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Most engaged couples run into budget problems during the second half of the wedding-planning process because, although they created an imaginary wedding budget before they started planning, all of the numbers they plugged in were guesstimates of what things would actually cost.
The best way to get a handle on your wedding budget early is to create a spreadsheet that you fill in every time you add another wedding expense. Here's how to go about doing that.
Start with Payment Types
Start with a column titled Wedding Expenditures and then, to the right of that column, create the following headers: Estimated Cost, Actual Cost, Deposit Due Date, Deposit Paid Date, Balance Due Date, and Details About Payments. It's really important to take notes right there about how you have to pay each and every vendor, so that you can be prepared with actual money if they accept only checks or enough room on your Visa card if they do not accept Amex.
Dedicate a Line to Every Vendor
When you hire a vendor, add a line to the spreadsheet and complete all of the information. If you struggle to pay bills by the deadline on a regular basis, go ahead and give yourself calendar reminders about when the final balances are due for each of them. Sometimes the vendors won't remind you, and you don't want to be in breach of contract for failure to pay the balance when the contract says it's due.
Take Note of Payment Deadlines
This detailed information will also help you plan ahead, so you can know exactly how much is due to whom, by when, and how you have to pay them. The goal is to be as organized as possible. Organized brides and grooms experience significantly less stress in the last weeks leading up to the wedding date because they knew what was coming and were prepared.
You can start your spreadsheet with some obvious categories: Photography, Cake, Ceremony Music, Officiant, Venue (separate lines for ceremony and reception if they're at different locations), Marriage License Paperwork, Reception Music, Reception Catering, Wedding Favors, Rehearsal Dinner, Wedding Gown, Groom's Attire, Wedding Party Gifts, Wedding Day Beauty Appointments, Rentals, Flowers, Permits (if any are required for your events), Setup and Teardown (if not included by your venue or vendors), Lunch for the Bridal Party on the Day of the Wedding, Bride/Groom Accommodations, and Wedding Party Transportation.
Don't Forget to Tip
Depending on your wedding's activities, you may have a lot more line items, or some of the ones I've here may not apply. Don't forget to add an additional line for gratuities, and to get a clear understanding of who you need to tip, ahead of the wedding week. Some venues build service charges and gratuities into their contracts, but many don't. You need to budget 15-20 percent gratuity for every vendor and have cash on hand on the wedding day to tip people.
Update. Update. Update.
It's important to update your spreadsheet if you have a significant change in your head count, because all catering contracts are based on how many guests will be attending.
Sandy Malone is the owner of Sandy Malone Weddings & Events and author of How to Plan Your Own Destination Wedding: Do-It-Yourself Tips from an Experienced Professional. Sandy is the star of TLC's reality show Wedding Island, about her destination-wedding-planning company, Weddings in Vieques.