Setting Your Wedding Budget – Oh, Lordy!

Planning a wedding is easy. Planning a wedding on a budget is not. One of the major challenges practically any bride will face is trimming her ideal wedding down to something that fits within a realistic budget. Let’s take a look at how to go about setting a wedding budget while still holding a wedding you will look back on fondly.


The first thing you need to do when planning your wedding is…stop! You should not purchase, reserve or place a deposit on anything wedding-related until you have a budget in place. The last thing you want to do on a whim is drop 80 percent of your budget on a reception hall with a stunning view looking out over the ocean. While the view will be amazing, you are going to be wearing flip flops and eating McDonalds, since you only have a little bit of money left. Slow down, plan and then spend your budget carefully.

Wedding Debt

A wedding is a special ceremony. Unfortunately, it can also be the expense that keeps on giving for years. While the event represents one of the most magical days in the life of a couple, there is a school of thought suggesting restraint is the best policy when it comes to putting together a budget.

The question is simple. Do you really want to put yourself or your parents into serious debt by spending a huge amount of money on an event that will be a one-day affair? Step back and think about the parties paying for the wedding. The Great Recession did significant damage to the financial status of nearly everyone. While your parents might say “yes” to paying for the wedding, it is your duty to evaluate whether they are really in a position to do so or if they will go into heavy debt late in their life to pay for it.

This is not to suggest you should not hold a formal wedding and reception. It is to suggest that you should show a bit of restraint. Do you really need the $3,500 gold leaf trimmed thank-you stationary? Probably not.

Budget Breakdown

When putting together your wedding budget, start with the total amount you have to spend on the wedding. Make sure the total reflects confirmed contributions, not “potential” money. This typically involves negotiations with parents and, these days, a good bit of your own savings as well. Whatever the final figure, you then need to break the budget down into categories of expected expenses. For reference purposes, the breakdown of expenses for a traditional wedding is as follows:

  • Reception food, drinks and site – 42 percent
  • Wedding rings – 8 percent
  • Professional photography – 8 percent
  • Flowers – 6 percent
  • Rehearsal dinner – 6 percent
  • Wedding dress – 5 percent
  • Videography – 5 percent
  • Reception music – 4 percent
  • Groom’s tux – 3 percent
  • Hair and makeup for bridal party – 2 percent
  • Stationary – 2 percent
  • Ceremony music – 2 percent
  • Wedding ceremony facility – 2 percent
  • Wedding Cake – 2 percent
  • Transportation – 2 percent
  • Wedding Favors – 1 percent

These figures represent a basic budget for a wedding. The numbers are not set in stone, so don’t be a slave to them when setting your budget. It is far more important to simply have a plan you are comfortable with when spending your precious money.


Many weddings go over budget because unanticipated small costs add up quickly. One element many couples fail to take into account involves tipping. Who gets tipped at a wedding? Well, everyone! Certain vendors may include the gratuity in their contract, but most will not. Here’s who you should be tipping and how much:

  • Wedding Planner – 15 percent of their fee.
  • Bartenders – 10 percent of the total liquor cost.
  • Waiters – $20 each
  • Chef – $100
  • Catering Manager – $200
  • Hairstylist – 15 percent of their fee.
  • Makeup Artist – 15 percent of their fee.
  • Photographer – $100
  • Limo Drivers – 15 percent of their fee.
  • Musicians – 15 percent of their fee.

What about good versus bad service? This is a tricky question with wedding vendors because newlyweds usually are not in a position to evaluate the services – since you don’t interact personally with most of the people working at your wedding. Unless a vendor or individual has just been a nightmare, you should go ahead and tip them.

Budget Buffer

Sticking to a budget is incredibly important, but most of us have problems doing so. This is particularly true with weddings since there is an emotional element involved in the purchasing decisions. To avoid budget-crushing decisions, you should consider building in a buffer for the budget. Figure out the total you have to spend and then put 10 percent of that amount in a “reserve” category. Do everything possible to avoid spending this money. If you are forced to do so on something you simply cannot resist, then at least the money has already been accounted for in your budget.

Cutting Costs

How does a couple cut costs on a wedding? Where do you even start? One approach that works pretty well is to simply ask the 25th anniversary question. When considering a wedding expense, ask yourself if the item or service in question is something you will even remember at your 25th wedding anniversary celebration. If you have any doubt, forgo the expense.

  • Reception Location

The reception will run you 42 percent of your wedding budget. A good bit of this will be the rental cost of the location where you hold the reception. To save money, consider throwing the reception in a free location such as the backyard of a family member or friend. But be careful; while you might save money on the location rental, you can end up spending the savings on staff to work the wedding. How this equation plays out really depends on what part of the country the wedding is being held in. Regardless, make sure you run the numbers to see if this approach really saves you a significant amount.

  • Guests

Every guest is a cost multiplier. This simply means each guests drains a wedding budget in multiple areas. A single guest will get an invitation, need to be seated, eat food, drink alcohol and so on. So every person you trim from the guest list saves you a bundle. While we all would love to have huge weddings, an intimate ceremony is a much better choice from a budgetary point of view.

So, how do you cut guests without offending people? The answer is simple – talk to them. Explain the situation and most will understand. Even if you find it embarrassing, it is still usually a better option than saying nothing and offending friends and family who are cut from the list.

  • Packages

Package deals represent a great way to save money on a wedding. Many reception facilities will provide a one-stop solution so you can get on with celebrating and avoid worrying about finding and organizing vendors. While this is incredibly convenient, it also tends to be less expensive, so make sure to investigate whether it is an option at the various reception facilities you are considering.

  • Early Wedding

The timing of your wedding can also represent a sublime strategy for saving money. How so? A noon wedding is almost always cheaper than one held late in the afternoon. Why? Alcohol. Guests will not drink as much in the middle of the day, so you end up saving on your bar costs.

  • Avoid Saturday Weddings

Saturday is the most popular day for weddings, which also makes it the most expensive day. To cut costs, pick another day. A Sunday wedding is much cheaper and you can save 50 percent or more if you hold the ceremony and reception during the week, with evening weddings being a popular choice.

  • The Bar

You can end up spending a fortune on the bar if you are not careful. To save money, stick to beer and wine as the staple offerings. Then add a signature drink such as margaritas or another pre-mixed drink. The men will grumble, but you will save a significant amount of money.

  • Buy in Bulk

As with many things, you can get a real deal when purchasing items in bulk for a wedding. Consider wedding favors. If you were to hand out personalized champagne glasses as favors to your guests, you might expect to pay $8 to $10 per glass from a retail store. Buying in bulk from a wedding site such as ours can reduce the cost to as low as $3.00 per glass.  The savings of $5 to $7 per guest is going to add up quickly, which can do wonders for your budget. Never pay the retail price!

Areas Not To Cut

Once you start cutting costs, it can be tempting to take the blade to every part of the budget. Don’t make this mistake. While you may save money, the real impact may be one you end up really regretting. This is true for one service in particular – wedding photos.

A top quality wedding photographer is expensive, but this is one area where you should gladly pay the fee. Two things will survive the wedding day – your marriage and your wedding album. The wedding album is the record of the magical day, the one item you can pull out at any time and reflect upon. Do you really want to go cheap with it? No. You want high quality photos that look great and will last for 50 years.

Most major wedding expenses actually benefit guests. This is the one expense that solely benefits you, the newlyweds. If you are going to splurge anywhere, this is the place to do it.

Going Radical

A wedding is a romantic affair, but it also happens to be a one-time event. That’s why some feel the money involved is better spent elsewhere. If you fall into this category, you have a couple of non-traditional options available to you.

The first is fairly simple. You can grab your parents and head down to the county office to get married before a clerk. The cost is basically your clothes and the fee charged. Is it romantic? Not in the least. Why do it? Instead of spending $20,000 or $30,000 on a wedding, you can use it for a down payment on a home.

A second option is to hold a formal wedding ceremony, but go with a greatly reduced reception. Ceremony facilities such as churches are not expensive. You can rent one, hold the ceremony and then have the guests move to a restaurant for drinks and finger food. The advantage of this approach is you get the formal marriage ceremony, but without the huge cost of the reception. Depending on where you live in the country, this strategy can be accomplished for a cost of $3,000 to $5,000.

A Successful Day

One of the keys to a successful wedding is fiscal discipline. Put a good bit of time and effort into setting your budget and then stick to it. Doing so will keep you from suffering buyer’s remorse afterwards.