to make sure you don't forget anything.
Draw up your initial budget based on typical wedding spending. The Wedding Channel says the average couple spends 50 percent of the budget on the reception, 10 to 15 percent for photos, and 10 percent for the wedding gown and groom's clothes, for example. That gives you a starting point you can tinker with later.
Adjust your initial wedding budget based on what matters most to you. If you're determined to go over your budget in one area -- by getting married in Paris or inviting your entire high school class to the wedding reception -- that's fine, as long as you economize somewhere else.
Research prices for the wedding items. If you want a Florida beach wedding, start calling hotels and property rental companies to get quotes for a venue. Talk to caterers in the area about prices for the reception. Don't hesitate to negotiate and make counter-offers -- the worst they can do is say no.
Revise your wedding budget based on the quotes you get. If parts of your dream wedding are out of reach, you have to compromise. If your budget won't support a filet mignon dinner for 200 guests, come up with cheaper reception fare or slash the guest list.
- Keep track of anything that costs less than you expected. For example, if a florist friend offers to provide the wedding flowers at a big discount or your parents unexpectedly give you money for the reception, record how much you've saved. That way you won't forget if you need to go over budget somewhere else.
- Never feel you have to spend the national average on a wedding or include the same items your friends did. If everyone expects an open bar at the reception but you can't afford it, there's nothing wrong with making it a cash bar.
- Small adjustments can net you extra savings. Most wedding venues will charge you less for Friday or Sunday than for Saturday.
A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.