Going to the chapel without going deep into debt

No doubt about it, weddings are pricey. The average cost of a celebration in the U.S. runs around $30,000. Depending on which part of the country you live in, it could be significantly more or less, but no matter where you live or what you dream of for your big day, you’ll need a budget and the discipline to stick to it. Read on for five tips on how to get started.

Tip 1: Determine how much you can spend

Before falling in love with a couture gown, figure out if you’ll have the money to pay for it along with the rest of the day’s requirements. First, know who will be footing the bill. It may be you and your fiancé, your families or a combination.

Discussions about money can feel awkward, but they are important – especially for an engaged couple and particularly if you haven’t mingled finances. For you and your fiancé, add up your combined savings and subtract your emergency cash (ideally at least three months’ worth of expenses). The balance represents the funds currently available. Then, decide how much of your regular income you can set aside to grow that balance.

Next, if you’re hoping family will help pay for your celebration, approach each set of potential contributors individually. If they are willing and able to assist, ask to know the total amount so you can budget. Some may want to cover costs for certain aspects of the event — such as the flowers, drinks or music — but be sure to understand their limits.

As your wedding savings grow, open a dedicated account to track them. And talk to a banker to learn if higher interest rate accounts are available to help your money grow in the interim.

Tip 2: Crunch the numbers

Once a spending ceiling is established, you can figure out the type of wedding you can realistically afford, from the location and venue to the menu and guest list.

One of the easiest ways to track a budget is to set up a spreadsheet itemizing your needs — the venue, food, drink, cake, music, flowers, attire, photography/videography, invitations and postage, transportation, rentals, gifts and favors, gratuities and incidentals. If there are any non-negotiables for you or your fiancé, such as a location with a sentimental connection, prioritize those in your budget.

Plug in estimates for anticipated costs to see how close you come to your budget. Note which costs are fixed, like your attire, photographer and entertainment. Other costs will vary upon the guest count. An intimate gathering requires a smaller venue, which may cost less than a space for more than 200. Plus, the more people attending, the bigger your bill for everything from food and drink to invitations, postage and favors.

Tip 3: Prepare for the unexpected

As with any major life event, give yourself a cushion for the unexpected. Remember that “incidentals” category? Set aside at least five percent of your budget for unanticipated costs. For instance, a venue may tack on setup or breakdown charges to the rental fee, or overtime charges may apply if the party shows no signs of stopping.

Be sure to read the fine print of any contract and have a clear understanding of the services you are receiving. Cake cutting or viewing images online can come with additional service fees. Some vendors add a gratuity to their bill, so note hidden costs. Finally, beware of upsells – if it’s not a priority for you and not something your guests would notice, it’s probably not worth the extra expense.

Tip 4: Avoid unnecessary debt

No one wants to start their first year of married life deep in debt. It’s tempting to splurge on your big day now and worry about the cost later, but the future hit to your bank account — and perhaps your credit score — from accrued interest probably isn’t worth it.

Put some credit card rules in place to keep debt under control. For instance, never charge anything you can’t repay within 30 days. And, if you get a zero-interest offer for 12 months, have a solid plan to repay the balance once the introductory period is over.

Tip 5: Keep on saving

Look for opportunities to cut back on monthly expenses so you can build wedding savings. Forgo luxuries like daily coffees, meals out and entertainment in the short term for the long-term payoff.

Also consider where you can scale back on wedding expenses. If you’re lucky enough to have friends or relatives in the industry, you can approach them for their services as a wedding gift or at a lower rate. Keep your guest list trimmed, and even consider a smaller wedding party to reduce the costs of attire and flowers.

Keep focused on what’s most important to you on your wedding day, and don’t get too caught up in the extraneous details. Your guests won’t know if you skipped an upsell or two, but they will notice your joy for the momentous occasion.