Many of the couples who come to Flip Flop Ranch to see the venue struggle with their decision because of budget.  Not necessarily because they don’t have the money, but because they haven’t decided on a budget.  When you don’t know your budget, you are frozen on your decision making, become stressed out and then usually go for the cheapest option because it is the easiest thing to do.  As the saying goes, cheap is often the most expensive—saving money on your venue may end up costing you more on the entire wedding.

Here are ten questions you and your fiancé need to ask yourselves to figure out your budget.

1. What budget do we feel comfortable with for our big day?

The average wedding in California cost $34,500 last year and San Bernardino County came in close behind with an average wedding cost of up to $29,239.  You can read more here about the costs of weddings (it’s towards the end of the article).

You of course don’t need to spend that much on a wedding, but it gives you a starting point of expectation.  The average range for our county is $21,929 and $36,549.  You can pull off a wedding for less than that, but it gets more and more difficult

0-$2000: Nearly impossible.  This is basically a backyard BBQ party, which can be fun, but isn’t exactly a wedding

Up to $5000: Getting a lot closer.  You will actually have a basic wedding.  Probably still in someone’s backyard or maybe at a free/cheap venue like a park, restaurant, church or cheap banquet hall.

UP to $10,000:  Getting much more realistic.  Now you can afford all of your vendors, a decent dress, good decor. Not a lot of extras, but it’s a good solid wedding.

Up to $15,000:  Now your wedding is getting much more relaxing.  You can afford for others to take some of the burden off your shoulders.  There are upgrades or extras you can start bringing in to have a nicer wedding.

Up to $20,000:  Your wedding is starting to get awesome.  You have a lot of help, maybe even a planner.  Your decor is exactly what you want. You might even have a live band and entertainment.  You are still having to be smart about your budget, but you’re having your wedding your way and you can make it exactly what you want.

Above $20,000?  That’s just getting fancier.  Nicer things, better quality, better entertainment. Point is, $20,000 is the sweet point for an absolutely fantastic wedding with minimal stress.  Below this, you’re trading quality, choice and increasing stress tremendously as you drop down

2. Who’s paying and how much can they contribute?

Get this clear in the beginning.  If someone’s parents or your aunt Sophie has offered to pay or to help pay, find out how much in the very beginning.  This will prevent guessing games and the awkward conversation of “I just spent X amount and I thought you were going to pay for it.”  You don’t want to go there.  Plus you need to be able to budget around how much other’s are willing to help.

3.  What are three things we want to splurge on or are worth spending a little more on?

Some things just need to be good at your wedding.  In our opinion, the venue (not that we’re biased) is the most important because this is the setting for everything, including the photos you’ll have for the rest of your life.  The food is the next most important thing.  Everything else can suck, but if there’s good food then it’s easy to be happy.  The third is the photographer because again these will be your lifelong keepsakes to help you remember the day.

However, our opinion isn’t your opinion.  Maybe you’re a huge music junky so the DJ or band is the most important.  Maybe it’s been your dream to have a wedding with great entertainment.  Maybe you’ve always wanted that perfect gown.  You need to decide what your three most important things are and then be willing to invest in what’s important (sort of like what you’re doing with your relationship!).

4. What three things do we care less about and can skip entirely?

What are the top three that you don’t care about.  Maybe it’s the decor, maybe it’s the cake, maybe it’s the flowers.  If you don’t care about them at all then go without or go cheap.  And who cares if other people think you should have them.  Don’t want a cake?  Don’t get it.  It’s your wedding.

5. What three things should we try to save money on?

Even Will and Kate had to settle for just one Royal Air Force fly-by on their wedding day.  What are three things that you can foresee that they are going to destroy your budget.  Or do you see areas where you can imagine cutting corners without causing any problems with your vision of the wedding?  For example, can you DIY instead of buying things?  Do you have a cousin who bakes cakes?

6. How do we plan on balancing our wedding wants with the wants of those who are funding or helping to fund our wedding?

It is your wedding danggit!  Well try convincing all of your friends and family of that, especially if they are helping to pay for it.  You need to come up with a plan for how to deal with the ‘wedding funders’ ideas and visions of the wedding.  Ideally, you need to speak with whoever is contributing to the wedding before this becomes an issue.  When someone agrees to help sit down and talk to them about what they want for your wedding and then share what you want.  Ask them what should happen if what they want and what you want doesn’t match up.  Generally they’re going to say that of course you should have it your way.  When the rubber hits the road and they’re throwing a fit about not getting their way, you can remind them about that first conversation.

7. How involved in the wedding planning do we want to be?

A big cost in weddings is the planning and the implementation (set up, clean up, etc.).  If you want to do everything yourself then you can save a bunch of money.

Remember however that a DIY wedding trades savings for stress.

Ask yourself if you really have the skills to do a DIY wedding and if you do, do you actually have the time?  Can you handle the intense stress of planning and implementing the wedding?  Do you want to be worrying about set up the day of your wedding instead of enjoying the day?  And even worse, do you want to be sweeping up your venue when it’s over?

8. How are we going to ensure we don’t go over budget?

Come up with a plan for dealing with budget issues.  Make sure both of you know that it’s safe to talk to each other about money and then you actually have to follow through and hold onto your temper.  Money can be frustrating and this is a great test to see how well the two of you are going to handle finances together for the rest of your life.  One good trick is to have a “splurge” fund.  Set aside a little extra money for both of you to spend on something unexpected that you just have to have.  This will help decrease the stress of those out of budget buys.

9. How much should we put into a contingency or just-in-case fund?

Sort of like the splurge fund, but this is for the emergencies.  You always forget something for your wedding (more like 20 somethings).  Nobody picked up ice for the bartender?  The cake didn’t show up?  The groom’s car broke down and he needs an Uber?  I promise you there will be something that you forget to budget for so add on another at least 5% of your budget into a just-in-case fund.  Hey, if it doesn’t get spent then have extra fun on your honeymoon!

10. How much can we contribute?

There’s no right answer to this unfortunately.  Step one is you recognize what the actual cost of a wedding is and compare it to what you want out of your wedding. How fancy do you want it to be?  Where do you want it to be?  How many people do you want to attend?  Figure out how much your dream wedding would cost and then decide if you can save that amount of money up in the next year or two until your wedding date. Also determine if the venue helps you out in any way. We for instance, do monthly payment plans that can even extend past the date.

Also look at, do you have anything in savings?  How much are other people willing to contribute?  Are you willing to sacrifice other things for the wedding like not renewing your annual disneyland pass, maybe even selling that extra car?  Are you getting any bonuses, pay raises, income tax returns?  Are you willing to take out a loan or put expenses on credit cards?

One way you can think about it is – what is the maximum amount of money that can disappear from your bank account without you being adversely affected by it? And that’s the maximum amount you can spend. Just remember – even though your budget is “x” amount, it doesn’t mean you absolutely have to spend that entire amount, all it means is you can’t go over 🙂