How to budget for the big day

Kaizer Gukeisen and Shelby Melssen.

The evening of Dec. 19, 2018, is one that 23-year old Shelby Melssen will never forget.

After her registered nurse pinning ceremony, she and her boyfriend, Kaizer Gukeisen, stopped back at their apartment before joining family for dinner. It was there, in their living room, where he proposed to her.

“He had a big bouquet of blush and white roses,” Melssen said. “He was originally going to propose in front of both families, but he wanted it to be just the two of us because he didn’t want it to be about the audience.”

Melssen and Gukeisen haven’t set a date, but want a long engagement of two to three years.

“We both have some debt from college, so we want to be able to take some time and save up money since weddings are expensive,” Melssen said. “We are a young couple, so we don’t want to start out our life together in a lot of debt.”

When considering the expenses of a wedding and all the planning involved, pulling off the big day can be overwhelming.

Danielle Stowell, owner of Wicked River Event Production, has more than a decade of experience in planning and coordinating events of all sizes. When it comes to financing a wedding, she emphasizes that there are so many options out there that all events can be customized to fit specific budgets.

“The national average for wedding expenses is $31,000, but luckily in Eastern Iowa, it’s about half of that — $15,000 on average,” Stowell said. “We reach out directly to local vendors based upon what couples realistically can afford.”

Twenty-three-year-old Sara Redmond became engaged to Jared Wellik on Oct. 20, 2018. Redmond and Wellik have set a wedding date for Nov. 16, 2019. Redmond, who graduated from Iowa State University last May, is an agriculture loan officer who also works with consumer loans. She is well aware of the costs of weddings, and together, with her fiancé, they have worked out a financial plan.

“I’m not going to lie; I’m worried about it. I’m a banker so I do nothing but worry about financing,” Redmond said. “A few days after Jared and I were engaged, we decided to set up a savings account that had us both on it. Each paycheck, we contribute a specific amount into that savings account.”

In addition to saving money, parents and families often will contribute to the wedding budget.

“Talk about financing before you pick a date. How you are going to pay for it may play a large role as to how far out the wedding needs to be planned,” Redmond said. “We are extremely grateful and beyond blessed that both of our parents are willing to help us out with paying for our wedding.“

Once a couple knows how much money it has to work with, the planning can begin.

According to Stowell, food and beverages are the greatest expense, followed by the venue.

“My biggest tip for brides and grooms is to keep in mind that everything is customizable, and there are no rules,” Stowell said. “For example, if you care more about having a fun dance party with your guests rather than a drawn-out formal reception, scale back to have appetizers and drinks, and start everything later in the day. You don’t have to have a sit-down meal.”

Redmond recommends setting goals.

“We had a goal to find a good caterer that had a price of $10 per plate or less,” Redmond said. “Therefore, we were on a mission. Luckily, we found an amazing caterer that has a price of $9.75 per plate, so we hit our goal.”

Another tip for creating the wedding of your dreams is figuring out what your top priorities are. If there is a specific venue that is more expensive, you’ll need to cut expenses elsewhere.

“I know I want expensive flowers because I love flowers, so I know now that my dress needs to be a bit less expensive,” Redmond said.

Another way to save money or cut expenses is to use your resources.

“For us, we are extremely blessed that we both have talented family members,” Redmond said. “We have family members doing hair and makeup, doing our flowers, making desserts, etc.”

While wedding expenses can add up quickly and create some stress, it’s important to keep perspective and enjoy the process.

“Don’t center your whole wedding around financials,” Redmond said. “Being engaged and having a wedding is so exciting and fun. Enjoy it.”

Maryjo Williams is a freelance writer from Dubuque.

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