Unless you’re a professional event planner or a serial bridesmaid, your wedding is likely to be the first major event you’ve planned from start to finish. As you may have already noticed, the first (and often most painful) step to event planning is to determine your budget. The amount of money you have to spend will help define your options—which is actually a good thing when you need translate your dreams to reality and, say, choose between your fantasy of a Hawaiian island wedding versus a Maine island wedding.
It sounds easy enough to look at your finances, figure out how much you can spend, and plan accordingly. So why are weddings notorious for going over-budget? The problem is, it’s almost impossible to know how much things will actually cost until you start booking things. Then suddenly the photographer you love costs $500 more than you budgeted for, the cost for chair rentals is double what you expected (because of course you want the covers, too!), and lobster prices have gone up—but you cannot live without mini lobster roll canapes at the reception.
Last minute upgrades and hidden surprises can challenge even the most carefully planned wedding budget. That’s why it’s critical to build in some flexibility and know your priorities. You really can have the perfect wedding for you on almost any budget. But first, let’s break down how to set that budget in the first place.
Dream a Little Dream
What kind of wedding do you want? There are so many possibilities—like that Maine island wedding, a backyard BBQ, or a church ceremony followed by a hotel reception. This isn’t the time to be specific, but you should pick the general look/feel for your wedding. Do you want it to be laidback and funky with a DIY vibe, or do you crave formal and fancy? Imagine the location, the smells and sounds, the people, and the emotion of your wedding day. What’s it starting to look like?
Run the Numbers
Sit down with your partner to decide how much you are ready, willing, and able to spend on your wedding. Will your families contribute as well? The days of expecting the bride’s parents to float the bill are long past—thanks to changing ideas about women’s rights and the fact that many couples wait to get married until they’re well into adulthood. Still, lots of families are happy to help out. Sometimes they contribute a specific amount, and other times they choose to pay for a certain element, like the flowers or the catering. This is the time to identify all your funding sources for the wedding, so reach out to your relatives now.
You also need to start working on your guest list. The number of attendees will have a major impact on your wedding budget, so determine your ballpark figure right away.
Go back to your fantasy, and pick the top three things you can’t live without on your wedding day. They might be: a couture wedding ensemble, mini lobster rolls, and a fantastic photographer. Now have your partner do the same. Do your priorities align? How can you come up with your top three priorities as a couple? These are the things that are most important to you, so put a little extra money into them. Pinch pennies in other areas instead.
Now that you have a vision for your wedding, have an idea of what you can spend, and know the ballpark number of guests, and you have to figure out if it’s possible or a pipe dream. You may want a sit-down dinner for 200, but how much will that really cost? Do some research online and ask friends what they paid with local vendors. If your numbers are way off, take a moment to re-evaluate. Do you really need the mini lobster rolls, or could you get by with crab salad? Do you want the exotic honeymoon, or would you rather add to your guest list? Is there a way you can scrape up more funds for the wedding (and do you really want to)?
Use our Wedding Budget Planner to build and maintain your wedding budget. As a shareable Google Doc, this spreadsheet is designed to help you organize and keep track of your spending. It includes all the essentials, like your venue, officiant, wedding dress and accessories, and transportation. Of course, it may not fit your wedding perfectly. Feel free to modify it so it’s just right. For example, if you’re not doing assigned seating, remove the line for table cards. Or if you’re a bride who’s marrying another bride, then delete or modify the section that’s dedicated to the groom. Whatever you do, don’t miss the bonus Music Planner on the second tab!
Let yourself enjoy the wedding planning process. Don’t take it too seriously, and don’t get too hung up on the details. Remember, the only thing that really matters is starting a new life with the person you love.