Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Make Believe Budget

How do you create a wedding budget?  No, seriously, how in the world do you decide how much to spend on your wedding when you have no idea how much weddings cost, how much you can afford to spend, or what needs to be included in the total?  Frankly, I have absolutely no freaking idea.  This budgeting tale of ours that I'm about to spin is by no means a "suggested method" of creating a wedding budget.  It's just the random, kinda messed up, pretty-useful-but-not-perfect way that we went about it. 

Back before I knew anything about the world of wedding blogs (and life was dark and dreary), I started the budget research in the same way I assume lots of other people do - at The Kn*t (arguably my least favorite element of the WIC and so much less satisfying to me personally than wedding blogland).  Apparently, to effectively use those budget calculators you need to first know how much you want to spend.  Well, there was only one other person we'd known who'd gotten married in a quasi-similar location and we thought we had a general idea of how much that wedding cost (although we had no idea how "all-inclusive" or not that number was).  We then decided that number was much too high for us, so we reduced it by 1/3.  Based on what, you ask?  Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  We arbitrarily slashed a budget total amount by 1/3 because we wanted to.  Thus our entrance into Make Believe Land.

I took this make believe number and plugged it into the budget calculator, which yielded many smaller numbers attached to discrete categories (attire, accessories, jewelry, gifts, ceremony, reception, officiant, etc. etc.).  Again, with the whole not knowing what the hell our wedding was going to include thing, I made some totally arbitrary decisions to cut certain categories and move some of the money around.  In particular I focused on the two categories most important to us - photographer and ceremony/reception costs.  I allocated 75% of our make believe budget to these categories, figuring that I'd just magically be able to find photographers and venues that would work within those budgets and that there's no way we'd spend more than the additional 25% on all those other weddings costs (coz, ya know, I'm gonna do everything myself...  And also I was living in Make Believe Land). 

{okay, not this Make Believe Land}

Related to these arbitrary decisions I made, a controversial wedding budget topic I often see talked about is what exactly gets included in the budget.  Do you wanna include engagement ring(s), honeymoon, rehearsal dinner, other wedding weekend activities?  The list goes on and on.  In my particular Make Believe Land, it only felt necessary to include the *really big* wedding purchases - the ones where a lot of money would come due all at the same time.  I also had strong feelings about what should not go in the budget, namely things that other people might contribute to (like the honeymoon, because we'll have a honeymoon registry), things we didn't yet know what we'd do for it (like the rehearsal dinner or other wedding weekend activities), and things we would re-sell after the wedding (like candy buffet jars or linens).  In my mind, this is a totally reasonable way to approach our budget - 1) because we're having a long engagement so we have significant time to both save and spend money, 2) because smaller costs would just get rolled into our regular monthly credit card bills so we'd never really notice the difference, 3) because we could decide at a later date what we could afford for all the things we didn't include in the original budget, and 4) because money we spend and then re-coup later doesn't feel like money spent to me.

Unfortunately (for me), Mr. NM approaches budgeting very differently.  For him, budgets should account for every dollar spent on anything wedding-related - things that are outside the realm of our regular purchases.  Mr. NM was not a fan of Ms. Meticulous' Make Believe Budget, no-sir-ee.  How is it that Mr. Not Meticulous was so... meticulous! when it came to this budgeting stuff??  Thankfully, meticulousness is something I can respect and I can work with.


Where does that leave our budget?  Good question, to which I have a less make believeish but equally fantastical response.  Right now our budget exists as what I might call a 3-tier system.  The first tier is the original budget I put together all those many months ago.  The second tier is less researched and less specific, and it consists of estimates for those bigger ticket items not included in the first budget.  The third tier is the most frequently updated, where I'm keeping track of every single penny spent on anything remotely wedding-related no matter how small the purchase ($5 for photo printing, $2 for ribbon).   The hope is that, as our wedding date nears, we'll have an up-to-the-minute totaling of *all* our expenses from which we can base our decisions about those second tier items where we have some flexibility.

{3 tiers, full of goodies more palatable than budget items}

For sure the final budget is not as pretty as the make believe budget, it's way more complicated than it probably needs to be, and it will likely change as time goes on...  but it's working for us.  For me, for now, that's enough.

Who else began with an idealized budget that morphed into something less attractive over time?

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