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How to Be Sure Wedding Bliss Does Not Become a Financial Miss, Part 1

Things were off to a slow start in the fall for one main, glorious reason… I got engaged in September!

While the engagement is great news, wedding planning is more time consuming than I thought it would be. It took me almost a month to find a venue that met my criteria and didn’t gouge my pocketbook.

You see, as soon as you add the word “wedding” to anything, it appears the industry has creative license to jack up prices by 50-100% or more as compared to a similar non-wedding expense. Brides and grooms are held hostage for wanting their dream event, all in the name of profit. I have quickly discovered two most important keys to ensuring the budget is not blown for a wedding or any other potentially expensive purchase: 1- creating an overall budget to begin with (and sticking to it), and 2- being flexible in most cases.

That’s right: the more laser-focused you are on particular outcomes or specific (and in the end, insignificant) details, the more expensive the final bill will be. Because I am remaining flexible during the planning, I have been able to score really great deals.

First things’s first: the budget. After my man’s fab proposal and the reality of planning the wedding set in, the first thing we did together was decide on a wedding budget: $10,000. Now, to some people, $10,000 might be $9,500 too much, since all we would really need is a marriage license and justice of the peace. To be fair to our parents (at least mine), they wanted us to have a traditional wedding. Eloping, while raised as an option between my man and I more than once, was out of the question. At the end of the day, this will be the only time I get married, so I too would like a wedding shared with loved ones.

According to Reuters, the average cost of a wedding in the US was $27,021 in 2012. In large urban cities it’s often more. In New York, the average cost of a wedding was $65,824 and in Chicago, it was $53,069. In Canada, the average cost of a wedding in 2013 was $32,358, said a recent survey by Weddingbells magazine. In the large urban center I live in, Toronto, $50-60,000 weddings are common. And frightening too, if couples are left to foot the bill, given that a house (often $500K and up in Toronto) and children will also be knocking on their wallets soon enough.

Meg Schneider, author of Budget Weddings for Dummies, says “We have been conditioned since we were little children to go for the fairy tale and this is what the wedding industry is selling us. We buy from an emotional state rather than a rational state.” And that’s where they get us!

One of the things I talk about (expose??) is that while we believe we make decisions based on logic, in fact as humans we make buying decisions based on emotions and back them up with logic. This is when we are vulnerable to overspending. We get preyed on when we are vulnerable.

As I browsed wedding discussion boards, I was surprised and saddened by the number of brides-to-be whose already substantial budgets ballooned by another $10-20K. The problem? There were two main causes:

  1. they didn’t price out the different components of their wedding ahead of time, and were caught off guard with additional expenses such as the cost of their flowers or tent/tables/chairs/cutlery/security/etc.
  2. their guest list ballooned, impacting the overall expense.

What am I doing differently? Well, I turned the wedding planning process into a bit of a game.

In this post, let’s look at the venue. I searched and queried several locations. Each location had a different way of presenting their pricing, so I was able to demystify the final bill in advance by plugging their numbers in a spreadsheet. This way, I could compare apples to apples. Hint: To do this properly, you should have a good idea of how many guests you will have. I will cover the guest list in another post.

Locations that appeared reasonable weren’t so budget-friendly once I was able to account for all of the expenses (and beware locations that charge additional fees such as DJ plug-in fees, permits for photography, security guards, and cake cutting-fees. These are additional expenses that you can forgo with the right location).

First, my man and I were flexible on dates within a window of a couple of months, so that opened more venue options to us. We selected a venue that had the charm I wanted, no hidden fees, and could handle all aspects of the wedding, from the ceremony to the dinner and after-party. We can hold all of the events without a break, which is simpler and more pleasant for guests and us. It keeps costs down because we are paying for just one venue. It’s an inn, so we swapped transportation costs for a room, eliminating travel time and giving us a place to secure our valuables. Last but not least, we avoided booking on a Saturday, which is the most expensive — and most competitive — day of the week to host a wedding. We jumped on the non-Saturday bandwagon, choosing to host our wedding on Friday evening instead, which is less expensive. Being flexible about the day of the week you get married on can keep money in your pocket.

In follow-up posts I’ll discuss how to get the gown, the guest list and other pricey wedding doo-dads without breaking the bank!

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