If you鈥檝e learned anything from attending lots of weddings, it鈥檚 that they don鈥檛 come cheap. They鈥檝e become such a beastly financial burden for couples that it can be tempting to just run off to city hall for an intimate elopement. And while we love a good city hall wedding, it鈥檚 totally okay if, deep down, you both just really want to celebrate your nuptials with 200+ of your closest friends. If you and your S.O. recently got engaged (congrats!!), it鈥檚 time to start thinking of how you will pay for all those signature wedding cocktails and beautiful bouquets. Enter Nancy Ray, professional wedding photographer and finance aficionado, who is here to tell you how to start saving for the Big Day. These tips will show you how to get the most out of your wedding budget with lots of good resources you should be using STAT.

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Tell us a bit about you. How did you get started in wedding photography and how did you become passionate about finances?

鈥淚 jumped into wedding photography while I was still a college student and engaged to be married back in 2008. For the first four years of my photography business, I was a solo act, sometimes dragging my husband Will along with me and eventually training him up to be my 2nd shooter. In 2012, we decided to build a team of photographers, instead of it being a husband and wife duo. We have since hired three Associate Photographers: Callie, Elizabeth and Olivia. We have an internship program where we host two interns each year. We鈥檝e discovered we love being a small business; we love teaching and we love training others. Because of that, we are now in the process of filling up the Nancy Ray Shop with all kinds of resources and products to help other business owners grow their teams.

Last year I had a baby girl, Milly. It鈥檚 been fun and challenging figuring out how to do life as a mama and business owner, but I wouldn鈥檛 trade it for the world. In the midst of growing this business and our family, we became incredibly passionate about managing our finances well. This all came from a class we took while we were engaged, back in 2008: Dave Ramsey鈥檚 Financial Peace University. Will and I decided we did not want to live our lives with debt, and wanted to free ourselves from debt as quickly as possible 鈥 including our home. Long story short, after much saving and sacrificing, we paid off our house in December of 2012, and screamed 鈥淲e鈥檙e debt free!鈥 on Dave Ramsey鈥檚 radio program that following January. We are so grateful and so proud, and we want others to know that it鈥檚 totally possible. You can read the full story here!鈥

What would you recommend couples do as their financial first step after getting engaged?

鈥淭ake Financial Peace University! Honestly, that is our biggest piece of advice we give to couples. It was an incredible resource for us to get on the same page, to understand one another鈥檚 financial backgrounds, and to work toward common financial goals together. You most likely can attend a class at a local church near you, but if you can鈥檛, they have home studies as well. It鈥檚 worth every penny.鈥

What if couples are on a tight timeline?

鈥淓stablish a budget right away. Secure the venue and photographer first, because they book up the fastest. Then鈥 get creative, and ask your friends and family to help where needed!鈥

What are the best resources available for brides-to-be?

鈥淢y favorite wedding blog is Southern Weddings. I鈥檓 a Southern girl at heart, and they offer so much practical advice and help on their blog. I also love their Southern Weddings Planner 鈥 it鈥檚 a wonderful resource for brides to plan their big day!鈥

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5 tips on how couples can start saving for their wedding day today

1. Open a separate checking account dedicated to your wedding, so budgeting becomes clear.

2. Take a part-time job (or three) and throw every dollar you make into your wedding account.

3. Have a talk with your fianc茅, parents and future in-laws. Make sure you are clear on how much each party is able to contribute, so you know what budget you鈥檙e working with.

4. Define what鈥檚 most important to you, and calculate how much it鈥檚 going to cost. The venue? The photography? The rings? The dress? Think about what鈥檚 going to last. I always tell my brides that your photography and your wedding rings are the two things that will live beyond your day and be involved in your daily life. You鈥檒l wear your rings all the time and you鈥檒l see your images throughout your home. (I of course am a little biased, but photography is a no-brainer in my book!)

5. Don鈥檛 get caught up in the hype of 鈥淭his is the only time I鈥檒l ever get married so I have to get all the things!鈥 This, of course, is true: It hopefully will be the first and only wedding you鈥檒l have. And it is okay to splurge and pay for expensive items, as long as it鈥檚 with cash. One day is not worth any amount of debt, since it follows you around for years and potentially strains your finances as a married couple. You *can* have a beautiful wedding on a budget, and there are plenty of resources out there to help you do just that.

Your big day is just starting! Check out all things Brit + Co Weddings, and follow us on Pinterest for more beautiful + creative wedding inspo.

(Photos via Nancy Ray / Nancy Ray Photography)