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What Should a Wedding Budget Look Like?

After the initial euphoria of the engagement ends, many couples go straight into planning the day they say "i do". Very quickly, however, the sticker shock of just how much having a wedding can be sets in and can scare couples in to saying "i don't (think we can afford this)".


Budgeting for a wedding can be a daunting prospect. You are in unfamiliar territory, an industry of entrepreneurs with new lingo you don't understand, telling you things you never even thought about. Quickly the price of your day can get out of hand.


When you start budgeting for a wedding, the first thing you want to do is look at your finances as a whole and decide HOW you are going to pay for this wedding. Will you pay for it yourself or will you have help from family? If you are paying for it by yourself, will you make lump some payments or will you need to arrange payment plans with your vendors?


After you decide a number, you will need to begin thinking of what kind of wedding you want. Do you want something large and elegant with 300 guests, or something more private and simplistic with 100 guests? Will you get married at a wedding venue or on a family property? Once you have these ideas in mind, along with a set amount you are willing to spend for your wedding, it's time to start thinking about what exactly you will need to get your big day rolling.


It is often heard that the first things you will invest in when planning a wedding are the venue and the dress. Be very careful not to fall in love with something you can't afford. No matter how magical your venue looks or how designer your gown is, they won't look very nice if you can only afford a $500 photographer, and you guests won't care how ritzy the venue is if they ate saltines and breath mints for dinner.


The easiest way I have found to budget a wedding is by percentage. How much of your budget will go towards your venue, or your dress, or the food, photography, cake, flowers, coordinator, etc., etc., etc.? Everyone's percentages will be different; there is no hard-and-fast breakdown of what you should spend. To determine your own budgeting percentages, first establish with your partner the things that are most important to you.


These will be the things you absolutely won't go without. For some people, they absolutely need a Galia Lahav gown, so right there is 10k. Some people want their wedding day to be in a castle, some want the best photographer, some want the most savory food, or the hottest band. Figure out your needs and work from there. If the most important thing to you is a good photographer, do some market research and look at editing styles, reviews, pricing, and packages. Figure out what you are comfortable spending, determine what percentage of that is taken from your budget, and you have started your planning spreadsheet.


Booking a venue is typically the first thing you will actually invest in and sign a contract for. It is important to book your venue whenever you find it. Dates go fast and if there is a certain season or day you want to get married, you may be on the waiting list for 2 years before that date is available. Whenever you reach out with a vendor about your wedding day, you will need to give them a date so that they can check their availability; so before you sign a contract be sure that the date you've given them has been set in stone. If your date changes, there is no guarantee your vendor will be available; and that can turn into a whole other headache if you have to find someone else.


10-15% is an average of what people spend on their venue. That means if your overall budget is $10,000, you can allocate $1,000-$1,500 to your venue. Let's pretend we are having a wedding with 100 guests and our budget is $10,000. Here is an example of what your percentage breakdown might look like:

  • Catering: 11%.................................................................$1,100

  • Decor, lighting, and flowers: 8%................................$800

  • Venue: 10%....................................................................$1,000

  • Entertainment: 7%.......................................................$700

  • Event planning: 5%......................................................$500

  • Photography and videography: 22%.........................$2,200

  • Cake: 4%.......................................................................$400

  • Attire 11.5%...................................................................$1,150

  • Hair and makeup: 2%.................................................$200

  • Paper products: 1.5%%...............................................$150

  • Gifts: 2%.......................................................................$200

  • Officiant: 3%................................................................$300

  • Alcohol: 8%..................................................................$800

  • Miscellaneous: 5%......................................................$500

Now obviously these percentages will vary person to person, for example if you plan on paying for your bridesmaid's hair and makeup, you can expect to pay a couple extra hundred depending on party size and type of makeup (airbrush or traditional). You may opt to drive your own car from your wedding thus eliminating the need for transportation freeing up $400 that could go towards catering, which to stay in budget would have to be around $11.00 per person. For the DIY bride, the need for a florist or decorator could also be eliminated and flowers from places like Costco or Sam's club can be purchased, but keep in mind the amount of time you will need to dedicate to making your own floral arrangements so close to your wedding day and decide if that is a task you can bare.


The dress is the most important part of a wedding to many brides and guests alike. For me the most exciting things about weddings are the food and what the bride is wearing. Be careful when you go shopping for your dress! Many bridal salon stylists work on commission, which means while they may truly think you look beautiful, they are ultimately trying to make a sale. Many brides go into a shop and tell the stylist "This is my budget, don't bring me anything outside of it because I can't afford it." But in the heat of your pretty-princess moment, you see a dress that you just fall in love with, knowing it's out of your price range. You tell yourself "I know I can't have this but I just need to see myself in it." And at that moment you have played yourself, and the bridal salon stylists know it.


You have played yourself because you have fallen in love with the lattice and damask beaded lace, the champagne silk undertone, the rhinestone appliques, the structured bodice, the braided hem, and the incredibly beautiful way it makes you feel. You've already fallen in love with the face of your partner as you walk down the aisle, and now all the stylists are standing around you ooing and awing and telling you how gorgeous you look. And you know anything you put on after that dress will never compare.


It's $5,000. Half of your wedding budget, but they tell you they'll take a deposit today and you can make payments. You go into a fugue state and buy it. An hour later you come to your senses, not even figuring in alterations, you've spent 50% of your budget on the dress alone. Here's how that decision would affect your wedding day percentages:


  • Catering: 7%.................................................................$700

  • Decor, lighting, and flowers: 8%................................$500

  • Venue: 10%....................................................................$850

  • Entertainment: 7%.......................................................$350

  • Event planning: 5%......................................................$200

  • Photography and videography: 22%.........................$900

  • Cake: 4%.......................................................................$300

  • Attire 50%...................................................................$5,000

  • Hair and makeup: 2%.................................................$100

  • Paper products: 1.5%%...............................................$100

  • Gifts: 2%.......................................................................$100

  • Officiant: 3%................................................................$200

  • Alcohol: 8%..................................................................$500

  • Miscellaneous: 5%......................................................$200

Not including your partner's attire, your shoes, your veil, undergarments, or alterations. So you have a beautiful gown, but your guests are eating old cuts and drinking ranch dressing, your venue is a sports bar rental room that doesn't come with tables, chairs or linens, your photographer is taking pictures with an iphone, your videographer can't hold the camera steady, your event planner had an anxiety attack and left early, your cake is dry, your makeup artist gave you pink lips and blue eye shadow, your grossly underpaid bartender is serving cheap wine in styrofoam cups, your DJ plugs his phone up to the speakers and checks out for 4 hours, and you aren't even sure if your officiant was legally competent to marry you. Doesn't that dress feel silly now?


Stay focused on your budget!


Can you negotiate the price of something? Yes and no. If a caterer quotes you $3,000 for a meal and you come back and ask them to do $2,500, you can expect a pretty ticked off caterer. When a vendor gives you a quote, the things that they need that go into giving you what you are wanting are what determines your price, not how much they feel like making that day. Whenever you negotiate with a vendor like this, it can be off-putting and makes it seem like you don't really care about the time and effort their services take. However, if you catering budget is $2,500 and your caterer quotes you $3,000 there is nothing wrong with saying "Thank you for the quote, that is a little out of my budget. I was hoping to stay around $2,500, is there any menu option you have that may fit that price range?" the worst thing they can say is no, and in that case you can thank them for their time and then move on to other vendors.



Your miscellaneous expenses is another thing to budget for that often gets ignored. Travel fees for vendors, your spray tan, facial, and mani-pedi, even vendor tips can add up fast.


Oh, you didn't know vendors got tips?


It's ok, a lot of people don't. A tip to the vendor is just an extra consideration for the full day of work they do, the insurance they pay for in order to run a legitimate business, the equipment they use to deliver the highest quality product possible, etc. Nevertheless, for some couples it just isn't in the budget, and for that reason many vendors do not expect tips. But if you would like to recognize a vendor and thank them for the work they do, a small basket of bath time goodies or even a hand-written note will mean the world to your wedding day team.


Remember that your wedding day is about you, and you should never stretch your budget in order to make it anyone else's celebration. If it helps, just think about it as a party to celebrate your love. Throw a party you would want to be at, get a food truck and play beer pong if that's what is fun to you. The only thing that matters at the end of the long and strenuous planning process is that you get to marry your best friend.

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