Ryan Ahearn

Bride On A Budget: 5 Ways To Plan Your Wedding Without Going Broke

Whether you like it or not, it's wedding season. That means banquet seating, buffets and open bars. With my own big day coming up in August, I now have a year's worth of wedding planning (and budgeting) under my belt.

The past 12 months have been some of the most stressful, fun and rewarding ones of my life. But more than anything else, they've been educational. I've learned a lot about myself, the people around me and what I'm really looking to get out of my big day. We all want our weddings to be special, but does that mean the wedding also has to cost an arm and a leg?

While that answer may be different for each of us, here are five general lessons to help any couple plan their special day:

1. Give yourself time to shop around.

I got engaged in May 2015. I found that by giving myself enough time to plan, I managed my stress levels. I found the vendors I really wanted, while still giving myself enough wiggle room to shop around and find the best value.

I also got a lot of planning done early. Therefore, I had a strong sense of my budget and where I could overspend. Setting priorities in your budget can help you decide what you're willing to splurge on and what you're willing to give up.

For me, the most important costs were my photographer and my dress. I knew my photos would last a lifetime. Considering the fact you only get to plan your wedding once, having the time to plan, save and weigh your options can make it an enjoyable experience instead of a stressful one.

2. Never buy the first dress.

Speaking of dresses, it's usually not a good idea to buy the first one you try on. I thought I found my dress at the first store I visited, but a friend convinced me to visit another store. The store was filled with designer dresses, which I assumed I couldn't afford. But lo and behold, there was my dream dress. It ended up costing less than the dress from the first store.

It's OK to be picky and take your time deciding on a dress, even if you're shopping on a budget. Ask a lot of questions, and check to see if what you like is on sale.

Try on dress after dress until you find the perfect one within your budget. This is a very special process, so make sure you really love what you have on. Don't worry if this doesn't happen right away.

3. Don't sweat the guest list.

The guest list can be one of the most stressful parts of the planning process, especially when you're sticking to a budget. It's easy to worry about cutting down your list down to a specific number.

But, I realized the most important people at my wedding would be my fiancé, my best friend and my mom. Making sure I had my nearest and dearest with me when I said “I do” was what mattered the most. The rest of the guest list fell into place as a bonus.

4. Make decisions together.

My fiancé – even though he was really supportive throughout the entire process – made it clear pretty early on that planning weddings wasn't his forte. Still, I wanted him to feel involved, especially since the day belongs to the both of us.

When we both called the shots and co-owned the experience, there was less pressure on us as individuals. In our case, I gave him total control over the cake. We went together to the bakery, but he had the final say on everything.

He felt involved without being overwhelmed or tasked. This was also a really great way for me to take a step back and get a break from making decisions.

5. Don't go into debt.

At the end of the day, a wedding is a special occasion where you're surrounded by the people you love the most. But it's just that: a single day.

Accruing thousands of dollars in credit card debt simply to put on a lavish wedding can create a rocky start to any marriage. I've battled debt before. Therefore, it was important to me to stay debt-free throughout the entire wedding planning process.

In order to earn some extra income while paying down my credit card debt, I turned to Fiverr years ago. But plenty of brides turn to other resources in order to save up for their big day.

As part of the process of preparing for your wedding, look at incremental income streams that take advantage of any skills you might have. For me, it was voice-acting. If you're at a loss for where to get started, check out this list of 20 side hustles you can start in your 20s.

When it comes down to it, planning a wedding can be really fun. If you give yourself enough time, approach it as a team and prioritize what you really want, you can have the wedding you've always dreamed of.

I had a blast planning my wedding. I even enjoyed finding ways to do it for less. So, outside of hoping that there's no rain on my wedding day, it should be smooth sailing.