Let’s be completely honest. Whether you're the couple getting married, their parents, or the wedding planner, setting a realistic budget is one of the hardest parts of the planning process. Nobody wants to talk about finances, and many people lie. By knowing what questions to ask and setting reasonable expectations, you can help your clients set a realistic budget to plan the wedding of their dreams.
The Little Lies
Since you're all gasping, we’ll start with the comment about the lies first. Some parents will tell their children that they have X amount to contribute to the wedding. And sometimes, that number is somewhere between 5 and 10 percent less than what they've actually planned for. This is because some parents know their children will go over budget! But the lies don't stop there. The couple will tell their planner a lower number and then the planner will tell the vendors a smaller amount to keep some extra wiggle room in their budget.
Telling little white lies isn't always a horrible thing! A good wedding planner can stay on top of the couple’s budget and come out looking like a superstar because they actually come in under the parent’s anticipated budget. However, the bigger problem is that no one really knows what the total budget is or what a realistic number for that couple looks like. With this miscommunication, not knowing what's part of the budget or what the couple’s priorities are, nearly everyone will be working with a basic, industry generated, standard budget template.
Budgeting in the Dark
A perfect example of budgeting in the dark is the wedding reception. Typically, the average wedding reception makes up between 48-52% of the wedding budget. This sounds like a great rule, but what are the expectations?
Parents who had a fire hall wedding reception 25 years ago for 100 wedding guests think that 50% of a $20,000 wedding budget is a huge amount. You can get a lot of roast beef, chicken, potato salad, pasta salad, and beer for $100 per person. Unfortunately, their Food Network generation children with 250 wedding guests have a much different expectation. Butler passes hors d’oeuvres, food stations during the cocktail hour, and a full bar with signature cocktails change that budgeting a lot when it comes to the same $10,000.
Getting a Number
The first step in setting a realistic budget is to know who's part of the bank. Is it one set of parents, both sets of parents (or more), and is the couple contributing? Once the team has decided who's contributing and how much, you'll have an all-in number.
The most common mistake here is to dump everything together into one big pot. The problem with this is that people want control over what they contributed to, and with everything in one pot, everyone wants input in everything. If one set of parents is contributing X amount, decide what that money will be used for. This gives them input into how money spent for those specific items. This will help keep the couple from being pulled in too many directions.
The next step is to make a list of all of the areas of spending and have each partner rank them in order of importance. Flowers might be number one for one partner and number eight for the other, but a great band might rank high for both. Compromising and breaking down the budget by allocating funds in order of what the couple says is essential to them is a great place to start.
Setting Reasonable Expectations
Money only goes so far. It’s that simple. The budget for wedding flowers can go much farther for a wedding with one honor attendant on each side of the aisle rather than 12. A $300 wedding cake for 50 guests can be extraordinary, while the same budget for a wedding of 150 is now going to cost $2.00 a person. Part of setting realistic expectations is that none of us are going out to dinner and getting a decent dessert for $2.00, much less, an artistically designed wedding cake. And, nearly everything grows exponentially with the addition of wedding guests, so being honest with your clients is really important.
Pro Tip: Take advantage of Aisle Planner's powerful Budget tool to keep your clients (and maybe even their parents) on track with where their money is being spent.
What’s Not Included in the Budget
Another critical piece of questioning your client is knowing what’s part of the budget. “Everything” is a really vague answer. Is your dress for your engagement party and rehearsal dinner part of your attire budget? You’d be amazed by the number of grandmothers who were paying for little things that would typically be part of the attire, accessories, or even hair and makeup. Even comments like “oh, dad is paying for the liquor separately” can tip the scale. Helping set realistic wedding budgets for your clients can be very simple, you just need to ask the right questions.
Hero photo courtesy The Grovers