How to Create a Wedding Budget (and Stick to It!)

Find ways to save while wedding planning.
wedding-budget

Your wedding is a magical time to marry the love of your life and celebrate that relationship with your closest family and friends.

But it’s also a significant expense that can result in a marriage getting off on the wrong foot if the bride and groom aren’t properly communicating about the budget throughout the planning process.

Planning a wedding is a delicate balancing act. You want to have a memorable wedding ceremony for you, your spouse and our guests, but you also don’t want to spend an arm and a leg to make those memories happen. Remember, once your special day is over, it’s on to the rest of your lives!

So, if you’re getting ready to plan your big day and are looking for what wedding expenses you should budget for and how to cut back on those items, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve compiled everything you need to know about wedding budgets, including:

Remember, there’s no such thing as a free wedding and communication is key in planning your special day on a budget. Use this guide with your future spouse to not only plan the wedding of your dreams, but also one that’s on or even under budget!

How Much Is the Average Wedding Budget?

Let’s get this statistic out of the way first: The average wedding in America in 2019 rang in at $33,900.

What’s interesting, though, is that the average dollar amount has dropped over the past few years, indicating that couples are getting more creative in their wedding planning in a bid to save money.

While this is the average amount spent by a couple on getting married, it’s by no means a standard you have to hit to have a nice wedding. If anything, approach that $33,900 total as a goal to stay under or beat by a certain amount.

There are some things that are non-negotiable when it comes to wedding planning, like a certain style of wedding dress. According to this recent survey, for instance, more than half of married and divorced people said they considered their dress, photographer and cake to be an acceptable expense and worth the money they spent. Conversely, nearly half of the people surveyed said they would have ditched the expense of a wedding planner and a videographer.

But what’s most telling is that more than two-thirds of respondents wished they had done at least one thing to reduce the overall cost of their wedding, with about 20% of that group saying they’d reduce the guest list. About 18% said they wished they had eloped.

How to Plan Your Wedding on a Budget

Planning your wedding on a budget is the first big task you and your future spouse do together and you’re likely going to learn a thing or two about each other along the way.

Use these tips to make the process go as smoothly as possible.

Budget with Your Spouse

This might seem obvious, but openly communicating and budgeting your wedding with your future spouse is critical. If one person in the relationship is blindly making purchases without the other knowing, it can cause a lot of friction that contributes to the marriage getting off to a shaky start.

Schedule consistent budget meetings throughout the wedding planning process to make sure wedding-related tasks are being completed, but also that there are funds to pay for those tasks. The last thing you want is to rack up a ton of debt for your wedding because you weren’t vigilant about your finances.

The main point of budgeting together is to create an atmosphere of openness and honesty, in which you both have input on the wedding and can compromise on expenses where there may be disagreement. If you can accomplish that in a healthy way, you’re going to have a great wedding and a happy marriage.

Talk to Parents About Helping Out with Wedding Costs

Asking your parents to help pay for parts of your wedding can be stressful, but many parents expect to contribute at least something toward your big day.

Only one in 10 couples actually foot the bill for their entire wedding, with parents, on average, contributing $19,000 toward wedding day expenses.

The most important part of this task is asking both sets of parents how much they are going to contribute at the very beginning of the budgeting process. This allows you to set a number in your budget — even if it’s zero — and plan a realistic wedding.

There are some traditional expenses that parents tend to pay for. The groom’s family, for instance, typically foots the bill for the rehearsal dinner, while the bride’s family pays for dinner and drinks at the reception, which is obviously more expensive.

Traditions aren’t requirements, though. One set of parents may not have a lot of money to contribute toward a large portion of the wedding, which is OK.

To alleviate the potential stress of this, ask both parents if there are certain items in the wedding budget they really want to help out with. One parent might say they want to pay for the cake or pick up the bar tab. This makes them feel like they’re paying for an important part of the wedding, and you can personally thank them for making it extra special during the reception.

Remember, more often than not, parents want to help pay for your wedding, but you should never assume they’re handing you a blank check. Keep an open line of communication with both sets of parents and be extra appreciative along the way.

What Kind of Wedding Do You Want?

Sure, you may have a fairy tale wedding etched into your brain from when you were a little girl, but going through a wedding budget breakdown requires you to scale back to reality and really focus on what’s important to you.

These types of questions can help you figure out what type of wedding you want:

  • Do I want to get married at a fancy downtown hotel? Or am I comfortable with a more casual backyard ceremony and reception?
  • Do we really need to invite all of the distant cousins, or can we limit the guest list only to immediate family and closest friends?
  • Do we need to get married in May or June? Or can a late fall or winter wedding work?

This is not the time to worry about little details, like what’s on the menu or what gift you should get for your bridesmaids. Really take the time to focus on the type of wedding you envision that will be memorable, comfortable and a lot of fun for you and your guests. Use that as the jumping-off point for your wedding budget.

What’s Absolutely Necessary and Where Can You Scale Back the Wedding Budget?

In other words, what is non-negotiable for you and your future spouse?

This could be a band or a certain type of meal, but whatever it is, it’s non-negotiable and must work with the rest of the wedding.

Before you jump into the wedding budget to look for compromises and deals, the bride and groom each get a couple of non-negotiables that you agree will likely cost a bit more, but are important to have on your special day.

Now, non-negotiables aren’t a permission slip to frivolously spend large amounts of money. You can still seek out deals and negotiate with vendors. Non-negotiable simply means you want to have a certain service at your wedding that’s important to you. 

How to Prioritize Wedding Budgets

A good way to create your wedding budget breakdown is to prioritize your needs and wants.

You and your future spouse need to jot down three scenarios desired for the perfect wedding and then combine those priorities so the goals of the wedding are on the same page.

It could look something like this:

Bride:

  1. An unforgettable dance party.
  2. Memorable dinner and cake.
  3. An easy, care-free night for guests.

Groom:

  1. A fun live band.
  2. Open bar.
  3. Top-notch photographer.

These priorities can be combined to look like this:

  1. The bar means a more relaxed, care-free night for guests.
  2. A fun band fuels the unforgettable dance party.
  3. Our top two spending priorities are a photographer and the dinner and cake served to our guests.

Going through this exercise not only prioritizes what’s important for both the bride and groom. It also creates the same goal for when you’re budgeting together with your future spouse. No one should feel that one priority is more important than the other.

The Ultimate Wedding Budget Breakdown

What’s the cost of a wedding? Let’s dive into what a realistic wedding budget could look like from the dress to the final bar tab.

Remember, as you go through these line items, plan on unexpected expenses along the way. The more conservative you are with your total budget, the better prepared you’ll be to deal with those expenses. As a result, you’ll have less stress while wedding planning and can fully enjoy your special day.

Jot down these line items in your budget and start planning.

Rings

Average Cost: $1,958

Typically you aren’t budgeting for your engagement ring. That’s something (you hope) your future spouse already did.

But you do have to budget for your wedding bands. On average, couples spend roughly $1,400 on the bride’s wedding ring (not including the engagement ring) and $558 on the groom’s ring.

Grooms typically aren’t too picky about rings, so you can find something cheaper for this line item.

For brides: If you received an elaborate ring from the engagement, you should pair it with a more simple, affordable wedding band.

Wedding Venue and Wedding Planner

Average cost:

  • Wedding venue: $10,500
  • Wedding planner: $1,800

You need to pay for the following:

  • The ceremony venue, i.e. a church.
  • The reception venue, i.e. a ballroom or art museum.
  • A wedding planner or coordinator.
  • Wedding insurance.

The first three line items are relatively self-explanatory. You need a ceremony and reception venue to get married. And there are only a few things you can do to save money:

  • Ditch the wedding planner, or just pay for someone to help coordinate the date. Some venues, especially hotels, assign someone to oversee your wedding as part of the venue’s overall budget.
  • Do a backyard wedding, where this isn’t a minimum spend for food or alcohol. It may not be as luxurious as a hotel ballroom venue, but it’s comfortable and you have total control over how things look.

Total Cost: $150 to $500

What’s Wedding Insurance?

Wedding insurance protects you from unexpected expenses beyond your control.

What if your reception venue goes out of business a month before your wedding day? Or even if the groom’s luggage is lost when flying in for his destination wedding and he needs to rent or purchase a tuxedo on the day of his wedding? That can leave couples in an expensive bind, which is what wedding insurance helps with.

To recoup those lost expenses, these events have to be totally out of your control, like a tornado taking out the venue the night before. Even some policies recently have protected against weddings not being able to happen due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A basic insurance policy is between $150 and $500 and covers the loss of attire, gifts, rings, the venue and vendor deposits. Make sure to keep all proofs of payment.

Bride

Average cost:

  • Dress: $1,600
  • Veil: $250
  • Shoes: $125
  • Undergarments and lingerie: $125 
  • Accessories and jewelry: $75
  • Hair & Makeup: $225 (plus tip)

Obviously, the bride has more expenses than the groom because she has to also pay for hair and makeup, and she’s likely not renting a dress as a groom does with his tuxedo.

The biggest expense where a bride can cut back is her dress.

How to Get a Deal on Your Wedding Dress

You can lower the cost of your wedding dress if you get creative.

  • Shop in the summer and winter when designers tend to have trunk shows and heavily discount their dresses.
  • Buy the floor sample. It might need considerable alterations, but you might be able to get as much as half off the full retail price.
  • Buy used. You will only wear your wedding dress once, so why not purchase it used and save as much as 75% off the full retail price. It will still be beautiful and no one will know that it was previously worn by another bride

Groom

Average cost of tuxedo rental: $135

The groom has it much easier than the bride when it comes to wedding day apparel. A tuxedo rental is a drop in the bucket and includes shoes and socks.

If you want to spend money on something you can keep, check factory stores, like Banana Republic, for great deals on suits. You won’t have to worry about dropping off the tux the next day.

Ceremony

Average cost:

  • Venue: $150-$500
  • Officiant: $250-$500
  • Flowers: $2,000

If you’re getting married in a church, the venue charge tends to be relatively low. Churches in big cities, like New York, obviously charge much more than a small community church in the Midwest.

Many officiants don’t expect to be paid for their work, but it’s tradition to always offer. The average cost of this gift is typically around $250 to $500. 

From the bridal boutique to the pin-on corsages, flowers are very expensive. This is a line item you can easily reduce if you’re strategic about it.

Reception

Average cost:

  • Music: $1,000 for a DJ; $3,700 for a live band.
  • Catering: $4,400 for all food.
  • Drinks: $2,500 for alcoholic drinks.
  • Decor: $1,200 for everything from centerpieces to lighting.

There’s a good chance the bar tab is going to be one of your biggest reception expenses. Shave down your budget by only offering wine and beer — no hard liquors.

If a band isn’t a requirement, a DJ is always considerably more affordable.

Other Big Ticket Items

There are several big-ticket items that are going to increase your overall wedding budget:

  • Wedding photography: A photographer can cost $2,000 and it’s an expense you don’t want to cheap out on.
  • Wedding Invitations: $500, but don’t forget about postage. If the wedding invitations are heavier than a standard postcard, you may need to double stamp.
  • Meals Before the Ceremony: You should pay for some food for the wedding party ahead of the ceremony. This could cost $150-$200.
  • Gifts: $500. This includes gifts from the groom to the bride and vice-versa, in addition to little gifts for members for the wedding party.
  • Tips: Do not forget to have cash tips ready for all of your wedding vendors. This could cost you $500 to $750.
  • Rehearsal Dinner: On average this will cost $1,900.
  • Marriage license: This can be as a low as $10 to as much as $115. The cost varies based on the county, city or municipality you apply in.

Honeymoon

If you want to take a honeymoon, don’t forget to work this into your overall wedding budget.

The average honeymoon is about $4,400 for a week-long vacation. To cut down on expenses, plan a trip within driving distance of where you live as opposed to hopping on a plane to an all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean.

Tips to Cut Down Your Wedding Budget

If you can start your marriage without a drained savings account, you’ll be happy you did. Here are some ways to cut expenses and budget your way to an affordable wedding.

Avoid Debt

The last thing you want to stress over is paying off a giant credit card bill from your wedding months after the ceremony.

If you build your budget during your engagement and stick to it, you can pay for your wedding without swiping a credit card and ultimately incurring interest.

Some couples may think they’re financially savvy enough to take out a credit card with a 0% financing offer for 12 months, but you’re still going to be paying off debt from a ceremony and party. We’re guessing that monthly payment is going to be pretty annoying come the sixth month.

Limit The Number of Guests

Once you see the overall cost of the reception, you can divide it by the number of guests to see the cost per person. As you go through your list of guests, it becomes pretty easy to do the math if you subtract 10 people from the list.

Sit down with your future spouse and jot down everyone you feel like you should invite to your wedding. Then start cutting it down to a number that fits your budget.

Dial Back The Reception

There are a handful of things you can do to cut down on the cost of your wedding reception:

  • Go with a buffet over a plated dinner where waiters serve the meal.
  • Skip the wedding favors. You’re already paying for their dinner and an open bar, right?
  • Buy alcohol from a liquor store that allows you to return unopened bottles. Make sure your venue allows you to bring in your alcohol, first.
  • Choose a less expensive venue.
  • Purchase fewer flowers for use as decorations.
  • Cut the cake early. This is a genius cost-saving strategy. The quicker you cut the cake, the earlier you can send certain vendors home, like your photographer. 

Look for Services Instead of Gifts

Have a friend who’s a talented cake maker? Maybe a cousin who moonlights as a DJ? Tell these people that instead of gifts for your wedding, you want them to provide their time and talent. This is a great way to cut costs and get your closest family and friends involved in your wedding.

It’s important to understand that these people may not be interested in your proposition — and that’s OK! Thank them and let them know that they’re obviously still invited to your wedding.

Also make sure not to bring on a family or friend for a service they can’t handle. If you have an uncle, for instance, who dabbles with a camera, you probably don’t want him taking your professional wedding photos because you’ll likely be disappointed.

DIY As Much As Possible

From floral arrangements to your wedding dress, the more you can DIY, the lower your wedding budget can be.

Most of your DIY projects are going to consist of decorations, which is great. Take it a step further by making your own guest book for guests to sign. Build a box for guests to drop their cards. Skip the professional photo booth and make your own backdrop and provide props — and let the guests take their own photos.

Don’t forget to DIY decorations for the ceremony venue!

Marry in the Off-Season

Every bride dreams of a warm wedding ceremony sometime between May and August, but that just happens to be the most expensive time to get married.

If you really want to save money, look to get married in November or December. Vendors, like photographers and caterers, likely don’t have a lot of jobs, so they’re going to be more willing to negotiate with you. A popular venue may be more affordable, too.

If you have a wedding ceremony around Christmas, there’s a chance you can save money on decorations because your venue is already decorated for the holidays.

Negotiate with Wedding Vendors

Remember that you can negotiate nearly everything when it comes to your wedding. You may not always get the price you ultimately want, but there’s always wiggle room to bring the price down.

Don’t be afraid to negotiate with each of your vendors. Your budget will thank you.

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