wedding budget

How to Prepare a Wedding Budget that Works

So you’re just got engaged and told all your friends and family! Weddings are an exciting moment in your life. It’s also the cause of a lot of stress, with the budget for weddings being a key source. Weddings are expensive, and making mistakes when budgeting for them will amplify those costs. 

How do you avoid those wedding budget mistakes, make a solid budget, and know how much you should plan to spend on each item? We’ll answer all those questions to help you plan the most cost-effective and memorable wedding possible. 

How to Prepare a Budget for Wedding

A budget is a financial guide to help you through life. Weddings can get expensive fast, especially without a plan. To create a wedding budget planner, use the following five steps, establish one:

Step 1: Tally up the Cash

You need to set up the budget planning before considering the wedding ceremony cost and other factors. The money for a wedding will come from you and your fiance’s savings, the income you can set aside until the big day, and any contributions that parents or loved ones pitch in. If other people help with costs, make sure you talk to them and get a specific amount. Also, don’t ever assume that you’ll be getting help from loved ones without asking first. 

Step 2: Create a Wedding Budget Spreadsheet

It would be best if you tracked your spending to help keep things manageable—a simple wedding budget spreadsheet with three columns: Estimated, Modified, and Actual. The first column of Estimated will be the estimated expenses for items like wedding flowers cost based on what you expect to pay. In the Modified section, that’s where the costs that the vendor you go with is charging. Finally, under Actual, is the final amount you paid. 

Some important things to note are that your guest count is usually the biggest factor in the estimates you receive from vendors. Make sure that you ask each vendor whether or not the tax is included in the estimate. You should also add a column in your wedding budget spreadsheet for gratuity. Caterers, DJs, and bartenders are among the items in your wedding reception budget that receive tips. Sometimes it’s factored into the vendor’s price, so be sure to ask. 

Step 3: Determine Your Guest List and Cut It Down

As mentioned, much of your wedding budget planner’s cost will be determined by your guest list’s size. Your guest list is a key factor in the venue’s size and how much food and alcohol you’ll need. Think of your wedding budget breakdown as a “per-person” cost to put things in perspective. How many tables and chairs have to be rented, cake slices, invitations, etc., are all based on your guest count. 

Cutting down your guest list is the best way to reduce your costs. Your must-invite list will obviously include your immediate family and closest friends. Co-workers, distant relatives, and friends that you haven’t seen in a while are probably going to be on your “wishlist”. You might need to cut people from this list. But you do that after deciding how many “Plus-One” invites to include and whether children will be asked not to attend. 

Step 4: Prioritize Your Wedding Items

Decide with your fiance what are the top items that you must-have for your wedding. It is a necessity that you have an open bar as part of your wedding reception budget? Are you willing to reduce your wedding flowers cost through alternatives like balloons and candles that can make decor for less? Put together your top priorities and make sure that you include a more considerable amount of your budget towards them. 

Step 5: Research Costs 

It’s hard to estimate the wedding ceremony cost if you’re not playing with real numbers. When renting a venue, there are often charges for setup and breakdown too. Many vendors expect a tip for their services. These are “hidden” costs that you can blow your budget up when there’s more than one surprise. 

Make sure to consider the geographical location and season of your wedding too. A winery in Napa Valley will cost quite a bit more than a public park in Wichita, Kansas. The peak season to get married tends to be late summer to early fall. Planning your event outside those times could net you cheaper rates on the reception and vendors. Additionally, having in-season flowers and food options will also help reduce costs. 

The Wedding Budget Breakdown

A wedding budget checklist needs to be as detailed as possible to manage costs effectively. Here are the average percentages that should be allotted towards various wedding items to give you an idea of what you should expect:

Wedding Venue, Rental, and Catering

These items are the biggest chunk of your budget that goes towards renting out the venue space, food and catering, alcohol, and rentals (dinnerware, tables, and chairs). It usually takes about 50 percent of your budget. 

Photography and Videos

You should have 12 percent of your budget set aside for the photos and videos of your day. These are treasured memories that will last a lifetime. This budget item should include the cost of the photographers and videographer’s time on top of the actual final media. 

Clothing, Hair, and Makeup

The dress, suit rental, shoes, and accessories cost are all part of the clothing needs. Adding in the cost of getting your hair and makeup done, you should allocate about 9 percent of your budget. 


The flowers, lighting, bouquets, and other decorations for the ceremony and reception should make up 8 percent of your budget. 


Earmark at least 7 percent towards the entertainment for your wedding. Get a better estimate by researching whether you want to hire a DJ or have a live band.

Wedding Planner

Yes, having a wedding planner adds to your costs. But they spare you from a lot of stress and can even save you money. Wedding planners usually have relationships with vendors and will work hard to get you the best deal. Plus, you can relax knowing that a professional will manage your special day, so it goes off without a hitch. Three percent of your budget should include hiring a wedding planner. 


Save-the-date cards and formal invitations are the first impressions that your guests will have of your wedding. Menus, ceremony programs, thank you cards are among the other wedding stationery you’ll have. Save 2 percent of your budget for these things.


It’s common for couples to ensure their guests make it to the right venue on time and hire transportation to make that happen. For example, you can hire a shuttle to go between the venue and hotels. Some couples want to have a unique getaway car after the ceremony or have the wedding party arrive in a limo-style. Have 2 percent of your budget to cover these costs. 

Wedding Bands

Don’t forget about the wedding bands when looking at your sparkling new engagement ring. Save around 2 percent of your budget for these rings that both of you will wear for a lifetime. 

Common Wedding Budget Mistakes

Couples often make the same mistakes with their budget as others. We’ve identified these trends and have them outlined here so you can avoid them when budgeting for your special day. 

  • Not deciding on who’s paying for what. This talk must happen early on if your wedding budget checklist is going to be successful. Yes, this talk is awkward but necessary. It’s becoming more common for the groom’s family to help with the tab these days than before. If it makes it easier, consider asking each side to pay for certain aspects of the wedding instead of a dollar amount. 
  • Not putting aside the right amounts. When you buy a pair of shoes or a new laptop, you have a ballpark of how much you’ll spend. It would be best if you handled the wedding in the same way. Do your research, so you know what to expect. Put aside 5 percent of your budget to have in case you do end up spending more than planned in an area. 
  • Not keeping track of how much you’re spending. No budget is useful if you forget to plug in your expenses. Create a system that works for you, whether carrying around a notebook to write down expenses or using an app on your phone. 

Not taking opportunities to save. In all actuality, you will probably go a little bit over your budget. But you’ll get there faster if you don’t save when you can. Cutting down your guest list, even ten people could make a substantial difference. Keep your menu simple instead of having a five-course dinner. Use less expensive champagne for the toast instead of breaking out the Dom Perignon.

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