Most of my potential clients who call to ask about getting married on Vieques or Culebra island have no idea how much money they need for a Caribbean destination wedding. It's the same with the clients I've helped back in my hometown of Washington, D.C., so "budget oblivious disease" is obviously not limited to destination weddings. Brides and grooms often don't have any clue how much their wedding is going to cost when they start the planning, regardless of how much thought they've given to the little details. And I don't mean they have a ball park budget they need to narrow down, I mean most haven't even considered how much their grand plan will total up to when all is said and done.
What's funny -- or not -- is that most of these couples have already started inviting guests to their weddings before they call me to start the planning. Some of the ladies have already spent $5,000 or more on a designer wedding gown. The gentlemen have almost all just sunk their life savings or the bulk of their credit reputation on a sparkly rock to kick off the whole process. Unless somebody used a family diamond, most couples enter engagement already in debt (that's right baby -- that rock he hocked his soul for is on YOUR finger and that monthly payment is half your responsibility now too!) Let's face it, "in the red" is the wrong way to begin planning the most important social occasion you're ever likely to host together.
Wedding budgets aren't rocket science, and after you've done this awhile, you get pretty good at "guestimating" a budget. If my clients want a welcome party, a beach party/rehearsal dinner, and a wedding and reception, and if they know approximately how many guests they think they're going to have, I can give them a pretty good window of what things will cost. You can make things cost more or cost less based on every choice you make through the planning process (choosing the $3 chairs instead of the $7 chairs, for example). A good wedding planner should be able to sit down with a potential client and give them realistic numbers for the event they have in mind. A really good wedding planner will refuse to plan an event for a budget that she knows isn't going to cover the tab.
Reality check -- weddings are expensive productions and nobody is going to give you anything for free, or cut you slack on expenses just because you are a bride. Oh yes, you'll get in the door faster at a nightclub wearing a veil at your bachelorette party, and you MIGHT get treated like royalty by some of your more sophisticated vendors, but the reality is that everything you're planning to do costs money and as long as you have that money, it's all good. There's no promising to pay it later for a wedding because brides and grooms are notoriously bad about settling debts.
And even if you do have the best intentions of paying everybody in a timely manner according to contract, things happen during the chaos of a wedding weekend. At my wedding reception in back in Washington, D.C., my new husband Bill couldn't pay the photographer because I'd very carefully put the envelope with $2,000 in cash in the breast pocket of the wrong jacket for him. Oops! Luckily, the White House photog I'd hijacked to shoot pics at my hometown reception was a friend of a friend who thought it was funny. But a professional vendor who isn't related to you or your friends probably won't have a sense of humor. Nor will your wedding planner. We've all seen those horrible episodes of "Whose Wedding Is It Anyway" where the wedding planner makes the groom go get cash out of the bank machine before the reception venue will let the guests inside. Can you even imagine?
Plan your wedding budget together with your fiancé, and with your wedding planner. If it's a realistic number, the planner should be able to help you achieve it if you follow her advice. If you decide you want fireworks and the most expensive option of everything, chances are you'll exceed your budget and then some. If it's more money than you thought it would be when you get the initial estimate after your consultation, don't freak out immediately. Take a step back and consider several ways you can get what you want without too much compromise. Can you postpone six months to give yourselves more time to save money? Will either set of parents help contribute? Can you reduce the guest list? Maybe a destination wedding is something to consider too.
Set a budget and stay on top of it. Make a plan for paying it off within 12 months of your wedding date. Six months is even better. If your parents or your fiancé's parents decide later in the game to contribute, consider putting this money towards something you've already planned rather than adding additional events. Realize that all of your wedding vendors' final balances will be coming due at some point in the last 30 days prior to your wedding, and you need to be prepared with enough cash or credit to cover the entire invoice when that moment arrives.