According to a wedding survey by BRIDES Magazine in 2011, wedding budgets for Americans are a bit down – probably because of the tough economy. Today’s brides and grooms spend an average of $26,501 on a wedding. Even though the dollar amount is down a couple grand from 2009, that’s still a huge amount of money. So it’s no wonder that brides and grooms argue about money frequently during their wedding planning process.

Luckily, we’re here with tips to help you avoid the arguing, set a realistic budget, and stay financially on track (and blissfully happy.) while you’re planning your dream wedding.

Figure out who is contributing

Today, more and more brides and grooms – even those who have never been married before – are contributing most or all of the total budget for the wedding. Parents just aren’t paying as much anymore, either because they can’t afford to as they approach retirement with less than ever in savings or because brides and grooms simply want complete control over the big day.

It’s important before you even begin planning your wedding to have an honest conversation with both sets of parents to see what they’re planning to contribute. Remember that as an adult, you’re not entitled to any cash from your parents. But if they want to contribute that’s great.

Note: Parents who do contribute to the wedding, reception, or rehearsal dinner may want to have more control over the details. If this bothers you, figure out a way to pay for the wedding on your own.

Find your own budget

Once you know what your parents will be contributing to your wedding, figure out what your own contribution will be. If you’re one of the lucky brides whose parents will foot the entire bill, you can skip this step. Otherwise, check out your own savings account and potential savings between now and the big day that you can chip in for your dream wedding. Remember to be realistic, and not to over-charge on credit cards (even low interest ones) if you decide to use them for some of your expenses.

Decide what’s most important to each of you

At this point, you should have your total wedding budget. But you’re going to put that dollar amount on the shelf for a few days. Right now, instead of focusing on money, focus on both parties’ dreams and expectations for the wedding day.

Chances are likely that certain things that are super important to you may be a little less important to your groom, and vise versa. And there are probably some wedding details that don’t matter much to either of you. An easy way to figure it out is for each of you to make a top five list. Write down, in ranked order, the five most important things about your wedding day. It could be the food, the mood, the decorations, the favors, the dress, the venue, the number of guests, or anything else about your wedding day.

Compare lists, and figure out what’s most important to each of you. Commit now to spend money first on the most important things, and to figure out how to cut expenses on the things that are less important as needed. This simple communication technique can help you through financial arguments well into your future as a married couple.

Set a realistic budget

Once you know what you have to spend and what’s most important, set a realistic budget. You may need to do some market research to figure out what things tend to cost in your area. (ie. In some places, you can rent a wedding venue for less than $1,000, but in other areas, that’s next to impossible.)

Budget for the things on your “most-important” list first, and then add in money for everything. Work on your budget line by line until everything adds up to exactly how much money you have to spend. You may need to take away money from some categories to be able to fund others, but in the end, you should have every dollar accounted for.

And one excellent way to avoid wedding finance arguments later on is to add a 10% contingency fund to your wedding budget. This extra 10% (which really needs to be accounted for in your original budget based on what you have available to spend.) can be used for emergencies or unexpected expenses that really need to be paid. The bonus is that if you get everything without using your contingency fund, you can have some extra honeymoon fun with the money.

Keep track, and stick to your budget

Having a budget is all well and good, but if you don’t track your spending and stick to your budget, you’re going to blow right past it, creating all sorts of tension in your wedding planning process. So track every single receipt in a spreadsheet-style wedding budget.

You should also host weekly or monthly budget meetings (depending on how often you’re doing wedding-related shopping) to discuss where you’re at with the budget. This will help you find areas where you might need to adjust because things are more or less expensive than you’d thought.

Remember, if you’re getting strings-attached funding from parents, you may need to include them in your budget meetings to ensure that they know what’s happening with the money they’ve allotted for your wedding.

Following these simple steps will help keep you organized and on budget during your wedding planning process. Since there’s nothing romantic about bickering over money, you can avoid all of that throughout your engagement just by creating and sticking to a wedding budget.

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