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How to Create a Realistic Wedding Budget

Tips for Estimating and Planning Your Wedding Costs


Gramercy Park Hotel

Dave Robbins Photography

Dave Robbins Photography

For the newly engaged couple, establishing a wedding budget can be one of the most stressful parts about planning a wedding.  Money can be a source of anxiety for many and with the average cost of a wedding at $28,000, too often going over budget can lead to tension amongst family members and even the engaged couple themselves.  A realistic wedding budget can be the most useful tool for enjoying your wedding planning process.

Avoid Setting an Unrealistic Budget

Too often couples who often find themselves blowing their budget typically made one of two key mistakes: they begin planning the wedding and hiring vendors before they stopped to establish a budget or they decided on a set budget number arbitrarily without educating themselves on what their "dream wedding" might actually cost.  

Budgeting after you've began to spend money will almost always create havoc and a sense of regret: perhaps you booked a venue and only later realized it's taking up way to much of your wedding budget or you hired a cheaper DJ only to realize you had the money for the person  you had really wanted initially.   Similarly, deciding that you have exactly $28,000 to spend because you read that is the national average cost of a wedding, without understanding how that money gets spread out or what it buys you in your area is a recipe for frustration. 

But have no fear!  Here are two ways to create a truly realistic wedding budget.  

The Backing-in Budget

We say that someone is “backing in” to a budget when they know from the very beginning that they have a fixed amount of money to work with.  Maybe your parents have gifted you a set sum, or you have a set amount saved that you have in mind to spend. 

If you are backing into your budget, the best way to figure out HOW everything is going to be spent is as follows: first, decide if the dress is part of that amount (I suggest you omit the dress and honeymoon from your calculations). Then take what you have and divide it by the number of guests you think you will have. 

$30,000/ 125= $280pp

Then, take your per person figure and divide that by half.

$280/2= 140pp

You now have two magic numbers for your wedding.  The first is 140pp.  This is the number that you can spend for Venue, Catering, Staff, Alcohol, Tables, Chairs, Rentals as well as tax and service on the all of the above.  So, if you are looking at a venue where everything is included, you’ll want to be sure that the figure is about $120 or so per person BEFORE the tax and tip.  If you are looking at a “raw space” venue, don’t book the venue until you have gotten estimates on food and bar, staffing and rentals from a caterer. 

The rest of your money is dedicated to the rest of the day.  There are a ton of sites and tools for how you can spend that, but the truth is, you should decide what is really important to you and use that to gauge your budget priorities.  If you love flowers and know that you want a live band, you may want to split the rest of that money to Band and Entertainment (about 11%), Flowers (10%) Photography and Video (10-12%), Lighting (5%) Stationery (2.5%), Cake(2.5%), Transportation (1%), Day-of Coordinator (5%)  Gratuities (1%) And any surplus should sit in an emergency fund until the wedding is over. 

Building Up Budget

Sometimes people really don’t have ANY idea of what the wedding will cost OR what they are really working with for their wedding budget

If you don't know how much to spend on your wedding, you’re going to have to “Build Up” to your budget.  Browse websites of venues near you and go on a research expedition of sorts.  It’s almost always easier to get a barometer of your area’s wedding costs by calling hotels and all inclusive venues and getting a sense of the price per person.   Even if you think you want to rent an art gallery or a barn, it’s still good  to have a price per person for venue, food, beverage, rentals and staffing to build your budget against. 

Drop out the highest number and the lowest number and take the average.  Be sure to include tax and tip.  Multiply that number by the number of guests that you are thinking about having and  then double that.  This is your minimum working budget. 

                  185pp + tax and tip = 205 * 200= $41,000

You  have a “working budget” of $82,000

I say that it’s a working budget because until you lock in your F & B pricing, it’s hard to really say what your budget will be.  Also, it IS possible to produce the rest of your wedding for less than 50% of the F & B cost, but not common. Third, couples who most often go “over” budget, use the “build out” model.  This is partially because they tend to spend as things come up, vs. working against a set amount and working down.  

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