Sunday, October 4, 2009

Magic Budget Guidelines...

**I'm SO sorry - I realized AFTER this post hit the blog that I forgot to include my "dummy" slides! There here now...

One of the hardest things that I’ve done while planning our wedding is definitely, hands down, no questions asked...keeping myself on budget. I say myself, but B’s wishes are in there too...surprisingly there have been a few things that he’s asked to have on our wedding day that just isn’t in our budget. But for the most part, it’s curbing MY spending that does the trick. If he sat around and looked at wedding blogs and wedding magazines all the time too, then he’d have just as much trouble as me!
But seriously. When we first got engaged...OK, to be honest, I did this BEFORE we got engaged, who doesn’t?...I went out and bought a handful of wedding magazines (right after payday of course!) and a binder. Everyone needs a wedding binder, or maybe I should tighten that broad statement down to every anal, organizational freak like me, needs a wedding binder. And I would go through the magazines like everyone else either marking things that I liked or just tearing out the pages and punching holes in them and then putting them into the appropriate divider in my binder. (OK, that’s the anal-retentive side of me coming out, but yes, it really did happen that way!)

And one thing that I really focused on in those early days were all the articles that I could find on budgets. You know, how they tell you that this portion of the wedding should be roughly XX% of your overall budget? Yeah, those charts. They look something like this:

Ceremony 3%
Attire 10%
Flowers 10%
Photography 10%
Reception 45%
Music 5%
Stationary 4%
Transportation 8%
Extras 5%

My first problem here? The categories were too broad. For example, the category of Attire. Would that be Attire for everyone – bride and groom? And just exactly where did the garter fall into? Would that be attire, since technically you do wear it, or would it be extra since it wasn’t really attire? What about hair and make-up? I don’t see Beauty listed on there anywhere. And the category of Reception just covers everything related to the reception – venue, rentals, food, drink, favors, décor? My list of questions could really go on and on...

You see, I was trying to figure out how much we wanted to spend overall. And all of these articles weren’t really telling me that. They were helping me allocate the budget that I had in my head into general categories, but not really telling me that if I wanted to have A, B or C at my wedding, then I needed to plan on spending about $XX amount of money.

So I did what any sane, reasonable, anal-retentive, control-freak bride would do...I turned to my friend Excel. I created a spreadsheet that listed those loose guidelines and categories at the top and then extrapolated those figures out over 3 or 4 budget options.
Slide #1
Since I didn’t really know what we wanted to spend, or what we could expect to spend on a wedding in Austin, TX I was trying to leave myself some wiggle-room, while still getting a general idea.

Then at the bottom of that same spreadsheet, I took those main categories and broke them down that Attire now had subcategories of Bride, Groom, Flower Girl and Ring Bearer (since they’re our own kids, we have to pay for their attire!). I did the same thing for most of the categories, even going so far as to break down the general Ceremony into sub-categories like Officiant, Venue, Décor (not flowers), and Flowers. Yeah, I know...anal much?
Slide #2
Then on the next spreadsheet within that same file, I copied my broken down categories and then made columns for each month. This way I could enter in expenses as we had them, and I could keep track of how much we were spending. I also inserted columns for total price (contracted vendors), down payment amounts, and final balance totals so that at a glance I could see how much we still owed a particular vendor. Then I put a subtotal at the bottom.
Slide #3
Lastly, I went back to my original spreadsheet and out to the side of where I had made my new categories and sub-categories, I listed the months until the wedding and linked the totals to the previous spreadsheet where I was entering expenses. At the end of the columns, I inserted a percentage calculation that I could see how close (or far off) I was from the “suggested norm” of the wedding industry. (You can see that back under Slide #1) It all sounds complicated, but if you’re familiar with Excel, it was a piece of cake.

I’ve been diligent with keeping receipts on my person until they have been entered and logged into the appropriate category on my spending spreadsheet, and afterwards then they are filed into my wedding binder in the special zippered bag that I got just for receipts. Any receipts in the form of contracts go into the Contracts divider, but other than those, all receipts can be found in the zippered pouch at the back of the binder.

This spreadsheet has literally saved my sanity. I don’t use it as a hard and fast rule...for instance, the guidelines given show that the photography portion of our budget should fall somewhere between $1,200 and $2,000, depending on which level of overall budget you’re looking at. Our actual amount was more than that...but I knew that going into things that I wanted to spend whatever it took to have the photographer that I wanted to have. If anything, this spreadsheet just helped me see that I would have to spend less on another category to compensate for the over-expense on the photographer. The guidelines also suggest that we should spend between $960 to $1,600 on our Transportation, and that is being gifted to us by a friend that’s in the business, so we have no expense for that category at all. That’s just one example where the guidelines have been a little “off”...there have been many.

This is what initially helped me plan out our choices on vendor selections and décor options, seeing what I “should” be spending and knowing where I had some wiggle room to play. Towards the last few months of planning, I also added some entries below the sum total of all of my expenses on the second spreadsheet to show what else we would be paying for. The top of the sheet already calculated balances that we owed vendors that we had contracts with, but it didn’t factor in things that we hadn’t yet contracted or spent money on. Since I was looking to find an amount that I HAD to have saved/put back/earned through investments in our Wedding Account, it was helpful to see a “Remaining $$ Needed” total as well. This amount changed frequently, but it helped me in planning for adding and taking away projects and ideas.

And this has surprisingly been a handy tool that B checks in with often. At times, I’ll post the latest version on Google Documents and share the link with him. That way he can see where we’re spending our money and how much left we need to save to reach our goal. He can also see why something that he might want to have on our day won’t work...

In the end, after the wedding is done and over, and the recaps have all been done, I’m hoping that this spreadsheet will make my Final Budget post a very simple thing to do. It should all be entered. All expenses should be accounted for and tallied up into the appropriate categories...making my Final Budget post a walk in the park. We’ll see if it really works out like that or not...

How are you keeping track of wedding expenses? Did you buy a tool to help you, or did you just wing it? (I’m SO not that brave!) Did you use those guidelines, or create your own?

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