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Keeping a wedding on budget is hard work, but not impossible. I can attest to that — I got married in April and I was able to do it without going into debt. In fact, I saved too much and ended up ahead of the game.

First, a few caveats. My husband and I had some financial help from our parents to cover wedding expenses. I won’t get into too many details to protect their financial privacy, but we were definitely able to afford a nice wedding because of their generosity. If we had to pay for it all on our own, we would have either left out some of the things we ended up spending money on or would have done a less formal affair. (My husband and I both recognize that having some cash from the parents to cover wedding costs was a privilege, and it did impact our spending decisions.)

After crunching the numbers using a few wedding budgeting tools and the advice of friends, we decided we needed to save roughly $15,000 on our own as a couple. With our wedding about 15 months away, we devised a plan to put away roughly $1,000 a month, saving whatever we could when we could. Here’s what we learned.

1. Save More Than You Think You Need

When we first devised our wedding budget, I did a lot of digging into how much we “should” spend. Here’s the bottom line: There’s no amount you “should” spend. Everyone’s wedding is different and everyone’s tastes are different. The one universal is this — if you can avoid it try not to spend more than you have. I realize this is a lot of preaching coming from a personal finance editor, but it’s very true. I added about 15% cushion to our wedding budget to make sure we didn’t have to carry a balance on credit cards, take out a wedding loan (they do exist!) or dip into our emergency fund. My husband and I knew we wanted to move, buy a car and own a home in the near future and knew that taking on debt or maxing out our credit cards could hurt our credit scores and affect those goals that were truly important to us. We didn’t want to risk getting a not-so-great interest rate on our mortgage just to get larger centerpieces at the wedding — it was a decision we made together.

We also monitored our credit scores throughout the wedding-spending process, since we wanted to make sure charging a venue deposit to our credit cards wouldn’t hurt our scores. (You can check your credit scores for free every month on Credit.com.)

2. Make a Game Plan

Knowing we’d need to be able to track our savings progress, I set up a joint savings account for us. This was helpful for me because I didn’t need to do math and split out our emergency fund from our wedding savings fund when I checked my financial accounts online (I do it daily). I also used an online budgeting tool to help me track my progress and linked it to my wedding savings account, but you can easily do this with just pen and paper, too. Knowing we had to save $1,000 a month, we wanted to get ahead of the game as soon as possible, so we split the amount we each individually expected to contribute based on our salaries and started depositing money as soon as possible. It helped to save more some months when we knew we had more to spare so that when the holidays rolled around and we knew we’d have to pay more for gifts and travel, we had a bit more breathing room.

How we did it:

  • We stopped eating and ordering out as often, which saved us WAY more money than you might think.
  • We didn’t spend money on vacations like we normally would.
  • We checked our savings and spending progress often and didn’t withdraw money from our wedding savings unless it was for wedding expenses. Be strict with yourself — it pays off in the end.

3. Don’t Get Cocky

About two months before our wedding, I was looking at all the cash we had saved — over $7,000 in the savings account, and more than $10,000 of our wedding obligations paid off. We were $2,000 ahead of the game and two months early to our goal! Oh, but wait… there are a lot of last-minute expenses you may not anticipate like the cost of your hotel room, rental car, last-minute alterations for you and your spouse-to-be, cake-tasting costs, etc. There are a lot, and I mean A LOT, of small expenses you have to pony up some cash for right before the wedding. And that $50 here and $100 there can really add up. After all of the wedding expenses had been paid, we ended up with (drumroll, please) …. $3,546 we over-saved! We’re putting that money toward a down payment on a house. And that leads me to the last tip…

4. Don’t Stop Saving

Since our wedding, my husband and I have closed our wedding savings account, rolled those funds into our regular savings account and kept piling on the deposits to save more cash for a down payment and closing costs. Once you get into the routine of saving, it’s a lot easier to continue than it is to pause your progress and start again. We’ve been putting money into our savings account regularly since the wedding and it’s helped us finance a move, buy a new car and pay for upcoming trips.

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