Creating a wedding budget can be overwhelming and anxiety-inducing for couples who approach it alone. Working together to build a wedding budget is an important step for couples in learning how to navigate discussions around finances, priorities, traditions, necessities, and wants. In my experience I have found that while many couples remember the big categories to budget for like the ceremony, reception, photography, and florals, that there are often a large number of moderately priced or smaller items that get left off which can lead to some tense budget conversations as wedding planning progresses. That is the huge benefit of partnering with a wedding planner who can help you design and stay aligned with your ideal wedding budget.
If you are at the beginning of the wedding planning process, I have compiled my top tips to help you create a wedding budget that works for you:
Determine your overall budget: This varies for every couple and is based on a number of factors which includes examining what is within your financial means, having clarity regarding who is contributing to the overall wedding budget, and being realistic regarding the wedding aesthetic you desire. If you are stuck and don't know where to start, I find that using a website like Wedding Wire which publishes venue price ranges can be very helpful to inform you of the initial investment so you can create a ballpark total for your wedding budget from there.
Create a financial cushion: It can be challenging if your initial wedding budget soaks up every last penny of your maximum budget. I encourage my clients to create a small cushion within each line item of the budget. For example, if you know your hair and makeup costs will be $2,250 I encourage my clients to budget $2,500. This allows for add-ons through the wedding planning process, or creates a cushion to account for gratuities in the overall cost. It is better to slightly over-estimate expenses rather than to struggle to create room in an impacted budget as your wedding date quickly approaches.
Identify your priorities: Decide on the elements of the wedding that are most important to you and your partner. This will help you to allocate your budget to the areas that matter most. Every couple has different budget priorities, so once you agree on your priorities and can clearly communicate that to your wedding planner and wedding design team it will make decision making that much easier!
Make a list of expenses: Make a list of all the expenses associated with your wedding, including the venue, catering, flowers, photography, music, etc. I have an easy to use wedding budget PDF template that you can write into and a downloadable wedding budget tracker to allow you to use my categories as well as add some of your own. I use this wedding budget worksheet with each of my couples and it makes the wedding planning and budgeting process so much easier!
Research costs: Research the costs of different vendors, services, and items to get an idea of what they typically cost. I love sharing the Zola Vendor search feature with my couples so they can see the price ranges of various services in the area where they are wedding planning. Using a tool like the Zola Vendor search allows couples who are wedding planning to see the price range of services, types of amenities offered, and to read reviews all in one place. If you don't want to do all of that research on your own then working with a professional wedding planner will cut out a lot of this work. A professional wedding planner with a strong reputation in the industry will be able to help match you with vendors who meet your budget and vibe for the ultimate wedding day experience.
Allocate your budget: Allocate your budget to different categories and subcategories. For example, allocate a certain percentage of your budget to the venue, catering, flowers, photography, etc. Keep in mind as you are creating your initial budget that most venues and catering companies include a required service charge from 18-25% to cover administrative costs. When you are quoted a "per person" price for venues and catering that cost normally doesn't include sales tax and service charges, so make sure to cushion these budgeted areas by 20-25% additional to account for those costs.
Be realistic: Be realistic about what you can afford and what you're willing to spend. Try to stay within your budget while still having the wedding of your dreams. If you plan for these items on the front end and are working with experienced professionals they can help guide you through decisions that can benefit in cost savings without sacrificing quality and beauty.
Consider unexpected costs: Consider unexpected costs that may arise, such as tax, tips, and additional expenses. Be aware that some venues require a contingency fee to be provided just prior to the wedding to be used in the event of any unexpected additional expenses (extra guests, room service/bridal party meals ordered at the last minute, cover additional parking costs...), many times this is refunded shortly after the wedding, but if it is not budgeted ahead of time it can lead to stress in the weeks before the wedding. Make sure to ask your venue if they have a required contingency fee and incorporate this into your wedding budget so that you aren't caught off guard.
Track your expenses: Track your expenses throughout the planning process to make sure you are staying within your budget. I recommend that couples revisit their wedding budget every two weeks during wedding planning to make updates to deposits that were placed and payments that were made along the way. You may also consider creating a Google folder in your Google Drive to upload all of your contracts, invoices and receipts. It is also helpful to create calendar appointments on your calendar to set up reminder dates for when deposits and payments are due to keep you on track.
Be flexible: Be flexible and willing to make adjustments if necessary. If you find that you are over budget in one area, you may need to make adjustments in other areas to stay within your overall budget. If certain categories aren't flexible, then you risk going over-budget. Have a plan in place with your partner to talk through scenarios in advance regarding what your options are as a couple should you find yourself facing the decision of over-spending your wedding budget.
Consult with a wedding planner: If you're having trouble creating a budget, consider consulting with a wedding planner. A wedding planner has deep industry experience and knows approximate costs of services in different service areas. Scheduling a consultation to talk through your overall wedding vision, ideal budget, guest count, and other key factors will allow them to help you create a wedding budget that work for you and your partner.
To help you along the way with wedding planning, I offer a free download of my wedding budget template for couples. This template provides you with an easy-to-use interactive template that you can share to maintain transparency in finances through the wedding planning process.
Download the Kristine Smith Designs wedding budget template HERE