Every time I start working with a new couple I ask them what part of the planning process feels big, scary or like an obstacle. At least 9 times out of 10, the first answer is “staying on budget.” Let’s face it – budgeting for a wedding can be really tough, and sticking to the budget can be even tougher. It’s no wonder that nearly half of couples admit to spending more on their wedding than they had planned to.
As a wedding planner, it’s my duty to help my couples set realistic budgets that help them honor their wedding priorities. And now I’m helping you do the same thing. So how do I help my couples build (and stick) to their budgets? Let’s dive in.
Step 1: Where is the money coming from?
While tradition used to dictate that a majority of the wedding finances were provided by parents of the couple, today’s weddings often look a little different, with money coming from several different sources. The first step in setting up your wedding budget is getting an honest look at where the money for the wedding is coming from.
If you and your partner are paying for the wedding, have you agreed on a set amount you’re willing to spend? Are you willing to save over the coming months to contribute more into the wedding fund? Get clear on your expectations with each other.
If money is being contributed by others (perhaps parents or other family members), first say thank you! Make sure all contributions to the wedding fund are acknowledged and appreciated. Second, be sure to get a clear understanding of how much the other party(s) are contributing, and what (if any) expectations come with that money. For example, if a parent is contributing money towards the wedding and feels strongly that their entire extended family should be included on the guest list, best to know those things now.
Step 2: What is going to be included in your budget?
No two weddings are exactly alike, and no two wedding budgets look alike! My couples vary widely in what items are included (and excluded) from their wedding budgets. For example, many of my couples consider their attire to be “outside” expenses and don’t include them in the wedding budget. Others will include their attire but consider the rehearsal dinner and morning after brunch “outside” of the budget. Get clear on what is – and what is not – included in your official wedding budget.
Step 3: Prioritize!
The best way to set a budget that you can actually stick to? PRIORITIZE. Know what parts of the wedding matter to you and your partner most, and put your money to work on those items, and economize on the things that don’t matter quite as much. To get you started, here are 8 aspects of the wedding you can rank in order of importance to you, starting at most important and going to least important. I recommend tackling this list first on your own, and then compare your lists to see where your priorities differ. Talk through this in detail and then make a ranking of priorities that you can both agree on and stick to.
- Food + Drink
- Guest Comfort Items – Welcome Bags, Favors, Shuttles, Access to Hotel Rooms, etc.
- Photography + Videography
- Attire + Grooming
- Florals + Decor
- Invites + Paper Goods
As tempting as it might be to skip this step, DON’T! It is SO important to commit to the things that matter most to you and the things that don’t matter as much. This will help you set your budget targets in a way that works for you. It may not look like anyone else’s budget, and that’s totally OK.
Step 4: Do Some Research.
Here’s where my budgeting strategy differs from what you’ll find online. If you’ve been looking around articles in wedding land for more than an hour, my guess is that you’ll have come across a recommended budget breakdown that looks something like this: “10% for flowers, 5% for attire, 10% for photography, 2.5% for shuttles, etc.” While these percentage breakdowns can be a helpful starting point, the truth is that these numbers don’t really represent anything – they’re just guesses.
I don’t want you budgeting for your wedding based on guesses and percentages. I want you budgeting based on REAL numbers and REAL costs. What you’ll need to do in this step is to a) get a sense of what items + services you are going to need and b) get in touch with the kinds of vendors you want to work with and get estimates from them based on the things you’re looking for.
I won’t lie to you – this is a BIG step and it does take time. To help you out, I made The Canvas Weddings Budget Builder + Guide, which walks you through this process step by step. It includes a spreadsheet with TONS of built in calculations and exhaustive lists of just about everything you could possibly need. If you commit to using this tool, I promise you will have the most realistic picture of what the wedding you are envisioning will cost you. For a limited time, I am offering this resource for just $27.
Step 5: Set the Budget
Now that you are armed with all of the details of what the things you are envisioning will actually cost, I want you to compare the budget projections for the things you are wanting to the amount you have set as your wedding fund.
Chances are that with everything you want, you are looking at a figure that is over your total wedding fund. THAT IS NORMAL. Nearly every wedding I work on has to economize in some parts of the wedding. If you are looking at a total that is beyond your wedding fund, now is the time to get out your agreed upon list of priorities and start to allocate your funds accordingly.
Start with your top 2 priorities. Say for example, those were food + beverage and photography + videography. Based on the quotes and estimates you received from the vendors you were in touch with, what would you need to spend in those categories to get the experience you are after? Budget for those. Then move to the next two items on your priority ranking. Let’s say those were the venue and entertainment. Is there a venue that has similar features to your dream venue, but costs a little less that you can book? Could you save some money by hiring a DJ instead of a live band for entertainment? These are the categories where you still want to invest in something you’ll enjoy, but with some economies.
Finally, when it comes to your lowest-ranked priority items, see where you can economize without jeopardizing the experience. If invites and paper goods are a low priority for you, budget yourselves for invites you can order online instead of opting for custom suites. If florals + decor are not as important to you, try staging your ceremony in front of a gorgeous tree or backdrop at your venue and maybe skip the fancy arch with florals, or opt for more candles than florals in your centerpieces. When you find yourselves wanting to spend more in lower-ranked priority categories, remind yourselves of what REALLY matters to you, and stick to your guns.
When you’ve finished analyzing your budget based on the data and reviewing the figures against your priorities, you should be left with a budget that works for YOU.
Step 6: Track the Budget
Sadly, wedding budgets are not a “set it and forget it” thing. Once you’ve set your wedding budget, it’s time to start tracking the budget. The greatest enemy of your wedding budget is something I like to call “budget creep.” Budget creep happens when smaller wedding expenses add up and up, and when left unchecked, you can suddenly find yourselves over budget.
The best way to keep budget creep at bay is to regularly records your expenses. To help you with this, I’ve created the Canvas Weddings Budget Tracker, which is a FREE spreadsheet full of calculations so you can see how your budget is progressing and where things may need to be adjusted over time. (Note -the tracker comes with the purchase of the Budget Guide, so if you’ve already purchased that, you’ll get the Tracker as well!)
I hope this was helpful for you as you start to navigate the wide world of wedding budgets. Needs some help with budgeting? Hit me up. I’d love to help you.