Calculating your wedding budget is no small task, and your wedding may be the most expensive party you’ve ever thrown. The average cost of a wedding in 2022 was $27,800, up from around $24,000 before the pandemic, and without proper budget preparation, you can easily go overboard.
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Underestimating the cost of things can make you overspend during the planning process, especially with inflation and competition from postponed weddings driving up prices. To make your dream wedding a financial reality, create a wedding budget early on and stick to it.
Whether you have a budget of $100 or $100,000, there are some general rules that can assist you in determining what you can afford to spend and where you should save or splurge. Although it may be difficult, putting in the time and effort now ensures that you will live happily ever after without wedding debt. Here’s a comprehensive guide on how to establish a wedding budget that you can adhere to.
Count the Contributions Then Your Own
Identifying who will contribute to your wedding budget is a crucial first step in determining your overall budget. Whether it’s just you and your partner, or your parents and other family members are willing to help, understanding who is eager to contribute can be beneficial.
It’s important to determine how much each person is willing to contribute, or which specific aspect of the wedding they’d like to take care of. For instance, perhaps your grandmother wants to buy your wedding dress or bridesmaid robes. Money conversations can be uncomfortable, but knowing who will contribute is essential in establishing your financial plan. It’s important to approach these conversations respectfully and be prepared to hear that someone may not be able to contribute.
After making it clear how much others would contribute to your wedding, especially those that you’re confident will come through, look into your own—your existing personal savings and how much you can add to them. Assess how much you and your partner can realistically afford to spend given your current expenses and how much you can save between now and the wedding based on your monthly income.
After accounting for necessary expenses, such as student loan payments, aim to save up to 10 percent of your earnings each month. Consider setting up a direct deposit into a separate account designated for wedding expenses to ensure that funds are consistently being set aside. This way, you can avoid relying solely on leftover funds.
Have at least three months’ worth of living expenses set aside for emergencies, separate from retirement funds. Subtracting this emergency fund from your total balance will give you an estimate of how much you can afford to allocate toward your wedding expenses.
Create a Spreadsheet
Creating a spreadsheet to track your wedding expenses is essential. The spreadsheet should have three columns: Estimated, Modified, and Actual. The Estimated column should include costs determined through research of average prices in your area, while the Modified column should include vendor proposals. The Actual column should include the final amount paid to each vendor.
After receiving proposals from vendors, adjust your estimates accordingly. Start by focusing on the venue, as it’s the biggest expense and affects guest count. Be sure to verify whether tax is included in the vendor’s estimates, and adjust as needed.
Include a column for estimated gratuity, and note whether it’s already included in the vendor’s price. Add an “Extras” line item to cushion unforeseen costs, such as invitation postage or plating fees, which should be equal to 15 percent of your total budget. Keep this money aside for unexpected expenses that may arise during the planning process.
Determine the Number of Guests
To get a rough estimate of your wedding expenses, it’s important to determine how many guests you’ll be inviting. The size of your venue, as well as the amount of food and drinks you’ll need, will all depend on the number of people attending.
Keep in mind that your wedding expenses will increase as your guest count increases, and it’s helpful to view the cost on a per-person basis. In addition to food and drinks, you’ll also need to account for things like invitations, rental furniture, wedding favors, and other expenses that are based on the number of guests.
Prepare for Surprises
Be prepared for unexpected costs before you sign any vendor contracts or make any purchases for gift bags. Make sure to read the fine print carefully, as even small expenses can add up quickly. If you’re hiring an out-of-town band or photographer, you may need to pay for their transportation, so double-check the contract.
Cleanup fees and overtime rates may also apply, depending on when your reception ends. Be aware of the cost of signature drinks and spirits, which can add up to $3,500 for a 200-person wedding. Some photographers may charge up to $1,200 for digital access to your wedding photos.
To save money, consider DIY options, such as inviting your bridesmaids over to stuff envelopes instead of paying up to $7 per invite. Event planners can be expensive, with full-service designers charging up to $25,000 or 20% of the total budget for a Kardashian-worthy event. However, a day-of coordinator costs an average of $1,000. Be sure to factor in the cost of a coordinator before you enlist their services, as many venues require you to hire an in-house coordinator or bring in your own.
Identify Your Must-Haves
It’s common for couples to have different ideas about which aspects of their wedding should be prioritized. For example, one person may prefer an extravagant five-course meal while the other wants to invest in an open bar. Or the bride might choose to splurge on a thousand-dollar wedding lace robes and save on other aspects.
The key is to determine your individual non-negotiables. Ask yourselves: what is the one item or service that you absolutely can’t do without on your wedding day? Once you’ve identified your must-haves, allocate funds for those items first.
If you have the budget for it, you can select more than one priority item. By budgeting for your must-haves first, you’ll have a better understanding of how much money you can allocate toward other wedding expenses that aren’t as important to you.
Be Responsible with Your Credit Card Usage
Avoid going overboard with your credit cards, no matter how tempted you are to increase your cash flow. It’s better not to charge anything that you won’t be able to pay off in 30 days. However, if you qualify for a card with a zero percent purchase APR, you can avoid interest payments by paying your entire balance within a certain time frame (usually 12 to 15 months).
If you should use a credit card, plan for how you will pay off your balance before using it. For example, register for cash gifts that you can use to cover a portion of the wedding and establish a savings plan to cover the rest. If you do use a credit card, choose one with a good cashback program.
Find Ways to Cut Costs
If you’ve overspent on your wedding, there are several ways to reduce your expenses meaningfully. Change the location. While barns and lofts may seem like a bargain, they may not be wedding-ready and require additional spending on furniture, tableware, and other equipment. Let people pledge for other aspects, such as the bridal party attire, from the mother of the bride robe to flower girl dresses.
Before you commit, compare the total cost of hosting your wedding at the venue with the cost of hosting at a different location that includes everything you need. Edit the guest list. Each guest costs more than just their meal when you consider all the additional expenses, such as invitations, welcome bags, and transportation.
To save money, reduce the guest list, and be ruthless with your A-list. Choose an off-peak time. Consider a winter wedding, a Friday or Sunday celebration, or even a brunch instead of an expensive dinner. Give yourself more time. Negotiating with vendors becomes easier when you have more time.
If you need to save money, extend your engagement to give yourself more flexibility. Host the ceremony and reception in one location. This could save you up to $4,000 on transportation for the wedding party and guests. Skip the live band. While big-name bands can be costly, hiring a DJ is a more affordable option. Take care of your paper items yourself. Order your own wedding invitations and other paper items and print them at home to save on costs. Even if you use a stationer, assembling and sending them yourself can save you money.
Although creating a wedding budget breakdown may not involve spreadsheets and algebra, it will require some list-making and basic number-crunching. Setting a budget can be challenging, but it is arguably the most crucial part of wedding planning, so be sure to allot adequate time for it.