How to set a wedding budget and stick to it
How much is a realistic wedding budget?
According to an Investopedia survey, American couples spent an average of about $20,000 on their weddings in 2021—a decrease of about $9,000 from the previous year, but still enough to buy a decent new car or pay for a year of tuition and board at your state’s flagship university.
Yet even with that five-figure budget, many brides and grooms will admit they still had to scale back their wish list to avoid spending even more—by inviting fewer people, having a cocktail reception instead of a sit-down dinner, or hosting the event in a park instead of a hotel ballroom.
Many of us expect a wedding to be the most perfect day of our lives, a day when every detail is the most beautiful it can be. This is a risky way to approach wedding planning—partly because there are so many opportunities for things to go wrong, but mostly because couples can wind up spending a lot more than they planned on.
The fact is, you can throw a pretty wonderful wedding for $10,000, $5,000, or even $1,000. (For that last amount, it helps if the bride already owns an appropriate dress, and you’re okay with a wedding reception that takes the form of dinner for 12 at a favorite restaurant.)
Start with a dollar figure and plan your wedding accordingly
Wedding planners generally advise that, no matter the size of your budget, you should plan to allocate your expenses along the following lines:
- 50% – venue, food, and drink (including your wedding cake)
- 12% – photography
- 9% – clothes, makeup, hair, and accessories
- 8% – décor
- 7% – entertainment
- 3% – wedding planner or coordinator
- 2% – invitations and thank-you cards
- 2% – officiant and license
- 2% – transportation
- 2% – wedding bands
- 2% – gifts for guests and attendants
If you’re absolutely certain that you’ll be happy with an MP3 player and a Bluetooth speaker instead of a live band or that you won’t need a wedding planner, congratulations! That’s more money for your food and drink budget. Now it’s time to see how to get the most bang for your buck with the items you do want.
Save money on your wedding venue by choosing the right date
You really can get married on a day other than Saturday and in a month other than June. In fact, your venue rental could be significantly less expensive if you choose to get married in January, March, April, or November. In addition, Mondays are generally the least expensive day of the week to rent a venue, with prices rising the closer you get to the weekend. Of course, it may be difficult for your out-of-town guests to make it to a Wednesday wedding—or for locals to make it to work the day after if you do it up right.
Save money at your reception by offering a limited selection of alcoholic beverages
If you plan to serve alcohol at your wedding, you don’t need to resort to a cash bar to keep it affordable. Consider limiting your selection to beer and wine only. If you can’t imagine getting married without sipping a Negroni because that’s what you drank on your first date, make them your signature cocktail. Mixing just one type of drink will make it easier on your bartender and minimize your total bar bill.
If you don’t plan to serve alcohol at your wedding, imagine the people who you know will grumble about the lack of booze, and then …
Save money on your reception by trimming your guest list
Think back on the weddings you’ve attended. Even setting aside the ceremonies where you served as someone else’s plus-one, you can probably think of a few where you were invited because your parents are friends with the couple’s parents, because you're good friends at work, or because the groom is your cousin, and your grandma would be sad if you weren’t there.
Cutting your guest list can be one of the most painful negotiations you’ll ever make with your spouse, your parents, and your in-laws. It’s also a guaranteed money-saver. Finally, choose carefully now, and maybe you won’t feel a pang 10 years from now when you realize the last time you saw your old college friends was at your wedding reception—that happens more often than you’d think.
Save money by skipping a fancy cake
Those multi-tiered wedding cakes are expensive—and after they're sliced, there’s not a lot of difference between them and any other cake. In fact, they’re as much décor as they are food—they cost more not because they taste better than regular cake, but because it’s a practical challenge to bake a single cake large enough to serve 50 people. Still want a dessert that will look lovely on display at your reception? Consider getting a tiered stand (or a couple!) and filling it with cupcakes.
Save money by understanding your priorities
While the guidelines above offer a good starting point for how you’ll spend your budget, take a look at your priorities. If you’ve always looked forward to wearing a beautiful custom-fitted dress that makes you feel like a princess, but you don’t care as much about floral centerpieces on every table, go ahead and adjust accordingly. If you’ve always imagined stepping out for your first dance as a live band plays "Wouldn’t It Be Nice", but you don’t care about fancy invitations, skip the save-the-date cards and multiple envelopes and choose a design from a big-box office supply store.
One more thing to keep in mind: Most couples are so busy preparing for the ceremony, posing for photos in their wedding finery, and visiting with guests that they actually have very little time to enjoy the food or the decorations. So, make sure you have a good photographer so you can enjoy the details later, remind yourself your guests aren't there for the food, and remember: You’re getting married to someone you love enough to imagine spending the rest of your lives together. Your day is already perfect.