Wedding Budget 101: How to Stop Overspending By Creating a Budget
From the dress to the cake to the reception venue, wedding planning can pull you in dozens of directions. It can also pull on your purse strings until they’re ready to snap.
If you’ve just gotten engaged, you’re likely already starting to add up the costs in a panic: wedding invitations, wedding favors, wedding bands, wedding dress, rehearsal dinner. And while some wedding expenses depend on your personal preferences and budget, there are still many ways to cut costs without sacrificing the wedding ceremony of your dreams.
How Much Does the Average Wedding Cost?
Prepare yourself for some sticker shock. According to wedding publisher The Knot, American couples spent an average of $30,000 on their wedding ceremony and reception in 2022 — and that figure doesn’t even include the wedding rings or honeymoon!
Before you ditch your wedding plans and elope, keep in mind that the average isn’t the rule. To keep a handle on your spending and strategically tackle all the costs you’ll face, here’s the first item on your wedding to-do list: Set a budget for the big day.
3 Things to Consider When Framing Your Wedding Budget
Fresh off the high of the proposal, you and your future spouse need to come together to answer some vital questions.
- What’s most important to you in regards to your wedding?
- How long do you want to wait to get married?
- How will you pay for the wedding?
What Matters Most About Your Wedding Ceremony?
Like choosing a college or buying a house, the decisions you make when planning a wedding aren’t based on cost alone. There is a lot of sentimental decision-making involved.
You’ll want to be able to reflect fondly on your wedding for decades to come. You may already have strong opinions about what you want your big day to look like. Sit down with your fiance to come up with the top three priorities for your wedding.
Is it important to have your ceremony in the church your parents got married in — even if that place is 2,000 miles from where you live? Do you want a live band to play all the songs that hold special meaning in your relationship? Is it vital to serve foods that represent both of your cultures? Is the size of the guest list non-negotiable?
Establishing what’s worth splurging on will help you create a budget reflective of what you really want your wedding to be like, rather than following a template of what the typical couple spends.
Use our tips on establishing a values-based budget to help ensure you spend more money on what matters to you as a couple.
What’s Your Timeline for Wedding Planning?
The period between saying “yes” and saying “I do” can have a big effect on what you’re able to afford. An 18-month engagement gives you time to save up for a more extravagant affair, while you might have to make sacrifices if you have only six months to plan.
According to Brides magazine, the average engagement lasts between 12 and 18 months.
When figuring out when you want to get married, know that the time of year can affect costs, too. Wedding season typically lasts from late spring to early fall. You may find vendors are cheaper in offseason months.
You’ll also want to beware of planning a wedding close to holidays when venues may be booked and caterers may be busy. A wedding on New Year’s Eve or Valentine’s Day may seem fun or romantic, but you’ll likely pay a premium for those special dates.
Who’s Paying for Your Wedding?
Before you start planning, an important factor to figure out is how you — or someone else — will pay for your wedding.
Your parents or other close relatives may want to chip in to cover wedding costs, but don’t assume — or expect — they will. Have a direct conversation with your family about the financials. If your folks are contributing, make sure you understand whether they’re providing a set amount or if they plan to cover a certain expense — like the wedding gown or the booze for the reception.
If family members are contributing financially, make sure you understand their expectations, like inviting a ton of extended relatives or having the wedding in your hometown.
7 Steps to Creating a Wedding Budget Checklist
While every couple’s wedding budget breakdown will look different, the steps to creating a realistic wedding budget are the same.
Step 1: Determine Your Financial Bandwidth
After clarifying what family will cover, you and your fiance need to hatch out a plan for everything else. Figure out how much existing savings you can throw toward the wedding without eating into vital emergency funds. Determine how much you can realistically put aside every month (perhaps into a separate account) leading up to the big day.
If you’re trying to find extra bandwidth in your total budget for wedding spending, you have two basic options: cutting costs or making more income.
Take a look at your existing budget — or budgets, if you manage money separately — and figure out where there’s room to cut expenses. In addition, start brainstorming ways you can make a little extra cash to plump up your savings.
Open a separate bank account to serve as a sinking fund so your wedding savings don’t get spent on everyday expenses.
Step 2: Make Hard Decisions
Your savings, plus any family contributions, will make up your wedding budget total. If what you expect to have saved falls short of what you expect to spend (which we’ll discuss next), you have three choices:
- Plan a less expensive wedding.
- Push back the wedding date to allow more time to save up.
- Borrow money for your big day.
You probably won’t come across a financial expert who would recommend taking out a personal loan for a wedding. However, if this is the route you’re taking, look into opening a credit card with a zero interest introductory period. And — this is important — plan to pay it off before that period is over.
Step 3: Start a Budgeting Spreadsheet
Once you’ve made the important decisions about what you want, when you’ll get hitched and how you’ll afford the wedding, it’s time to lay out a budget.
You can do this on a spreadsheet you make yourself or one available online or through an app — such as WeddingWire’s wedding budget tracker or The Knot’s wedding budget planner.
Your budget should include sections for estimated costs, quotes from vendors and the prices you actually pay. Make note of when initial deposits are made and when final payments are due.
Here are a few categories from sample wedding budgets of unexpected costs you probably haven’t considered:
- Furniture rental
- Ring pillow and guest book
- Sound equipment rental
- Open bar or cocktail hour
- Welcome bags
- Dry cleaning and alterations
Another wedding expense that gets overlooked in the overall wedding budget is the cost of prep for wedding party members. Things like spa days and a hair trial can add up fast and blow right past your original budget.
Step 4: Do Your Research
Information from The Knot indicates how much vendors charged on average in 2022 for their services. These price points will give you an idea of how much to allot in terms of wedding budget percentages for each category.
- Wedding invitations: $510
- Wedding dress: $1,900
- Hairstylist: $130
- Makeup artist: $120
- Florist: $2,400
- Photographer: $2,600
- Videographer: $2,100
- Transportation: $980
- Reception venue: $11,200
- Catering package: $75 per person
- Rehearsal dinner: $2,400
- Wedding cake: $510
- Reception band: $3,900
- Reception DJ: $1,500
- Wedding favors: $440
- Engagement ring: $5,800
- Wedding planner: $1,900
And that’s not all — you’ll also need to budget for the following:
- Ceremony site
- Bride’s and groom’s wedding bands
You’ll also need to add the cost of the marriage license, which varies depending on location but generally costs less than $100.
Now think about extras and unexpected expenses. Do you want to hire an instructor to choreograph your first dance? Do you want sparklers at your send-off? Are you getting a parting gift for your bridal party? You’ll need to budget for those.
There’s also all the incidental costs. Do you need to purchase a liquor license to serve alcohol at a nontraditional venue? Did you factor in the cost of stamps for your wedding invitations? Do you have to rent a dance floor for an outdoor wedding? Make sure you don’t forget tipping and taxes.
Step 5: Get Quotes and Negotiate
What you actually spend may vary drastically depending on where you live, when you’re getting married, the size and style of your wedding and other factors.
Industry experts say to contact vendors to get quotes on prices. Sites like WeddingWire, The Knot and Thumbtack can help you find florists, photographers and the rest. Get recommendations from recently married couples in your social circle or chat with brides and grooms from online forums.
Get quotes from multiple vendors. You might be able to get them to match a competitor’s price. And be sure to go over contracts in detail so you know what is and isn’t included. Be sure to find out how much other couples paid before you sign on the dotted line.
Step 6: Give Yourself Plenty of Cushion
It’s important to include some cushion in your budget to cover miscellaneous expenses that will pop up. Having a 5% to 10% cushion can help you avoid going over budget, so you can start off your marriage on a financially responsible note.
We’ve emphasized saving money in the wedding planning process, but this is your big day, and it’s OK if low-key isn’t your thing. You’ll probably have only one chance to get this right, so it’s worth dipping into your checking account a little deeper to find the money for that signature cocktail or those yards and yards of lace you’ve pictured trailing down the aisle in your wake.
Step 7: Don’t Forget About the Honeymoon
Some couples opt to take a honeymoon later for financial or work-related reasons. Even if you don’t skip off to somewhere tropical right away, build a little extra budget breakdown into your total cost that’s earmarked for post-wedding fun.
Wedding Budget Frequently Asked Questions
Since the average wedding cost was around $30,000 in 2022, your average wedding budget should be in the same neighborhood. However, if your family is providing an influx of cash to your overall budget, you may be able to spend less out of your own pocket.
Unless you’re fiercely organized and have a ton of extra time to devote to the planning process, you’ll struggle under a mountain of stress as the wedding approaches. Wedding planners can be worth their weight in gold (literally) by saving you time, hassle and even negotiating lower prices with vendors.
Destination weddings are complicated. On the one hand, many couples save money on travel by having the ceremony where they’ll honeymoon or where most of the family lives. However, it may create a lot of extra costs for the wedding party in terms of travel that the couple should consider covering if they opt for a destination wedding.
If your guest count is small enough and you trim expenses, you could get married at a free venue like your backyard for a few thousand dollars. Recruiting friends or family to help perform services like photography, music or floral arrangements can also significantly lower costs.
Kaz Weida is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. Nicole Dow is a former senior writer.