It's always good to get home for the holidays (especially when you're trying to plan a wedding and your mom lives 500+ miles away), and this year was no exception. It served as a great reality check during a key point in my wedding planning and helped me stave off a major meltdown (yes, I've had a few small ones). I knew early on it would be easy to get carried away with the extravagance of it all. Kevin and I are planning a small destination wedding followed by two large parties (one back here in the Twin Cities and one in our childhood home of St. Louis) for friends and family. To counter my impulsive nature and love of shopping, I set a budget first thing and conservatively estimated the expenses for everything from my dress to postage (don't forget the stamps—especially with prices going up January 27). After looking at the average cost of a wedding in 2011 (about $27,000), my fiance and I decided that amount was unreasonable for us. We set our budget for the entire affair at $15,000 with wiggle room for a 20 percent overrun, which has turned out to be excellent advice. If you are not math-inclined, that brings the grand total for all three events to $18,000. That's well below the national average and even further below the amount the industrial wedding complex would like you to think you must spend (put down the "melt-away-the-fat" brochure from the med spa). Lest you think we're cheapskates, we're not. But, as two people in our mid-30s, we realize the value of every dollar. Sure, it is easy to spend up a storm when someone else is footing the bill, but when each dollar is the result of your own daily toil, the decisions become far more meaningful. Every dollar we spend on the wedding is a dollar that doesn't go toward our student loans, our mortgage, our car payment . . . you get the picture. Thus, emerged the Wedding Planning Commandments: 1). Thou Shall Not Go Into Debt to Throw a Wedding. Let's face it. Starting off your married life with a mountain of debt from your wedding isn't the best idea. Even worse: Still paying off those wedding expenses while going through divorce proceedings. Sadly, it's happened to at least two couples I know. Oh, and then there are the parents who take out a second mortgage to shower their beloved with a fairy tale wedding. If only I were kidding! Resist the urge to accrue wedding expenses you can't pay off immediately. (That goes for you too, parents.) 2) Thou Shall Trim From One Line Item When the Budget Overfloweth On Another. In an earlier post, I told you about how my wedding dress, which cost $450, exceeded my budget by about $50. Obviously, I couldn't pass up the perfect dress despite the cost overrun. And, it was only $50. But, it meant I would have to trim from somewhere else in my budget. Right now, I'm trying to swing a deal that would save me some dough printing my invitations. With deadlines looming and my Google wedding calendar constantly alerting me of a need to complete this task or that one, it would be easy to lose sight of my expenses. But, I know when the extravaganza is over next October, I don't want to be scrambling to pay the bills. I can't say it isn't challenging to keep myself on track. And, I admit there are times when I hear other brides talking about their $2,500 dress or their $10,000 flower order that I feel a tinge of jealousy. But, I quickly remind myself of what matters the most to me and my fiance: that our friends and family have a good time celebrating our decision to spend our lives together. [caption id="attachment_1285" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Pokey the Rhino gets dapper."]
[/caption] The guests who truly love and support a bride and groom don't care how much the reception dinner costs per plate (let's face it—have you ever had wedding food you'd be willing to pay $75-$90 for?) or whether the liquor was top-shelf (you know most of your co-workers can't tell the difference between Grey Goose and the huge bottle of no-name vodka). They won't complain that you had gerber daisies instead of more expensive flowers (who needs Birds of Paradise at $4 per stem?) or that you opted against the wedding cake that cost $10 per square inch. The guests who truly love and support a bride and groom want you to throw a party that reflects who you are as a couple (hence the inclusion of our rhino Pokey) instead of how big your bank account is (or how long you're willing to go into ridiculous debt). Going home for the holidays really reminded me of those things. Playing games with my family, stopping to visit old friends. It all made me proud of the fact that Kevin and I are planning a party that represents the thing we value most—spending quality time with our family and friends.