Starting a Wedding Budget

You’re engaged – now what?

You need to work through the Initial Checklist and start the all important wedding budget!

The wedding industry is a multi-billion dollar one: around £10 Billion annually in the UK, US$51 Billion in the States, and who knows how much in New Zealand… but the “average” wedding budget in NZ is $35,000 – it’s no small sum.

I even shared my wedding budget and a friend of mine shared her wedding budget– so you can see exactly what it all cost.

how to start your wedding budget

It can be a pretty scary thought – for many couples, a wedding is the first time you and your fiancé will have ever had to plan a huge event, let alone save for and pay for it.

I suggest that instead of thinking of the wedding you want, and wondering how you’ll afford it, work out what you can spend, and then figure out what kind of wedding that will mean for you. If your expectations and budget don’t match, there’s plenty you can do to bring them closer together.

Savings + Budget = Wedding Date

You can’t do much before you’ve got a wedding budget, at least in draft. Even the date itself is contingent on the budget – depending on whether you’ll be saving for the wedding, and whether you want to save money with an off-peak wedding.

While you might think planning a wedding a year in advance gives you plenty of time to budget and save, as soon as you want to lock in a venue, photographer or caterer, the demands for deposits come rolling in too. For example, you’re likely to be asked for up to 50% of the wedding venue fee, 30% of the photographer’s, 20% of the caterer’s… etc etc!

What’s the magic number? (And where’s it coming from)

Of course, you don’t have to set a wedding budget of $35,000 just because that’s the NZ average, I know of brides in New Zealand who have pulled the entire day together for less than a $5,000 budget, so sit down with your fiance to have a serious wedding budget talk, and work out how much you can put aside each week for the nuptials.

If you’ve worked this out, cut straight to the wedding budgeting tips below!

  • ParentsMany parents still choose to assist and financially support their children’s weddings so sit down and have a conversation with each of yours as early as possible. This is also the key time to discuss with them what and how they will be helping. Make sure you both understand how much they can give you, whether it’s a loan, advance on inheritance, or gift, and what they expect in return (e.g. inviting their friends as guests, Church wedding, control over details such as invitations, etc). While any offer to contribute is generous, if you feel like your parents may try to exercise too much control over the whole event in exchange for their contribution, a good alternative to accepting a lump sum is for them to pay the cost of something specific (food and drink, perhaps, if they want to invite a lot of people). Then, they can only reasonably expect to have any level of control over that aspect of the wedding, rather than having carte blanche choice over your big day.
  • Homeowners: If you’re already mortgaged to the hilt, planning for the wedding budget too can seem impossible. However, while you already have significant outgoings, you might be in luck! We’ve been lucky enough to have support from our bank, who can lend us a little bit more on our mortgage to contribute towards the wedding budget. I’m not saying that you should ‘go into debt’ to pay for your wedding, but the reality is that if you have a mortgage, you’re already in debt, and you may be able to work with your bank to make it work in a way that you can afford.
  • Savings: Beyond parental contributions and the option to add to the mortgage, it’s between the two of you to save for the wedding, so get serious about figuring out how much you have to spend. Look to what you can put away per week over the next year (or more) and be strict if you need to be.  Sit down with your partner and figure out how much money you are ready, willing, and comfortable spending out of your own money.


Once you know what you’ve got to spend, think about the wedding you want to have

You may have been dreaming of this day your whole life, and know exactly what you want – but how does that fit with the budget you’ve allocated? Look at the cost of a real wedding (mine) and if possible, talk to friends about theirs, and work out how you might do things differently to spend more or less.

Another number that needs to be crunched at this point is your guest count. If you haven’t already, open an excel spreadsheet and begin writing in all the names of those you’d like to invite. The number of guests you plan to invite will make a huge impact on your wedding budget. If you can’t afford your dream day with the 150 people on your list, perhaps consider a smaller guest list (as we did).


Instead of seeing wedding-planning as a hugely expensive process where everything blows the budget, it’s sensible to make a list of priorities – things you’re willing to splurge on, and others you’re more prepared to save money on. You and your partner should each pick your top three priorities for the wedding day.

She Said Yes Wedding Blog NZ Official Photographers

For us, the wedding dress was a splurge, the flowers a save – ensure you and your fiance are on the same page. Having this short list of priorities is just a good idea so that you can focus a little more money, or time, or energy, on the things that are most important to the two of you.

It doesn’t mean you can’t have beautiful everything, but it can allow you to budget accordingly, and allocate funds to the ‘compromisable’ once the ‘non-negotiables’ are taken care of.

Whatever your financial position, I have a really good excel spreadsheet to use for your wedding budget within the little white planning pack, as well as budgetting pages in the little white book. The bundle includes both of those. 


Get Real

You should now have a starting number of guests, an idea of how much money you’ll spend, and a vision of what your wedding might look and feel like. With these pieces of information, it’s time to start finding out if it’s all possible. What does $10,000 mean when you’re going to feed 100 people, for example, is a good place to start.

If your original plans and your numbers don’t match after doing some quick research, take some time to re-evaluate – the “Get Real” phase. Can you spend more money to make your ideal wedding happen? (And more importantly, do you want to?) Can you change the type of venue or overall look and feel of your wedding to make it fit your budget? Are there elements you could ask friends to help with, etc. Remember, DIY can be time consuming, and your time is also valuable (and it doesn’t always save money). There’s probably things you can even leave out altogether, if they’re not important to you (centrepieces, anyone?).

You might also like to look at a real wedding budget breakdown – see mine here and Amanda’s $17,000 wedding as well as these few I found online:

Registry office – $1,950

  • Venue/Officiant: $150 for a thirty minute slot at a Registry Office for you and up to six guests, officiant included
  • Attire: $200 dress; $100 suit
  • Flowers: $100 for one bouquet and one boutonnière
  • Photographer: $800 for a quick one-hour session of ceremony plus portraits
  • Delicious restaurant lunch and drinks for eight: $600

The Backyard Bash – $2,580

  • Venue/Officiant: Free and a family/friend
  • Attire: Casual backyard bash attire
  • Flowers and decor: $250 DIY
  • Rentals: $300 for a few supplemental chairs, tables, and linens
  • Dessert for 50: $200, plus donated food from family and friends
  • Photographer: $1000
  • Bubbles and iced tea for 50: $200
  • Canapes for 50: $500
  • Music: $0 for iPod and borrowed speakers

Outdoor venue with a sit-down-meal $10,150

  • Venue: $2200 including chairs and tables
  • DJ: $800
  • Food and Alcohol: $5000 for 75 guests including dessert
  • Attire: $350 dress; $150 suit
  • Decor: $500 including DIY flowers
  • Photographer: $1200

A modest, casual wedding at $15,000

  • Venue: $800
  • Rentals: $1500 for chairs, tables, linens, and basic lighting
  • Attire: $700 dress and shoes; $250 suit
  • Alcohol: $1400
  • Catering: $5,000 for a full buffet plus a late night snack 
  • DJ: $2,000
  • Photographer: $3000
  • Decor: $500 for candles and flowers

Full service for 60 guests – $20,000

  • Venue and Full-Service Catering: $12,000, including food, alcohol, tables, chairs, and staff for 60 guests
  • Photography: $2,000
  • Wedding Planner: $2,000
  • Invitations: $800
  • Attire: $800 dress; $150 suit
  • Flowers and Decor: $1,200
  • DJ: $1,000

Wedding Budget tips:

If the Wedding Budget is small, there are plenty of ways to have a beautiful wedding, consider:

Save $$$

  • A Destination Wedding might offer a cheaper reception, food and alcohol
  • Choose a Venue which won’t need a lot of decorating
  • Have a cocktail ceremony, rather than a sit-down meal (which opens up your venue options too)
  • A Smaller Guest-List will obviously mean a smaller bill, as will a small Bridal Party 
  • Food and Alcohol are the biggest expense, so a shorter afternoon-tea wedding will be cheaper (see brunch wedding)
  • A winter wedding will get you off-peak discounts
  • Delaying the Wedding until you can save more
  • Be clear about your budget — and stick to it. If vendors know up front what you can spend, they’re less likely to pad costs or overcharge.

Save $$

  • Opt for digital invites
  • Ask your florist to work to your budget and select double-duty flowers
  • Ask friends to chip-in by doing you a favour or two (but be aware of what DIY involves – e.g. Making your own Wedding cake)
  • Spend sensibly, and research tips and tricks (e.g. flowers)
  • See where you can get a discount
  • Avoid a long gap between the ceremony and reception. Photographers and musicians will charge for the extra wait time
  • Hire one set of chairs, and move a few to the ceremony space just for elderly relatives (as long as your ceremony isn’t too long!)
  • Have one large program on a blackboard or mirror and save on stationery.
  • Sign up for deals at wedding shows
  • Skip wedding favours – or give just one to each couple
  • Have a family style meal for your sit down meal (see catering)
  • Save on entertainment: local music schools have teachers who may happily perform at weddings for a fraction of the cost.
  • Skip a large cake in favour for just one tier, and serve ‘slab’ cake for dessert (ask your caterer)
  • Make sure common surcharges like cake-cutting and permit fees are listed in your contract.

Importantly, don’t lose sight of what the day is really about, and try not to let budget and money-discussions cloud the excitement of your engagement!  Once you’ve set the budget, get onto planning an Engagement Party.

Head to the wedding planning page for an index of our content, and if you haven’t already seen our wedding organiser and diary, take a little look at the little white book.




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