Wedding Planning Guide

how to create a wedding budget

Congrats, you’re engaged! Now what? Once you’ve shared the happy news with your nearest and dearest, it’s time to start thinking about wedding planning. First things first: Figuring out how you’ll pay for the wedding. Determining your wedding budget might be a little tricky, but this number will affect every decision and purchase you’ll make, so it’s important to work out your budget so you have a realistic picture about what you can spend.

Here, we'll walk you through everything you need to know about wedding budgets. First, we'll outline a typical wedding budget breakdown, with wedding budget percentages of how much you will likely need to allocate for all the different aspects of the wedding. Next, we'll share our best tips and strategies on how to set a wedding budget (and stick to it!). And lastly, we'll go over a sample wedding budget so you can see how the numbers shake out so that you can create your own.

WEDDING BUDGET BREAKDOWN

To help you figure out how much you’ll need to allocate for the various aspects of the celebration, such as catering, attire, flowers, music, etc., we’re sharing the average wedding budget breakdown below. Keep in mind, though, that these are just averages. How you choose to divvy up your own wedding budget is entirely up to you (along with whomever else is paying for the wedding). You may choose to spend more or less in certain areas depending on your preferences and personality, and that’s totally fine. Just remember that your wedding costs and wedding budget percentages will vary depending on where you’re getting married and the size of your guest list. But use these average wedding budget percentages as a starting point and then customize them to create your own.

CEREMONY (3%)

A portion of your budget should be allotted for the wedding ceremony; specific costs might include:

RECEPTION VENUE, CATERING, & RENTALS (45%)

The majority of your budget should go to your reception, meaning the venue, food, and beverage costs. These may include:

  • Reception venue rental
  • Catering (food, service, rentals such as flatware, stemware, china, linens, etc.)
  • Bartending (service, alcohol, rentals such as glassware, etc.)

PHOTOGRAPHY AND/OR VIDEOGRAPHY (12%)

Great wedding photos are a must, so this isn’t something you’ll want to skimp on. Some couples opt out of videography in order to save money, but be sure to consider whether you’ll regret not having this memento to watch later down the road.

  • Photography (this might include engagement photography)
  • Videography
Bryce Covey Photography

Photo: Bryce Covey

RECEPTION MUSIC/ENTERTAINMENT (10%)

Think of this as your party soundtrack. In general, DJs are more affordable than bands, but there’s nothing like a live band to get a crowd excited and on their feet.

  • Band
  • DJ
  • Cocktail hour musicians (if different)
Samm Blake

Photo: Samm Blake

WEDDING RINGS (2%)

Don't forget to budget for your wedding bands. You might want to consider allocating funds for wedding ring insurance, as well.

WEDDING ATTIRE (9%)

Here, you’ll want to budget for both of your wedding-day looks.

  • Attire (wedding dress, wedding suit)
  • Alterations
  • Accessories (shoes, veil, jewelry, tie, pocket square, etc.)
  • Hair styling
  • Makeup styling

FLOWERS & DECOR (10%)

How much do wedding flowers typically cost? What about professional lighting? Most couples have no idea how much to budget for florals, lighting, and other wedding decor. We suggest allocating 10% of your overall wedding budget to this sector. This would include personal flowers (bouquets and boutonnieres for the wedding party and honored guests), as well as ceremony decorations, cocktail hour florals, centerpieces, and other non-floral decorations.

  • Flowers (personal and decor flowers)
  • Lighting (professional lighting, candles)
  • Miscellaneous decor (guest book, ring pillow, signage, frames for photos, etc.)

STATIONERY (3%)

All of your wedding stationery, from engagement announcements and save the dates to your thank you notes.

Wedding Invitation Lauren

"Paradise" wedding invitation by Oma N. Ramkhelawan

Photo: Lauren Renée

FAVORS & GIFTS (2%)

Wedding favors are a sweet way to send guests home with a parting gift. Don’t forget gifts for your wedding party members to thank them for helping you prepare for the wedding day. Also consider providing welcome bags for guests who traveled to attend the celebration.

  • Favors for guests
  • Gifts for the wedding party
  • Welcome bags

CAKE (2%)

Don’t forget to budget for your wedding dessert. Not a fan of cake? Any other after-dinner sweets you decide to provide should be accounted for here.

Jose Villa

Photo: Jose Villa

TRANSPORTATION (2%)

Hiring transportation services ensures that everyone gets to where they need to be safely and on time. This may include:

  • Newlyweds’ getaway car
  • Wedding-party transportation
  • Guest transportation
  • Parking

ADDITIONAL CONSIDERATIONS

Based on your wedding budget, you might want to adjust the numbers to also account for:

  • Wedding planner/coordinator: 5–15%
  • Just-in-case fund: 5–15%
    • It’s a good idea to set aside some money for any unexpected expenses that may come up.
  • Honeymoon
Jose Villa Car

Photo: Jose Villa


HOW TO SET A WEDDING BUDGET

To make a wedding budget, you'll need to tally your wedding savings, and then create and maintain a detailed wedding-expenses spreadsheet. Keeping close tab of your expenses will help you stay on-track during the planning process and prioritize where you want to spend, as well as make necessary cost cuts, so you don't exceed your total budget. It's not easy, we know, but putting in the time and energy now to create a well-planned-out wedding budget will ensure that you'll have the wedding of your dreams (without going into debt!). Here's exactly how to set a wedding budget you can stick to.

1. Count your cash.

The first step in creating a wedding budget is to figure out how much money you actually have to spend. This amount will likely come from three sources of funds:

  • Your contribution
  • Your fiancé's contribution
  • Contributions from parents or loved ones (if applicable)

The amount you and your fiancé are able to contribute involves taking a hard look at your savings and monthly income.

  • Savings: Ideally, you and your partner have an "in case of an emergency" fund set aside should a job loss or a health setback arise (this would be separate from retirement funds). You might also have separate savings set aside for future purchases, like a home or a car. Subtract those already-spoken-for savings amounts from your total balance in the bank and that's how much you could potentially put towards the wedding.
  • Monthly income: After you've paid your monthly recurring expenses (like rent or mortgage payments, car insurance, student loan payments, etc.), set aside up to 10 percent of your earnings each month to put towards the wedding.

2. Track your wedding spending.

First, open a joint account to pool your savings for the wedding and set up automatic monthly direct deposits into this account from your paycheck. This way, the joint account doesn’t just fill with the "leftover money" every month.

Next, track every wedding expense by using a spreadsheet to log each amount:

  • Create three columns to track each wedding expense: the original budgeted amount, the actual cost, and the deposit amount.
  • When wedding vendors provide you with estimates, check to see if sales tax is included. If not, do the math yourself using local tax rates to adjust the total amount so that it's accurate.
  • Add a line item called "extras" that equals 10 to 15 percent of your total budget to cushion for things you'll likely forget (postage for your save the dates and wedding invitations, parking valets) or won't anticipate in advance (cake-cutting fees, welcome bag for out of town guests). This will be your wedding contingency fund. Resist the urge to spend this money up front because you'll need to dip into it throughout the planning process as incidentals arise.
  • Once you've paid for an expense/wedding vendor, log the actual amount spent. If you're under budget on anything (high five!), then move the extra money to your “extras” contingency fund.
  • Add a column for the estimated vendor tip. Write "included" if gratuity has already been factored into the vendor's total.

3. Charge responsibly.

Resist the urge to boost your cash flow with credit cards. A wedding should not send you and your partner into years of debt. A good rule of thumb to follow is to never charge any wedding expenses that you can't pay off in 30 days using the money from your wedding fund.

However, just because you shouldn't borrow with credit cards doesn't mean you shouldn't use them at all. As long as you have the money to pay the balance in full every month, then it is actually a smart idea to charge wedding expenses on a credit card with a generous rewards or cash-back program. This way, you can earn frequent flier miles to put toward your honeymoon or cash back, which can then be applied to pay off your credit card balance. Avoid signing up for more than one card, which can ultimately hurt your credit score.

4. Prioritize what's important and then find ways to save.

Despite your best efforts, wedding costs add up fast. That's why it's important to take time with your partner to think about the aspects of the wedding that are most important and prioritize spending on those. Any time you notice your wedding estimates approaching your budget limit, remind yourself of your priorities. Certain wedding details that might initially seem like must-haves may not be missed in the end.

Once you've determined your main wedding priorities, try to cut costs on other expenses as best you can. Here are some of the best ways to save money on your wedding (without anyone even noticing!).

  • Consider tying the knot off-season or on a Friday or Sunday. Winter wedding, anyone?
  • A brunch reception or luncheon may be more affordable than a multi-course plated dinner.
  • Host the ceremony and reception in the same venue to save on additional site rentals.
  • Skip the loft. Raw space venues like barns, warehouses, and lofts are a blank canvas but require a lot of rentals to make the space wedding-ready.
  • Trim the guest list. Lowering your guest count is the fastest way to reduce your wedding costs. (Read our stress-free guide to creating your wedding guest list.)
  • Opt for a DJ instead of a band.
  • Take advantage of free address printing. For your wedding stationery like save the dates and wedding invitations, Minted will address your envelopes for free, in a variety of hand-styled fonts and unique designs that match your design. All you need to do is upload your guests' snail-mail addresses, choose recipient addressing and select your guests, and Minted will include complimentary printed envelopes with your order. Plus, your address book will be saved for future post-wedding stationery, like your wedding thank you cards or holiday cards.
  • Go to the salon for your wedding-day hair and makeup instead of having the stylist come to you.


SAMPLE WEDDING BUDGET

According to The Knot's 2018 Real Weddings Study, the national average cost of a wedding is currently $33,931 for 136 guests (excluding honeymoon expenses). Here's how that average breaks down—use this as a rough outline for your own wedding budget breakdown and adjust the numbers according to your priorities.

Wedding Expense Percentage of Overall Budget Cost
Ceremony 3% $1,018
Reception venue, catering, and rentals 45% $15,269
Photography and/or videography 12% $4,072
Reception music/entertainment 10% $3,393
Wedding rings 2% $679
Wedding attire 9% $3,054
Flowers & decor 10% $3,393
Stationery 3% $1,018
Favors & gifts 2% $679
Cake 2% $679
Transportation 2% $679