Steps to Creating a Wedding Budget

There are so many wedding “planning” sites out there that tell you how easily you could plan a wedding yourself and have all the most beautiful things you see in styled shoots- on a tight budget. Everywhere you look is “budget” couple this and “budget” cutting tips that. But they almost all are filled with horrible advice. Their goal is to get you to a site that is pay to play for anyone who advertises with them. They want you to believe that planning is easy and with their help it will cost you less!

Here’s the truth, before COVID, weddings averaged almost exactly the same amount as your average new car. The price tag was right around $32,000 for a wedding. Many couples quickly realized last year you can get married with a very small investment, if you have an intimate wedding. This has always been the case! The other side of the coin is this – you only get married once in your life and you may actually have the money to invest an average car or a luxury car level of budget in your wedding. Invest in your joy! Don’t cut yourself short or lose out on the details that truly matter to you, if that is within your means!

Before diving in to this process to create a budget, ask yourself- do you have the kind of budget where you truly don’t need to stress over this process? If so hire a planner FIRST. A seasoned planner, like me, will help walk you through this process without you even knowing you are doing it. It won’t be cumbersome and your only investment will be your time contributed to a free intial consultation. If you aren’t sure if you can afford a planner, or you know you want to go this alone, see below for your guide on how to do this- for real. It’s work, but that’s ok. It is valuable work!

The Steps to Creating a True Wedding Budget

Step 1 Decide how much money you have to spend on your wedding. This number will be different for every couple- so why do so many people buy in to the idea that there is a typical wedding? There isn’t. We can tell you average costs or average guest counts, but within that set of information includes weddings of all sizes, styles and budgets. Throw out the concept that you need to spend an amount you don’t have for a type of wedding you can’t afford or don’t want. Feel good about your wedding being the weding that is right for you! Figure out how much money parents or others will be contributing to your wedding, add in how much you can contribute- without feeling overwhelmed or going in to debt. That total is your overall budget. Stick to this number!

Step 2 Sit down with your partner and each of you should spend a little time creating a list of what you feel you “Must Have”, “May Want,” “Don’t Need,” and “Don’t Want” at your wedding. Consider guest size you find ideal, quality and types of food and drinks, location or type of venue, style, etc. These things will be shaped by your experiences and your vision for your wedding. They will be different for every couple!

Step 3 Now it is time to take “My List,” and “Your List” and turn that in to one final list. What you’ll be left with is a perfect blending of exactly what you both need and want to feel like your wedding is the right joyful celebration for you. This should give you a clear picture of what you find truly important, and what neither of you really care to have at your wedding.

Step 4 It’s time to break up your total budget in to categories as a percentage of your budget. Below I’ve included basic categories often included in wedding costs. Make yours fit your needs. If something on this list is not on yours – leave it out and create a ratio that works for you. If you have leftovers, put it in a “Misc.” section – you’ll need it down the road!

Here is a broad guide and percentage break down to help you consider what you might spend on each:

  1. Wedding Planner: We save you from costly mistakes and booking vendors and venues you truly cannot afford, so talk to a planner first!
  2. Venue, catering and rentals: Some venues have onsite catering, tables, linens, dishes, chairs and other items included all in their costs. Other venues include nothing or just some tables and chairs, which may or may not work with your decor plan. Some venues require you to use specific catering options, others require you to have a day of coordinator. If you are going to need a planner on your wedding day anyway, consider investing in full service planning to start.
  3. Photographer and Videographer: You will only be left with photos and videos when the day is over, invest in professionals for this category for any size wedding! Many people opt out of having a videographer, think long and hard about that. You may be sad down the road and you can’t go back in time.
  4. Officiant: This may be your clergy, it may be a person you know and love who is ordained or will become ordained, or it may be a professional officiant who exclusively performs weddings.
  5. Rehearsal Dinner: This may be an informal BBQ at a park or a catered dinner at your family home, or it may be a formal dinner at a restaurant or venue. It can just include immediate family and your wedding party and their immediate family, or include more people- this is up to you.
  6. DJ or Band: A band and live music typically cost more than a DJ. Determine if you want a DJ for your ceremony and reception, live music at the ceremony and cocktail hour with a DJ for the reception, or live music throughout the event.
  7. Attire + MUAH : You only pay for your own attire, your wedding party is expected to pay for their own attire, makeup, and hair. If you will have onsite makeup and hair, there is a limited supply of quality professionals who provide this service. You will need to book early! They fully book 6-12 months out for peak wedding dates.
  8. Desserts and Cake: Do you want just a cutting cake and cupcakes, small pies, pastries, and cookies for your guests? Maybe you want a s’mores station or ice cream, or something different. Decide and budget accordingly.
  9. Design, Decor, and Flowers: Do you want to invest in a few statement pieces, do you want to just have a bouquet, are you wanting non floral centerpieces, or beautiful full florals everywhere you look? Is your asthetic romantic, classic, natural, soft, or bold? Consider your venue type and location when thinking about how little or how much decor is going to be needed.
  10. Invites + Printing – All printed materials for your wedding from save the dates to invite suites, menus, place cards or escort cards for the reception, etc.

Step 5 Can you afford the wedding you were hoping for? Do the research! You may need to scale down the size of your wedding, select a different type of venue, or make other changes to stay within your budget. Do this work upfront! Don’t book a venue before you do this exercise. This step includes reaching out to potential venues, caterers, florists, photographers and finding out how much you should expect to invest with each of them to be able to work with them for your wedding. Again – hiring a planner first cuts this step out for you. Your seasoned planner is going to direct you towards options within your budget. They are going to be mindful of your wants and needs and give you options that make sense for you. You will not have to review hundreds of vendors to find ones that fit your budget and needs. A good planner will give you 2-5 quality options per category, and that is it. This isn’t becasue they don’t know of other options it is because those are the best options based on all of your needs and wants.

Step 6 Compare all of your different options to settle on the right one for you. Settle on the time of year, location- your hometown, your partner’s hometow, where you both live currently, or a destination wedding with an intimate guest list somewhere you really want to be. If intentionally planning a very intimate wedding is appealing to you, look at the different possibilities for that option. If you want a large wedding, what are your options within your budget?

Your wedding day will be amazing if it is a joyful celebration fitting for you and your partner. As 2020 couples learned, people will celebrate you even if they cannot actually be physically with you on your wedding day. Plan the ideal wedding for your needs and your true budget.

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