Your wedding is probably the most expensive party you will ever throw, and while creating and sticking to your budget is the least glamorous part of planning, it is unquestionably the most important.
According to The Knot Real Weddings Study, the 2021 national average cost of a wedding was $28,000 ($34,000 including the engagement ring). That said, there is no "one size fits all" when it comes to wedding budgets. Whether you're working with $15,000 or $150,000, here are some basic guidelines to help you navigate this process.
Step 1: Who's Paying?
The old-school tradition of the bride’s parents footing the bill is no longer the norm. In today’s world, both families typically share the cost with the couple also contributing. In some cases, the couple covers the entire thing. While the money conversation can be uncomfortable; it’s crucial to establish who is contributing from the get-go. This is the first step in calculating your overall budget.
Step 2: Set the Budget
Don’t fall in love with a lavish venue or pricey dress before the budget has been set. This will only lead to heartbreak and possibly resentment. Start with a budget and then begin exploring vendors within your price range, not the other way around. Read the last sentence again!
Once you know what you’re working with, it’s time to figure out where to spend your money. While there are no set “rules” on this, it’s helpful to break this down by category. The cost of a wedding is pretty much based on the guest count and the highest percentage of your budget will undoubtedly go towards the venue and catering. The more people you have; the more it’s going to cost. Simple. Now that you have the budget; it’s time to figure out the guest list. While this may not be quite as fun as cake tasting, it’s essential to help keep you within your budget.
Step 3: Do Your Homework
The venue sets the ambiance for the wedding and you cannot select a venue without having an idea on how many people you are inviting. You should know your expected headcount and have a clear vision of what you want so you don’t set out on a wild goose chase. Is it a castle in Ireland? A rustic barn in Vermont? No matter where the festivities take place, make sure you have your wedding vision locked down so that you know where to start. You also need to be honest as to whether it fits into your budget. The castle in Ireland may not fit into the budget whereas the barn in Vermont could be more realistic.
Your wedding date will also play a major role in selecting the venue. If you’re working with a more limited budget, you may want to ask the venue when their “off season” is as you will most likely get better pricing. If you can consider having your wedding on a Friday vs. a Saturday, this could save you some money, too.
Beware of hidden fees
You’re going to want to be equipped with all the right questions prior to booking any venue. Some venues will charge “set up fees” which they don’t let you know about up front. Make sure to know what the total bottom line cost is and what that includes. If the venue provides catering, make sure you are aware of what percentage they are adding in for gratuities. It’s also helpful to find out if you can bring in your own vendors or if you have to work with theirs. If you can work with your own vendors, find out if there is a fee to do so. All these little things can add up and easily put you over your budget. Educate yourself to avoid surprises and be able to stick to your bottom line.
This pertains to everything from the cake, to music, photography, flowers, etc. Be candid and upfront about what you have to work with so that everyone is on the same page. The last thing you want is for a floral designer to put together the vision board of your dreams only to find out it’s way over budget. You will have wasted your time and theirs. Vendors such as florists and caterers will work with you to tailor create something within your budget.
Everything is negotiable if you can be flexible. You may be able to shave the cost of the videographer down if you’re okay with having one videographer vs. two. Often, vendors will also give a discount for cash payments or paying in full upfront. Being flexible, honest, and having a good attitude can work wonders.
Step 4: Figure Out Your Non-Negotiable Items
It’s very easy to be swept away in the moment and get caught up with wanting things that don’t fit into the budget. Do you really need to order those silly sunglasses that you found on Pinterest at 2 a.m.? Your guests won’t know the difference between Peonies that have been flown in from Holland and Garden Roses that are sourced locally. Maybe you don’t go over the top with “fun” items you find on Etsy and allocate that money towards something that is more important to you. It is okay to splurge on certain items if you use good judgment.
Undoubtedly you and your fiancé will have differing opinions on what is worth splurging on. He might want to allocate half the budget to a band, which is fine if you’re okay with serving pizza for dinner, whereas your priority is on the actual dinner. Marriage is all about the art of compromise, right? This is an excellent opportunity to perfect those skills.
At the end of the day, this is a ceremony and a party definitely not worth getting into screaming matches about what color the napkins will be. Couples will face many bigger challenges in life than agreeing on where to set up the DJ. While you will have differing opinions on certain things, try not to lose sight of the bigger picture.
Step 5: Keep Track of the Budget
Staying organized is just as important as establishing the budget. This is even more true if there are multiple people contributing to the cost. Wedding planners highly recommend putting wedding money in a separate account so that you can easily keep track of it. If using a credit card to make purchases make sure everyone making purchases are on the same card.
Pro Tip: use a credit card that gives you rewards such as cash back or miles.
Equally as important is keeping track of your payments through some type of spreadsheet. Google docs is always a favorite since everyone can access it and make edits as needed. You definitely want to make sure you’re keeping track of what you’re spending to avoid finding out you’re over budget the week before the wedding.
An app you will definitely want to download if many people are contributing to the wedding is Splitwise. It literally splits all the expenses evenly and notifies people to pay their bill. One ideal aspect is the ability to avoid the awkward money conversation with family members. Websites like The Knot and Wedding Wire are also great resources for helping you keep track. No matter what platform you use, make sure you use something.