Wedding Budgets 101: How to Create a Wedding Budget

Having Trouble with Your Wedding Budget?

Did you know that, on average, American weddings cost $33,931? And that’s just the middle of the road. Extravagant American weddings cost hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars.

How much are you planning to spend?

Don’t worry, you won’t have to spend millions of dollars to pull off an epic wedding. The key to any great wedding is in the planning. If you nail that, you and your guests are guaranteed a night that’ll go down in history.

And your planning must start with your budget. It’ll determine which features are a wedding-do and which are a wedding-don’t. But what if you’re having trouble creating a budget?

Don’t worry, we’re here to help.

The sections below outline everything you need to create your perfect budget. Stop and take a deep breath. Now exhale, relax your shoulders, and read on.

Wedding Budgets 101

Did you know that the average cost for an engagement rings cost $6,163? That’s not even calculated into the costs of the actual wedding. Rings fall under the “pre-wedding” category along with things like the restaurant bill for your proposal dinner.

Your wedding budget breakdown should include only your rehearsal dinner, wedding, and reception. If you’d like to keep track of your bachelor or bachelorette party, we recommend you keep that separately.

That’s one of our foremost wedding planning tips. Are you scratching your head, wondering why? It’s because bachelor and bachelorette parties are traditionally thrown by the best man or maid of honor. That means that, by their nature, they’re outside of your control.

Focus instead on things inside your sphere of influence. You can hunt for affordable wedding venues, and you can order your Ben and Jerry’s ice cream wedding cake with caramel and hot fudge drizzle. Psst… don't forget the sprinkles.

Who's Paying for this Thing?

Long dead are the days when a bride’s parents covered the wedding costs as part of her dowry. For that matter, long dead are the days of the dowry. And even the bride in some cases.

Hello, same-sex marriages.

Couples of all ages and sexual orientations celebrate their new marriages every day across the country. But who’s paying for all this stuff anyway? Where are the wedding funds coming from?

In your case, it’s a question you and your fiancé will have to answer yourselves. Sit down together and write a list of people who plan to help out. The usual suspects include parents, close relatives, and yourselves.

Next, hop on the phone and have a wedding-contribution conversation. As for specifics including a contribution estimate or range of estimates. Hold the same conversation with anyone you think will back the wedding.

When you finish, you should have a rough idea of how much money is on the table. Remember, everything will cost more than you originally estimate. It’s just the nature of weddings.

While you’re talking to your contributors, pay close attention to any requests. It’s not unusual for people to want to pay for specific elements, such as your rehearsal dinner or wedding cake. Keep those requests in mind, so you can a lot that money to that element.

For instance, let’s assume your mom wants to pay for your wedding dress. She’s willing to provide $10,000 for the item. Now you know that you not only have one seriously kick-butt mom but also $10,000 dedicated to your dress.

Then add that to your wedding budget spreadsheet. After you finish adding the rest of the special requests, you’ll see how much is left over for the rest of your big event.

Calculate Your Totals

After you figure out how much people are chipping in, you can get down to the nitty-gritty. You can now calculate approximately how much you can spend in each category.

  • Reception

  • Photographer

  • Wedding Planner

  • Dresses and Tuxedos

  • Ceremony

  • Other

You’ll break down each category into its constituent parts later, but for now, continue thinking in broad strokes. If you find yourself thinking, “but we’ll never make it on this budget,” then you can take one of two approaches. Each has been tested successfully by millions of brides and grooms, so you know the methods are dependable.

The first method is to change your approach to your wedding. Decide that you’re going to work with what you have and change your wedding goals.

Maybe your friend will marry you on the beach rather than the archbishop marrying you in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Perhaps your guest list will include 30 people instead of the 300 that you originally intended. We’ll talk a little more about this option in the next section.

But before that, let’s finish discussing the second option. It’s a little easier to describe but has longer lasting effects.

Take out a wedding loan. If you and your fiancé absolutely must have your dream wedding, loans are always an option. Use a loan that covers all your wedding costs with an additional 10% for unexpected hiccups.

Decide What’s Nonnegotiable

You and your fiancé may have different ideas about what’s important. Most couples do, so you actually need to sit down and have this conversation.

Now is the time you can break your wedding categories into further sections. You don’t have to put a price next to anything, but you should have a 10,000-foot view of what your wedding looks like. Highlight the elements you know will be costly.

Now figure out which of those elements you absolutely can’t live without. Mark those in red.

Take a look at the highlighted items that aren’t marked red. What would your wedding look like without them? Does it give you a different vision for your wedding?

Once you have all the items you absolutely can’t live without, draw up a quick budget that includes only those elements. Can you cover that budget with your projected contributions?

If so, continue adding separate wedding features until you reach 90% to 93% of your projected contributions. You should always leave a little wiggle room for unexpected wrenches that get thrown at you. That’s the norm for weddings.

What’s Next?

Now that you know the key strategies to use when creating your wedding budget, it’s time to sit down with your fiancé. Start with the conversation about possible contributors. Then pick up the phone; it’s time to start calling.


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