Steps to Building a Wedding Budget

When Amy McCord Jones married her husband in 2018, she knew in advance how much she wanted to spend.

She figured that her wedding day was a time to splurge, but not overdo it. “It’s still just a five-hour event,” says McCord Jones, who has experience working as a wedding planner and floral designer. McCord Jones started with a budget of around $10,000 and named her nonnegotiable items, which included an Irish band. Ultimately, she spent around $14,000, says McCord Jones, who was married in Oklahoma City, on her wedding and brunch reception. Her guest list included about 120 friends and family.

[Read: Can Lying to Vendors Help You Avoid the ‘Wedding Markup’?]

Developing a wedding budget is one of the most important financial exercises an engaged couple can undertake. Understanding their financial priorities and limitations can help ensure that the wedding doesn’t land them in debt or result in financial fights with parents and each other. But coming up with a budget breakdown is easier said than done.

So if you’re looking to keep your wedding within a reasonable budget, don’t despair. There are steps you can follow to anticipate and trim costs. Here’s a step-by-step guide to building a wedding budget:

— Have the wedding budget conversation.

— Know your priorities.

— Don’t forget the small things.

— Build your budget.

— Give and take.

Read on for more information on each wedding budget-building step.

Have the Wedding Budget Conversation

A reasonable budget starts with an open conversation with your partner, parents and whoever else will contribute financially to the wedding.

Have this financial chat early, wedding planners say. “Know how you want to allocate the dollars, with some buffer, before you purchase anything or sign any contract,” says Tracie Domino, founder and creative director of Tracie Domino Events in Tampa, Florida.

Even if you think you won’t have many limitations placed on your spending, it’s worth doing some soul-searching. The couples who come to Jacqueline Hill’s event-planning company claiming they have “no budget” don’t truly mean it, she says. “People will have a number in mind that makes them cringe,” says Hill, owner of Jacqueline Events & Design in Dallas.

Know Your Priorities

Make a list of your top two or three priorities for the wedding. Is it important to you to have a large guest list? Delicious food and drink? An amazing band? Identify the facets of your wedding on which you’re willing to spend more to get them right. This will also help you understand the elements on which you can spend less.

Domino recommends ignoring the online budget calculators that suggest a percentage amount to assign to every major wedding expenditure. How much you’re able to spend on a category is up to you. You may want to go nuts with floral arrangements but cut back on live entertainment. You may want a bar stocked with top-shelf liquor but have access to free photography services from a friend. How you choose to prioritize costs is up to you, experts say.

[Read: Are Cash Wedding Registries Worth It?]

Don’t Forget the Small Things

When developing your budget, you may start with the big expenses such as the venue, menu and photographer. But don’t neglect the small costs, which can add up fast. For example, if your dress budget is $2,000, don’t forget to include fees for alterations, jewelry, shoes, new undergarments and a veil. Stamps, bridal party gifts, favors, guest books and cash tips get pricey, too.

You don’t have to know exactly how much each of those tiny add-ons will cost, but make a line in your budget for miscellaneous expenses that will crop up along the way. A little wiggle room will be key to making sure an unexpected fee doesn’t send your budget tipping over the edge. “I think you need a 5% to 10% buffer right in the budget,” Domino says.

Build Your Budget

Now that you know how much you’re willing to spend, start building your budget. This was roughly how McCord Jones’ budget, which ran about $14,000, broke down:

Venue: $800

Catering: $1,800 (brunch)

Wine and beer: $500

Dress: $1,500

Alterations: $300

Hair and makeup: $250

Irish band: $800

Cake: $600

Photography: $2,400

Videography: $900

Rentals: $300 to $500

Servers: $400

Coordinator: $1,200

Miscellaneous add-ons: $1,500

Flowers: $1,200 (arranged by the bride, who’s a florist)

This is an example of a $14,000 wedding, and yours may look very different, depending on your budget and priorities.

[Read: 4 Best Wedding Registry Sites and Stores for 2019.]

Give and Take

There are myriad ways to find wiggle room in your wedding budget. So don’t fret if a certain high-priority expense is costing more than expected. Wedding planners note that there are high-impact ways to cut back on costs.

One big cost-cutting measure: Slash the guest list. “Guest count is the easiest way,” Domino says. She notes that for every 10 guests you don’t invite, you save on 10 dinners and dozens of drinks, plus you also nix expenses associated with their table, including the centerpiece, chairs and menus. You’ll save on welcome gifts at the hotel, invitations, ceremony programs, save-the-dates and more.

Budget-conscious brides and grooms could opt to cut the entertainment — swapping a live band for a DJ. Or they could even skimp on design, making do with the tables, chairs and linens provided by a venue instead of renting their own.

One strategy to be wary of as a way to save money is do-it-yourself projects, experts say. “DIY is not budget-friendly, especially if you count your time into it,” Hill says. Unless you’re totally comfortable with a glue gun, or you know it won’t add stress to your day, make sure you approach any major DIY project thoughtfully and run down costs carefully.

It may ultimately cost you less, but the savings may not be worth your peace of mind.

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