Whether you’re talking to friends, parents, or vendors, the question “What’s your wedding budget?” comes up all too often. You’re probably wondering how you can even begin to set a budget, when you have no idea what things cost. Wedding vendors don’t tend to list their prices online, and will often say that everything is custom, or tailored to your wedding, your guest list, your preferences… so where do you start?
Well, you start here! I love helping couples plan their weddings, even working out the wedding budget. This is such a wonderful and exciting time of your lives, I want you to enjoy it, and not stress about going broke before you say ‘I do’. So, without further ado let’s get started.
Of course all the advice in the world will not be a substitute for a good spreadsheet and budget template. You’ll find an excel spreadsheet in the planning pack, and of course the little white book has its own dedicated budget pages. If you haven’t already, get your hands on one or both of them now.
Starting your Wedding Budget
Unfortunately, your wedding budget is one of the most challenging aspects of planning your wedding, but I’m here to make that easier with the complete guide to starting your wedding budget, and template to help you begin. While it can be tempting to think that you can plan and organise your wedding, and spend as you go without considering what it is all going to cost in the end, by doing so you risk being unable to afford some of the elements which may be really important to you, later down the line.
The wedding industry is a multi-billion dollar one worldwide: around £10 Billion annually in the UK, and who knows how much in New Zealand, but it’s no small sum! One of the first things you’ve probably heard about or read is the “average” wedding budget, whatever that is in your country. In New Zealand it’s said to be around $35,000, but I have recently written an article on how the “average” cost of a wedding is actually very misleading, so don’t get too caught up in what other people are spending. Check out this $5000 Dunedin wedding for example, for what you can achieve for thinking outside the box (more tips at the end of this article)
To get you off to a good start, you may wish to instead have a look at a couple of complete real budgets – I have shared my wedding budget, and a friend of mine shared her wedding budget – so that you can see exactly what it all cost, compare, and get an idea for where yours could fit. There’s also some more sample budgets at the bottom of this article.
Working on the wedding budget within the little white book
Before you begin, please keep in mind that your wedding day does not have to be expensive to be perfect, and it does not have to be perfect to be wonderful.
The best way to start is to work out what you can comfortably afford to spend first, and then figure out what kind, size and style of wedding will work with your budget. The alternative is to plan the wedding of your dreams in your head (or on Pinterest) and then panic about how you’ll ever be able to afford it. If your expectations and budget don’t match, there’s plenty you can do to bring them closer together.
As this is one of the first articles you may be reading about wedding planning, can I please take this moment to remind you that it’s your day, and you don’t have to conform to anybody else’s expectations or pressures of what it should look or feel like. Every wedding is unique and personal to the couple, and yours can be absolutely “perfect” in a way that is meaningful to you, even if you don’t have a huge budget.
Savings + Budget = Wedding Date
You can’t begin planning your wedding before you’ve got a general idea of your wedding budget. Even the wedding date itself is contingent on the budget – i.e. depending on whether you’ll be saving for a long time for your wedding, and whether you want to save money with an off-peak wedding. While you might think that planning a wedding even with 12 months to go will give you plenty of time to budget and save, as soon as you want to lock in a wedding venue, photographer or catering, you also will be expected to pay a large deposit – so these quickly add up even in the early stages of wedding planning.
What’s your number?
- Feel Comfortable: Begin by having a discussion with your partner about how much you are comfortable spending on one day, or even across a couple of days if you’re planning a wedding weekend or destination wedding. Talk to your fiancé about the savings you can access or set aside during the time you’re planning, and then about whether you are both able, and happy to, accept contributions from your families.
- Parents: Many parents or family members still choose to assist and financially support their children’s weddings. Sit down and have a conversation with each of yours as early as possible. This is also the key time to discuss with them what and how they will be helping. Make sure you both understand how much they can give you, whether it’s a loan, advance on inheritance, or a wedding gift, and what they expect in return (i.e having any control over the guest list, religious or cultural elements, influence over details such as invitations, etc). A good alternative to accepting a lump sum is for them to pay the cost of something specific (food and drink, perhaps, if they want to invite a lot of people). Then, they can only reasonably expect to have any level of control over that aspect of the wedding, rather than having carte blanche choice over your big day.
- Homeowners: If you’re already heavily mortgaged, your wedding budget too can seem impossible. However, while you already have significant outgoings, a mortgage can work in your favour, to give you the ability to cover your deposits with a low interest rate. We were able to get support from our bank, who lent us a little bit more on our mortgage to contribute towards the wedding budget. I’m not saying that you should ‘go into debt’ to pay for your wedding, but the reality is that if you have a mortgage, you’re already in debt, and you may be able to work with your bank to make it work in a way that you can afford. It’s much better than being unable to pay for your credit card on time.
- Savings: Beyond that, it’s between the two of you to save for the wedding, so get serious about figuring out how much you have to spend. Look to what you can put away per week over the next year (or more) and be strict if you need to be. Sit down with your partner and figure out how much money you are really comfortable to spend out of your own money.
Prioritise your wedding budget
Instead of seeing wedding planning as a hugely expensive process where everything blows the budget, it’s sensible to make a list of priorities – things you’re willing to splurge on, and others you’re more prepared to save money on. You and your partner could begin by each pick your top 2-3 priorities for the wedding day. Don’t be afraid to completely omit those elements which aren’t important to you, no matter what they are, or how ‘necessary’ other people might tell you they are to have.
For us, the cost of my wedding dress was a splurge; but we saved on our wedding flowers – ensure you and your partner are on the same page about what is important. Having this short list of priorities is just a good idea so that you can focus a little more money, or time, or energy, on the things that are most important to the two of you. It doesn’t mean it won’t all be beautiful, but it can allow you to budget accordingly, and allocate funds to the ‘compromisable’ once the ‘non-negotiables’ are taken care of. Weddings don’t actually need all the bells and whistles.
The Wedding you want on the Budget you have
You may have been dreaming of this day your whole life, and know exactly what you want – but how does that fit with the budget you’ve allocated? Look at the cost of a real wedding (mine) and if possible, talk to friends about theirs to work out how you might do things differently to spend more or less. While there are useful budget templates to purchase online including one we designed, my suggestion to couples is always to begin with working out what your priorities are. Unless you’re on an unlimited budget, you will probably need to choose a few key elements which are the most important to you, and perhaps enjoy a little splurge on those few things to have exactly what you want, but make savings in other areas. Once you’ve worked out your budget and prioritized which elements of your wedding are going to make up the majority of it, you may already have a pretty good idea of what style of wedding you’re going to have, and a vision of what your wedding might look and feel like. For example, if you have a $10,000 budget, but you want to feed 100 people a 5 course meal, you will have worked out that other areas of your wedding may be a more modest than magnificent. Read more about Organising your guest list which will help with your wedding budget too.
Now, you have an estimate number of guests, an idea of how much money to spend, and a vision of what your wedding might look and feel like. With these pieces of information, it’s time to start working out how to make it all possible. What will $10,000 mean when you’re going to feed 100 people, for example. If your big day dreams and your wedding budget don’t ‘add up’, take some time to re-evaluate – the “Get Real” phase. Can you spend more money to make your ideal wedding happen? More importantly, do you really want to spend more? Could you change the type of venue or overall look and feel of your wedding to make it fit your budget? Are there elements you could ask friends to help with, etc. Remember, DIY projects can be time consuming, your time is also valuable, and it doesn’t always save money. Alternatively, what elements could you leave out altogether, if they’re not important to you: table flowers or centrepieces, physical save-the-dates and invites, new shoes and jewellery, a wedding cake, etc – do you really need to have it all?
Stick to your Wedding Budget!
Don’t just set your wedding budget and walk away, ensure that you’re staying on track with deposits and due dates – they all begin to add up very quickly, especially in the last few months. Ensure you have one safe place to record vendors, invoices, and payments that all link back to your budget so that you can review your upcoming payments from time to time and ensure you don’t have any surprises along the way. An electronic budget template is ideal.
Real Wedding Budgets
If you didn’t earlier, have a look at our real wedding budget breakdowns – see mine here and Amanda’s $17,000 wedding as well as these few I found online. Don’t leave without reading our wedding budget tips below too:
Registry office wedding – $1,950
- Venue/Officiant: $150 for a thirty minute slot at a Registry Office for you and up to six guests, officiant included
- Attire: $200 dress; $100 suit
- Flowers: $100 for one bouquet and one boutonnière
- Photographer: $800 for a quick one-hour session of ceremony plus portraits
- Delicious restaurant lunch and drinks for eight: $600
The Backyard Bash – $2,580
- Venue/Officiant: Free and a family/friend
- Attire: Casual backyard bash attire
- Flowers and decor: $250 DIY
- Rentals: $300 for a few supplemental chairs, tables, and linens
- Dessert for 50: $200, plus donated food from family and friends
- Photographer: $1000
- Bubbles and iced tea for 50: $200
- Canapes for 50: $500
- Music: $0 for iPod and borrowed speakers
Outdoor venue with a sit-down-meal $10,150
- Venue: $2200 including chairs and tables
- DJ: $800
- Food and Alcohol: $5000 for 75 guests including dessert
- Attire: $350 dress; $150 suit
- Decor: $500 including DIY flowers
- Photographer: $1200
A modest, casual wedding at $15,000
- Venue: $800
- Rentals: $1500 for chairs, tables, linens, and basic lighting
- Attire: $700 dress and shoes; $250 suit
- Alcohol: $1400
- Catering: $5,000 for a full buffet plus a late night snack
- DJ: $2,000
- Photographer: $3000
- Decor: $500 for candles and flowers
Full service for 60 guests – $20,000
- Venue and Full-Service Catering: $12,000, including food, alcohol, tables, chairs, and staff for 60 guests
- Photography: $2,000
- Wedding Planner: $2,000
- Invitations: $800
- Attire: $800 dress; $150 suit
- Flowers and Decor: $1,200
- DJ: $1,000
Wedding Budget tips:
If the wedding budget is small, there are plenty of ways to have your dream wedding on a budget, consider:
- A Destination Wedding might offer a cheaper reception, food and alcohol. See this Samoan Wedding on a Budget
- Choose a Venue which won’t need a lot of decorating, like a beautiful outdoor space or gardens. See this stunning two day Dunedin Wedding which cost $5000.
- Think outside the box for your wedding venue – see 20 Alternative & Unique Wedding Venues for all Budgets.
- Have a cocktail ceremony, rather than a sit-down meal (which opens up your venue options too).
- A Smaller Guest-List will obviously mean a smaller bill, as will a smaller Wedding Party
- Food and Alcohol are the biggest expense, so a shorter afternoon-tea wedding will be cheaper (see brunch wedding)
- A winter wedding will get you off-peak discounts
- Delaying the Wedding until you can save more, if you need to.
- Be clear about your budget — and stick to it. If vendors know up front what you can spend, they’re less likely to pad costs or overcharge.
- Opt for digital invites
- Ask your florist to work within your budget and select double-duty flowers
- Ask friends to chip-in by doing you a favour or two (but be aware of time and expense DIY involves)
- Spend sensibly, and research tips and tricks for saving money.
- Avoid a long gap between the ceremony and reception. Photographers and musicians will charge for the extra wait time
- Hire one set of chairs, and move a few to the ceremony space just for elderly relatives (as long as your ceremony isn’t too long!)
- Have one large program on a blackboard or mirror and save on stationery. See DIY signage & stationery inspiration.
- Skip wedding favours – or give just one to each couple
- Have a family style meal for your sit down meal (see choosing your wedding catering)
- Save on entertainment: local music schools have teachers or grown up students who may happily perform at weddings for a fraction of the cost
- Skip a large cake in favour for just one tier, and serve ‘slab’ cake for dessert (ask your caterer), or forego wedding cake altogether
- Make sure common surcharges like cake-cutting and permit fees are listed in your contract (the wedding planning pack is ideal to know exactly what you’re agreeing to with your vendors).
- Don’t lose sight of what the day is really about, and try not to let budget and money-discussions cloud what’s important to you.
One final note, all the advice in the world will not be a substitute for a good spreadsheet and budget template. Combine the planning pack with our best-selling wedding planner in the ultimate bundle.