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Wedding Budget Planner

Updated on August 29, 2009

The Cost Differences Of A Formal Vs Informal Wedding Can Be Great

Informal Wedding- Photo From
Informal Wedding- Photo From
Formal Wedding - Photo From
Formal Wedding - Photo From

Begin With A Wedding Budget

Perhaps one of the least appealing parts of planning a wedding is managing the budget. Many couples go into the wedding planning process with little to no idea of what everything should cost, how much of their total budget to allocate to each expense, or how to come up with a sensible spending plan in the first place. It is estimated that the average American wedding costs over $27,000, so this is a lot of money to manage, and things can quickly get out of hand. Furthermore, if you are one of the thousands of engaged couples who have decided to try to pull off a beautiful wedding on a smaller budget, you will need to learn the tricks and tools that will help you have your dream day without going into debt. This is a step by step guide to teach you how to plan a wedding budget...and how to stick to it.

One of the first things that an engaged couple needs to do is sit down and figure out what they can realistically spend on their wedding, from start to finish. Tradition once held that the father of the bride was responsible for writing all of the checks, but these days that is not a given. Many brides and grooms will contribute to their wedding expenses, and it is also increasingly common for the groom's parents to pitch in on the wedding costs. After assessing what all three groups can contribute, add that sum together, and you will have a starting wedding budget.

Be Strict With Costs

Track Your Wedding Budget Costs

To stay within your budget plan, it is critical to keep track of every dollar that is spent. The best way to do this is with special budget software. There are computer programs that are specially designed to help you tally up the payments that you make as you plan for your special day. It is also possible to get simplified free wedding budget trackers online. These tools can be invaluable to aid with both the initial allocation of funds and with making sure that you do not blow your budget as the planning progresses (or so if you do go over budget in one area, you can look for another category from which to shift funds).

Whatever your total budget, the typical wedding expenses will usually break down into the same percentages. As you go through the list to create your own personalized spreadsheet, make note of the areas in which you are likely to splurge so you can realistically allot the funds. For instance, if the average bride typically spends about 10% of her budget on wedding attire and you have your heart set on a Vera Wang gown, you will know that you are going to spend more than 10%, so you should find another category in which you can save money. Perhaps you can do without a videographer or you can print your own wedding invitations instead of ordering the engraved ones from Crane's. Setting your wedding budget is all about prioritizing which details are most important to you.

This is how the wedding budget is typically divided:

Wedding Reception: 48-50%

This includes the venue rental and fees, food and waitstaff service, beverages, bartenders, corkage fees, the cake and cutting fees, as well as miscellaneous expenses such as coat check fees. For a wedding that is taking place at a site that requires you to bring everything in, don't forget that you will be including things such as the wedding tent, floors, portable heaters, tables, chairs, linens, china and crystal, and even porta-potties in this section of your wedding budget. One very important tip: when you are getting estimates from different reception venues, find out whether taxes and gratuities are included in the estimate, as these can add a huge percentage to the final bill. And don't forget to inquire about overtime fees.

Options to trim reception costs abound. Look for alternative venues such as state or national parks or art galleries. Be open to holding your wedding on a Thursday or Sunday instead of a prime time slot such as a Saturday afternoon. Scheduling a winter wedding instead of one in the summer or autumn can cut your fees by as much as 20%, and having a ceremony that is early enough to follow with a brunch will cost less than hosting a traditional seated dinner. It never hurts to ask vendors to throw in something extra like reducing delivery fees or waiving a cake cutting fee. Just be sure to do the negotiating before you sign the contract while you still have some leverage. See if your venue will allow you to bring in your own alcohol, which can save a fortune (although they will likely charge a corkage fee). A signature cocktail along with a selection of wine and beer is far less costly than a full open bar, but much more gracious than a cash bar.

Wedding Reception At Yosemite National Park

Wedding Attire and Beauty: 8-10%

Included in this category is the bridal gown with alterations (be aware that the alterations can easily run $300-$500 and up), the headpiece, veil, bridal jewelry, wedding day hair and makeup, as well as any other spa treatments like manicures and pedicures. Also theoretically included in this category is the suit or the tuxedo rental for the groom, as well as any accessories that he may need (such as cufflinks), but frankly, I think that is a bit unrealistic if the groom is purchasing his attire. Sometimes the rental of the groom's tuxedo is free when the groomsmen all rent theirs at the same store, so be sure to ask about this. Depending on how tightly you are budgeting, you may choose to include things like a package of monthly pre-wedding facials or a fresh haircut into the wedding attire and beauty budget, but many brides find ways to fit these into their everyday beauty budgets instead of labeling them "wedding expenses".

Running Of The Brides

Save Money By Running With The Brides

A designer bridal gown can run into the thousands, so this is something that many brides will try to save money on. Adventurous types can dive into the fray at the "Running of the Brides", the legendary Filene's Basement wedding gown sale. Designer gowns are marked down to a fraction of their original price, and brides come from all over to try to score a dream dress on a shoestring budget. It is said that the racks of 3000 gowns are cleared in just two minutes, as bargain crazed brides-to-be and their entourages frantically snatch gowns from the racks hoping to find that perfect one. For women who prefer a more sedate shopping experience and less pre-marital mayhem, annual sample sales and clearance events at bridal salons can be a way to save big on a special wedding dress. Vintage bridal gowns are also popular; brides are flocking to them for their more reasonable prices and their one-of-a-kind flair. The idea of recycling a wedding gown also dovetails beautifully with the whole "green wedding" movement.

Swarovski Crystal Bridal Jewelry

Select Swarovski Crystal Bridal Jewelry To Save

There are still more ways to save on wedding attire and accessories. Lovely bridesmaid dresses in ivory can be ideal for less formal weddings, and the simple styles from places like J Crew are increasingly popular among brides seeking designer style on a budget. Saving on the bridal jewelry and headpiece is even easier. Eschew extravagant diamond necklace and earring sets for equally fabulous bridal jewelry that is handcrafted with sparkling Swarovski crystals. Classic brides can trim their wedding jewelry budgets by opting for earrings and necklaces that are created with affordable freshwater pearls rather than more costly Akoya or Tahitian pearls.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

St. Patrick's Cathedral by David_Shankbone
St. Patrick's Cathedral by David_Shankbone

Wedding Ceremony: 2-3%

This would be the location fee, if any (it is not customary for a house of worship to charge a fee, however if you are wed at a famous church like St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, there may be a mandatory minimum "donation" for use of the facilities). At any wedding, there will be either a fee for the officiant or a customary donation to their house of worship. Any random accessories that you may desire such as rose petals or birdseed for tossing, an aisle runner, or a unity candle would also fall into this category. You will be able to save a little bit on the officiant's fee if you have a friend or family member perform the service (ensure that they get the necessary licensing to make it official, of course), as long as it is not held at a church. Certainly, a simple parish church would expect a much smaller donation than a grand and world famous one like St. Patrick's.

Pin Orchid Submerged Centerpiece


Flowers and Décor: 8-10%

Quite a few items will actually fall into this category. There are the bouquets for the bride and the bridesmaids, as well as flowers for the flower girl and any junior bridesmaids. You will also need boutonierres for the groom, his groomsmen, and the fathers and grandfathers of the bride and groom, as well as corsages for the mothers and grandmothers of the happy couple. There will be floral displays and candles for the ceremony, as well as decorations for the aisle chairs or pews. The biggest chunk of the décor budget will go into the centerpieces and other decorations for the reception site. If you are hanging chandeliers, having an ice sculpture, or renting a vintage photo booth for the evening, they will all need to fit into this section of the wedding budget.

The wedding flowers offer numerous opportunities to cut back on expenses, especially for the diy bride. One thing that any bride can do is limit the florist to using flowers that are in season and readily available. You will get the freshest blooms and pay the least. You will also spend less if you avoid holding your wedding around a high demand flower holiday like Valentine's Day or Mother's Day, when prices spike nationwide. Think about designing centerpieces that are very chic and yet require a minimum of flowers, like submerged flower centerpieces. They are one of the hottest wedding trends, and yet because each vessel only needs one or two stems of a fabulous flower like an orchid, the actual cost is very low. In the fall, potted mums can make excellent centerpieces that have high seasonal appeal, but a very low price tag.

It is not necessary to work with a traditional florist for your wedding centerpieces and bouquets, either. Many brides do not realize that they can special order flowers from their local supermarket. The prices will be significantly lower than they would be from a floral designer, especially if you are willing to pick up the flowers yourself. You will save even more if you assemble your own centerpieces, which can be easy if you choose an arrangement with only one type of flower. Inexpensive flowers for weddings can also be found on the internet and at floral wholesale markets in large metropolitan areas. And don't forget about candles for your wedding reception decor; they are far less expensive than fresh flowers and can also create a very romantic ambiance.

Music: 8-10%

You will have three types of music: ceremony, cocktail hour, and reception. Possibly four if you hope to have a late night d.j. in addition to a band at the reception. This can be one of the easiest categories in which to cut costs without cutting down on style. One big trend is for couples to put together a collection of their favorite songs on an ipod to play at the reception instead of hiring a d.j. Just be certain that there is an adequate sound system in place before committing to this idea. For live music, costs can be cut by hiring students musicians from a local music conservatory or having a solo musician during the cocktail hour rather than the entire band. If your wedding is fairly small, a trio of live musicians will be plenty for your reception, though if you have hundreds of guests, a quartet or an even larger band will be needed to provide the right sound.

Bride From SilverlandJewelry Gallery Of Brides

Photography: 10-12%

This covers the cost of the photographer and videographer, as well as the wedding album, extra prints, and additional dvds for your family. Photography is the one area where every single wedding planner will tell you unanimously that you should never ever try to skimp. A professional photographer is an absolute must to ensure that you will have the quality of wedding photos that you will want to keep for a lifetime. This is not the time to hire an amateur. The best ways to save money in this category are to do without a videographer and to make your own wedding album. Before hiring a photographer, be certain that they do not require you to purchase one of their album packages to get your prints. If you can get a collection of your favorite pictures without the book, you can put together your own memory album, and save hundreds of dollars. Another cost cutting idea is to skip the "brag book" for the parents of the bride and groom, and give them framed wedding photos as gifts for the next holiday after your wedding. Most wedding photographers these days will post proofs to a website, so that interested family and friends can directly order their own prints, which will spare the newlyweds the expense.

Stationery: 2-3%

The wedding stationery includes not just invitations, but also response cards, thank you notes, save-the-date cards, programs, and wedding announcements. Other extras that you may want to order include such things as at home cards, within the ribbon cards, and maps to your ceremony and reception sites. Do not forget about the cost of postage and a calligrapher when calculating your stationery expenses, as these can add up quickly.

There are numerous ways to trim the stationery budget. You can choose flat printing over costly letterpress or engraving, especially for a less formal wedding. Another quick way to save is to select a smaller invitation with fewer enclosures, which will not only cut down on the price of the stationery, but also the postage fees. Steer clear of invitations with embellishments like ribbons which will increase the price from the stationer for both materials and labor, and may cause your postage rates to increase as well. Include an R.s.v.p. line on your invitations instead of issuing separate response cards (in my experience, the reply rate is just as good). Be creative and make your own save-the-date notices on postcards, and omit the wedding programs altogether (frankly, they are completely unnecessary). You can even get a book from the library and learn how to do your own simple calligraphy to address the envelopes. Many couples will also take advantage of a great home printer, and simply create their own invitations and stationery on beautiful cardstock.

Wedding Rings: 2-3%

These are the bride and groom's wedding bands. Like the photography, the wedding jewelry is one of the few lasting momentos from your wedding, and therefore is not a place to skimp. Look for high quality rings that will stand the test of time; a heavy 18kt plain gold band will be a better investment long term than a poor quality band with little diamond chips that are constantly going to be coming loose and needing repair. 18kt white gold can be substituted for platinum as a way to trim the budget, as long as you are not wearing it against a platinum engagement ring.

Transportation and Lodging: 2-3%

This portion of the budget is the limos, guest shuttles or parking fees (if applicable), and the honeymoon suite for the wedding night. It does not include the costs of the honeymoon trip itself. When you are hiring a limousine, don't forget that there will be a tip added above the initial quote. If you know a friend who has a cute convertible or a luxury car, perhaps they will let you borrow it rather than renting something. When the wedding ceremony and reception sites are very close together, you can even skip the car and lead a festive procession from one place to the other. This has an old world European flair, and is absolutely free. Carefully weigh the cost difference between hiring a couple of shuttles for guests versus covering valet parking for a large number of individual cars. If the costs are close, the shuttle buses are an excellent idea as they will eliminate any concern over your guests drinking and driving.


Gifts and Favors: 2-3%

Many couples do not consider these expenses when creating their initial wedding budget, but they can add up. You will need gifts for the bridesmaids, flower girl, junior bridesmaids, groomsmen, and ring bearer. It is also customary in many families for the bride and groom to give small tokens of their appreciation to their parents. Of course, many brides and grooms will also exchange wedding gifts with one another, but you might not include that in the general wedding budget. Also keep in mind that you may wish to give a special thank you to anyone who has gone above and beyond for you, such as a bridal shop owner or your wedding consultant.

You never want to be seen as skimping on your gifts, but there are numerous ways to save money without cutting corners. Bridesmaid gifts such as jewelry can be purchased online to trim costs. Beautiful options like Swarovski pearls or crystals are more affordable than cultured pearls or diamonds, yet still make lovely bridesmaid gifts. And then there are the wedding favors to be considered. If you have any sort of creative abilities, diy wedding favors are a great way to save money and give your guests a personal thank you.

Miscellaneous: 8%

This would cover costs like a wedding planner. Hiring a professional wedding coordinator might at first sound like an extravagance, but some planners can actually help you find ways to cut costs and will also keep you on budget. Any other random expenses that crop up can be lumped into this category. To be really careful that you do not go into debt, it is a smart idea to take an additional 5% beyond the total wedding budget and set it aside to cover unexpected expenses or cost overruns.

Establishing a wedding budget can be a daunting task, but it is well worth the initial effort. When you know how much you can afford to spend and have a detailed plan on how to allocate the funds, it becomes much easier to plan a wedding that is not only memorable, but also within your means. There are so many creative ways to trim a wedding budget without cutting style that any couple should be able to have a beautiful wedding, whatever their budget may be.


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    • Shannon Paigah profile image

      Shannon Paigah 

      6 years ago from Irvine, CA

      Informative hub! I like the percentage approximations applied to each spending category. This helps put costs into perspective relative to benefit received. Thank you.

    • Seabastian profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Raleigh

      It does seem pretty amazing.This weekend I was at a photo shoot for a local wedding magazine and and the least expensive wedding dress was over $6000.

    • BrianS profile image

      Brian Stephens 

      9 years ago from Castelnaudary, France

      I know this is a very special day, but $27K for one day? I would rather go on a smaller budget personally and make far better use of that amount of money.

      In my opinion it is not what you spend on a wedding that matters so much as sharing the day with loved ones.


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