Budget Weddings for Dummies®

Table of Contents


About This Book

Conventions Used in This Book

What You’re Not to Read

Foolish Assumptions

How This Book Is Organized

Part I: Coming Up with a Game Plan

Part II: Planning the Ceremony

Part III: Celebrating with Your Guests

Part IV: The Part of Tens

Part V: Appendixes

normals Used in This Book

Where to Go from Here

Part I: Coming Up with a Game Plan

Chapter 1: Bringing Your Wedding Dream to Life

Embracing the Real Magic of Weddings

Establishing Goals and Identifying Your Priorities

Setting goals together

Figuring out your priorities

Working out compromises

Estimating Your Budget

Staying Focused and in Control

Chapter 2: Working with a Wedding Budget

Figuring Out the Cash Flow

Establishing who’s paying for what

Calculating what you can afford

Calling for a Reality Check

Understanding average wedding costs

Agreeing on limits

Getting Others on Board with Your Budget

Dealing with pushy friends and family

Handling overzealous vendors

Matching Your Guest List to Your Budget

Looking at a Sample Budget

Chapter 3: Deciding When to Get Married and Organizing Your Timeline

Choosing a Date and Time to Suit Your Wallet

Understanding how dates and times affect prices

Avoiding expensive wedding dates

Starting (And Finalizing) Your Guest List

Reserving the Venue(s) Early to Cushion Your Budget

Locking in prices

Exploring early-bird extras

Wheeling and dealing: Negotiating your deposits

Set it in stone: Getting your contract in writing

Filling In Other Details on Your Planning Timeline

Building your wedding party

Enlisting the help of family and friends

Lining up vendors before all the good ones are booked

Deciding whether to hire a planner

Ordering wedding attire so you have plenty of time to spare

Make it legal: Taking care of your marriage license

Part II: Planning the Ceremony

Chapter 4: Deciding Where to Get Married

Beginning the Search for the Perfect Location

Choosing an Indoor Location

Going to the chapel

Saying “I do” in a reception hall

Exchanging Vows Outdoors

Reviewing some inexpensive outdoor options

Considering the climate

Backyard Nuptials: Getting Married at Home

Saving Money with Destination Weddings

Off the Beaten Path: Exploring Nontraditional Sites

Ahoy, mate: Finding deals onboard boats

Keeping costs down at castles

Holding to your budget at historic places and civic sites

Going Even Further From the Beaten Path

Chapter 5: Minimizing Wedding Party Costs

Choosing Members of Your Wedding Party

Calculating the number of bridesmaids and groomsmen

Deciding on a ring bearer and flower girl

Outfitting the Wedding Party

Dressing up your bridesmaids

Finding the best attire for the groom’s buddies

Helping the ring bearer and flower girl look as sweet as sugar

Accessorizing: It’s all about the bling

Pampering Your Wedding Party

Gifting Your Attendants

Chapter 6: Dressing for Your Big Day

Looking Like a Princess on a Pauper’s Budget

Understanding average wedding gown costs

Finding a bridal outfit that both you and your budget love

Shopping smarter by avoiding common sales tactics

Dapper and Debonair: Dressing the Groom

Picking out your penguin suit: Wearing a tux

Considering other clothing options

With This Ring: Selecting the Symbols of Your Love

Chapter 7: Hammering Out the Ceremony Details

Selecting an Officiant on a Budget

Getting the skinny on general costs

Breaking down the fees

Hearing the Music of Your Dreams — for Less

Opting for recorded music

Hiring musicians and singers

Decorating on a Dime

Chapter 8: Picking Flowers (Or Fun Alternatives)

Thinking About Your Floral Budget

Envisioning the flowers you’ll select

Selecting a style for the bridal bouquet

Choosing flowers for the wedding party

Arranging flowers for the ceremony venue

Deciding on reception flowers

Choosing a Florist

Knowing what questions to ask

Getting the details in writing

Keeping Your Floral Costs Down

Going seasonal

Creating your own arrangements

Considering alternatives to fresh flowers

Chapter 9: Capturing It for Posterity: Photography and Videography

Deciding What Kinds of Photos and Videos You Want

Selecting from the many photography styles

Considering video options

Choosing Photographers and Videographers You Can Afford

Beginning your search

Interviewing candidates

Negotiating a good deal

Getting Your Guests Involved

Chapter 10: Putting It in Print: Invitations, Programs, and Miscellany

Shopping for the Best Deals

Bricks-and-mortar print shops

Mail-order catalogs

Web sites

Choosing an Invitation Style to Fit Your Budget

Picking out paper

Comparing printing process costs

Including inserts (or not)

Adding postage

Creating Programs and Other Materials

Sending save-the-date cards

Getting your guests with the program

Showing guests to their seats

It’s a napkin! No, it’s a souvenir!

Saying thank you to your guests

DIY: Indulging Your Creativity (And Saving Money)

Part III: Celebrating with Your Guests

Chapter 11: Selecting the Reception Site

Matching Sites with Your Guest List

Finding the Best Venue for Your Reception

Church fellowship halls

Hotel ballrooms

Banquet halls



Considering Transportation

Hiring a limousine service

Arranging bus transport for your guests

Exploring alternative options

Chapter 12: Feeding the Hordes

Setting a Food Budget

Adjusting the Formality Dial

Sophisticated and relaxed: Daytime receptions

A sweet affair: Dessert receptions

Cocktail receptions: A social alternative

Formality at its finest: Dinner receptions

Selecting a Caterer to Cook for the Crowd

Knowing what you’re paying for

Asking caterers the right questions

Managing Menu Choices

Answering the Alcohol Question

Understanding how you pay for alcohol

Slashing your booze bill

Keeping a lid on drunkenness

Considering liability issues

Making Your Cake the Star

Getting the skinny on average cake expenses

Selecting a baker

Cutting your cake costs

Looking at low-cost alternatives

Chapter 13: Arranging Entertainment and Preparing the Venue

Using Music to Set the Tone for the Reception

Enlisting a DJ

Hiring a band

Asking the right questions

Trimming Entertainment Costs

Choosing a budget-friendly wedding date and time

Saving a bundle with some helpful hints

Creating a Party Atmosphere with Reception Decorations

Deciding on centerpieces

Choosing other decorations

Chapter 14: Making the Most of Prewedding and Postwedding Events

Keeping Costs Down for the Rehearsal Dinner

Considering the guest list

Choosing a location

Planning the menu

Hosting Gatherings for Your Wedding Party

Bridal brunch

Groom get-together

Feting Out-of-Town Guests

Partying with Those Who Can’t Make the Wedding

Chapter 15: Honeymooning in Style — and in the Black

Thinking About the Kind of Honeymoon You Want

Saving money on cruises and resorts

Considering hotels, condos, and other alternatives

Budgeting for Your Postwedding Getaway

Covering all your travel expenses

Saving for the trip

Registering for your honeymoon

Researching Honeymoon Spots with Cost in Mind

Turning your Internet know-how into travel savings

Enlisting a travel agent

Tweaking Your Plans for Value

Hitting hot spots in the off-season

Choosing cheaper days of the week

Looking into other transportation options

The early bride gets the deal: Booking early

When being late pays off: Booking your trip at the last minute

Delaying your honeymoon

Part IV: The Part of Tens

Chapter 16: Ten Ways to Get the Most for Your Wedding Dollar

Shop Around and Get Several Different Quotes

Get Referrals from Trusted Sources

Hit the Suburbs

Search the Internet for Deals and Advice

Ask Vendors for Extras

Negotiate Discounts with Vendors

Use Your Social Network to Your Advantage

Opt for Services Instead of Gifts

Become a DIY Expert

Pay with a Rewards Credit Card

Chapter 17: Ten Inexpensive Wedding Favors


Candles and Candle Holders



Drink Mix Packets


Photo Frames and Keychains

Plantable Favors


Swizzle Sticks

Chapter 18: Ten Traditions to Reconsider When You’re on a Budget

A Traditional Location

Traditional Wedding Clothes

A Romantic Limo Ride

Professional Photography or Videography

The Tossing of the Bouquet (Or the Garter)

A Traditional Reception

A Traditional Tiered Cake

Professional Musicians

Monogrammed Napkins

Expensive Favors

Part V: Appendixes

Appendix A: Your Planning Calendar

Appendix B: Price Comparison Worksheets

Appendix C: Your Wedding Checklist

Appendix D: Your Wedding Budget

Budget Wedding For Dummies®

by Meg Schneider


About the Author

Meg Schneider is an award-winning writer with more than two decades of experience in journalism and public relations. She has authored or coauthored several books, including COPD For Dummies and Making Millions For Dummies (both published by Wiley). When she married in 1999, she and her fiancé had just closed a restaurant and had very little money to work with, so they looked for creative ways to keep wedding costs down while still having the kind of ceremony and reception they wanted. The final tally was less than $6,000 for a wedding with 100 guests that included professional musicians, butler-passed hors d’oeuvres, a three-course meal, professional photography, and a professionally baked cake.

Meg’s journalism honors include awards from the Iowa Associated Press Managing Editors, Women in Communications, the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association, Gannett, the New York State Associated Press, and the William Randolph Hearst Foundation.

A native of Iowa, Meg now lives in upstate New York.


This book is dedicated to Mark Dixon, whose favorite saying comes from a Geico commercial: “I saved. I thought that meant something to you.”

Author’s Acknowledgments

No man is an island, and no book comes to market through the efforts of a single person. I gratefully acknowledge the support and contributions of:

Barb Doyen, my agent and ardent cheerleader, and a fierce proponent of saving money where you can.

Tracy Boggier and Sarah Faulkner, my editors. I thank Tracy for her skills in coming up with interesting projects, and Sarah for her ability to take reasonably good text and make it even better.

Copy editor Jessica Smith and technical reviewer Gloria Boyden. Jessica, thanks for keeping my voice active. Gloria, thanks for making sure my advice is sound.

Mark Dixon, who makes me laugh, and who has adapted remarkably well to the loopiness that so often accompanies life with a writer. (Plus, he buys me cheesecake when I finish writing a book.)

Jan and Dick Schneider, my parents, who, among other things, made planning my wedding as nearly stress-free as possible, and who have encouraged me to express my personality (even when that means breaking the rules) in every venture of life.

Publisher’s Acknowledgments

We’re proud of this book; please send us your comments through our online registration form located at

Some of the people who helped bring this book to market include the following:

Acquisitions, Editorial, and Media Development

Project Editor:Sarah Faulkner

Acquisitions Editor: Tracy Boggier

Copy Editor: Jessica Smith

Assistant Editor: Erin Calligan Mooney

Editorial Program Coordinator: Joe Niesen

Technical Editor: Gloria Boyden

Editorial Manager:Christine Meloy Beck

Editorial Assistants: Jennette ElNaggar, David Lutton

Art Coordinator: Alicia B. South

Cover Photos: iStock

Cartoons: Rich Tennant (

Composition Services

Project Coordinator: Sheree Montgomery

Layout and Graphics:Claudia Bell,
Joyce Haughey, Jennifer Mayberry

Illustrator: Elizabeth Kurtzman

Proofreaders:Cynthia Fields,
John Greenough

Indexer: Sherry Massey

Special Help Todd Lothery,
Elizabeth Staton

Publishing and Editorial for Consumer Dummies

Diane Graves Steele, Vice President and Publisher, Consumer Dummies

Kristin Ferguson-Wagstaffe, Product Development Director, Consumer Dummies

Ensley Eikenburg, Associate Publisher, Travel

Kelly Regan, Editorial Director, Travel

Publishing for Technology Dummies

Andy Cummings, Vice President and Publisher, Dummies Technology/General User

Composition Services

Debbie Stailey, Director of Composition Services


When I began planning my wedding in earnest, I bought a copy of a wedding planning guide for working women. I assumed, from the title, that it was aimed at women who didn’t have a lot of time or interest in planning a spectacularly formal and lavish wedding. Imagine my chagrin when I began flipping through it and came across a section on hand-rolled, personalized, individually written (in calligraphy, no less) thank-you-for-attending scrolls for each guest’s dinner setting. Appalled, I flipped some more, gaping at advice about fancy bridal party breakfasts, in-law cocktail receptions, and hot-house orchids for a winter wedding.

I immediately called my mother, demanding to know whether I was expected to do any of this blankety-blank nonsense for my wedding and who on earth was supposed to pay for it. My mother, who is a wonderful mother, said (this is a direct quote), “P’fft.”

“In the first place, you’re on a budget, so you have to set your priorities,” she continued. “But, even more important, your wedding should express your personality. Don’t do anything you don’t feel comfortable with.” I don’t know when I’ve loved her more.

A year later, I had the wedding of a lifetime — personal and lots of fun for our guests — and affordable. It was in an atrium rather than a church because neither of us was particularly religious. We gave our guests kazoos imprinted with our names and the date and invited them to serenade us during the recessional (which they did, with exceptional vim if not precise harmony). We had butler-passed hors d’oeuvres and pink flamingos on the wedding cake, including a flamingo bride and groom that I fashioned myself out of swizzle sticks, black ribbon, and lace from the local craft store. The final price tag for the wedding was less than $6,000, but my husband and I never felt that we had cut corners for the event — and neither did our 100 guests.

About This Book

Budget Weddings For Dummies is about making your wedding memorable and fun without going into hock up to your eyeballs. Contrary to what the wedding industry would like you to believe, you can have the fabulous day you’ve always dreamed of for far less than the down payment on a house. Your wedding should be a reflection of what matters to you, not what matters to the wedding industry.

So you won’t find tips here on how to snag that designer wedding gown for only $5,000; instead, you find ways to look beautiful for a tenth of that price or less. This book examines every facet of planning a wedding and applies practical, real-world advice for getting the most out of every wedding dollar you spend. After all, let’s face it: Money matters. And there’s no point in racking up a bunch of wedding bills that will give you and your new spouse indigestion for months after you exchange your vows.

What’s great about this book is that you don’t have to read it from cover to cover. It’s organized in such a way that you can read what you need when you need it without feeling like you’re jumping in blind. All the chapters stand alone, so jump around as you wish.

Conventions Used in This Book

For the sake of consistency and readability, I use the following conventions throughout the text:

Terms I introduce for the first time are in italics, with a plain-English definition or explanation nearby.

Keywords in bulleted lists and the action part of numbered steps are in bold.

Web addresses are in monofont.

When this book was printed, some Web addresses may have been split into two lines of text. If that happened, rest assured that I haven’t inserted any extra characters (such as hyphens) to indicate the break. So, when using one of these Web addresses, just type in exactly what you see in this book as though the line break doesn’t exist.

What You’re Not to Read

Occasionally I include information that doesn’t directly relate to saving money on your wedding, such as the history behind certain wedding traditions and the meanings of various flowers. These fun (but nonessential) tidbits are generally set off from the main text in shaded boxes; you can skip them if you like.

And, of course, you can ignore any information in this book that doesn’t apply to your situation. If you’re already planning a church wedding, for example, you clearly don’t need to read the sections in Chapter 4 about other ceremony locations. (However, the information about combining ceremony and reception sites may be useful to you.) Likewise, if you’ve already decided to wear your mother’s (or other relative’s or friend’s) wedding gown, you can save yourself the time and trouble of reading the gown information in Chapter 6.

Foolish Assumptions

When researching and writing this book, I made some assumptions about you, the reader. For instance, I assume that you

Are getting married, are related to someone who’s getting married (and probably are footing at least some of the bill), or are helping a friend plan an affordable wedding.

Don’t have unlimited funds to spend on your wedding, and you don’t want to go into debt to pay for it.

Don’t want to elope.

Don’t want to give your guests the impression that you’re skimping or cutting corners on your wedding.

Are looking for creative ideas to keep costs down.

Want suggestions on where to look for bargains.

Have a computer (or access to one) and are familiar with online shopping and other online functions.

Are more interested in simplicity and convenience than in complexity and unnecessary work.

One thing I don’t assume is that I know what your wedding priorities are — aside from keeping expenses under control. That’s for you and your betrothed to determine (and I show you how to do it in Chapter 1). This book is designed to show you how to have the wedding you want at a price you can afford.

How This Book Is Organized

For Dummies books are known for breaking a topic down into broad subtopics so you can easily find the information you need without having to slog through a lot of information you don’t. This book breaks up the concept of budget weddings into five main pieces, with chapters that explore specific topics in detail.

Part I: Coming Up with a Game Plan

This part provides you with the basics, such as coming up with a vision for your wedding, establishing a budget, and getting your timeline in order. I also offer a sample budget to help you get started.

Part II: Planning the Ceremony

In this part, I get into the nuts and bolts of your wedding ceremony — the who, what, and where for exchanging your vows. Chapter 4 focuses on ceremony locations, from the traditional church wedding to really offbeat sites (and everything in between). Chapter 5 focuses on ways to keep your wedding-party costs down. Chapter 6 is devoted to the marrying couple’s attire, including options for lowering wardrobe expenses. Chapter 7 covers the ceremony details, from selecting a celebrant and hiring musicians to decorating the ceremony site. Chapters 8 and 9 explore ideas for keeping floral and photography and videography costs under control. Chapter 10 looks at invitations and other printed materials.

Part III: Celebrating with Your Guests

The reception typically carries the biggest price tag of anyone’s wedding because so much goes into it: food and drinks, entertainment, favors, and decorations. This part shows you how to host a terrific party on a budget as well as how to make the most of other wedding events. Chapter 11 takes you through selecting a reception site, and Chapter 12 addresses your food and beverage needs. Chapter 13 looks at entertainment and décor options. Chapter 14 covers the rehearsal dinner, bachelor and bachelorette parties, and other pre- and post-wedding get-togethers. And, finally, Chapter 15 wraps up the part by providing advice for getting good deals for your honeymoon.

Part IV: The Part of Tens

I love the Part of Tens, because it’s such a convenient way to get a lot of information into an easy-to-read format. Here you find ten ways to get the biggest bang for your wedding buck, ten inexpensive (but still classy) wedding favors, and ten wedding traditions you can ditch if you’re pinching pennies.

Part V: Appendixes

This part serves as your own personal workbook for keeping track of everything related to your wedding. With the pages in this part, you can fill out a planning calendar, keep a record of prices from various vendors, keep track of what’s been done and what still needs to be done, and write down your budget. Whew! You better get busy!

Normals used in This Book

Throughout the text, you’ll see normals that alert you to certain types of information. These can help you find exactly what you’re looking for. Here’s a glossary of those normals and what they mean:

Tip.epsThis normal indicates a better, cheaper, or more convenient way of doing something.

Remember.epsThis normal highlights important information you should keep in mind, especially when you’re making plans, researching, or signing up vendors for various elements of your wedding.

warning_bomb.epsIn all likelihood, nothing will actually explode if you ignore the bits of text next to this normal. But you could end up spending more than you need to (or making another kind of mistake) if you don’t heed my warnings.

Where to Go from Here

The beauty of For Dummies books is that you can go straight to the info you want and ignore everything else. If you haven’t figured out your wedding budget yet, turn to Chapter 2. If you haven’t even decided what you really want for your wedding, start with Chapter 1.

Otherwise, check out the table of contents or index to find the topic you’re most interested in at the moment. For example, if you’re trying to save money on your wedding attire, Chapter 6 is for you. If you’re interested in low-cost photography and videography options, turn to Chapter 9.

One last thing before you dive in: We were a budget wedding couple, and many of our friends and family members commented on how elegant and fun our wedding was. So don’t let anybody — and especially not the $40 billion wedding industry — tell you that the measure of a “perfect wedding” is how much money you spend. The true measure of your perfect day is how you express your love for and commitment to each other, and how you make your guests feel welcome and valued as participants in your celebration.

Part I

Coming Up with a Game Plan


In this part...

Planning your wedding can be a lot of fun, but it can be extremely stressful, too. Before you get caught up in the hype of so-called “must-haves” for your perfect day, you need to figure out what your own dreams and limitations are. In this part, I show you how to focus by concentrating on what really matters to you and your spouse-to-be. I also show you how to create your wedding budget, taking into consideration the things that are high priorities for you.

A lot of wedding experts tell you that you need a year to 18 months to properly plan a wedding. But you can do it in a much shorter time frame. I show you the tasks that need to be done and the best order in which to do them (regardless of whether you have two years or two months to pull it all together). Finally, I take you through the often baffling task of lining up vendors and other assistance to make your wedding as seamless and snag free as possible.

Chapter 1

Bringing Your Wedding Dream to Life

In This Chapter

Remembering the reason for your wedding

Setting your own goals and priorities

Coming up with a preliminary budget

Compromising when priorities conflict

Staying true to your values

As soon as you announce your engagement, you’re inundated with advice and exhortations to make your wedding all that it can be: romantic, elaborate, perfect. This generally well-meaning advice can, and usually does, come from every quarter — parents, friends, the media, and (not least of all) vendors. As a result, planning your wedding can easily become an all-consuming venture that exhausts all your resources — mental, emotional, physical, and financial.

In this chapter, you can discover how to separate your own dreams and desires from the pressures you get from outsiders. You also can get tips for setting goals and priorities with your fiancé(e), for deciding how much you want to spend on your wedding, and for staying focused on what really matters to you as a couple.

Embracing the Real Magic of Weddings

People in the wedding industry call it “white blindness” — the tendency of so many brides and grooms to succumb to the glitz and fantasy of “the perfect wedding” regardless of the price tag. Of course, many wedding vendors encourage this response; after all, they can’t count on your repeat business (despite the ever-higher divorce rate), so they try to make as much money as they can from each customer. And they do it by selling emotion as well as their product or service.

Unfortunately, many couples readily buy into the idea that their love for each other is rightfully measured by the expense and extravagance of their wedding day. This belief doesn’t hold sway because the couples aren’t smart or otherwise savvy consumers. It occurs because of a marketing ploy in which the wedding industry keeps hounding you with emotionally charged messages like “You’ll look like a princess!” or “You only get married once!”

Remember.epsIf you want an excuse to throw a fancy party and wear a princess-bride get-up, wait until October and host a Halloween party. For your wedding, remember that you won’t find magic in orchids or tiered cakes. The real magic lies in the fact that you and your betrothed want to build a life together as partners, and you want to publicly proclaim your love for and commitment to each other.

Tip.epsMake a pact with your spouse-to-be: Whenever one of you seems to be suffering from white blindness, the other is authorized to say, “What matters is that we’re getting married,” until the symptoms abate.

Establishing Goals and Identifying Your Priorities

Planning a wedding is a big project, but few couples have anything but the vaguest idea of what they want to accomplish with their ceremony and reception. Even fewer can identify what they want to accomplish in their first year of marriage. As a result, many couples spend money on things that aren’t really important to them and, therefore, end up exceeding their budget to get the things that are on their priority lists.

Like any major undertaking, a well-planned wedding requires a mission — a reason for being (beyond the obvious one of entering into a legal and spiritual union, of course). Read on to find out how setting goals and determining your priorities for your big day can help you stick to your budget.

Setting goals together

You may find the idea of setting goals for your wedding rather strange. After all, isn’t the goal of any wedding to get married? Well, yes and no. Certainly, the primary purpose of any wedding is to join two loving hearts in wedlock. But most couples also want to have a celebration that their guests enjoy and that allows them to express their own tastes and personalities. These desires may be goals for your wedding as well. To minimize stress and misunderstandings during your wedding planning, and to make sure you set a budget you can stick to, you and your spouse-to-be need to discuss the goals you have for your big day.

Your wedding goals won’t necessarily be practical or realistic. Your fiancé’s main goal, for example, may be for everything to be perfect for you. So, when the inevitable snags and snafus arise during the planning, he may worry about your reaction. However, if you talk about your goals beforehand, you can reassure him that you don’t expect a perfect day, and he’ll feel less stress. At that same time, you can set a new goal together — say, to enjoy yourselves even if not every detail is perfect.

Remember.epsHere are some ideas for starting your own goals discussion:

List what you’ve liked and disliked about weddings you’ve attended. Making this type of list helps you visualize your wedding from your guests’ points of view. Plus, it’s an easy way to identify any pet peeves you and your betrothed have about weddings (“The Chicken Dance” and smashing cake in each other’s faces, for example).

Talk about wedding traditions and whether you want to follow them. You may choose to ignore the traditions of throwing the bouquet and the garter, for example — and, of course, doing so saves money on those items. Or you may forgo the traditional wedding garb or agree not to have any attendants. See the nearby sidebar, “Putting wedding traditions in perspective,” to understand the real reasons behind some popular wedding customs. You may decide you don’t really want to devote money to some of these things.

Think about how you want to remember your wedding. Focus on how you want to feel when you look back on your big day. Do you want an intimate gathering so you can remember every guest and nearly every moment? Do you want to feel that you included everyone you possibly could? Do you want to recall how your creativity kept your celebration under budget? Do you want to feel that you had fun doing the planning and that you were relaxed enough to enjoy your wedding?

Consider how you want your guests to remember your wedding. Naturally, you want them to have a good time; otherwise, why would you be throwing a party? So go a little deeper into what you want your guests to experience. Maybe you want to make sure everyone is well fed, personally welcomed, or pampered a little. Maybe you want to ensure that they don’t feel obligated to take home a favor, to stay to the very end of the reception, or to participate in a “dollar dance.”

Discuss what you want to accomplish in the year after the wedding. This discussion is a good way to break out of the fairy tale mind-set that so often surrounds wedding planning; it forces you to recognize that, after the wedding is over, you still have to build a life together. So talk about what each of you wants to do during your first year of marriage. Do you want to buy a house? Replace one of your aging cars? Start a business? Start a savings account for any of these things? Listing your financial goals for your first married year helps you keep the reins on your wedding spending.

Tip.epsBegin this discussion when the two of you are alone and can focus your attention on your wedding goals — perhaps during a walk or over a quiet dinner. Encourage each other to be honest and to listen to what the other one says.

Figuring out your priorities

Talking about your goals makes it easier to decide what really matters to each of you, and identifying your priorities makes it easier to create your wedding budget and stick to it.

To figure out your priorities and whether you need to compromise (see the next section for tips on compromising), each of you should sit down and list five specific things (like fresh flowers, your favorite DJ, or professional video — not vague items like “everyone having a good time”) that you really want for your wedding and five things you don’t care much about. Compare your lists; cross off anything that’s on both your “don’t care” lists and highlight any matching priorities on your “really want” list. Finally, discuss the remaining items, noting how important they are to each of you and ways you can make sure each of you gets your top priorities.

Another option is to go through the wedding checklist in Appendix C and assign a number to each item — using a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being least important and 5 being most important. You and your betrothed can do this together or separately. Either way, when you identify different degrees of importance, that’s your cue to start talking about compromises.

Ban the phrase, “Whatever you want,” from your priorities talk, because that just puts pressure on the other one (usually the bride-to-be) to take responsibility for every aspect of planning, without really knowing what her partner prefers. Instead, discuss what really does — and doesn’t — matter to each of you. The areas you should discuss include

The ceremony location: Do you want to get married in a church, or do you have another location in mind? Do you want an indoor or outdoor ceremony? Religious or civil? Formal or informal? See Chapter 4 for information on choosing a ceremony site you can afford.

The wedding party: How many attendants do you want (if any at all)? Will you pay for their clothing and accessories, hotel rooms, and other expenses? See Chapter 5 for ways to keep your wedding-party costs under control.

Your attire: Do you want a fancy, traditional wedding gown and black tuxedo? Do you want to buy, rent, or make your own gown, or do you want to borrow your mother’s? Chapter 6 covers clothing options for the bride and groom as well as ways to minimize these expenses.

The ceremony itself: Do you have a minister, priest, or other clergy member in mind, or do you want a friend or relative to officiate? Do you want live or recorded music? Do you want a soloist? How will you decorate the ceremony site? See Chapter 7 for more on working out the details of your ceremony.

Flowers: Do you want fresh or artificial flowers? Do you want fancy bouquets and floral centerpieces for the reception? Chapter 8 provides information on how the kind of flowers you select and the quantity you buy can affect your budget. It also offers some less expensive alternatives to flowers.

Photography and video: What kind of photos and video do you want? Do you want to hire a professional, and, if so, how long do you want her to shoot? Or are you okay allowing your cousin to handle the photography or videotaping? Check out Chapter 9 for ways to keep these expenses under control.

Invitations and other printed materials: Formal weddings dictate formal invitations, which typically are more expensive than less formal options. Discuss whether you want other materials like save-the-date cards, response cards, announcements, ceremony programs, printed napkins for the reception, place cards, and thank-you notes. For money-saving tips on your printed materials, refer to Chapter 10.

The reception: What kind of party do you want to throw? Do you want a sit-down meal or a buffet, a cocktail reception, a picnic, or a brunch? How many guests can you afford to fete? Will you serve alcohol, and, if so, will you offer a full bar or wine and beer only? Will it be a cash bar or an open bar? Do you want to provide traditional wedding cake or a different dessert? Will you party to a DJ or a band?

Remember.eps The reception often is the main expense of a wedding, so flip to Chapters 11, 12, and 13 to find ways to cut costs and make smart decisions.

Related events: Do you want to throw an engagement party or a luncheon for your bridesmaids? How about a hometown reception for people who can’t make it to the wedding? Will you invite guests to a gift-opening party the day after the wedding? Chapter 14 discusses a variety of pre- and post-wedding events and how they can affect your budget.

The honeymoon: Do you want to take your honeymoon immediately after your wedding, or do you want to wait a while? What kind of trip do you envision? See Chapter 15 for information on planning and paying for your honeymoon.

Talk about the vision you have for your wedding day and related events. You and your affianced may have different mental pictures of what your wedding and reception will look and feel like. Maybe you’ve always imagined an elegant evening wedding with a string quartet and butler service, and your fiancé(e) pictures a backyard ceremony followed by a pool party. Bounce ideas off each other, and don’t be afraid to combine elements from different kinds of weddings to create a celebration that expresses both your personalities.

Tip.epsIf you have a difficult time choosing among competing priorities, try running them through the Prioritizer tool at the CNN/Money Web site You enter the financial items that you’re trying to decide among, and the tool asks you to select the most important ones among various pairings. When you finish your selections, the tool ranks your priorities for you. (This tool is great if you’re having trouble balancing your wedding wishes with your other financial goals, too.)

When you get your priorities in order, write them down and post them in a place where you’ll see them often. You may even want to make a copy to carry with you in your wallet so you can refer to it when you’re doing your wedding shopping.

Working out compromises

Unless you and your fiancé(e) have nearly identical tastes and priorities, you’ll probably identify one or more areas of your wedding where you need to compromise. You also may need to compromise if one (or more) of your priorities turns out to be a budget buster.

Remember.epsThe key to an effective compromise is fairness. Each of you should be willing to give up something that’s only of moderate importance to get something that you really want. Say you really want your favorite local band for the reception, and your future spouse really wants the matching platinum wedding rings with the diamond chips. You may be willing to use artificial flowers instead of fresh so you have more money for the wedding rings, and your partner may be willing to limit the dinner menu so you can afford the band.

Estimating Your Budget

Much of the stress that accompanies wedding planning can be traced straight to money issues — how much to spend, what to spend it on, and where it’s coming from. (Family feuds over guest lists come in a close second.) Chapter 2 covers wedding budgeting in detail. But before you and your intended get too far along in your planning, agree on a ballpark figure by asking each other how much your wedding day is worth to you in dollars.

You may be surprised at your answers. Here’s why: When one of you says or even thinks, “I want to spend $20,000 on our wedding,” you’re almost bound to start thinking about what $20,000 represents in your life. If you make $30,000 a year at your job, for example, $20,000 represents eight months of your salary. Do you really want to work eight months to pay for a single day? Or, similarly, you may realize that you can buy a really nice car for that much money — or put a down payment on a house.

Remember.epsPutting a dollar estimate on your plans prevents you from succumbing to tunnel vision, because you’ll see your wedding budget in relation to your other financial goals and obligations. Your financial big picture acts as a natural brake on your wedding spending.

So how do you come up with a dollar estimate? Try one or more of these methods:

Limit your budget to between 10 percent and 20 percent of your annual combined income.

As you get deeper into your planning, you’ll fill in the details of your budget, such as who’s paying for what and so on. At the beginning, though, you and your future spouse should agree on a maximum so both of you know what your limits are.

Staying Focused and in Control

When it comes to your wedding budget, impulse is your enemy, and pressure is its co-conspirator. Wedding vendors — and sometimes family and friends — may do their best to get you to spend more, and it’s easy to get swept away by the glitz and emotion.

So how do you arm yourself against impulse and pressure? Think WEDDING:

Wait: Give yourself at least 24 hours to consider a purchase before you sign a contract or fork over the cash.

Evaluate: Get quotes from at least three vendors, and be sure the quotes have as much detail as possible so you can compare prices, services, and value.

Define: Identify how each purchase or expense helps you create the wedding of your dreams. If a purchase doesn’t quite fit your vision, it’s expendable.

Discuss: Talk with your spouse-to-be, a friend, or a relative about the pros and cons of various options. A third party’s viewpoint can help you clarify your own thoughts and feelings.

Insure: Have a backup plan in case of glitches or unexpected expenses. For example, have a good suit for the groom in case the rented tux doesn’t fit, or start a slush fund to cover items that go over budget.

Negotiate: Ask for what you want, and know what you’re willing to give on and what you want to stand firm for.

Get away: Take a break from wedding planning and do something else you enjoy, even if it’s just an hour in the garden or watching a favorite TV show. Take a break at least once a week — and more often if you can — just to remind yourself that a whole world exists that has nothing to do with weddings.

Tip.epsHere are some other ways to help yourself stay focused on your priorities and within your budget:

Keep your budget, list of priorities, and financial goals in easy view. The more you see what you and your future spouse have agreed upon, the less likely you are to forget those things in the excitement of a bridal show or vendor meeting. Use the forms in the appendixes at the end of this book, and post them prominently on the fridge, your computer monitor, the bathroom mirror, or any other place where you’ll see them regularly.

Take your wedding budget with you when you shop. Refer to it as often as necessary to remind yourself of what you agreed to spend. It’s even useful to get vendors to ease up on their hard-sell approach; just show them your budget for their service or product and say, “I’m sorry, but this is really our absolute limit.” If your wedding is at a low-demand time, the vendor may shade his prices to fit your budget.

Pass the buck. Tell vendors, family members, and friends that you have to discuss things with your future spouse before making decisions. This tactic buys you time, which is the best antidote for impulses and pressure. (Besides, it should be true; after all, it’s your future spouse’s wedding, too.)

Leave your checkbook and credit cards at home or in the car when you meet with vendors. Doing so forces you to take a break from the excitement, even if only for a few minutes, so you’re less likely to make a decision you’ll regret later.

Remember.epsYour wedding day is a big day, but it is only one day. More important is the foundation you and your fiancé(e) build for your life together. Discussing goals and priorities, working out compromises, and sticking to the plan you’ve created are skills that will serve you well throughout your married life, helping to ensure that your own “happily ever after” really does come to pass.