Published May 1st, 2012

Getting real about the limits of the wedding budget is one of the toughest conversations couples have before the big day. So tough, in fact, that plenty of couples don’t talk about it until after they marry. Bad idea! Expenditures this big matter and it can be a mistake to pretend they don’t. Whether the two of you are paying for the whole shebang yourselves or you’re lucky enough to have family and friends helping out, budget talks, because of all of their potential anxiety, create a great opportunity to strengthen healthy financial and relational habits.

If you have contributors, the best way to deal with the awkwardness of money talk is head-on. This minimizes misunderstandings and the collateral damage they can create. The bride and groom can make all the difference to the budget talks by modeling a respectful, honest tone. I suggest including the relevant players from the beginning by approaching them individually, seeing how much they’re willing to contribute, and allowing them to ask questions. Create an open dialogue without judgment where everyone can feel that they understand the decisions being made, even if they don’t agree with them.

Of course, you want your dream wedding to be as close to your vision as possible, so when talking with family or friends who are helping to pay for parts of it make sure you as a couple know where you’re firm and where you’re willing to bend.

But what if you’re paying for the wedding yourself? Many of our couples are in this boat. If the money is your own, that can create stress between the two of you. Again, respectful candor is key. Have an open and patient conversation with your partner that isn’t in the presence of other people. (I’ve had clients slip into the subject while meeting with me and let me tell you, it’s awkward for everyone involved and not particularly productive, either.) I think it’s great if you can talk about the budget in a laid-back environment — like at home, maybe after dinner — so that both of you are comfortable and you have the time and energy to really get into it.

Finding common ground on the budget is important for the celebration and the relationship as a whole. If you can start with your budget and plan the celebration accordingly, that tends to be the best, conflict-free way to move toward the big day. Otherwise, you risk one or both of you shopping for things you might not be able to afford, which tends to lead to disappointment and resentment.

Remember, all this money talk can help smooth the whole process. Setting parameters on costs can actually make decisions more manageable and fun – having fewer options promotes more creativity, for example – and money honesty can be great practice for similar conversations between the two of you down the road.