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Wedding planning: Budget, budget, budget

October 18, 2011

I say it three times because I believe it’s that important. Yes, more important than The Dress. No, probably not more important than the marriage but, believe me, planning and sticking to a budget for your wedding will be really good practice for your marriage. If you’ll remember, last Tuesday I talked about what to do first when it comes to planning your wedding. The first on the list? The budget.

Why is it so important?

I said this last week but I think it bears repeating. Weddings are FULL of expectations {some you didn’t realize you had until you dove in} so it’s helpful {for your sanity} to know what to expect up front. And by expect I mean afford. Before researching vendors, before dress shopping, before determining all the little decor elements you’re going to include, set your budget. And then research/plan accordingly. It will save you a lot of heartache–and will spare your credit card wallet.

Some couples are OK with going into debt for their wedding. But I urge you, if at all possible, steer clear of that trap. Finances are one of the biggest stressors and areas of conflict in marriage. You’ll be much better off not entering into it with that kind of baggage {I say this knowing full well that many people enter marriage with debt–heck, my husband and I have quite a bit of it–but in this case, it’s best to discuss it in detail and have a plan for paying it off}.

Now that I’ve given you all my little speech, let’s get into the actual planning part, shall we? {I promise, no more speeches.}

Determining the amount

Obviously in order to determine how much you can spend on your wedding you need to know who’s contributing. This may actually be THE most awkward part of wedding planning. But, hey, at least you get it over with in the beginning, right? In my opinion, the best way to ask is in person. I had to ask via Skype since my family lives in California but it worked and I think it was the most considerate long-distance option. How did we ask? Well, we described to our families that we wished to plan a wedding on a budget, that we didn’t want anything too extravagant, and that we would be very careful with the money given to us. Then we asked them to look at their finances and let us know in the next week what they thought they could contribute. They ended up providing us a dollar amount and we went from there.

You can also ask whether your parent/family member would be comfortable paying for a specific part of the wedding. Say, the catering or the flowers. I still think it’s best to ask for a dollar amount so you know the exact numbers you’re working with. With my husband’s family, we asked them to pay for the rehearsal dinner and they provided an amount they would able to spend on it.

Determining your contribution

I suppose this could be done before or after setting the budget but I think it’s absolutely necessary to sit down together and determine how much the two of you can afford to spend on the wedding. This includes the honeymoon {if you’re, in fact, paying for it and it’s not being gifted to you}. Consider your date and how much time you have to save. Consider the amount you already have in savings. Research additional ways of saving–like a bank CD or high-earning savings account {but be careful to look for any withdrawal penalties}. It’s important to get the most out of your money!

Setting the budget

Now that you know who’s paying for what and how much is being contributed, you can set your initial budget. I say initial because, in my experience, the numbers will change slightly as you go along. For example, if you set aside 3% of your budget for favors and gifts but a friend offers to make your favors for cheap then you’ll have additional money to allocate elsewhere. With that said, I do think it’s important to draft an initial budget and track it closely. Did you hear what I said? Track it closely. These things can get out of hand FAST. Remember, I’m speaking from experience here. I carried a notebook with me everywhere I went so I would know exactly how  much we were spending and where it was coming from. And you know what? It worked.

OK, you have your total amount. Now what? I suggest using the percentage guidelines offered by Real Simple Weddings, The Knot, Martha Stewart Weddings–they’re all pretty much the same. Here’s an example of the breakdown {I’m using Real Simple Weddings and The Knot}:

Reception: 48-50%





Attire: 8-10%


-Bridal accessories: veil, jewelry, undergarments


-Groom’s attire/accessories

Flowers/Decor: 8-10%



-Details: guest book, gift table decor, etc.


Music: 8-10%




Photography/Videography: 10-12%




Favors/Gifts: 2-3%


-Welcome bags for out-of-town guests

-Wedding party/family gifts

Ceremony: 2-3%

-Site fee

-Officiant fee

Stationery: 2-3%


-Invitation suite


-Seating cards/menus

-Thank You notes


Rings: 2-3%

Transportation: 1%

Obviously you’re allowed to alter those numbers based on your priorities but I think sticking with percentages is the way to go. It’s easy to visualize and manage. It’s also a very wise idea to pad your budget for miscellaneous costs and fees. Do this by either setting your total budget lower than what you actually have (Real Simple Weddings suggests 10-15% below) or allotting a separate category to Misc/Fees (The Knot suggests 5%). See? I told you things can get out of hand quickly.

Make it manageable

If your budget isn’t manageable, then it’s going to be overwhelming. And if it’s overwhelming chances are you’ll either have a panic attack at some point or you won’t stick to it. Neither are very good outcomes. So, make a spreadsheet on Excel, keep a notebook with you to track expenses, do whatever it takes to feel in control of your wedding finances. It will pay off, I promise.

Be gracious again and again

I don’t know about you but receiving that kind of money from our families to help plan our wedding was extremely humbling. Sending a thank you card and giving gifts didn’t seem like enough but it certainly helped to show our gratitude. However you choose to thank those contributing is up to you but it’s important–necessary–that you do so. If a family member is offering cash up front, it’s probably best to send a note upon receiving the money. It’s also a nice touch to communicate with that person as you spend the money so they can feel a part of it all. If, instead, a family member offers to pay for a specific aspect, then send a note after the purchase has been made. And be gracious. Over and over and over again.


What are your thoughts on all this, readers? What has been your experience with the financial aspect of wedding planning? Any insight or wisdom you can provide? Any questions you have? Really, I’d love to hear.


Photo via Style Me Pretty.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 18, 2011 1:27 pm

    Here’s to being smart-there’s no sense in planning a wedding you simply can’t afford! I couldn’t agree more than determining your costs should be first on the list when you dive into planning-how heartbreaking to realize that the venue you love or dress you covet really isn’t going to work after all!

  2. October 18, 2011 8:18 pm

    I just got engaged and found your tips VERY helpful. Thanks for sharing! xo style, she wrote


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