There’s no easy way to say this, your wedding budget is one of the most challenging aspects of planning your wedding, but I’m here to make that easier with a guide to starting, and wedding budget template.
If you’ve just got engaged, congratulations, and welcome to a very exciting time of your life, I can’t wait to help you plan your wedding!
The first thing you should do is work your way through the initial wedding planning checklist, of which starting your wedding budget is a key task!
The importance of starting your wedding budget ASAP
One of the first things you’ve probably heard about or read is the “average” wedding budget, whatever that is in your country. In New Zealand it’s said to be around $35,000, but I have recently written an article on how the “average” cost of a wedding is actually very misleading, so don’t get too caught up in it.
To get you off to a good start, you may wish to instead have a look at a couple of real budget – I have shared my wedding budget, and a friend of mine shared her wedding budget – so that you can see exactly what it all cost, compare, and get an idea for where yours might fit.
Working on the wedding budget within the little white book
Starting your wedding budget is a pretty scary thought – for many couples, the wedding is the first time you both will have had to plan a huge event, let alone save the money for, and pay for it.
The best way to start is to work out what you can comfortably afford to spend, and then figure out what kind, size and style of wedding will work with your budget. The alternative is to plan the wedding of your dreams in your head (or on Pinterest) and then panic about how you’ll ever be able to afford it.
If your expectations and budget don’t match, there’s plenty you can do to bring them closer together.
As this is one of the first articles you may be reading about wedding planning, can I please take this moment to remind you that it’s your day, and you don’t have to conform to anybody else’s expectations or pressures of what it should look or feel like. Every wedding is unique and personal to the couple, and yours can be absolutely “perfect” in a way that is meaningful to you, even if you don’t have a huge budget. Trust me, I wrote the book.
Savings + Budget = Wedding Date
You can’t begin planning your wedding before you’ve got a general idea of your wedding budget. Even the wedding date itself is contingent on the budget – i.e. depending on whether you’ll be saving for a long time for your 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 catering, the demands for deposits come rolling in too. For example, you’re likely to be asked for up to 50% of the venue fee, 30% of the photographer’s, 20% of the caterer’s… etc etc!
What’s the magic number..? (and where is 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 chat which may involve:
- Parents: Many 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 a wedding gift, and what they expect in return (e.g. inviting their friends as guests, religious or cultural elements, control over details such as invitations, etc). While any offer to contribute is generous, if you consider your parents may want excessive control 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 heavily mortgaged, your wedding budget too can seem impossible. However, while you already have significant outgoings, a mortgage can work in your favour! We were able to get support from our bank, who lent 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 that, 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 really comfortable to spend 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 to work out how you might do things differently to spend more or less.
Another number that needs to be crunched at this point is the number on your guest list. 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, halving that number).
Prioritise your wedding budget
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 could begin by each pick your top 2-3 priorities for the wedding day.
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. Weddings don’t actually need all the bells and whistles, you know!
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 about your Wedding Budget
Now, you have an estimate number of guests, an idea of how much money to spend, and a vision of what your wedding might look and feel like. With these pieces of information, it’s time to start working out how to make it all possible. What will $10,000 mean when you’re going to feed 100 people, for example.
If your big day dreams and your wedding budget don’t ‘add up’, 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?) Could 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 projects can be time consuming, your time is also valuable, and it doesn’t always save money. Alternatively, what elements could you leave out altogether, if they’re not important to you: table flowers or centrepieces, physical save-the-dates and invites, new shoes and jewellery, a wedding cake, etc – do you really need to have it all?
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:
- 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 smaller 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.
- 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)
- 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), or forego wedding cake altogether
- Make sure common surcharges like cake-cutting and permit fees are listed in your contract (the wedding planning pack is ideal to know exactly what you’re agreeing to with your vendors).
Don’t lose sight of what the day is really about, and try not to let budget and money-discussions cloud what’s important to you.
If you’re interested in finding out more about what an “average” wedding budget means – read this, 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.