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Formulating a wedding budget is couples’ least favorite wedding moment, according to Zola’s 2023 First Look Report. Although it may not be the most fun part of coordinating a wedding, it’s an essential first step that can save you stress (and strife with your partner) down the line.
But where do you start when making a wedding budget? To help, Zola created a detailed list of all the top things that make up a wedding budget, complete with some tips about how to budget for unexpected expenses.
Remember: Just as there’s no one-size-fits-all wedding, there’s no one-size-fits-all budget. But a budget is useful for planning a wedding of any size and can help you focus on your priorities and track and compare your spending.
Most couples budget $20,000 to $40,000 for their wedding, and the vast majority invite 100 to 200 guests. Some 28% of couples optimize credit cards and perks to pay for their wedding. And the top elements that couples are willing to splurge on are the photographer, the venue, an open bar, catering, and attire.
Don’t forget Zola’s new in-app budget-tracking tool is here to help couples organize and keep track of their wedding budgets, including the following items.
This is likely the biggest portion of your budget, making up some of the most key elements of your wedding. If you can hire a vendor to provide more than one service for your big day, it’s most cost-efficient to use fewer vendors—you'll always get a better rate if you're getting more from one vendor, plus you won't be paying multiple setup or delivery fees.
i. Venue: Start with the venue, because it's the biggest piece of the wedding budget and a major factor in determining guest count. These costs can include: room rental fee, venue deposit, ceremony fee (if the ceremony is being held at the reception venue), parking fees, coat check fees, liability insurance, tax and service fees, and security (some venues require it). This category was the second top category that Zola’s First Look Report 2023 respondents were willing to splurge on.
ii. Food: This includes tasting appointment (if not complimentary with your catering package), rehearsal dinner, passed hors d'oeuvres, plated/buffet/family-style meal or food stations, service staff, catering equipment (such as plates, silverware, glassware, serving platters, etc.), vendor meals, tax and gratuity (sometimes called the "service charge"), and setup and/or cleanup fees.
iii. Dessert: It's true that some venues include wedding cake or other sweet treats within their packages, but it's common for couples to outsource the dessert portion of their wedding. This budget item may include the cake itself (or pies, doughnuts, cupcakes, or your dessert of choice), a cake stand or display table, sheet cake for extra servings, specialty design elements (like sugar flowers or hand painting), cake topper, cake-cutting utensils, cutting and/or delivery fees, any additional desserts (if you're doing a dessert table/station), and preservation materials for your one-year anniversary.
iv. Beverage: An open bar was the third top element Zola’s First Look Report 2023 respondents were willing to splurge on. This category may include cocktail hour drinks, reception drinks, Champagne toast, open bar/hosted beer and wine/specialty cocktails, bartender service, mixers, coffee/tea, non-alcoholic beverages, glassware (if not included in your catering package), bar signage, corkage fees (if you opt to BYO), liquor license (if not provided by venue or caterer), and bartender gratuity. Some venues include alcohol in their packages.
v. Photography and Videography: This was the category that Zola’s First Look Report 2023 respondents were most willing to splurge on. And for good reason: Photography is one of the best investments for your wedding. Great photos will last a lifetime and become prized keepsakes from the big day, making this a splurge-worthy purchase. And nothing will bring back your favorite wedding memories quite like a short film. Costs may include an engagement session, rehearsal-dinner coverage, wedding-day coverage, albums or prints, same-day edit, raw footage, highlight reel, and feature film.
vi. Flowers: Flowers can completely transform the look of your wedding. Plus, many couples opt to carry bouquets or wear boutonnieres. A flower budget generally includes bouquets, boutonnières, corsages, flowers and accessories for the flower girl/ring bearer, wedding cake flowers (if additional cake décor is needed), reception centerpieces (for guest tables, guestbook table, food stations, etc.), and delivery fees.
vii. Decor: Lighting and decor are impactful ways to personalize the look of your wedding. This includes everything from candles to statement lighting installations, as well as signage, table displays, non-floral centerpieces, ceremony arch/chuppah, ceremony arrangements, reception centerpieces (for guest tables, guestbook table, food stations, etc.), and wedding chalkboards/signage.
viii. Music and Entertainment: Live entertainment will make your wedding day that much more memorable. This may include ceremony musicians, cocktail hour music, reception DJ or live band, microphone (for wedding ceremony and reception toasts), sound system or extra speakers, and karaoke equipment. Guest entertainment is an extra element of the wedding budget breakdown to consider if you have leftover funds available. This includes unique experiences like live painters, dancers, additional musical performers, poets, tarot-card readers, caricature artists, interactive food or drink servers, and more.
ix. Beauty Services: This line item may include pre-wedding haircuts or color, waxing, facials, mani-pedis, professional shaves, tips (normally around 20% for any pre-wedding beauty treatments), spray tan, lash extensions, hair trial appointments, day-of wedding hairstyle, makeup trial, day-of wedding makeup, and the wedding party’s hair and makeup.
x. Wedding Planners: A wedding planner can make all the difference when it comes to your special day. After all, you can rest easy knowing that your celebration will go off without a hitch when you have a great professional taking care of all the details. Includes day-of, month-of, or full-service wedding coordination; venue and/or vendor referrals and liaison; budget development; timeline creation; rehearsal coordination; and wedding-day setup and management. Before you enlist a pro, know what you have to spend and factor in that rate. Many venues require you to contract their in-house wedding coordinator or bring in your own outside wedding coordinator.
xi. Transportation: Many couples like to hire transportation to ensure their guests get to the right venue at the right time. This may involve hiring a bus or shuttle to run to and from the hotels. Others like to hire a limo for the wedding party or an elaborate getaway car after the reception. This budget category includes getting you and your spouse, your wedding party, and your guests to and from the ceremony and the reception venues, as well as gratuity for the driver(s), shuttle service to transport guests to/from their hotels, and valet-parking service. Don’t forget vendor transportation as well, depending on what is covered.
xii. Photo Booth: Your DJ may provide this, as well as dance-floor lighting, as an extra service.
xiii. Rentals: This may include specialty décor rentals (e.g. tenting, lanterns, candelabras, dance floor, etc.) and any necessities not provided by the venue or caterer (such as tables, chairs, china, linen, etc.).
xiv. Officiant: This category can also include things like church donations, officiant fees, and marriage license fees.
Wedding invitations and paper goods are very important details of your nuptials. Just think: Your save-the-date cards and formal invitations are the first glimpses of your wedding that your guests will receive. For anything sent by mail, remember envelope and postage costs. Going paperless is increasingly common sources of information.
i. Save-the-Dates: This can also include engagement party, rehearsal dinner, and post-wedding brunch invitations.
ii. Invitations: You may choose to include inserts like RSVP cards or maps. Stuffing the envelopes is often an additional expense, as is handwritten calligraphy. Don’t forget return address labels.
iii. Programs: May also include escort cards.
iv. Place Cards: May also include menu cards and table cards.
v. Thank You Cards: Don’t forget envelopes and postage.
vi. Menus: Show guests what’s on the table with matching menus.
Remember all the events you’ll need to dress for before and after the big day as well, and don’t forget the shoes and accessories.
i. Dress and Tux: This includes not only the attire for your big day, but also for engagement photos, rehearsal dinner, bachelorette/bachelor party and bridal shower, reception or after-party, and post-wedding brunch, as well as specialty undergarments and wedding dress cleaning and preservation.
ii. Jewelry: Includes engagement rings, wedding bands, wedding band resizing, wedding ring insurance, any customization/engraving, cufflinks, and a ring box/dish/holder.
iii. Other: Don’t forget the veil, if you’re choosing to wear one.
Don’t forget to add a line item called Extras that equals 15 percent of your total budget to cushion for things you'll likely forget (invitation postage or parking valets, for example) or won't anticipate in advance (corkage and plating fees). Never spend this money upfront; you'll need it throughout the planning process as incidentals arise. Things like these seem so small that you can shrug them off, but like any costs, they add up. Remember: Going over budget in a few different categories with a vague plan of making it up somewhere else can push you past your limit.
i. Gifts and Favors: One of the final pieces of your wedding budget breakdown should include the cost of party favors and gifts for those who made your day extra special. Some couples like to provide their guests with a parting gift to remember their wedding by. It's a small gesture that will go a long way. This can include wedding favors, wedding party gifts, gifts for your flower girl(s) or ring bearer(s), spouse gift, parent gifts, welcome baskets for out-of-town guests, and thank-you gifts for any standout vendors.
ii. Accommodations: Including your wedding night accommodations.
iii. Overtime Fees: If the party's still going strong on the dance floor, an extra 45 minutes may whiz by—but you'll pay in overtime costs for everyone from the photographer to the venue manager. If you suspect the wedding may go long, work overtime costs into your budget. And if you don't use it, it'll be a nice surprise chunk of cash.
iv. Other Expenses: Prepare for surprises and costs that arise that you didn’t anticipate, including vendor tips, sales tax, service charges, wedding insurance, liquor license (if not provided by the venue and/or caterer), clean-up costs, and unexpected rentals (e.g. portable heaters or restrooms).
This wedding budget breakdown is simply a starting point to give you a general understanding of how to allocate your funds. Your final wedding cost breakdown ultimately depends on a number of factors, like how much money you and your partner have to spend, the location and time of year you're getting married, and your top priorities. This will inform which expenses you ultimately include in your budget—something that’s different for every couple.
Take advantage of Zola’s new in-app budget tracking tool to stay organized and keep track of your wedding budget.