Sticking to a wedding budget is challenging for even the most financially savvy and spreadsheet-obsessed couples. It’s bound to happen—especially if this is the first wedding you’ve ever planned. There’s a lot of incentive to do your big day right and, similarly, there’s a lot of pressure to make it feel and look as special as possible. And that requires a bit of funds.
The truth is, there’s a good chance you’re going to go over your wedding budget. The other truth is that you’re not alone. In fact, according to Zola's First Look Report, over 2/3 of couples (69%) are spending more on their weddings than they originally budgeted for, and the two main reasons are:
While the second reason is a testament to just how dedicated couples are to their vision for their wedding (as they should be), the first is the result of so many projections of a one-size-fits-all “average” wedding budget for an event as unique as a couple's wedding. There are so many variables to consider when setting the wedding budget that’s right for you, but also know that a dream wedding can happen for any amount of money.
Once you find that figure for your wedding, then comes the task of sticking to it. If you hope to minimize or avoid going over your wedding budget, though, look out for these common reasons people do it—and how to avoid it.
Establishing your wedding budget needs to be one of the first things on your wedding planning checklist. Before you reach out to vendors, you need to know how much money you have to spend for their services—and you need to be realistic. It’s a great idea to plan a budget-friendly wedding, but if you only plan for the best case spending scenario, you may go overboard later.
Start at the drawing board. You’ll want to sit down with your significant other and anyone else helping to fund the wedding. Discuss the total amount that you have to work with and then decide how much to allot for each vendor category. The main groupings in order of most commonly more expensive to less expensive:
As you can see, it’s a long list. Your budget is going to spread across several expenses that may not stay stagnant all the way up to your wedding day. Do your research to figure out the average other couples in your financial range spend on each of these services. If you start too low, you may have a hard time sticking there if it’s simply not the industry standard for what you want. We recommend setting small budgets for each of these categories and including a set amount of wiggle room, as well.
Save yourself time, energy, and money and be honest with your vendors from the jump. You can (and should) communicate your wedding budget with them from your very first interaction—be it email, phone, FaceTime, or in-person. This way, if they wind up being too expensive, you find out as early in the planning as possible. Sometimes a vendor may even lower their pricing slightly in order to meet your budget, so being upfront may also help save you money in the long run too.
Listen for phrases like “we’ll figure out the details later” or “we can probably make that work” from vendors. Make sure you stay firm about your budget the whole way through and get whatever agreements you can in writing.
While you won’t know who will or will not attend your wedding until those RSVPs start rolling in (often not until a few months shy of your date), you can and should have a rough estimate. Your guest number is crucial for a number of vendors—particularly your venue, your florist who will outfit the tables with centerpieces, and your caterer/bar staff.
If you’re planning for 200, for example, you want to safely assume that 85% will attend (170 guests). Even if you’re slightly over or under, this estimate will help ensure that you don’t stray too far from your budget.
Avoid any miscalculations by using a spreadsheet or other budget tracking service. These tools help you better manage your budget and keep track of your wedding expenses all in one place. This is not only useful for big-ticket items such as the venue, catering and entertainment, but also the smaller-ticket items such as escort cards, favors, and lighting. The best part is that, if you make any changes (even slight ones!), it will be reflected in the total without you having to recalculate. You can even do it all by hand and keep your budget in a binder if that’s your style—you just have to get it written down and recorded somewhere.
There are plenty of expenses you can plan for—and then there those surprises. Well, they’re not technically surprises because you can kind of plan for them. You may budget out your vendor expenses, but did you forget to plan for gratuities and tips? Did you include printing costs in your stationery budget? There are unforeseen expenses everywhere along the way—they’re small but can add up.
We recommend talking to married couples you know to find out where the biggest surprise expenses cropped up throughout their planning. The best people to ask are the people who have gone through it.
If you’re trying to stick to your budget, you have to acknowledge that you might not get exactly what you want in every single area of wedding planning—but you can get close to it! For example, if those gorgeous Chiavari chairs are just stacking up too high, consider a lower-cost option. Do you really think you’ll remember what the chairs looked like on your wedding day? Probably not—but you will remember that you went over your budget by $800 just to have the nicest looking ones in the bunch.
Another example: you flowers. You may have created a picture-perfect bouquet and centerpieces in your mind, but if the flowers you’re hoping for aren’t in season, they're going to be extra expensive. Your florist can help you figure out alternative, seasonal flowers that will achieve the same look but in a more budget-friendly way. You just have to be willing to bend.
Contracts are there for a reason—they protect you and your vendors. So, make sure you always read them thoroughly. Even if you’ve met and discussed your plans with your vendors multiple times, the final contract is the end all be all. What it says, goes.
Once you sign, you agree. So, be sure to read all the paperwork and ask any questions about anything that’s unclear. If you don’t really “speak vendor,” don’t let any terms or phrases slide without explanation. This will go a long way in ensuring you stay within your outlined budget.
Your wedding budget is basically your wedding plan—and you can absolutely create a memorable experience regardless of what numbers you’re working with. Stick to that budget—and keep your stress to a minimum by watching out for these common ways to overspend.