Sharon Naylor

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Courtesy of McGraw-Hill

Sharon Naylor, author of over 30 wedding planning books, has just published the perfect book for brides and groom looking to save money on their wedding expenses. 1001 Ways to Save Money...and Still Have a Dazzling Wedding is filled with expert advice and insider tricks to show you where you can make cuts to your wedding budgets, and how to make them. We asked Sharon to give us her top tips on creating a wedding budget and where you can really save some money. Here's what she had to say: —Anne Chertoff

How does one create a wedding budget?

The best plan for creating a wedding budget is taking a series of important steps before making your first plan or purchase. You can't create a realistic budget - one that will allow you to choose most of the elements you want for your big day - without knowing approximately what things cost in your area. For instance, you don't want to create a budget and then get stunned when you find out that photography packages start at $5,000 in your area when you only budgeted $1,000 for that. Do plenty of research, invest your time in meeting with all kinds of experts, getting printed price lists, and really knowing the ballparks of what everything costs. Then sit down and look at your available funds to figure out what kind of wedding you will have.

Now there are two more steps here...

Keywords:

There's more!

  1. Talking with parents to see if they will be willing and able to help pay for the wedding (not all parents can split the bill or foot the bill these days - many offer to pay for the flowers or the bar or the honeymoon, etc.);

  2. Make a Priority List of which wedding elements are important to you (catering, entertainment, gown and photos) and doing the math to decide you'll spend, say, 75% of your budget on those things, while spending less on (or doing without) the others. It may take a few steps and some extra time, but it's so worth it to create a good, flexible budget that keeps you reined in, yet still able to spend a little more than you planned for here and there without a ton of guilt. The best budgets are just there to guide you, not make you feel guilty or stressed...they're designed to keep you from losing control.

Is there a time of year when you can really save money?

Absolutely! January through April is the new Hot Season when it comes to looking for lower-priced packages in every area of the wedding industry. Mid to late-April is my own favorite time of year for a low-cost wedding, since you get the start of gorgeous spring weather for one-third the cost of a September or October wedding (which are now two of the priciest times of year). November is also a well-priced month, but keep in mind that many families have their vacations already planned, or would never dream of missing a family Thanksgiving elsewhere. Just be cautious about planning your wedding during your region's rainy, stormy, icy, snowy or hurricane seasons just to save a buck - it's not worth grabbing an insanely low price package when there's so much weather threat to your day and to your guests' traveling safety.

What's your #1 wedding dress budget-shopping tip?

Get on the mailing lists of several bridal gown shops, so that you get advance, VIP notice of upcoming and last-second-planned designer trunk shows and sample sales. At these events, you can find gowns for up to 75% off, as well as shoes, veils, headpieces and accessories for up to 70% off! You should also sign up at your favorite designers' websites as well, since they sometime plan last-minute trips through your area and their staff will email you to invite you to the sale.

Are there any items a bride should splurge on?

Really good shoes. Just like with the gown, it's all about how you feel as well as how you look, and you're going to be in those shoes all day and all night. Comfort is key. One of the new trends is for the groom to buy the bride a fabulous pair of designer heels as a wedding gift, because she may already have jewelry or wish to borrow from her mom. Grooms say their brides swoon over a great pair of Louboutins or Jimmy Choo's. Wearing a pair of phenomenal designer shoes will make you feel like a true VIP on your wedding day.

Are there any items a bride should NOT cut from her budget or not look for a cheaper alternative?

The food, the food, the food! While there are lots of ways to get more catering for your budget dollar, it's never a good idea to under-feed your guests. Guests get very angry when you cheap out on the catering, especially since they have gone to so much effort to be there with you on your big day. The true gift you're getting is your guests' presence at your wedding, so feed them well, be extravagant, devote a larger portion of your wedding budget to unique and delicious food stations, passed hors d'oeuvres, a fantastic sit-down meal and desserts.

The second item to invest well in, and not attempt to replace with a cheaper alternative, is your photographer. Yes, they're expensive, but the good ones are truly worth it. Those gorgeous photos get more valuable over time, and this is not a day to trust to an amateur or the cheapest 'expert' you find. Research well, ask friends who they hired, and invest in the best package possible. It's worth every penny to get such masterful images of your day.

BONUS: Is there a tactful way to ask mom and dad to help out?

Most parents expect to play a role in contributing to the wedding, so the best way to initiate this particular conversation is to make diplomacy your #1 goal. Plan a get-together such as brunch or dinner at your place, if possible, with each set of parents separately. Here's the ideal approach, "Mom, Dad, we're so excited to share the wedding plans with you! We'd love to have you join us to tour potential reception sites and taste wedding cakes, and we definitely want to hear how you'd like to contribute, what you have in mind, what you'd like to work on."

Mom and Dad should be told your initial wishes about the wedding, such as the number of guests, time of year and formality, so that they know the scale of the wedding (and also so that they don't try to pressure you into having the wedding of their dreams!). With open communication, parents can tell you how much they were planning to contribute, or they can ask you to help them figure out what a wedding costs in your area. You'll get much better results when you invite parents to participate and allow them to state what they're comfortable with, show them your priority list and share your excitement about the wedding planning process than if you just tell them what your dream wedding is going to cost or try to guilt-trip them into contributing more than they can afford (NEVER say your future in-laws are giving $X,000 - keep all donations discreet.)

Now if you initially told your parents that you're paying for the wedding but time has passed, expenses have piled up, and you now need parental help, it's fine to be direct: "We really wanted to foot the bill ourselves, but even with our modest plans things have mushroomed to greater expense than we expected. So if your offer to help with a financial contribution is still on the table, we'd love to take you up on it." Being direct like this is always going to improve your odds of success.

Check out some more of Sharon's books (and her blog!) at her web site, SharonNaylor.net

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