Planning a wedding is a notoriously exciting and stressful experience. If you’re lucky enough to have a wedding on the horizon, you likely already know the tremendous amount of work that goes into creating the perfect wedding. No matter if you’re planning your wedding on the cheap or hoping for an extravagant destination wedding, the best place to start when planning your celebration is with the budget.
According to a recent survey, 45 percent of couples reported going over budget on their weddings in 2017. As the average wedding costs around $27,627, the costs of overspending on the scale of a wedding can be steep. Learning how to budget for your wedding can help you avoid going into debt and have some money left over for a nice honeymoon. Your wedding should be a time of celebration and happiness, so follow these steps to get the hard parts of budgeting out of the way first thing.
5 No-Stress Steps to Budget For Your Wedding
1. Figure Out How Much You Can Spend
Similar to creating a regular budget, you’ll need to start by calculating you and your partner’s net income. Next, figure out how much you can save each month by subtracting your monthly expenses from your total income. This includes everything from utility bills to date nights out, so be as thorough as you can. Once you’ve figured out how much you usually have left over to put towards your wedding, you may find you need to cut some unnecessary expenses to save more money in time for your wedding.
When it comes to family members’ contributions to the celebration, don’t be shy about asking exactly how much each set of parents is willing to contribute. On average, the bride’s parents paid for 44.5 percent of wedding costs last year. Each family’s financial situation will be different, but getting a specific range or number of what family members are comfortable contributing will help you create your wedding budget and make sure everyone’s happy with their level of involvement.
2. Set Your Priorities
Talk with your partner about what you think is the most important aspect of your wedding. There will likely be expenses that you have to compromise on, but for the most part this will help you to spend less on things neither of you cares about, and make the most of what you do want. You and your partner should each list your top three priorities, and then compare lists. Even if your priorities don’t exactly match, talk about why each component is important to you. You may realize you want different things for the same reasons.
For example, if you think having excellent food is the most important part of the wedding and your partner thinks a great band is essential for a good time, you may find that you both want guests to have a fantastic experience. Talking through your wants reveals you both want to provide good food and a fun atmosphere for your guests.
3. Prepare for Surprises
One of the reasons so many couples go over their wedding budget isn’t necessarily because they weren’t trying to stay on track, but because countless costs can pop up unexpectedly. Sometimes guests forget to RSVP until the last minute, so plan extra seats and dinner plates for the reception. In addition, you may find that the most affordable venues, caterers, or bands are unavailable for your wedding date and you end up needing to spend more on alternatives. Either way, the critical thing to remember is to leave some cushion in your budget if possible.
Keep in mind also that vendors may require additional payment for services that you assumed were included in their package. Photographers may have additional fees for giving you access to your photos online, while venues may charge a break-down fee after the wedding. Read the contracts with your vendors, musicians, makeup artists, and venue carefully so no charges sneak up on you.
4. Find Ways to Save
There are many ways to save on your wedding, from DIYing, getting help from your friends, or just being savvy and shopping around. Give yourself enough time when planning your wedding to comparison shop vendors, dresses, bands, and everything else you need. It’s common for vendors to increase their rates for weddings because they know couples typically spend a lot of money. If the vendor gets the sense you’re in a hurry, they may raise their rates because they know you don’t have the time to look elsewhere.
Keep in mind the season when you plan your wedding. You may find that having a wedding in an off month like December will make it easier for you to save on venues and services because this is one of the least busy months. Certain times of day or week are often much less expensive, too. Fridays or Sundays in the afternoon may save you thousands if you don’t care about when you have your wedding.
Don’t let the small details get to you. Couples who fixate on the color of the lights at the venue or the type of chairs at the reception can end up paying thousands of extra dollars for these details to be changed out when no one will be paying much attention to them anyways.
5. Keep Yourself Accountable
Try using a spreadsheet or a budgeting app to keep track of every expense for the wedding. Since the process of planning a wedding can take a long time, even the occasional expense that goes unaccounted for can quickly add up and leave you wondering where a large chunk of your money went. Every time you pay for a cake tasting or send a batch of invitations, don’t forget to record that expense and add it to the running total. This way, you can see how you’re doing towards your budget at any time.
You can also categorize your budget by food, venue, and services. By doing this, you can adapt your budget as expenses rise. If you find yourself spending too much on catering, you may decide to leave out the videographer after all. Either way, keep track of your spending so that you remain responsible for staying under budget.
How Much Should You Spend?
Every wedding budget will vary depending on what you and your partner care about the most. Keeping in mind what most couples spend can help you stay on track — and help you know what to expect. To figure out how much you should be spending on each category, first set aside around 5 percent of your total budget for surprise expenses, and then account for the largest expenses at your wedding.
The venue is usually one of the largest expenses and takes up around 40 percent of the typical wedding budget. However, just because it is one of the most significant expenses doesn’t mean you should necessarily spend everything on your dream venue. With larger venues, your guest list may increase, and with more people, your food and drink costs can quickly multiply out of control. Keeping your location cost at less than half of your total budget will ensure you have enough to pay for everything that goes into your venue as well. To reduce your venue costs to zero, consider having a backyard wedding or a wedding at a friend or family member’s home.
The photographer or videographer is often the next most substantial cost. If you want professional photographs and videos of your wedding, this will cost around 16 percent of your total budget. Wedding photographers often offer multiple services at different rates, which can help keep the costs in a range you’re comfortable with. Consider taking just a few group photos to keep your costs low. If documentation is essential to you, you can opt for multiple photographers capturing every moment and a convenient digital album.
The cost of food and drink may often eclipse the cost of the photographer depending on your guest list, tastes, and whether you decide to have an open bar. The average wedding budget allocates around 10 percent for food. This can vary greatly depending on how large your wedding is and how many options you provide your guests. To save money consider offering a few delicious staples and a limited drink menu.
What’s the Average Cost of a Wedding?
Here’s another look at how you might break down the costs of your wedding. Consider copying the percentages into a spreadsheet to help get your budget-tracking started:
- Venue: 40% – Average Cost: $15,163
- Dress: 5% – Average Cost: $1,509
- Decor: 8% – Average Cost: $2,379
- Food: 10% – Average Cost: $70 per person
- Photographer/Videographer: 16% – Average Cost: $4,542
- Hair and Makeup: 3% – Average Cost: $966
- Music: 3% – Average Cost: $1,000
- Wedding Planner: 6% – Average Cost: $1,988
- Miscellaneous expenses: 6% – Average Cost: $1,900
- Transportation: 2% – Average Cost: $830
- Invitations and Stationary: 1% – Average Cost: $408
Tips to Stay Under Budget
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Save time and money by reaching out to your friends and family for assistance. Ask your bridesmaids or groomsmen to help stuff envelopes for your invitations or put together centerpieces for the tables.
- Keep track of how much you’ve already spent. If you’re starting a budget for the first time halfway through the process or lose track of how much you’ve spent, go back through your receipts and bank statements to account for everything you’ve already bought.
- Budget for demos. One of the great perks about planning a wedding is tasting some of the best cake and appetizers out there for free. However, you may be asked to pay the vendors if you change your mind and need multiple sessions. Sometimes the samples from the caterer or florist are not free, so make sure to keep those costs in mind to avoid any surprises.
- Cut the guest list. While reducing the number of invites can be very hard to do, this can also make the most significant impact on cost. Eliminate guests you haven’t spoken to since high school and don’t feel pressured to invite someone you don’t really know. Try limiting children and plus-ones to reduce the numbers even further.
- Check which local flowers are in season. Request flowers for the bouquets and any decor that are in season to prevent any exorbitant shipping costs for greenery that can’t be grown near you. Not only will this save you money, but it will also ensure the flowers at your ceremony or reception are fresher.
- Ask for help instead of gifts. Many friends and family are happy to provide services like baking a wedding cake or doing your photography in place of a wedding present, so don’t be afraid to reach out to your invitees that have a helpful skill.
- Reduce rates by displaying vendor cards. Ask your vendors if they would offer a discount if you advertised their business at your wedding. Vendors may lower their rates if you simply display a tasteful business card or placard next to the food or floral arrangements.
- Get more from one vendor. Try to find a vendor that offers multiple services, as bundling your costs together will save you money. A wedding planner who is also happy to take care of printing your invitations will save you more money than going through two different companies.
- Change your style. Black-tie weddings require a more expensive venue and extravagant decor. Save money on every aspect by going for a cozier feel with less expensive accents. You can also make DIYing your centerpieces easier for yourself if you go for a creative mix-and-match vibe.
While planning your wedding can be a stressful and time-consuming experience, putting in the extra effort up front to set a budget will make the process a lot easier. As an added plus, your budgeting and organization skills for your life will no doubt improve. No matter if you plan a wedding based on the national averages or your wedding is completely unconventional, the important thing to remember is that you get to decide what matters to you most on your wedding day. If you focus on the people and experiences that make you happy, you’ll be sure to have your own dream wedding.