Budgeting for a Wedding

This question comes from a reader who wishes to remain anonymous. He/she is not yet engaged but had some general questions about planning for a wedding.

I'm in a committed relationship and we talk about marriage, but want to make sure we're financially prepared before taking that step. We both aren't sure if our parents will help to pay for the wedding, so we have a savings goal set up now for wedding expenses. However, we can't seem to find a good number for that goal. Some friends had parents cover everything, some help and chipped in, and others paid for some before and paid monthly after (which we know would not be a great way to start a marriage).

While I certainly have some ideas on how I might handle the situation differently, we were super blessed with our engagement and wedding. Kelsey's parents paid for nearly everything, and because we were just out of college, my mom picked up the tuxes for the guys (most of them were still in college at the time).
wedding ride

Here are a few thoughts/ideas I would share if we knew then what we know now...

  1. Talk it out: I would just be open and honest with your parents and try to get them to commit one way or another. Simply tell them what you are thinking about in terms of the big ticket items: dress, reception venue, price per plate, honeymoon, DJ, photos, etc... and then ask them if they would like to help with anything financially. Try to make it clear that you don't expect them to, but that you would love to have an open conversation about it so that you and your fiancé can plan accordingly.
  2. Don't take on debt: The fact that you are saving now leads me to believe you have thought about this one. We took a credit card on our honeymoon and paying it off the following month left a sour taste in our mouth. It almost tainted all the fun we had. I would try to budget your way through the wedding, and starting your marriage off on the right foot without incurring more debt would be great.
  3. Set a budget: I know it's every girl's dream to plan the perfect (in your own way) wedding. I think this can be done on a budget (easier said than done). But if you don't plan it out, you'll be sure to go over budget. Pinterest was also not around when we got married. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing. There are lots of DIY tutorials and cool ideas I'm sure, just be budget conscious as you're putting together your wedding details.
  4. List out your priorities: Of all the big things you have to decide and book early on in the planning, I would suggest making a list of must-haves. Is the venue for the wedding more important than reception? Do you have a cousin who can DJ (or just make a playlist on an iPod)? That way if the money runs out, you've thought through what's really important and where you possibly can cut.
  5. Get a checklist: I've done zero research on this, but seven years ago, when we planned our wedding, we used The Knot to keep track of everything we had to do before the big day. Kelsey did a lot of the planning, but I helped where I could.

Did you/do you/would you set a budget for your wedding? Curious to hear how others approached it.