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Wedding season is upon us, and couples across the nation are shelling out tons of cash to tie the knot. This may not come as a shock to many of you, but weddings are expensive. I didn’t realize all the intricacies or expenses involved until my fiancé and I started to plan our wedding for next year. To save you some time and money, here are some simple steps to follow to help you budget for your wedding.

Make a List of Everything you Want

If you don’t have unlimited funds in your wedding budget, you’re going to have to get creative. Wedding vendors can smell blood a mile away, and will charge you an arm and a leg if they don’t think money matters to you. Also, it’s important for you and your future spouse to sit down and have a serious conversation about what matters most to you for your wedding. This shouldn’t be a conversation with parents or your friends, but one between the two of you to determine what you want. Together, you will get a better idea of what your ideal wedding will look like, who will be there and where you are willing to compromise. By having this discussion in advance of reaching out to parents and vendors, you’ll be better equipped to work as a team going forward.

Pick a Date and Plan Ahead

I’m blown away by how many venues are booked up for the next two years. It is as if there are millions of brides-to-be who book their dream venue years in advance of engagement. Either way, picking a date and location are important aspects of the wedding planning process. As venues book up, companies can charge higher rates. Also, a quick word of advice about timing. The months of April through July are popularly known as “wedding season” in the wedding industry, and are times when vendors and venues can get away with charging more for their services. Why? Because there is a lot of demand. If you are looking to budget and save money on your wedding, you may want to consider booking a date outside of those months. But if you are determined to get married during wedding season, be my guest.

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Free Credit Check ToolDetermine How Much You Have to Spend

Before you can create a wedding budget, you’ll need to figure out how much money you have to spend on your wedding. Traditionally, the bride’s parents cover the wedding and reception and the groom’s family covers the rehearsal dinner. But times are always changing, and financial situations vary from one family to the next. Eventually, you and your spouse will need to have a conversation with your families or with each other to determine how much money you’ll have available to spend on your special day. The average wedding costs nearly $30,000, but you can get away with spending less if you try.

Compare Prices from Multiple Vendors

If you don’t do your homework and get quotes from multiple wedding vendors, you’ll end up overpaying for wedding planning services, flowers, catering and nearly everything else you need to buy for a wedding. To minimize the risk that you overspend, create a list of the places where you want to hold your wedding, reception and rehearsal dinner, split up the list with your spouse and get on the phone with vendors to come up with price ranges. Once you have all the prices in front of you, you’ll be able to make an objective decision on which vendors to work with on your wedding day.

[Related Article: Till Debt Do Us Part: Credit Tips for Newlyweds]

Find Ways to Cut Costs

There are a million ways to cut wedding costs, but like any financial decision it may involve a little compromise. This may be difficult for one or both of you, but when the rubber meets the road you may have to cut out some of the little things to stay on budget. A few ways to save on weddings include:

  • Change the date – Pick a date outside of the popular months, avoid big crowds and thousands of dollars on vendors.
  • Keep it small – Invite only close friends and family, and have your acquaintances come to the engagement party.
  • Buy your own alcohol – Some venues and caterers won’t allow you to do this, but there are plenty of locations where you can bring your own alcohol, which can save you a ton of cash.
  • Hire a cheaper photographer – You don’t need the chief photographer from National Geographic to get great wedding photos these days. Hire someone from a local art school, or get a friend to take photos at the event. Technology has made it easier to get great photos, so cut some of the costs here if you can.
  • Get a local band – Rather than flying in the Rolling Stones, consider getting a local band to play some cover songs at your event. Make sure to listen to them in advance, but this is another place where you can cut costs. Or even better, use an iPod and rent a good sound system. This is an area where you can save thousands by being creative.
  • Keep it casual – Consider having a wedding that isn’t formal, where you can wear comfortable clothes and save money on your wedding dress, tuxedos, etc. I don’t have this option, but it is a good one for a lot of people — especially if you live near a beach or are just having friends and family.
  • Bake your own cake – Bake your own, or find someone you know who can, and ask them to do it for your gift. There are tons of people out there who’d much rather do this than shell out cash to buy you a spatula for your wedding gift.
  • Make your own invitations — This is one thing I’m doing that is going to save us nearly a thousand bucks. I’m designing all of the save the dates and invitations, and we are printing them on our own.
  • Plan your own wedding — Another great way to save on your wedding is to plan it on your own. It will save you thousands, and there are a ton of great tools out there to help you out. One of my favorites is called WeddingTracker from The Knot.

Track Wedding Expenses

The next step is to keep track of your receipts and your other wedding expenses. You can do this with using this wedding budget worksheet or you can keep a shoebox with your receipts. No matter your method, do your best to stay on top of your spending you’ll know where all your money goes.

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Image: Javier Bouzas, via Flickr

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