There are two reasons why my girlfriend and I haven’t gotten married before now.

1. There wasn’t a legal marriage option for us in our state.

2. We didn’t think we had the money.

We estimated a wedding would cost us somewhere between “a lot” and “too much”. We didn’t bother to get more specific than that, or start putting money away for a wedding… until after we were engaged.

Normally, we’re both serious planners, especially when it comes to money. My partner has been providing for herself for a long time and her own foresight is her safety net, so she spends and saves carefully.

I’ve worked since I was too young to legally do so. My family owned a fast food chain and I literally stood on a crate so I could work the register when I was too young and too short to reach the buttons on my own. I didn’t have regular hours there as a teen, but my dad would put me to work in spurts doing the glamorous jobs like cleaning floor mats, polishing every single stainless steel surface and hosing out the giant trash cans. He was determined that I learn “the value of a dollar”, which is why he made me do dirty jobs and why he opened a checking account for me as a birthday gift when I started making babysitting money, and then did surprise check registry audits to make sure I was keeping accurate accounts of my money.

Reconciling my balance every week was annoying, so I stopped doing it when I moved out on my own. But after losing track of how much money was coming in and going out, my debit card was declined for insufficient funds at Trader Joes while a line of my neighbors looked annoyed behind me. It was at that moment, jettisoning items from my packed grocery bag and turning redder and redder, that I realized it is truly important to “know how much money you really have.”

I’ve been much more careful since then, and I’ve managed to provide for myself a lifestyle I love that’s stays within my budget, even though I don’t make all that much (love you, non-profit sector).

This wedding is the first big ticket item my girlfriend and I have ever confronted, and in the early days, a wave of panic would wash over me when we sat down to plan because all I could think about was how expensive everything was going to be. To calm myself down, I looked at templates for “DIY” (translation: cheap) weddings online, but those numbers still looked enormous to me.

I’m slightly more zen about the whole thing now and here’s why: I’m going to stop adding things up. That sounds like a dumb idea for someone who wants to keep their finances under control, but there’s context.

My girlfriend and I decided we wanted a 10K wedding. This is a thing. Google “10K wedding” and you’ll see all manner of blog entry and pictorial spread featuring brides explaining how they did it … how they threw a 10K wedding. I read the blogs, I saw the spreads, I decided we would have a 10K wedding.

I found a percentage-based budget breakdown online, and broke down my 10K between reception, clothes, gifts, fees, blah blah blah blah blah. Then I shared the spreadsheet with my girlfriend and we rejiggered the numbers to reflect how we would actually be spending money. We’re making our own playlist, so we took the money the breakdown allocates to a DJ and moved it to the photographer category. We’re not hiring cars, so we transferred those funds elsewhere.

With the obvious numbers moved, we took a look at what was left and tried to determine if the allocated numbers seemed adequate. Except we have no idea if they’re adequate, because we have no frame of reference for most of this. So now we’re doing a lot of recon–pricing out our ideas and seeing if those costs will match the numbers on our spreadsheet.

If we don’t go over what’s allotted in each category, we’re not going to exceed our overall budget. And that is how I plan to avoiding overspending and panicking over the grand tally. It’s almost like a trick I’m playing on myself, but it’s helping me not freak out.

I read another piece of advice that’s helping me chill out. The helpful book A Practical Wedding, points out that you don’t win a prize for staying within your initial budget. When that sunk it, I realized I was holding too dearly to my 10K wedding goal. I was picturing myself on my wedding day, gloating that I hadn’t spent a penny over 10K, when so many others fall into the trap of overspending. But that’s sort of a ridiculous thing to daydream about. On my actual wedding day, I hope I’m filled with love for the people around me, not love for my own budgeting skills. Perspective.

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