How to Set a Wedding Budget That's Realistic for You

That’s why we’re breaking down everything you need to know about how to set a wedding budget that’s realistic for you, no matter what financial situation or stage of life you’re in.

By Rachel Varina

Set a Wedding Budget That's Realistic for You
Photo by Zola

The First Look ✨

After saying “Yes” and spending a few days (or weeks) staring at your engagement ring in bliss, the next, realistic step of the wedding planning process starts to dawn on you: How are you going to pay for the “I do’s”? Whether you’ve been saving forever, are unsure whether your parents are pitching it, or are just trying to figure out how to set a wedding budget that’s realistic for you, here's everything you need to consider when it comes to cash-related wedding decisions.

The good news is that 2022 weddings are no longer one-size-fits-all. Whether you’re envisioning a small, intimate event, a huge party, a destination celebration, or something in between, there are unlimited ways to make your wedding your own, and Zola is the place to start. While having fun and getting creative is what we’re about, we’re also aware that your wedding budget plays a major role in what your day will look like.

That’s why we’re breaking down everything you need to know about how to set a wedding budget that’s realistic for you, no matter what financial situation or stage of life that you’re in. Stick with us and we’ll help you have the most spectacular day without spending a cent over budget.

How Much Do Weddings Cost in 2022?

When it comes to weddings in 2022, couples are wanting to make an impression, especially after a few years without celebrations. If you’re wondering what weddings will really cost in 2022, the answer is that it depends. According to Zola’s First Look Report, there’s no specific “average” cost of weddings—in fact, it’s all across the board. Celebrations are ranging from $5,000 to $100,000, depending on details such as location, inspiration, life factors, and priorities.

While 28 percent of 2022 Zola couples have budgeted between $10,000 to $20,000 for their big days, we want you to know that there’s no right or wrong amount to spend, as long as you can afford it and as long as you don’t acquire more wedding debt than you can repay within a few months. Yes, it’s an important day, but what’s more important is laying a working foundation for your future with your partner. Ultimately, ensuring that your budget is manageable and forward-thinking is one of the best and most romantic wedding planning choices that you can make.

Different Life Factors That Can Affect Your Wedding Budget

One reason why wedding budgets are so varied is because modern couples are getting married at a variety of ages and life stages. What works for one pair might not work for another because of things like life factors. Keeping this in mind can help you land on a budget that works for you and helps reduce comparison envy. And don’t worry, no matter what life stage you’re at, Zola has the tools to help you create a picture-perfect day. Here are a few different factors that will play a role in determining your final wedding day budget:

Your Stage of Life

Your age and life stage plays a much bigger role in budget planning than you might have realized. Typically, due to having more acquaintance-like friends, younger couples have larger guest lists. Additionally, if parents are contributing to their weddings, the budget might be larger than older couples who are paying for their celebrations on their own. Plus, with parental involvement, the guest list usually grows as they invite their own friends and family. One of the biggest factors when it comes to the budget is the guest list, so the more people that are invited, the higher the celebration costs.

On the flip side, according to Zola’s First Look Report, older couples typically foster close friendships with fewer people (versus many casual friendships like younger couples), which means that they’ll likely have a smaller guest list. Additionally, without financial assistance from family or relatives, their guest list typically only includes their chosen people, as opposed to parents’ friends/co-workers too.

Your Wants and Priorities

A major factor in setting your budget is figuring out where your priorities lie as a couple. Is a dream wedding important, or do you value stability and future building? Each couple has their own ideas about what the day means to them—none of which are right or wrong—it’s all personal. Perhaps you want to go all out for an epically elaborate day, or maybe you’re fine with something more casual because, in your head, it’s just another (albeit special) day.

To better prioritize your budget, it’s a good idea to take some time to figure out what your wants are. Do you have big future plans, such as buying a house or going to school? Are you looking to start a family and need to save? Make sure to consider the other important areas of your life to ensure that your priorities and budget align. Some compromises might need to be made in order to come to a conclusion that works for both of you (which will give you a taste for marriage).

Your Current and Future Financial Obligations

Finally, one of the biggest factors when figuring out your wedding budget is determining your current and future financial obligations. If parents are paying for, or pitching into, your celebration, knowing an accurate number of what they’re able to spend is important. And it’s also a good idea to keep in mind that the more financial help that outsiders give, the more room there is for others’ opinions in the wedding planning process. Chances are that if your parents are paying, they’ll want a say in details such as the guest list and decor. Decide if you’re okay with that before cashing any budget-related checks.

In addition to how much money you and your family are able to contribute to the big day, you also need to factor in both future/current expenses and debts such as student loans, car loans, mortgages, house closing costs, and starting a family. You don’t want to overspend on your big day to the point that it puts you back in other areas. The day is about the start of your life with someone, and one of the best ways to do that is on a financially stable footing.

How to Set Your Wedding Budget

When it’s finally time to set your budget, it’s important that you land on a number that’s right for you—try not to feel pressured by external factors that you don’t care about. The day is about you, so keep the traditions or elements you like and forget the ones that you don’t. Here’s how to set a wedding budget that celebrates your life, not takes it over:

Determine Who's Contributing

First, you need to figure out who’s contributing to your wedding costs. While it might feel uncomfortable, it’s going to be the starting point toward the rest of your budget. If you’re unsure how to approach the conversation, we have some tips and tricks for talking about your budget with your loved ones. Remember: No one is obligated to help, so be thankful for any assistance you get. A beautiful wedding can happen on any budget, and Zola’s here to make it happen.

Finalize Your Numbers

Once you have the details from anyone contributing financially, tally up the total number. This is where it’s important to not assume that anyone will/won’t be contributing without speaking to them first, as it can greatly influence the final number that you’re able to spend. Additionally, you’ll want to start creating a guest list and figuring out how many people might be in attendance. Typically, there’s a per-head expense for details such as chairs, alcohol, food, and even venue occupancy, so this will not only account for the amount that each person will cost, but it might help you narrow down your guest list too.

Do Your Research

Next, start researching the typical cost of weddings in your area, as well as the cost of different vendors. Doing this can help you figure out where you can get the most bang for your buck, such as all-inclusive venues or options where you can stock your own bar. Don’t be afraid to reach out to friends who have gotten married in your area for vendor suggestions. And, if you’re in a city and you find costs are too high, look into venues outside the limits for the potential of saving major cash by simply driving an hour or so out of a popular downtown area.

Prioritize

Sit down with your partner to talk through your respective visions for the day and what vendors and details are most important to you both. For example, if a packed dance floor is one of your goals, consider setting aside a larger portion of your budget for a great live band or DJ. Keep your vision in mind as you plan, and use it as a guide when deciding when to splurge and when to save.

6 Ways to Cut Wedding Costs

Whatever your budget, finding ways to cut wedding costs is not only a smart move, but it’s actually simple and can lead to an even more stunning event. Here are some of our favorite ways to save some money on the big day:

Second-Hand Wedding Attire

Second-hand wedding attire has become increasingly popular in recent years, and for good reason. Many people only wear their wedding dresses once, so you can buy a pre-worn gown that’s still in mint condition for a fraction of the cost. Check out sites like PreOwnedWeddingDresses.com to search for styles from a variety of retailers and designers.

Skip Wedding Favors

One of the most suggested ways to cut down on costs from our IRL couples is to nix the wedding favors. Oftentimes, guests forget to grab them on their way out, and even when they do, they’re often not as cherished as you might have hoped. If you don’t like the idea of your guests leaving without something, a homemade treat that they can munch on after the “I do’s” is a sweet and budget-friendly way to send your guests off with something fun.

Choose In-Season

From flowers to food to fashion, in-season items are typically much more budget-friendly options than out-of-season. So, chat with your vendors for help in selecting florals that don’t require extra shipping or refrigeration, as well as food that’s both high-end and cost-effective. For help finding the best in-season options, let your vendors know that you’re looking to keep the cost down when selecting your options.

DIY Dessert Bars

Wedding cakes are typically a huge cost, but nowadays more and more couples are eschewing the traditional dessert. Instead of an elaborate tiered option, why not choose a few sweets that you love? From cupcakes to cookies to candy bars, dessert bars with different options are oftentimes more cost-effective than a fully decorated cake. Plus, this option gives you the chance to show off your personality and stock up on your favorite yummies.

Factor in Labor

When selecting things like catering, musicians, and extras (think photobooths or video sendoffs), remember that labor is a huge factor in the cost. More servers are required for things like passed appetizer cocktail hours or sit-down dinners versus buffets, which are typically less labor-intensive. The same goes for DJs over live music, or firework sendoffs versus a DIY version. Keep the cost of additional manpower needed for different vendor options in mind, and, if there’s a vendor that you simply can’t live without, book them for a shorter amount of time. Consider having live music only for the ceremony or dancing part of the reception, or reduce your videographer’s time to just the ceremony, instead of both the ceremony and reception.

Add Decor to Your Registry

With modern weddings being all about creativity, one exciting development we’re seeing is couples using home decor as wedding decor. Not only can you repurpose what you already have at home, but you can add decor options to your registry that you’ll use in your home afterward. Since Zola lets you know when a gift has been purchased, and we allow you to choose the ship date, you can schedule it to arrive in time for your wedding to double as party decor and future home aesthetics.

The most important thing to remember when planning for your big day is that all that matters is you and your partner. Get creative, have fun with it, and make budget-friendly choices that will set you up for the future of your dreams.

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