Let’s start with the good news: yay! You’ve found the person you want to spend the rest of your life with and you’re planning a wedding! Now on to the not-so-great news: weddings are EXPENSIVE. Like, crazy expensive. And creating your wedding budget won’t be the most fun part of planning your big day.
Before getting engaged I had pinned all sorts of posts with claims like “Have a wedding under $5,000!”, “How to DIY your wedding!”, and “How to have a totally budget-friendly wedding!”… all lies. Sure, it is POSSIBLE to have a wedding under $5,000 but not with 130 guests, dinner, a photographer… you get the point. Not possible for me at least. Their tips varied from “have your guests take photos with disposable cameras” (can those even be developed anymore?) to “make your own cake” (not a bad idea at all, I just don’t want to be baking the day before my wedding).
So after all of that, I was stuck. I wanted a beautiful and intentionally planned wedding, but I didn’t want it to look like my DIY board barfed on our venue. And you could be dang sure my guests weren’t going to be the sole photographers of our day! After going through the process of planning my wedding and reading approximately four thousand articles on how to budget, I wanted to share with y’all the info that I actually found to work, the process I used, and the things I learned!
BUILD YOUR WEDDING BUDGET:
- Tally up what you’ve got, early. Talk to your parents, future parents-in-law, fiancé, and any other family members to see what (if anything) they are planning to contribute. See if they have any special requests, like they want to pay for your dress OR if they have something they want to contribute (ex: offering to make your cake, help with table arrangements, etc.) Have this conversation as early as possible so you can get your budget knocked out as early as possible.
- Look at the big picture. With those contributions in mind, what do you have to spend? Total up whatever you have saved already plus a monthly allowance for the months leading up to the wedding. Make this your max budget number and STICK. TO. IT.
- Try working backwards. I had a good bit of my wedding budget saved prior to getting engaged (see this post on how/why) and knew my priority vendors. I knew the photographer I wanted so I took her cost and then built my budget with that in mind. I know a lot of wedding websites will suggest X% for each category of your wedding expenses, but I chose to start with my priority vendors (who I knew were realistic with my overall budget), and then go back to the percentages after I knew what was left.
- Break down by percent. So, you have your all-in budget, you’ve prioritized your top one or two vendors who you ABSOLUTELY have to have, and you have a remaining balance. Here’s the typical way wedding budgets shake out (source):
Reception: 48-50 percent
Ceremony: 2-3 percent
Attire: 8-10 percent
Flowers: 8-10 percent
Entertainment/Music: 8-10 percent
Photography/Videography: 10-12 percent
Stationery: 2-3 percent
Wedding Rings: 2-3 percent
Parking/Transportation: 2-3 percent
Gifts: 2-3 percent
Miscellaneous: 8 percent
TIP: Don’t forget to budget in a 5-8% contingency fund! You never know what can come up and it’s better to be prepared.
THINGS TO CONSIDER:
- Date and time matter. Many venues and vendors offer discounted rates for days or times of year that are less popular. We saved a good amount of money by simply choosing a Sunday instead of a Saturday for our wedding!
- Stay open to location. I feel like this one should be pretty obvious, but it’s definitely worth emphasizing. We chose a venue that was in a small town in North Carolina, and it was a fraction of the cost of some we looked at just an hour away in Raleigh. If your venue isn’t one of your priority vendors that you absolutely have to have, I suggest getting creative!
- Be mindful of your guest count. In 2014, the average wedding cost $31,000 (source), but that does NOT mean yours has to. It also, however, doesn’t mean that $5,000 is always realistic. For example: If you’re planning to invite 150 people and feed them dinner, that would cost you $1,200 just in food alone… if you bought them all Chipotle. And didn’t provide plates or chairs
- Be realistic. I think one of my biggest struggles at the beginning of wedding planning was realizing that my budget wouldn’t accommodate most of the things that I pinned on Pinterest. So many of the gorgeous weddings we see on wedding blogs cost upwards of $80K, and I had nowhere even close to that much money to spend. I quickly found out that greenery isn’t always a cheaper option than fresh flowers, and that a few intentional and well-planned details can create the exact same aesthetic.
HIDDEN WEDDING COSTS:
- Tax, damages, and delivery. One thing I foolishly didn’t take in to consideration when planning out my vendors were the tax and delivery/set-up charges that will be tacked on to the package. This adds up to hundreds of dollars extremely quickly, and I’m so glad I had my contingency percentage saved! When chatting with vendors about your options, it’s smart to ask them to also estimate any taxes and other costs so you can plan with the full cost in mind.
- Tips. I gave all of my wedding vendors gifts on the day of the wedding (included in the budget above) but I didn’t budget in for cash tips for the staff, delivery teams, etc. I found a great guide to tipping in my Southern Weddings Wedding Planner and then put each tip in a labeled envelope and gave it to my event coordinator to distribute for me.
- Postage. Designing beautiful invitations was probably one of my favorite part of wedding planning but I completely forgot that bigger invite = bigger cost to mail. I also included a wax stamp on my inner envelope, and because of that it wouldn’t fit through the post office’s sorter and so they charged a few cents extra. Make sure you take one of your finished invites (or fancy save-the-dates!) to the post office to be weighed so you buy the right amount of stamps!
- Vendor meals. Please, please, please don’t forget that your wedding vendors need to eat! We arrived at our venue around 11am, so our photographer and videographer were literally with us for 12 hours. I knew they were working super hard all day and arranged to order lunch for them and coordinated with my caterer to ensure that they (and my other vendors who stayed through dinner) also had plenty of food at dinner time.
ACTUALLY STAYING ON BUDGET:
- Be organized. All of this budget-talk is lovely, but if you don’t actually stick to your budget then what was the point? I created a couple different spreadsheets to stay organized. One for itemizing and recording every thing I purchased for the wedding, how much it cost, and what category (above) it fit in to. The second spreadsheet was my budgeted amount for each category and the totals from how much I had spent so far.
- DIY isn’t always cheaper. When I first started creating things for our wedding decor I figured that creating/buying it myself would be the cheaper option. Turns out that isn’t always true when you have to buy a thousand supplies to actually do the project, and it takes hours upon hours of work. Instead of thrifting for furniture and pieces to style our wedding, I worked with an amazing vintage rentals company who provided it for me – at a fraction of the cost of me buying everything. Another example, I wanted string lighting in our tent but it was cheaper to have our tent company set up the lights while they were setting up the tent than for me to purchase all of the lights, hope they work, and hope they don’t break (since the bulbs weren’t the industrial grade that the tent company had).
- Save your receipts. I had a box that I kept with my stash of wedding things where I would put all of my receipts for anything even remotely wedding related. It was super handy when things would go on sale so I could either get a price adjustment (yes, I was that girl) or return it and buy a cheaper alternative I found later.
- Start ASAP. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again and again. START EARLY. What good is budgeting if you’ve already booked half of your vendor team without a real plan for how much money you have to work with? Make your budget before anything else and you’ll feel a TON less stressed. Plus, it feels great having the less-than-fun part of planning out of the way early.
Budgeting for your wedding is hard work, and actually sticking to it is even harder (45% of couples admitted to going over budget). If you start early and set realistic expectations, it is entirely possible to have the wedding of your dreams on whatever budget you’re working with. All it takes is a bit of organization and creativity!
Already married or planning your own wedding? I’d love for you to share any budgeting tips you have in the comments!