How to Create the Best Wedding Budget for You
With spring just around the corner, we’re heading into wedding season. That means brides- and grooms-to-be are in getting into full planning mode. It’s exciting to think about and plan your big day. What’s not so exciting is the price tag goes with it. The average wedding in the US cost $35,329 in 2016. Weddings are expensive, and it’s so easy to go over what you intended to spend. As I plan my own wedding, I cry a silent tear when I sign over thousands of dollars or watch my bank balance drop.* The good thing is that you can still have a beautiful wedding on a budget that works for you!
In personal finance, budgets have a bad reputation. They’re restrictive and difficult to follow. But there’s a good side to them too. When it comes to wedding planning, a budget can help you to prioritize the most important aspects of your wedding and keep you from overspending. This article found that 74% of couples go over their budget. Don’t let that be you! So how do you go about creating a wedding budget?
Who is paying and how much?
The first thing to do is determine who is paying for the wedding. In American culture, the bride’s family traditionally pays for the wedding. Nowadays, with men and women frequently both having jobs and getting married at older ages, many couples pay for the entire wedding or at least part of the wedding themselves. They may have contributions from family and friends. In some cases, their parents may pay for all of it. There’s no hard and fast rule on who pays anymore.
There are two general schools of thought on asking for contributions:
- Ask for contributions. Many people have family members such as parents and grandparents who may offer or want to contribute to their wedding. Family members may have told you in the past that they were interested in helping you out financially. Or maybe they want to help financially but haven’t yet discussed it with you. A polite mention of the subject may be all that’s needed to get you on your way. Just be sure to get a specific dollar amount or the item that will be covered. For example, a mother or grandmother may want to purchase the bride’s wedding dress.
- Don’t ask for contributions. For some, it’s out of line to ask anyone for financial support. Then you know that you’ll be on your own to pay for your wedding. If you’re family and friends mentioned that they want to help but can’t financially, they may be happy to help you in other ways with wedding planning.
Decide which way is best for you. Then add up the contributions from others and the amount that you and your fiancé can contribute. There’s your starting budget. For some, this may be more than they dreamed of having for a wedding. For others, the number may lead to more anxiety. If the second is your case, there are ways to help you increase or stretch your budget.
- Extend the length of your engagement
- Save more of your income
- Take on more work and/or side hustles to increase your income
- Simplify your wedding plans
The last thing I want to point out here is to practice some caution when accepting contributions. There’s a common saying when it comes to wedding planning: no pay, no say. If you know that accepting someone’s contribution will come with strings attached, consider whether it’s worth taking. Some parents turn into mom-zillas and dad-zillas when their money is involved. That may mean compromising the vision you have for your wedding because someone else is footing the bill.
After this step, you’ll know how much you can reasonably afford for a wedding. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say you don’t have to have a strict number set in stone. I actually like the idea of a budget range so that you give yourself some breathing room while planning. After considering everyone’s contributions and your own, you might come up with a budget range like this:
- Ideal: $10,000
- Comfortable: $15,000
- Cutting it close: $20,000
What kind of wedding do you want?
The type of wedding you hold will make a big difference in how much you spend. A lavish affair such as a hotel wedding with a five-course meal and a live band will cost more than a modest church wedding followed by a restaurant reception. If you’re early in your planning, you may not know exactly what you want and how much it will cost. That’s okay.
If you’ve done some wedding research already, then you know that everything is expensive. A cake for any other event like a retirement party may be $100, but it will be $300 for a wedding. These markups are everywhere when wedding planning. You’ll find that your dollars don’t go as far as you had hoped.
Two major ways to keep your costs in check:
- Change the venue – The venue typically accounts for a huge portion of the wedding budget. That’s because the venue itself may charge a fee for to use it for the ceremony. Then you may be required to use their caterers for the reception. Catered wedding food can easily run over $100 per person at fancier venues. You’re stuck paying their prices if you want to use their venue.
- Lower the number of guests – The second best way to cut costs is to invite fewer people to the wedding. When food can easily run $50-$100 per person or even more, you’re saving that amount with each guest that you cut from your list.
You may find, as I did, that our preferences and plans changed over time. We originally wanted a seafront hotel wedding with approximately 100 guests. As we did more research and circumstances around our wedding changed, we chose to get married at a chapel and cut down our guest list to about 50-60 people.
I know we’re not the only couple to change the vision for our wedding. We’ve had engaged friends tell us that they stopped planning after realizing how much things were going to cost. One couple moved their wedding to Portugal because they got so much more value for their money there. At one point, I was ready to just head to Vegas to get married.
- How to Find Your Dream Wedding Dress on a Budget
- How to Find an Affordable Engagement Ring
- How to Attend Weddings on a Budget
What are your priorities?
Unless you have an unlimited budget, you’ll likely have to compromise on some aspect of your wedding. The good thing is that you don’t have to give up what really matters to you if you prioritize your spending. When you start wedding planning, pick out a few things you want to prioritize and focus your spending there.
My fiancé and I each picked three things we wanted to prioritize. We both wanted to prioritize food. I come from a family of foodies, so I know they’ll want to eat a lot and eat well. We decided we’ll do a plated dinner with three entrée options instead of a buffet or family style service. We gave up our wish to have a live band because we knew that would be pricey and wasn’t necessary for our guests to have a good time.
- Food – Do you want a full-service plated dinner, a buffet, a family style meal, or a self-serve affair?
- Flowers – Grand or small floral arrangements? Floral centerpieces for every table? Do you have a favorite flower you want to use or are local and in-season flowers okay?
- Guest list – Do you want to invite only close family and friends? What about distant relatives and acquaintances?
- Music & entertainment – Live music or a DJ? Photo booth or no photo booth?
- Venue – What type of venue do you envision? Does it have to have an ocean view or a ballroom? How about a community center or a repurposed barn (very popular nowadays)
- Cake – How many tiers do you want? Is a small wedding cake and a supplemental sheet cake okay?
- Photographer/videographer – Do you want to hire a top-notch, full-time photographer or someone who does photography as a hobby? Do you need a videographer?
After you discuss your priorities with your fiancé, you’ll likely a much better idea of where you want to spend and where you can cut back.
Crunch the numbers
Now that you know your budget and have your priorities in mind, it’s time to crunch some numbers. There’s a wide range of costs for the same service, so it pays to get an idea of how much it will cost for what you like.
Take some time to browse online for sample budgets. You’ll find lots of budget breakdowns for couples who have gotten married with every budget from $3,000 to $100,000. You may find that the breakdowns vary widely by geographic location and time of year. Then take a look at vendors in your area and how much they charge. Some venues and vendors don’t publicize their prices. In that case, you have to contact them for more information.
According to The Knot, here is a reasonable budget breakdown. Note though that this is a very general breakdown and you’ll probably find that it varies for you based on your priorities and needs.
Wedding Rings: 2%–3%
Just-in-case fund: 5%
Honeymoon: extra funds
One of my priorities was having great photography. I started by looking on Yelp and found a few that I really liked. I also found out that the common starting rate for top-notch photographers in the Bay Area is about $6-$7K. That was a shock to me.
If I follow the above guide and decide on a top-notch wedding photographer, my wedding budget should be about $60-$70K. On the other hand, if I have a $30K budget, my photographer should be about $3K. Since photography is one of my priorities, I’m willing to splurge there and cut back in other areas.
Don’t forget the extras
And there are so many extras! Wedding planning comes with many extra expenses and hidden costs. Vendors may cost more than their initial quotes due to taxes, upgrades, and transportation to and from the venue. Vendors and everyone who provides a service will likely get a tip. If your wedding starts early or ends late, you’ll pay extra for those hours of service. You might want to get a few hair and makeup trials done before deciding on a stylist.
If you have lots of out-of-town guests or a wedding party, you may plan to host a rehearsal dinner the night before the wedding or a breakfast the morning after. And then there’s welcome bags for out-of-town guests, gifts for your wedding party, and favors for your wedding guests. These things aren’t necessary but will add to your budget if you want to include them.
Another thing to consider is if you want to have a wedding planner or a day-of-wedding coordinator. A good coordinator will ensure that everything runs smoothly on your wedding day, leaving you and your guests to enjoy the wedding. A coordinator can cost several hundred to over a thousand dollars, while a planner will be even more.
It all adds up. The 5% “just in case” category above is necessary. I would recommend budgeting at least 10-15% more to cover extra costs. That’s why I love the idea of having a budget range and aiming to spend at the low end of it. You’ll likely end up at the higher end when you add it all the extras.
Write it all down
The next thing to do is write things down to keep track of your spending and saving. It’s easy to go over-budget when you hold all the numbers in your head. My favorite way to track things is to make an Excel spreadsheet. There are lots of other wedding budget trackers out there. A Practical Wedding offers a great budget tracker. There are several sample budgets on the page as well.
Re-evaluate as you go
You’ll likely find that your wedding plans change as you move along in the planning process. That’s completely normal. After all, how many weddings have you planned in your life? It’s definitely a learning experience. Know that you can change your priorities, reallocate funds from one category to another, and even scratch your plans and start over again. We did it three times!
One of the best things to do though is to stick to your budget. It’s easy to get carried away and spend more than you planned. But partying now and paying later is no fun. If you’re reading this post and have gotten this far, then I’m sure you’re already trying to create the best budget for you and to stick to it.
After planning my own wedding and writing this post, I still have so much to say about the topic. So I decided to make this the start of a series about weddings as they relate to frugal living and finances. I’ll be posting on the topic every so often, so as not to bore those of you who aren’t interested in weddings. I hope my experience will help you create the wedding you want on the budget you have.
* Don’t worry, we have a wedding budget and are sticking to it. I’m not going into debt for my wedding. It’s just hard to watch hard-earned dollars disappear so quickly. Don’t you agree???