By now you've probably seen the standard budget guidelines experts suggest for divvying up wedding expenses: 50 percent for the reception, ten percent for flowers, ten percent for your wedding attire, ten percent for music, and so on.
Seems pretty simple—and certainly, if you just followed the guidelines, it would be. However, in matters of the heart, things are often not that simple. And because weddings fall into that category, you—like many brides—may find that you crave one special thing for your wedding that completely upsets that oh-so-rational distribution of percentages. Maybe it's a dazzling dress that bears a hefty price tag, or artfully engraved wedding invitations that lend the perfect touch to a formal event. The all-important question is: Should you indulge the urge to splurge?
Do you really think we're going to say no? Of course not, but there are a few things to keep in mind. "The impulse to splurge is understandable," says Steven Pybrum, a financial planner and author of Money and Marriage for Engaged Couples (Abundance Publishing). "And in one sense it's good to respond to this need to have the day of your life. The trouble is that wedding planning is emotionally charged. If you aren't careful, you could end up spending way beyond what is reasonable for one item."
So you need to splurge carefully. Jennifer White Karp, 32, who was married last August at the George Washington Manor in Roslyn, New York, says that music was the most splurge-worthy element for her and her fiancé, Howard. "There are a lot of musicians on both sides of the family, and my husband is a drummer," she says. "We were on a tight budget, but we knew we wanted the best music we could afford." So the couple hired not one, but two bands. The first played klezmer, a festive, traditional music played at Jewish weddings. These musicians provided the background for the cocktail party and ceremony that followed. For the reception, the couple went all-out with an eight-piece band, including three singers and a trumpet. "They were amazing," says Jennifer. "It was like being at our own concert, that's how good they were. They played everything from funk to R&B to rock to swing. Everyone was on the dance floor."
Jennifer ended up paying a little more than $5,000 for the two bands, which was about 25 percent of her wedding budget. How did she make it work? "I looked everywhere to cut costs," Jennifer says. "It helped to hold the wedding on Sunday instead of Saturday, and we got married in August. The manager at our reception site said that August was a slow month for them, so we got a discounted rate." Jennifer bought her dress at a place that sells designer samples, borrowed jewelry, and used an antique purse she already owned. She also pared down her guest list as much as possible, holding it to 93 people. The wedding party consisted of the bride, groom, maid of honor, and best man only. Was it worth it? "Absolutely," she says. "I have no regrets whatsoever. We just had so much fun."
Jennifer provides a blueprint for how a splurge can be worked successfully into a wedding budget. But Robbi Ernst, founder and president of June Wedding, Inc. (junewedding.com) and author of Great Wedding Tips From the Experts (Lowell House), says once you've decided on a splurge, you have to be vigilant. "It isn't that splurging is bad," he says. "But I've found that when brides splurge on one thing, they'll splurge on others. They figure, 'Well, I've already gone over budget, so what's a little more?' " Sounds a bit like dieting: You may feel that if you slip and have one cookie, you might as well eat the whole bag. But you needn't fall into that trap. Experts advise to set your priorities when you first set your wedding budget. Include the splurge in your budget, and juggle the figures. Resolve to stick to your numbers as closely as you can; otherwise, you could end up being in debt from the get-go. "That's not the right foot to start out on," says Pybrum. "If going overboard in any way means taking on debt, it's just not worth it in the long run. You don't want to start your marriage with your finances in the minus column."
There's another pitfall to be aware of, Ernst says: "Sometimes when brides splurge in one area, they try to make up for it by working cheaply in another. They'll hire a nonprofessional, with often disastrous results." One bride had a friend do the wedding photography, so that she and her husband-to-be could use what they saved to enjoy a luxurious honeymoon in Italy. Unfortunately, the friend didn't expose the film properly, and all the pictures taken in the church were too dark. "We don't have one decent picture of our wedding!" the bride says. You also want to steer clear of using a substandard vendor in the interest of cutting corners. Consider this scenario: If everything else in your wedding is wonderful but your food is just so-so, you'll feel disappointed. If you want to economize on food, you could do so by arranging to have a cocktail reception instead of an elaborate sit-down dinner or forgo a dessert table and just serve cake. There are lots of creative ways to save money that don't involve compromising quality.
Naturally, every bride wants her wedding day to be fabulous. Just keep in mind that logical thinking doesn't always prevail at this point in your life. That's why, while it's important to follow your heart, you should be sure to use your head, too. That way, you'll get what you really want above all - a joyous day and beautiful memories for you and your husband to share.
According to our informal sources, the top three splurges are:
Photography: "These pictures will be passed down to our grandkids," one bride says, "so they'd better be good!"
Food: "Guests will definitely notice if the food is bad," says another.
Engagement rings and wedding bands: "I spent $2,000 on his wedding band," a bride says. And nowadays a lot of brides are choosing larger stones for their rings,
Those areas where corners are most likely to be cut? Favors, transportation to the church, and decorations. ("No one will care if the chairs are covered," says one bride.) It's all a question of taste!