As the country nears the tail-end of the unofficial "engagement season," which loosely kicks off before the holidays, couples are likely waking up from engagement euphoria and recognizing the financial realities of paying for a wedding.
According to TheKnot.com's 2011 Real Wedding Survey released last March, the average wedding budget is $27,021, excluding the honeymoon.
Abby Larson, founder and editor of the website Style Me Pretty, whose first book, "Style Me Pretty Weddings: Inspiration & Ideas for an Unforgettable Celebration," shares photos of picture-perfect weddings planned and photographed by experts as well as details of do-it-yourself projects, has advice for people planning their wedding.
"For most, their wedding day is the one party that they throw -- the one celebration of a relationship that will be the core of their family," she said. "It's fine to pay homage to that and spend some money doing it, but it's far more important to acknowledge what that amount looks like as a small piece of a very big puzzle."
However, Larson cautioned that paying for a wedding should never inhibit you from "living the life that you want to financially after the I-Do's."
"Many couples want to buy homes or upgrade furniture after they are married, they want to travel and entertain their friends," she said.
Here are Larson's tips to help you consider how to stay on budget and still design a stunning celebration.
|Another Financial Milestone|
"Even if you're a long way off from popping the question or saying yes, thinking about your wedding as a financial milestone is really important for anyone who is hopeful that they will indeed tie the knot at some point," she said.
Larson said weddings are often very expensive, and unlike a first home or a new car, they aren't something that people are accustomed to saving for ahead of time.
"So call it your 'special something' account and start putting money in there," she said. "If that account is never used towards a wedding, then you have more saved up to go towards the purchase of your home or a splurge vacation in Fiji."
|The Engagement Ring|
Engagement rings have become markers of status, but they still need to fit your budget, Larson said.
"With celebrity rings being snapped from a mile away and appearing in every female oriented magazine, the pressure to purchase a big rock can be quite intense for the one doing the proposing," she said.
Larson advises men "to remind yourself that at the heart of that girl you are marrying is someone who adores you and who is saying yes to you and not to the ring. If size matters above all else, scour eBay and hit up vintage jewelers to find something that sparkles but doesn't steal your entire bank account."
|Who's Paying What|
First and foremost, it's important to determine who is contributing to your wedding and what that really means, Larson said.
"It might be that you are footing the bill as a couple or that both families would like to pay or chip in. This can be a bit of an awkward conversation, so allow graciousness and gratitude to take center stage and don't go in with any set expectations," she said.
Knowing what your budget looks like means that you can now prioritize your wants and needs, without gray areas, for making decisions, she said.
With every wedding comes the practical decisions that should be made first, including the venue, vendors, and transportation.
Next come "the gotta-have-it decisions." These include such things as peonies or roses, open bar or signature cocktail.
"When it comes to the gotta-have-it decisions, figure out what your top three are and focus on those," Larson advises. "Find ways to cut in the areas that aren't as meaningful. For some people, it's an incredible menu, for others it's a killer band. Determine what are the most important must-haves and skimp on the rest."
|Wedding Planner: To Get or Not to Get?|
"One of the best tips that I give all brides is to hire a wedding planner," she said. "Because a good wedding planner can save you time and money spent on making uneducated decisions and costly mistakes."
If you can't get a wedding planner, Larson advises couples to try a "day of planner" who coordinates only on the day of the big event to keep you focused and help you avoid last-minute splurges.
|Choosing a Date|
"Off season, off days, anything that deviates from Saturday night at 6 o'clock in the early or late summer will save you money," she said.
Venues' rates are generally seasonal; Saturdays in the warmer peak season cost the most.
"Work with the vendor to find days that you might be able to score a discount," she said. "People don't always remember that Winter weddings can be spectacular as can Sunday morning affairs with a gorgeous brunch reception."