Of all the complicated aspects of wedding planning, one of the most challenging for couples is creating and sticking to a reasonable wedding budget. While it can be daunting in many ways, experts agree that establishing a budget is crucial for most couples. Not only does it give you a clear idea of how much you want to spend, but a wedding budget breakdown ensures you know how much you can spend for every vendor.
Why create a wedding budget?
“Weddings are one of the most expensive days in a person’s life. Being able to correctly predict what you’re able to financially handle, either through your own means or with the help of family and friends, will lead to less stress after you’ve said ‘I do,’” says Kristin Wilson, founder + DJ at Our DJ Rocks in Orlando. “Budgeting helps establish a feasible vision for your big day and can help you choose between various packages and offerings from different vendors.”
Another important reason to create a wedding budget is that prices have increased dramatically as a result of the COVID pandemic. Dana Kadwell, owner of The Bradford Event Venue and C&D Events in New Hill, North Carolina has seen budget increases upward of $10,000-15,000 to accommodate the increasing vendor rates. “We are seeing the higher end of the average more and more as vendors are overworked, overbooked, and setting their prices accordingly,” she says. “In addition, we are seeing more and more people expand their budget for the little extra details and the ‘wow’ factor on their events, whether it is the anticipation after postponing or the extra time that has allowed couples to save more.”
With that said, the goal in establishing a clear wedding budget breakdown is to say within a certain margin of what you wanted to spend—not to hit it right on the nose, notes Kadwell. “A budget will help prioritize your non-negotiables and create an event that is memorable and checks all the boxes,” she says. “We never want a client to regret what they spent money on months or years down the road.”
Your wedding budget breakdown: What you need to consider
Creating a wedding budget breakdown can be overwhelming. That’s why experts recommend doing it early and taking the time and energy to ensure it’s accurate and doable. Here they share some things you should consider during the process.
One of the first factors that Wilson recommends couples consider when budgeting for their wedding is how their finances will look after their big day is over. “Figure out what your annual expenses look like without any changes at all. Then, think about the impact that different budget sizes would have on that after the bills start coming,” she says. “There’s nothing worse than coming down from the joys of your wedding to be faced with massive credit card bills.”
The location of your event
Believe it or not, sometimes a destination wedding might afford you more of a budget to work with. This is because price can vary significantly depending on the city, state and country you choose to have your wedding. “If you know your guests wouldn’t mind traveling and you’re looking to lower your budget, you may want to consider having your celebration in another state,” says Cossie Crosswhite, International Wedding Planner with 1 Elegant Event, in Chesapeake, Virginia. “For example, a wedding in New York or California is much more expensive than most. You can have three times as much for a wedding in Virginia, Alabama, Kentucky, and some other states.”
The amount of guests you want to invite
The best way to temper your budget is to look at your guest list. Most couples expect that every guest will cost them the dinner plate price tag, but in reality it’s much more than that. “Each guest is factored into the number of tables, linens, centerpieces, favors, glassware, china, food, drink, etc., which is about $350 per head on average,” says Kadwell. “A $50,000 budget for 100 people is reasonable, whereas a $50,000 budget for 200 is nearly impossible unless you significantly cut your décor.”
The details that accompany your venue will play a considerable role in determining your wedding budget breakdown. Some factors to include when considering a venue are the overall cost, what they include (such as tables and chairs), how much they charge for setup and breakdown, if you need to pick vendors on their list, etc.
“Be sure to ask all the questions and have everything they are including written in the contract you sign,” says Crosswhite. “This way, if management changes, you still get everything they agreed to give you. [This is] very important during this pandemic because management has been quite fluid everywhere…”
This is where you can easily blow your budget whether you are DIYing it or hiring a professional team, according to Crosswhite. “You may believe DIY is the way to save. But once you add everything up—from the cost of the materials to the time it took you to create it all—you could have hired someone to do it for a reasonable price,” she says. To stay on budget, she recommends working with a designer who knows and understands your budget—whatever it may be. “You may not get the exact look, but they will give you, at the very least, a similar vibe to the look you want in your budget,” she says.
READ MORE: The Groom’s Guide to Men’s Wedding Bands
There are more obvious costs, such as the venue, wedding attire, food, music, decor, etc., but many miss the little ones that start to add up. This can include wedding insurance, alterations, wedding party gifts, accommodations, shuttles, etc. “Be careful about being tempted to cut here,” says Sarah Davidson, C.P.C.E., Chief Strategist and Creative Director at HUE by Sarah Davidson in Madison, Wisconsin. “Many seem like they won’t be a big deal, but can greatly impact your own personal experience or your guest experience if done poorly.”
How much to budget by vendor
Once you come up with your wedding budget, you’ll need to figure out how much to spend on each vendor. While your wedding budget breakdown will be completely unique to you and your priorities, there are still certain averages that come into play. Here’s a look at what you should expect to allocate per vendor, according to experts.
Wedding planner: 5-15%
A wedding planner’s role can vary greatly, from just coming in the final weeks to a full-service planning and design experience, notes Davidson. And how much you choose to spend will likely depend on the level of service.
“When selecting and pricing wedding planners, it’s important to have clarity on the exact set of services you are receiving (coordination, planning, and/or design), as well as how each particular planner chooses to base their pricing,” she says. “Experience is critical for all your vendors, but especially for wedding planners, who sometimes only have a few seconds’ notice to solve major problems that could arise on your wedding day.”
You might think that your venue will take up the bulk of your budget, but it shouldn’t, according to experts. In fact, Kadwell sees a lot of clients go what she refers to as “venue poor,” where they have spent way too much on their venue and don’t have much to spend on anything else. “Most people do not read the fine print and are shocked when they are told that they can’t bring champagne in to get ready” or that they have to choose vendors from an exclusive list, she says.
“Venues can be tricky, so it’s best to visit with a planner who is familiar with the space, so you don’t get hit with those extra fees.”
Kadwell recommends budgeting at least 5 percent for a DJ and closer to 15 percent for a band. “For a DJ, you want to ask about the time included in your service and the cost of adding time. Most events from cocktail hour to the end of the night are 5 hours, and more DJs sell a 4-hour standard package,” she says. “For the band, you should see if they require a stage, a dressing room, food, alcohol, and what their set lengths are and understand when their time starts and how to build that into your timeline for the night.”
This is one of the most important vendors you’ll hire for your wedding. After all, your photos are what you’re left with after your big day has come and gone. “Make sure these are people you trust second to your wedding planner,” says Wilson. “They will be with you all day, during some of your most intimate moments, like getting dressed or sharing a tear-filled moment with a parent,” says Wilson.
Another tip? “Pick someone whose work you like over and over again, not just from one single event.”
Floral is another category that really comes down to product and labor cost, according to Davidson. “To some couples, flowers are a very important part of their overall wedding design, while others feel less strongly about them,” she says, adding that many factors can impact floral cost, including seasonality, location, and difficulty of any installations.
When selecting a floral vendor, she recommends couples meet with a few different people to get a sense of style. Also, as with most vendors, to see how enjoyable they are to work with. “If you find a great florist that you trust, they’ll likely do a great job making recommendations on the best use of your budget, including design choices, substitution ideas, and where to splurge versus where to save,” she adds.
When figuring out your decor, remember that it doesn’t have to be an “all or nothing” approach. “You might not need to go extravagant on every single piece of the day. But choosing just a few things to invest in, such as chargers for the dinner table or pretty chairs, can make a huge difference,” she says. “What is something you think you’d notice in your wedding pictures forever that would bother you?”
“Paper products are the best keepsakes. They’re also an easy way to elevate a place setting or create little details your guests will remember,” says Kadwell. While you’ll likely have a quicker turnaround time if you buy paper goods online, if you’re going with a professional designer instead you’ll need to know a few more dates. These include when finalization needs to happen, when proofs are due, what the charges are for rush fees, and when you need final counts and names. “And make sure it is [all] written in your contract,” says Kadwell. She also recommends understanding the costs of revisions.
While the percentages you choose for each vendor will help determine your wedding budget breakdown, remember it’s important to actually stick to them. Once you go over budget in one category, you’re more likely to do it again. So it helps to be firm when it comes to what you can and can’t afford.