How to Budget for a Wedding - Without Breaking the BankThe Newlywed Notebook

The Newlywed Notebook



March 2013

How to Budget for a Wedding (Without Breaking the Bank)

Written by Lindsay Ropella

The wedding budget can be one of the most challenging and stressful parts of the wedding planning process. Whether you and your fiance are paying for the entire wedding by yourself, if is being hosted by your parents, or if is a joint effort – making everyone happy can certainly be difficult. Today I want to talk about how to budget for your wedding in a way to make sure you don’t go over the set amount you want to spend. First, I will talk about the general guidelines for setting up your wedding budget, then I will mention pitfalls to avoid, and last I will talk about what to do when you realize your starting to go over budget.

General Guidelines for Setting Up Your Wedding Budget

First you will need to talk with everyone who is contributing to the wedding and what they are willing to spend. Set this up like a formal meeting – it may seem silly but it will certainly help cut back on “misunderstanding” later on. Take notes – some family members may only want to contribute to certain areas of the wedding. For example, Grandma may be willing to give a certain amount toward the wedding dress and Mom may be willing to give a certain amount toward the reception or wedding flowers.

Next, tally up the total amount you have to put toward you wedding from all those contributing. Now it is time to start on the actual budget breakdown. Decide on your recording method. My personal opinion is that it is easiest to do this all in an excel spreadsheet; however, if you are more comfortable with the traditional paper and pencil method that is fine too. Below is a graph of the wedding breakdown and what percentages should be spent on each area of the wedding.

wedding budget breakdown


50% of the wedding budget should go toward the Reception. This category includes things like: reception site fee, reception music, caterer, china rental, linens, decorations, guest gifts, centerpieces, and the wedding cake.

10% of the wedding budget should go towards Photography. This is definitely are area in which you will not want to skimp. Photography also includes videography, engagement photographs, and proofs.

4% of the wedding budget should go towards Invitations. This also includes stamps, response cards, envelopes, ceremony programs, and thank you cards.

10% of the wedding budget should go towards the Bridal Attire. This includes the dress, veil, accessories, plus hair and makeup appointments.

Another 10% of the wedding budget should go towards Flowers. This area includes flowers for centerpieces, ceremony site decorations, bouquets for the girls, boutonnières for the guys, and corsages for the guests of honor.

Another 10% of the wedding budget should be spent on wedding ceremony music. If you are using actual musicians, this can get pricey so make sure you budget accordingly. This area should also include the fee for them to be present at the wedding rehearsal.

Finally, you want to save about 5 or 6% of your budget for miscellaneous things that come up (because they will). You may need to spend part of this on transportation, areas in which you go over budget, or even for things like honeymoon items.

{You may have noticed I did not include the grooms attire, wedding party attire, or wedding attendant/parent gifts in the budget breakdown. That is because the groom and wedding party attendants typically pay for their wedding attire themselves. Additionally, wedding attendant gifts/parent gifts are thought to be personal gifts from the bride and groom, thus paid for with the bride and groom’s personal finances, and are also not considered part of the wedding budget}.


Pitfalls to Avoid

There are a few brief pitfalls that I feel like many (if not most) brides encounter as they plan their wedding (and definitely need to be avoided). The first is letting others control the budget. What can often happen is family and friends getting so excited about the wedding they become a little to involved in the actual wedding budget. For example, your Grandma just LOVES flowers and thinks that you should spare no expense when it comes to the beautiful flowers you choose to have present at your special day. Now, if flowers are very important to you as well, then that’s’ great! But if you aren’t as picky about flowers as your Grandma may be, then you need to realize that if you blow your budget in the flower area of your breakdown you are going to be very unhappy. Just like your aunt wanting you to have top sirloin steak as a meal option, when you would be just as happy serving chicken and fish. You may feel bad about having to be hard on loved family members and friends at some points, but if you don’t have a wedding planner, it is the bride’s job to be the leader of the wedding planning process (and that includes the budget).

Another pitfall to avoid is not keeping accurate details of your wedding spending. You may think that spending $5 here on an extra vase and $10 here on some extra candy for you wedding buffet isn’t a big deal and not crucial to write down, but these small purchases can add up very quickly and really mess with your overall budget.


What to do When you Start Going Over Budget

At one point or another, all brides will begin to realize that they are overspending in one area or anther of the overall wedding budget. Now, this is not the time to throw up your hands and say “to hell with it!” – you just need to reorganize your spending.

Let’s try an example. Let’s say that your overall wedding budget is $20,000. That would mean that your bridal attire should not exceed $2,000. Now, let’s imagine that as you were shopping for your bridal gown you found your “dream dress” for the grand old price of $1700. Well, you know that by the time you buy the veil, shoes, jewelry, and garter, and pay for your hair, nail, and makeup appointments you are going to be about $250 over your allocated limit. That’s ok – you just need to figure out which of the other 5 areas is not as important to you (no – you can not take it out of the misc. section). Let’s say that you decide you can live with getting a few less expensive flowers for the decorations at the church (can you tell flowers are not my thing?). You need to let your florist know that instead of having $2000 (10%) to spend on wedding flowers, you are going to have $1750 instead. This can work with any of the different categories of your wedding budget breakdown. Just make sure that you are making these cuts enough time ahead of the wedding so that you are not stuck dealing with an upset wedding vendor who is being informed too late that their budget is being cut.

One note about the miscellaneous category – DO NOT take money out of this area to cover the costs of going over budget early in the wedding planning process. These funds should be saved for the last 15 to 90 days of the wedding planning process for unexpected charges, or for purchases unaccounted for, or if you do end up going over budget in a certain area in the last few months before the wedding.

Lastly, if you realize you need to cut back in certain areas but are unsure of exactly how to do so, here are a few ideas that may help:

– Use your local resources. Hire seniors from your local culinary school to bake your cake (make sure they have some sort of license, if necessary for your venue), hire music majors from your local university to perform at the ceremony. Often times these students will do it very cheap (or even free!) for the experience and the exposure.
– Use silk flowers for ceremony site decor. Often times the ceremony is so short and guests are so far away from the flowers no one will ever know anyway.
– Join forces with another bride in the area who is getting married soon. Are you both using glass vases for your centerpieces? Why not splitting the cost of them, and then reselling them after both weddings and sharing the profits?
– Buy in bulk as much as possible. This applies for many things including cake, flowers, candy, favors, napkins, bubbles, silk petals, river rock, etc.


I sincerely want to thank you for stopping by! If you liked this post, I would love for you to share it with your friends and followers on Facebook and Pinterest (share buttons located below). Also, if you have any tips of your own for how to save money while planning a wedding we would all love for you to leave your ideas in the comments below! Let’s all help each other out!

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Find more posts like this in Wedding + Planning
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Wedding Ceremony Programs – Nice and Simple
How to Create the Wedding Seating Chart 101


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  • Nikki Rudolph

    When we get engaged I am definitely looking to you and your blog for help :) you’re such a natural at this Lindsay!

    • Lindsay Ropella

      Thanks, Nikki! I realy enjoy doing it and am so glad others are finding it helpful! :)

  • Stacey M

    I am just wondering under which category does the budget cover the celebrant/officiant or church costs (ie.donation, etc).
    Much thanks

    • Lindsay Ropella

      Hi Stacey! Great question. The “music” category really should be renamed something like “ceremony attendants” because the cost of both the ceremony officiant as well as ceremony musicians should come from this category (in my example budget, anyway). I realized as I reread this post I never touched on that, so thank you for bringing it to my attention. I didn’t really get into the cost of a ceremony space because it is so different for so many people, but I probably should have. My thoughts on that are that some people who make a donation to their church to use the space for the ceremony like to have it not be a part of the actual budget. This is so that they can consider it more of a “gift” or “thank you” to their church. However, if you would like to budget it into the total cost of the wedding, or if you are paying for a ceremony space (say outdoors, or an alternative site) I would budget 5% of your budget toward this cost. My recommendation would be to take it out of the reception category and reduce that to 45% of the budget. That is just my take on budgeting for the ceremony space – of course there are many other great options and opinions out there. Thanks so much for brining that up and thanks so much for stopping by! Happy Friday! :)

  • Anonymous

    You forgot some important things, like alcohol/drinks, food, and tax/service charges/gratutie\s (these REALLY add up quickly). Also, transportation and commissioner and marraige licence fees.

    • Lindsay Ropella

      Hi there, thanks so much for you comment. Actually, if you notice in the reception section, I do have caterer listed. This is where things like food, drinks (if the groom’s family is not paying for them, which many times they do), and gratuity changes would be included. You’re right, there really is so much that goes into a wedding reception, that’s why that area eats up such a large chunk of the wedding budget! Of course, there are ways to cut back if the reception is not a priority to you and your partner. Many people don’t consider elaborate transportation for the wedding a necessity, but for those of us that do, I think that’s a great way to spend some of your “miscellaneous” funds. In Wisconsin, a wedding license is only around $150, so most couples just pay that out of pocket. Of course, there are many different ways to split up a wedding budget, this is just what I find to be most common, and what worked best for me! Thanks so much for you comment – as always, if you have any other questions I can help with just let me know!!