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Wedding planning can be a frustrating time, especially when it comes to your wedding budget. Chances are this is one of the most expensive days or nights you’ll plan in your life. With that comes a ton of pressure and questioning around what you SHOULD spend money on and what you SHOULD save on. While there are no right and wrong answers for an event like this (after all, it’s YOUR event and YOUR day, and you can do what you please!), there are some tried and true recommendations that can help you along the way.
Having been in the wedding industry for over a decade, I’ve thought a lot about what I think makes a wedding great, and what really doesn’t matter to most couples and guests at the end of the day. Using that as a baseline, I compiled a list of splurge vs. save priorities I would implement into my own wedding budget if I could go back in time. Hopefully this can help those of you who are looking for some direction when it comes to your wedding budget and priorities.
Editor’s Note: The important thing to remember when reading this is that even if the prices listed are way more or less than what you plan on spending, the recommendations stay the same. They are simply a reference based on average costs you can expect to see, and what you could save if given the opportunity.
With all that said, let’s dive in!
How to Save on Your Wedding Budget
I love flowers as much as the next person, but I’m also a firm believer that a little can go a long way. I am personally not a fan of spending money on tall arrangements that look like planets hovering over a reception table. (You know the ones). And while I LOVE those lush, ethereal arrangements you’ve likely seen on every wedding website (including this one), I also think that in the right setting, a simple arrangement of hydrangeas or garden roses can look just as nice.
If you’re analyzing your overall wedding budget and the thought of spending $5,000 on flowers is making you nervous, I suggest going a simpler route: First, decide on the overall look you want when it comes to your wedding flowers. Pin like crazy, and then seek out smaller florists whose work you don’t see everywhere.
These are the vendors who are most likely looking to build their portfolio of clients and who not only have lower prices, but might be more open to negotiating. Show them the types of arrangements you like, and then ask if they can create a sample centerpiece for you. Chances are there will be a fee for this arrangement (you can take it home after or bring it as a hostess gift if you’re going to a dinner party), but it will give you a better idea of whether or not they are able to execute your vision.
Re-Purpose Your Wedding Flowers (and Consider DIY)
When it comes to your wedding flowers, think quality and not quantity.
Amy McCord Jones of Flower Moxie advises her clients to focus on the “louder moments and the quieter moments.” For example, you can consider getting a few “knockout” centerpieces in areas that will be photographed/seen the most. This includes the head table, entrance, and your ceremony altar.
“If you have 20 tables, let’s make the five family tables really special,” she says. “And the others, we’ll take some candles and greenery and nestle that around, and we’ll have those louder moments and the quieter moments.”
You can also consider reusing flowers.
Meredith Corning of Meredith Events in Arkansas says you should start with your ceremony space. “Reuse any ceremony florals at the reception,” she advises. “Cut down those arbor arrangements, and place them on the head tables.”
Corning especially recommends putting those beautiful bridesmaid bouquets that are forgotten after the ceremony to work!
“Place empty bouquet vases on tables, and ask your bridesmaids to find an empty vase at the reception,” she says. “Or, they can be used at random tables like the sign-in table, gift table, bars, etc.”
Other ways to save is to DIY your wedding flowers with a retailer such as Costco. You can also go with a local grocery store who can create and deliver the arrangements for you. (We recently discovered how surprisingly affordable Whole Foods flower prices are and would recommend visiting them!)
We also love Flower Moxie, who will deliver all the goods you’ll need (including flowers). All you have to worry about is the assembly (and they even include instructions for that).
Potential Savings: $4,000+
While a $500 wedding cake won’t be your biggest ticket item, the real savings comes from NOT going overboard when it comes to other desserts. Adding a dessert table can add another $1,000 and up for a 125 person wedding. While we all love the idea of a fun dessert table, let me fill you in on a little secret: Most people won’t even eat them. Yes, I hate to sound harsh, but the majority of wedding guests are too busy dancing to even enjoy your wedding cake or dessert.
PRO TIP: This is how much the average wedding cake costs. Plus, the truth about whether sheet cakes will really help you save.
Potential Savings: $1,000+
Looking for a venue that will allow you to BYOB will always be the least expensive option. But that isn’t always possible. If you do have to pay a venue or catering company for alcohol, there are still ways to save. And one of the biggest is by skipping the champagne toast.
I definitely love having some bubbly at a party. But by serving a champagne alternative you’ll be able to enjoy the sparkles without the money guilt. And while I think having a wedding toast is great, I have an idea for you that I used at my own wedding: Ask guests to raise their glasses so they can toast with what their drinking instead of having a separate champagne pour. The reason I think this option ends up working so well is because by the time the wedding toast comes around, you’re already seated at the reception tables and drinking your beverage of choice for the evening. Who wants to drink champagne when you’re already drinking a red wine? Eliminate the bubbles and save money on something your guests will never notice.
SEE MORE: Looking to save and get married close to home? See why we love backyard weddings!
Opt for a Limited Bar
If you want to save even more on your bar, you can limit it in other ways as well.
“Especially in Wisconsin, it is all about the beer,” she says. “As long as you host beer, wine and soda, everyone will be fine.”
If you want to offer spirits, you can also choose to limit the amount you serve. For instance, opt for a great vodka, bourbon, and tequila with basic mixers, versus stocking a bar with every type of alcohol possible.
“Don’t have a full bar, but rather, splurge on a few nice liquors,” says Brooke Avishay of Orange Blossom Special Events. “You don’t need Midori,” she adds, referencing that fruit liquer that is synonymous with apple martinis.
Potential Savings: $600+
Thanking guests for coming to your wedding is an amazing thing to do, but it’s easy to go overboard. Wedding favors are also one of the most overlooked details by guests. In fact, a recent survey we conducted of newly married couples revealed that the majority of them had 50% or more of their wedding favors left at the end of the reception. So, you could easily skip them and save!
If you do want to give out wedding favors, then I highly recommend doing DIY. Create something personal and homemade (such as the adult Hot Chocolate mix, above). Check out more of our 30 favorite wedding favors on a budget.
Potential Savings: $300+
While you can DIY your wedding invitations or simply send out digital invites to REALLY save money, I’m somewhere in between. I do think that you should spend time on creating a gorgeous wedding invitation because I think it sets the tone for your wedding, but there are ways to get your wedding invitation cost down.
Online invitation sites like Minted have made it extremely easy to find gorgeous wedding invitations on a budget. Etsy is another personal fave. If you do want to DIY your wedding invitations consider using an existing wedding invitation template. That way you can still have the professional design element, but be able to customize them for a lot less.
Potential Savings: $600+
Where to Splurge on Your Wedding Budget
There are definitely ways you can SAVE on photography once you’ve picked out your dream wedding photographer. (Read more about 9 easy ways to save at your wedding here). Just remember the key is to pick out a wedding photographer who doesn’t market themselves as being a “budget” photographer. You know the ones!
While amazing wedding photographers like Jose Villa are out of a lot of people’s budgets (mine included), there are so many outstanding ones out there for half the price. Bottom line? I would aim to spend at least $3,500-$5,000 on your wedding photography if you have the budget. (This all depends on your location, too. A great photographer in your area might be closer to $2,000, or you might not be able to find one for less than $6,000). If that range doesn’t fit into your budget, I would consider cutting other items (like the ones above) to make it work. That’s not to say that if you DON’T spent thousands on your wedding photographer you’re going to get sub-par photos. Just keep in mind that a lot of high-rated photographers tend to be in that range, especially in big cities.
What to Splurge: $3,500-$5,000+
If I had to spend money on only three things at a wedding, it would be the wedding venue, wedding photographer, and wedding DJ. Why? All the open bars in the world will not save your party from a terrible DJ or singer. Plan on picking a DJ or band that is HIGHLY recommended here or on sites like Wedding Wire or Yelp. I would also ask to listen to sample recordings of their mixes (if they’re a DJ) or songs (if they’re a band). That way you can be sure you’ll end up with an Adam Sandler and not a Jon Lovitz. (If you’ve never seen The Wedding Singer, just disregard that analogy!)
PRO TIP: Figure out which songs you like the best before meeting with your band or DJ. These are the best wedding songs for every part of your wedding.
What to Splurge: $1,000-$9,000+
You have two options when it comes to wedding planning help: You can hire a wedding planner who will be with you every step of the way. Or, you can get a month-of or day-of wedding coordinator to make sure everything goes as planned. Of course you can skip both, but if I can impart any advice it would be to do yourself (and your nerves) a major favor and opt for one of them.
I chose a month-of wedding coordinator who did everything from go to the tasting with us (so she could be familiar with the pacing of the menu) to finding us great deals on linens and chairs. We also had her coordinate our wedding rehearsal and ceremony to make sure every vendor was there an on time. (She also found my lost lip gloss in the middle of the reception, which probably made me the happiest!)
If you don’t want to think about anything but showing up for the big day, then hire a full-time wedding planner who can help you find a venue, florist, even a wedding dress.
A Wedding Planner Can Also Help You Save
Not only can a wedding planner keep you sane throughout the planning process, but they can potentially help you save.
“If you go with an established wedding planner, then they will have built relationships with vendors in the area,” Motto says. “That means they book them for you and can sometimes get a more discounted rate than if a couple were to go to them directly.”
You can’t put a price on a relationship, and the carefully fostered relationships planners have with their vendors can save you money and boatloads of stress.
“A couple is a one-time client for vendors,” she explains. “Wedding planners are repeat clients so vendors are more likely to please them in order to ensure they bring more clients back.”
What to Splurge: 10%-20% of your budget for a wedding planner, and half that for a coordinator depending on amount of time you opt to have them for. Read more about Wedding Planners vs. Wedding Coordinators here.
You don’t have to serve filet mignon or lobster at your wedding to have guests rave about the food. (Tacos can be JUST as delicious, if not more so). But farm-to-table and simple yet refined dishes will go a long way in making your “dinner” party (aka a reception) a success.
Instead of chicken, opt for less expected options such as fish, which can often cost the same. And instead of using, say, roast beef, opt for more modern cuts of beef being used in great restaurants today (like short ribs!). Organic ingredients might cost you a bit more money, but chances are a caterer using them will be more up-to-date on food trends and your dinner will dispel that myth that weddings have terrible food.
What to Splurge: Expect more modern catering to start at $125/pp and up.
If I had a choice between expensive wedding flowers or upgraded wedding chairs and tables, I would hands-down pick the latter. You can have all the gorgeous wedding decor in the world, but if you use plastic chairs it will stand out like a sore thumb in even the most rustic wedding venue.
If your venue or furniture rental company has options for upgraded wedding chairs (like Chiavari) or something more unique (like King Louis chairs!), go ahead and price them out to see what the difference would be. I would also ask about different table types. Farm tables are expensive, but if you shop around and know the type you’re looking for, you can usually find a deal. Read more about how much wedding chairs cost here.
What to Splurge: Chair upgrades could cost you an additional $500+ for a wedding of 125 people, and farm tables an additional $1,250+.
PRO TIP: We found 17 amazing ways to style wedding chairs.
Other Ways to Save Your Wedding Budget
I would NOT recommend spending a crazy amount on a wedding venue rental fee. Anything in the 5-figure range (unless it includes a ton), I start to sweat. But there are a ton of gorgeous wedding venues out there that you can’t step foot into without spending $6,000. Those can definitely be worth considering and re-prioritizing your wedding budget for. Why? The right venue means you might need to spend less on linens and flowers and lighting. The right venue can often look good without much more put into it.
I’ve seen a lot of brides opt for a less expensive venue and need a ton of decor to spruce it up. They end up with a bigger headache (and expense) than if they just went with the venue they really wanted. With that said I do think that if you find a wedding venue with a higher fee, you should negotiate until they’re tired of you! Especially if you’re deciding between one venue vs. another. Don’t be afraid to tell them your budget and see if they can make it work.
PRO TIP: Don’t miss our curated collection of wedding venue reviews from across the country!
Restaurants Actually Make Great Venues
If you want to eliminate the venue fee altogether and put that money towards wedding food instead, a restaurant is an amazing option. I love that most restaurants have a lower cost right off the bat since they already provide most of the tables, chairs, serveware, and decor.
However, one thing you should be weary of are all-inclusive wedding venues. While they can be great, they can also end up costing you a lot more in the end.
“I have personally found it is more cost-effective to piecemeal out everything,” says Corning. The exception? “Venues like country clubs that typically will charge nothing for the venue space, as long as you use their catering,” says Corning. “And that can save you thousands!”
On the other hand, “hotels [also] do this, too, but it’s the total opposite,” Corning says. “They will overcharge you for the food and bar to make up for not charging you for the space, so you have to watch for those things.”
Aim to Spend: $3,000 and up for a venue rental for at least 125 people.
“Watch for bridal salons’ annual or bi-annual sales,” Corning says. “You are likely to get your gown up to 75% off as they are clearing out inventory to make room for the new items.”
I found my wedding dress (originally $8,000) at sample sale for $2,000, and it was the best investment I made. I’d personally rather scour the racks for wedding dresses at a sample sale than limit my search to a budget wedding dress from the start.
You can also consider buying a used wedding dress or a wedding dress rental. When it comes to rentals, however, there aren’t a lot of choices available that make sense. Why rent a simple white designer dress for $150 when you can buy it for $300 and wear it again? Also, keep in mind you won’t be able to alter a wedding dress rental.
Aim to Spend: $1000+
PRO TIP: These are 12 things NOBODY tells you about wedding dress shopping (but we will!).
More Wedding Budget Tips
The first thing you’ll want to do shortly after you get engaged is figure out what amount you and your partner are comfortable spending, including a 10% cushion. Because yes, things WILL go over budget, and you’ll want to make sure you’re prepared. Then plan on doing the following:
1. If you feel it’s appropriate, gently ask your parents if they are interested in contributing
Do not automatically assume your parents will foot the bill or contribute, even if it’s something they’ve brought up in the past. With the rising cost of events, it’s important to remember that your parents aren’t ATMs. If you are open to or hoping for some sort of financial assistance, it’s important to sit down with one or both sets of parents and kindly ask if they’d like to be involved financially. Most parents will probably volunteer this information without being asked, but if you come from a don’t-talk-about-money family, you may need to be straightforward but gentle.
Etiquette expert and author Lizzie Post recommends approaching any conversations about money with curiosity, and a “no-pressure approach.” Her suggested conversation starter is below:
”Without any expectations, we wanted to ask if you were interested in, or had thoughts about contributing to the wedding.”
Then graciously accept their response, whatever that might be.
Ready to start planning your wedding budget? Check out these super helpful online wedding budget planners.
2. Decide on your priorities
OK, so you looked at the numbers and can’t have your dream wedding photographer. Or a Vera Wang gown. And those letterpress wedding invitations aren’t a possibility. But you may be able to swing one or two of those things. Once you have your wedding budget, decide on a few items you can’t live without. Those can become the largest slices of your budget pie, and the ones you should spend the majority of your wedding budget on. To see how much you should be spending on each category, read our wedding budget breakdown.
3. Create a wedding-specific bank account (and credit card to get cash back)
If you and your partner do not yet have a joint banking account (and plan on having one for shared expenses in the future) then now is a good time to do it. If you put your wedding funds into a specific account, you’ll have a clear view into what you’re spending as well as what you have left.
You should also decide which credit card you currently have (or can sign up for) that will earn you the most rewards. Instead of paying cash and getting nothing back for it, ask your venue and other vendors if they’ll take credit card payments instead. (Though keep in mind there may be an extra fee.) This way you can actually start earning cash or points for your high-ticket items. We wrote about the best credit cards for your wedding and
WGM Says: Most major online wedding registries offer cash funds that you can use towards your wedding or
4. Don’t forget to budget for taxes and gratuity
The single biggest mistake couples make when creating a wedding budget has nothing to do with underestimating the price of things. While wedding costs overall can be surprising to couples planning their wedding, one of the biggest line items brides and grooms leave out are taxes and service charges. Yup! Boring ol’ taxes.
As boring as they might be, taxes and gratuity can eat up a HUGE amount of your budget. In fact, they can add an additional 25-30%++ to your venue and food/beverage costs in particular. (Yes, even your venue fee can be taxed!)
Where you live can be a big factor, as sales taxes vary across the country. For instance, Chicago has one of the highest sales taxes rates in the country (9.5%). Portland, on the other hand, has the lowest (none!).
Regardless of where you live, gratuity and service charges are something that most couples have to pay (unless you are self-catering a wedding). Gratuity (also known as an Administrative Fee) on a $10,000 food and beverage cost can range from 18-25% and up, which means you’re looking at an additional $1,800-$2,400. So don’t forget to budget this in from the get-go!
5. Be flexible with your timing (and save)
In the wedding business (like most businesses), time equals money. That means the more hours you hire a vendor for, the more expensive their total bill will be. While certain vendors offer packages that can help you save, you can also ask if you can cut hours for a lower price. For instance, at our wedding we chose not to have “getting ready” photos. Instead, we had the photographers meet us at the venue in time for the first look. We also had them leave after the cake cutting, since most photos at that point of the reception can get a little, err, sloppy. LOL. Especially if you have crazy friends like ours! Those cut hours saved us a few hundred dollars.
Timing will also help you save at your venue. A Friday wedding or a wedding in an off-season month (like February) are all ways you can help keep your wedding budget in line.
6. Always remember that a larger guest list equals a larger wedding budget
I talk to a lot of couples with the same complaint: Their guest list is big and their budget is small. What should they do??
I almost never give them this advice because I know how annoying it can be to hear (and the last thing I want to do is stress anybody out), but what I REALLY want to tell them is: You need to cut down your guest list!
Catering, alcohol, rentals (like place settings, linens, and chairs) are all priced per person. So every guest you add to your list is an actual expense. When you start looking at every guest as $200+, you will begin to get the picture of just how expensive each one is.
I know it’s hard to hear…but trust me! You’ll get the party you want with way less stress (and money) if you just shrink your guest list. Still want to celebrate with ALL the people you love? Here’s a great compromise: If you still have a lot of friends or extended family leftover that you weren’t able to invite to your wedding, invite groups over to your place for a cocktail party after the wedding to celebrate instead. Or, take whatever money is leftover from your wedding savings and invite those who couldn’t attend to a chic (and inexpensive) local bar for drinks and snacks on you. You’ll still be well within your budget, and you now have a great excuse to keep the wedding party going!
Wedding Budget FAQ
According to the most recent wedding reports, the average cost of a wedding is now between $28,000-$30,000. However, keep in mind that is just an average. In larger cities, the average price per person can reach $200 or more. That means a 150-person wedding in New York or New Jersey could be $30,000 even before you add on the cost of invites or a wedding dress! With that said, it’s all about what you’re hoping to do.
For a traditional wedding ceremony and reception for more than 100 guests, you’ll want to plan to have at least $20,000 saved for your wedding budget. Under that budget, and you’ll need to get creative with food and venue options, which is completely possible, just harder to plan! On the other hand, if you’re looking to say your “I Do’s” in a local park followed by a casual reception with food trucks parked outside a bar you love, a budget of $10,000 or even $5,000 or less is completely doable. It’s all about setting your expectations accordingly!
Shortly after you get engaged, set up a fun date night at home to go over not only your wedding budget, but your priorities. Sit down with your computers or pen and notepad, and write down how much you each feel comfortable spending on your wedding. If you’re comfortable spending $30,000 (whether it’s your own money or family contributions or both) and your partner is only comfortable with $15,000, you can each calmly discuss why you feel that way, and see if you can both settle somewhere in between.
A wedding is a great opportunity to get on the same page financially as your partner, and learn how to resolve any issues in a healthy, positive way.