How to Budget for A Wedding
One of the biggest hurdles when it comes to a wedding planning is settling on a budget and figuring out how much you’re willing to spend on everything. The biggest issue most couples face is first, aligning themselves and agreeing on what they are willing to spend, and second, aligning your budget expectations with reality.
Often times, you might expect to spend only a couple thousand on something, but once you get into the actual hiring of vendors and purchasing wedding items, you might find out that what you budgeted simply wasn’t enough. Or you might find that you have to spend more on one thing and cut wedding costs somewhere else. You just don’t know until you know.
So, before you dive head first into a budgeting and planning nightmare, here are a few solid tips on how to budget for a wedding efficiently.
Step One: Have a Serious Budget Talk
Yes, having a fairy tale wedding is a dream come true for many. Unfortunately, budget limitations are a reality for most of them. It may be on you to be the voice of reason and allocate how much can be afforded for what. More rarely, some people veer in the other direction and wind up being pretty minimalistic in their wedding desires. If so, lucky you!
Whatever the situation, take a look at how much money you have available, and how much—if any—both of your parents can or will contribute towards the big day. Also, be careful when it comes to borrowing, because you may land yourself in an impossible situation when you return from your honeymoon.
For instance, if you plan on moving into a new place when you get back to town, the move is likely to come with its own set of expenses. Having to carry wedding debts on top of that can really add to the pressure. That’s not conducive to a happy marriage and in some cases can put a big strain on a newly minted relationship. It’s even likely that you both are already spending a hefty amount in celebrating your bachelorette and bachelor party.
When you sit down to have this budget talk, be sure to include all of the relevant parties in the discussion. In many cases, parents like to have at least some input on the couple's wedding day, especially if you’re a young couple. Depending on the background of one or both of you, there might even be pressure to change your wedding into something you don't want or can’t afford. Try not to give in to such pressure. The day is yours and your partner's and you shouldn’t compromise on what you want to give your parents what they want.
On the other hand, many parents—due to simple life experience—are often able to come up with ideas that can help you save money, which may make it easier (or more possible) to plan the wedding you really want.
Step Two: Decide on the Wedding's Style and Setting
As far as style goes, the general rule of thumb is that the more formal the event is, the higher the cost will be. While that might not be true of every event, it’s true of most due to simple logic. Obviously, if you want a fancy, formal reception, your guests will likely expect an upscale wedding venue, located in beautiful surroundings, and lots of (possibly gourmet) food.
The setting of your wedding is often a trade-off between visible costs and hidden costs. For instance, if you decide that you want your reception to take place outside the city you live in, like a country setting, you are likely to incur additional costs from vendors due to travel time and added delivery costs.
Despite the potential hurdles, there are a number of ways to reduce at least some of your expenses if you get creative, so don't discard your initial ideas based purely on the size of your budget. Just realize that much of the ways in which you can save will be a trade-off when it comes to something else. In the end, it depends on you whether you are happy with that which you can fit into your budget.
Fortunately, we live in an age where information is abundant. Do some digging online and ask your friends to do the same. In most cases, you are likely to come across many ideas for ideal wedding settings, including ideas to help keep it within your wedding budget.
Step Three: Break It Down
While each wedding reception is different, you can typically expect to spread your budget in the ratios below.
- Roughly 50% goes toward the venue, food, and drink.
- Up to 10% goes towards the wedding ceremony if it is held in a separate venue (i.e. a church wedding followed by a reception venue).
- Roughly 20% goes toward the wedding dress and wedding suit for the groom, photography, flowers, entertainment, and decor.
- Invitations, gifts, and wedding cake usually amount to roughly 5%.
- The rings may amount to around 3% to 5% of the wedding budget, depending on your taste and style and the taste and style of your spouse-to-be.
- Keep around 10% aside for hidden wedding costs. These include unexpected travel costs, consultation fees, overlooked items, and emergency expenses. For instance, if one of your vendors fails to meet your expectations and you need to reorder something. Not fun, but it happens.
Step Four: Consider Each Item on Your List
Take a good hard look at each item on your wedding budget and plan ahead. Get creative to see what you can do to bring down the costs of each one. Doing so will not only free up money for something else you may want, but clever planning may even allow you to have a better wedding reception than you might expect.
Step Five: Consider the Time of Year
Some times of the year are simply more popular than others. Due to the increased demand, costs are likely to be higher for several items. Your venue is likely to cost more, your entertainment is likely to cost more, and even your catering can cost more. Photographer and DJ can also be more expensive to hire during busy seasons.
If you are able to plan your wedding outside of what’s considered "peak seasons,” chances are you can save a substantial amount overall.
Planning your dates could also depend on the setting or style of wedding you choose. The colder it is, the less inclined your guests will be to turn up at an outdoor event. Unless, of course, you are fortunate enough to live somewhere where winters are mild. These are important things to keep in mind. A Christmas wedding might sound good in theory, but in practicality, it may not be the best choice for your budget.
Step Six: Consider Your Non-negotiables
Which items do you consider absolute must-haves, with no possibility of a trade-off? Is it perhaps a massive bouquet, or a designer wedding dress? Maybe it’s your wedding rings. After all, you’ll be wearing them for a lifetime. It could be the band or the DJ you want to book, or a specific venue.
Whatever your non-negotiables are, exclude those amounts from your available budget for the rest of the items right off the bat.
Just remember that every non-negotiable item on your list could eventually prevent you from having something else you really want, or even something you need. Decide at which point, if at all, you would be willing to reconsider an item on the list.
Step Seven: Consider Your Guest Count
Some people prefer a small wedding reception. If you come from a large family, or have a huge extended family, and/or have a large circle of friends, you may feel you have to invite everyone you know.
Unfortunately, this is a brutal trade-off. The more people you invite, the less money you have available to spend per person. Not only that, but a larger venue not only means you’ll be paying a higher venue cost, but also more money spent on decor, table decorations, and flowers, irrespective of the catering costs per person.
So, if you are on a tight wedding budget, your reception setting is inversely proportional to your guest list. If need be, be ruthless in trimming your guest list. And if push comes to shove, you may also want to consider not allowing children. Even though they may eat less, the additional costs (extra seating, decor, flowers, etc.) are the same for each child as it is for each adult.
Step Eight: Consider Your Style and Setting
The more formal the wedding, the more you will spend on catering. After all, offering a five or six-course sit-down meal is way more expensive than say, a buffet or food stations.
In addition to that, the more formal the style is, the more you are likely to spend more on the venue, decor, flowers, gifts, and wedding invitations, just to keep everything fancy and fashionable. Not to mention incurring additional costs like wait staff.
This means that the more formal your event becomes, the fewer people you will be able to accommodate within your wedding budget.
Step Nine: Remember Everything is Negotiable
Yes, for every vendor there is a cut-off point where it is no longer worthwhile doing the transaction. But having said that, you are likely to find most of them are willing to sit down and work something out as long as you’re upfront with them.
Many vendors would rather make less money than lose a deal, so they will try to restructure it to make it fit into your budget. Yes, you might have to make some compromises, but so will they. Of course, if your vendors are top of the line and used to dealing with clients that are stinking rich, you could fail miserably in negotiating. So, choose your vendors wisely and get busy negotiating. In most cases, it will enable you to get better value for your money.
Step Ten: Track Everything
There are so many tiny details involved in a wedding reception that most couples are more likely than not to go over the initial wedding budget breakdown. That's why you should keep a cushion, roughly 10% available for those unforeseen costs.
If you fail to keep track of everything you spend, the chances of you spending more on things you didn't plan or budget for (and possibly don’t even need) are much higher. This may force you to borrow more money to pay for the things you do really need, which you budgeted for in the first place. Unfortunately, debt has a way of requiring sacrifice at a later date.
You should consider carefully whether any debt is truly worth the sacrifice. For instance, borrowing money for an elaborate menu might not be a good idea, but spending more money on say, the ring you plan on wearing forever could be worth the investment.
One way to keep track of everything is to buy a wedding planner to write everything down. It’s money well spent. Depending on the scope and size of your wedding and reception, and how busy you are, you might even be better off hiring someone a wedding planner to help you with the entire planning process.
A good wedding planner will know where to get the best deals, and how to get the most out of your money for your wedding day. In many cases, their services are well worth the expense and worth their weight in gold.
The upside of having a professional on board who keeps track of (literally) everything… it’s a sure-fire way to be fully aware of your wedding budget and when you might be drifting off track. Not to mention, a wedding planner will be there to help you both run through a wedding day checklist to ensure that your dream wedding comes to life as planned. Who said wedding planning isn’t fun?