So you’re newly engaged. Congratulations! After you’ve announced your relationship status and had your fair share of celebrating, it’s time to start planning for your big day with a wedding budget breakdown!
This means putting together a wedding budget spreadsheet with percentages and categories.
It’s no secret that weddings are expensive. And you've probably already looked up "planning wedding on a budget" to see what's possible.
While you probably laid out the wedding of your dreams in your mind — the amazing venue, the designer dress, those gorgeous florals — it's important that you set a realistic wedding budget to ensure you don't derail your long-term financial goals.
Why a wedding budget breakdown matters for your finances
Lending Tree found that 30% of engaged couples will leverage debt to fund their wedding. That's definitely not a good way to start out your finances in marriage.
Being clear on what you can truly afford will help you avoid being a part of those statistics. Plus, you can still have a wedding on a budget that's fun and elegant.
To avoid your wedding day becoming overly expensive, here are some guidelines to help you create a realistic wedding budget while still keeping your long-term financial goals intact.
Tips for creating a realistic wedding budget
Wedding Wire’s Newlywed Report found that, on average, couples expect to pay about $16,000 on their wedding but instead spend closer to $29,000! Why? Most couples set a rough budget before doing any research, so they underestimate how much the venue or catering costs (sometimes by a lot).
Just like your monthly budget, you’ll need to make a plan for how to spend your money on your wedding.
It’s so easy to go overboard trying to plan your destination wedding and obsess over tiny details that add unnecessary costs. This is why it's essential to make a wedding budget spreadsheet.
You should also focus on what matters to you and how much you're willing to pay for specific things. Do this instead of just figuring out the average cost of a wedding and assuming yours will be the same.
So when you're searching the internet with the words, "planning wedding on a budget", know that all results will be different and based on individual experience.
Before you lay out a wedding budget breakdown determine how much you can afford
As you outline your wedding budget checklist, it's a good idea to first sit down with your significant other to discuss your long-term financial goals and what amount makes the most sense to pay for your wedding based on those goals.
Having this conversation will allow you both to set realistic expectations and avoid unnecessary disagreements down the line. It's also important to have a conversation with your families if you will be receiving financial support from them to pay for your wedding.
Some questions you'll want to answer together include:
- Will you be getting financial support from your parents or family? If so, how much?
- Are you and your partner paying for the wedding yourselves, or are you contributing to your wedding expenses in addition to your family's help? If so, how much will you each be contributing?
Once you know what these numbers are, you'll want to add them up and use that final number as the basis for your wedding budget breakdown.
Download our free wedding budget spreadsheet
As you get started with planning, here's a great free spreadsheet to help you lay out the costs we mention below! Just click the image for your download!
Wedding budget breakdown example (In percentages)
After determining your "number," it's time to set up a typical wedding budget breakdown. Let's say you plan on spending about $20,000. (This doesn't include the cost of the honeymoon.)
Remember this is just to use as an example; you may decide to spend more or less on your big day. Below are items you'll want to include in your budget, along with the possible percentages for each category:
- Reception costs (Venue, food, wedding cake, rentals, etc)
- Ceremony costs (Venue, officiant, etc)
- Wedding attire (The wedding dress, shoes, suit, and other outfit accessories)
- Wedding rings
- Photography and Videography
- Flowers and decorations
- Entertainment and music
- Wedding invitations and stationery
- Bridal party gifts
- Wedding insurance
- Miscellaneous and unplanned expenses
Let's go over each of these categories in more detail as well as what the average budget percentage could be for each one.
Reception costs 45%-50% (The largest cost in your wedding budget breakdown)
The main category on your wedding budget spreadsheet will be for the reception. The cost of the reception will likely take up the bulk of your budget, which is about 45%-50%. Reception costs will include the cost of the venue, food, wedding cake, rentals, etc.
So, to get the wedding budget breakdown, you would take your total budget of $20,000 and multiply it by 45%-50%, which is between $9,000-$10,000.
Ceremony costs 2%
Calculate about 2% of your wedding budget breakdown towards ceremony costs. This includes your officiant and marriage license fee.
Some people plan to have the ceremony at the same location as the reception. So the venue is included in your reception costs mentioned earlier.
Otherwise, you will need to pay for a ceremony venue, which is not included in this percentage.
Wedding attire 9%
A lavish wedding dress, tuxedo, makeup, and hair can get costly. It usually runs between 8%-10% of your wedding budget breakdown. So, based on our example budget, the total cost would be between $1,600 and $2,000.
Wedding rings 3%
When creating your wedding budget checklist, don't forget to include your wedding bands. Of course, this isn't the cost of the engagement ring; that's a whole other expense.
But the wedding bands are a symbol of eternal love that represents your union, so it's an essential part of your checklist! The average is about 3% of your budget if you're frugal.
Photography and videography 15%
The next biggest expense in your wedding budget breakdown is the photographer and videographer. You can plan on this costing about 15% of your budget if you're very frugal, which would be about $3,000, though the cost can be much higher.
Try to find a photographer with excellent reviews to ensure they capture the memories of your big day in the best way possible!
Flowers and decorations 8%
Whether you want a beautiful display of red roses or twinkling lights adorning the venue, the average cost for flowers and décor is about 8% of your total budget. So include about $1,600 in your wedding budget spreadsheet for decorations and floral arrangements.
Entertainment and music 7%
Are you thinking of a DJ or a band for your wedding? Either one has different costs and expenses. However, you can block off about 7% or $1,400 in your wedding budget spreadsheet for entertainment.
Wedding invitations and stationery 3%
Invitations, stationery, and menus, oh my! There are many types of wedding stationery you will need to account for on your wedding budget checklist.
Between save-the-date cards, wedding invitations, ceremony programs, and more, this will cost you about 3% of your budget. Be sure to check your guest list to see how many invites you'll need and calculate costs from there.
If you decide to offer transportation to your guests to ensure everyone arrives on time, it will cost you about 2% of your budget in fees. So be sure to allocate around $400 or so if you go this route. You can also only supply transportation to your wedding party to cut back costs.
Bridal party gifts 2%
Another expense to keep in mind for your wedding budget breakdown is bridal party gifts. You may opt to get keepsake gifts for your guests, too, so be sure to budget accordingly. It will run you about 2% or around $400.
Wedding insurance 2%
Don't let unexpected events ruin your big day. Be sure to add wedding insurance to your wedding budget spreadsheet! The insurance covers lost pictures, deposits, rings, and other items.
At the very least, be sure to get liability insurance to cover accidents if they were to occur. These policies can run around 2% of your budget.
Miscellaneous and unplanned expenses 2-5% (A necessary inclusion for your wedding budget breakdown)
It's also a good idea to assign 2%-5% or so of your total budget to cover any miscellaneous, unplanned, or surprise expenses. So a buffer of about $400- $1,000 should be set aside for this category.
Examples of things that could come up are deciding you need a day-of wedding planner or opting for an extra hour for the photographer. These are expenses you may not be aware of until closer to the wedding.
Remember when creating your wedding budget breakdown that costs will vary depending on the wedding location, time of year, day of the week, etc., but you can find average wedding costs online to get a general idea.
Save for your wedding and also keep your emergency fund intact
Once you know what things will cost you and have your wedding budget checklist squared away, it's time to start saving. Build a line item into your existing budget to start putting money aside for your wedding.
Keep in mind that you may need to forgo certain things to meet your big day's savings goals. Things like daily coffees, gym memberships, vacations, shopping, etc., might need to be placed on the back burner while you save for your big day.
If you choose to put your long-term savings on hold while you put aside money for your wedding, it's important to keep your emergency fund intact. Because life happens regardless of whether you are planning a wedding or not. Your emergency fund should not be used toward your wedding expenses.
12 Ways to leverage your wedding budget breakdown for the most savings
It’s natural that your big day reflects your tastes. Fortunately, that doesn’t require an arm and a leg, but it does require some extra work on both of your parts. Here’s what you can do to get more out of your wedding budget without actually spending more.
1. Negotiate with vendors to lower your wedding budget
The first tip that might seem obvious is negotiating prices and contracts with the people you employ for your wedding.
Caterers, photographers, florists, and DJs will often work with your specific budget. Be willing to negotiate and walk away if you cannot afford a rate being offered to you.
For example, ask your caterer for sample menus and prices per person, then see which areas you can cut back on (i.e., perhaps you only need two passed hors-d'oeuvres instead of five).
It will help you to go back and negotiate the price down for their services. Photographers, florists, and DJs will also usually be willing to come down on prices to close the deal. It can save you big bucks or can free up money on your wedding budget breakdown for other categories!
2. Don't go crazy with expensive wedding stationery
Letterpress, gold foil, jeweled boxed, feathered... It's easy to go crazy over your wedding stationery, and those costs can add up fast.
Some fancy letterpress invites go as high as $5 to $7 per invitation — yikes. Instead, choose to print simple, less costly invitations; you'll be amazed at the beautiful options that exist.
One of my favorite online printing presses is Minted, where you can choose beautiful wedding invites for an affordable price.
3. Skip the catered, sit-down dinner
Skipping the fancy catered dinner is how to plan a wedding on a budget easily. Most wedding venues offer in-house catering services because they make a ton of money on the huge markups involved.
If you can find a venue that allows you to bring your own caterer, you can find one that not only makes great food but also fits your budget.
A frugal alternative is to choose a family-style dinner with shared platters that can be passed around the table. Doing this can save you up to 20% off your catering cost.
Although formal catering is nice, it’s definitely among the pricier options. A family-style dinner creates a warm atmosphere for people who would like to have smaller, more intimate weddings.
Another consideration? Dinner is typically the most expensive meal when it comes to planning an event. Brunch or lunch is a somewhat lighter meal, and people tend to drink less alcohol in the daytime, so you can save a ton of money there, too.
4. Consider a second-hand dress
If you're a bride who finds that your dream dress is out of your budget, try finding it online from second-hand wedding dress sites such as OnceWed.com or StillWhite.com. You can save up to 75% off wedding dresses that have been pre-loved, dry cleaned, and preserved for their next owner.
Another alternative is renting out formal wear. You can rent a dream wedding dress instead of dropping thousands of dollars to wear it for one occasion.
The same goes for the suit for the groom. Suits can also be rented and it's a great way to cut costs on materials that do not have long timelines in terms of how often they will be worn. Buying preowned or renting is a big part of having a wedding on a budget!
5. Get married any day but Saturday
Saturday is the most expensive day to get married, especially in the summer and fall. Why? Because everyone wants to get married on Saturday!
You may be able to book your dream venue at a considerable discount (anywhere from 10% to 40% off) by getting married on a Sunday or a weekday.
And if you choose a date that is off-peak (like in the winter or early spring), you might be able to save even more! Opting for a cheaper day to get married is how to plan a wedding on a budget without much effort!
6. Serve signature cocktails to save on alcohol costs in your wedding budget
Serving signature cocktails is an awesome way to show your personality at your wedding. It helps you manage the amount of money you spend on alcohol (if you choose to serve alcohol) because the varieties available are limited. You'd still be serving great drinks, though.
7. DIY your decor and use seasonal items
An easy way to have a wedding on a budget is to do your own decor! Take advantage of the talents your friends, bridesmaids, and family may have! Enlist their help in creating your wedding ceremony and reception decor.
Pinterest is great for getting inspired, and you can find a ton of great decor items from your local craft store at a fraction of the cost that you'd pay to a florist or event designer.
And since floral arrangements can be a huge budget-buster, consider buying flowers, boutonnieres, and corsages in bulk from Sam's Club and Costco. Doing so can save you thousands when compared to working with a florist.
Figure out your wedding colors, then watch a few YouTube tutorials on how to put together an arrangement. It’s totally doable!
8. Choose a cheaper photography package
As you saw in the wedding budget breakdown, the second most expensive cost is the photographer.
Many people are very particular about their wedding photography, so if there is a photographer that you absolutely must have for your wedding, consider choosing their cheapest photography package.
Do you really need a photographer at your wedding for 10 hours when your friends and family will also be taking pictures as well? Once people start dancing, 30 minutes of those photos are good enough, as, after that, it's just a bunch of repetition. Plus, those photos rarely make it into the wedding album.
9. Skip the fancy wedding cake
Everybody loves cake, but that doesn’t mean you need to splurge on a three-tier wedding cake. An elaborate confection can set you back hundreds of dollars. And more often than not, guests are having too much fun to even notice what kind of cake you served.
Save money by opting for a single, six- to eight-inch tier cake atop a Styrofoam base. If you want to serve cake to your guests, purchase a few sheet cakes from Costco or your local bakery for about $40 apiece. Your guests will never know the difference, and you can still get those glamorous cake-cutting photos.
10. Forget the wedding linens or bring your own
If your venue has wooden tables that don’t need to be covered, opt for a rustic look without linens. You could save between $500 – $1,000.
If the provided tables need to be covered, buy a pretty fabric in bulk online or at your local craft store and DIY your own linens for major cost savings. Online tutorials like those on Youtube can help you get started on customizing your own linens.
11. Ask a friend to officiate
You can save between $200 – 400 by asking a friend to officiate your wedding. A friend can easily get ordained online for around $50.
Also, if you don’t feel comfortable with asking a friend to officiate for the first time, asking someone you are close to who has experience with officiating weddings is another alternative.
12. Consider a smaller wedding to save money
Simply opting for a smaller wedding is how to plan a wedding on a budget. Small and simple weddings can be just as beautiful as large fancy weddings.
The big difference is the amount of money that you'll save. At the end of the day, your wedding celebration is only for one day, and your marriage is for a lifetime!
So it makes more sense to step into your marriage financially sound than to blow a ton of money if you cannot really afford it for a one-day wedding party.
Extra things to remember with your wedding budget
You want to have the wedding of your dreams but still not spend a fortune. Here are some tips to remember to help you save without compromising.
Extend your engagement
Assess the wedding budget breakdown you’ve created. If it seems like paying for your wedding will be a stretch, consider extending your engagement. It's a great way to lower the amount you’ll need to save each month while still enjoying that exciting planning phase.
Track your spending
It's important to track your wedding spending to ensure you’re staying in line with your budget. Use your wedding budget spreadsheet to account for all expenses. Little expenses like hair accessories, place cards, and cake toppers tend to add up, so use caution!
DIY and get creative
And here’s some great news — there are tons of clever ways you can save on your wedding. From DIY options to simply re-thinking the day you exchange vows, today’s weddings can fit nearly any budget.
Use a wedding budget breakdown to save on your dream wedding!
The wedding budget breakdown can serve as a template for your customized wedding budget. You don't have to spend the average amount on a wedding if you don't feel it's best for your finances. Remember, your marriage is for more than just one day of celebrations!
It’s important to be financially smart about your wedding costs so you don’t impact your financial future. Use your wedding checklist to ensure you remember all of your expenses and financially prepare for all of the costs. Get help planning your dream wedding on a budget with our free course!