How to Set Your Wedding Budget

While setting your wedding budget may not be the most exciting item on your planning to-do list, it is an important first step. Avoid the financial headache by tackling one of the most confusing questions for many couples: how to set your wedding budget.

By Monica Mercuri

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The First Look ✨

Want to keep track of your wedding budget? Try our free budget tool with payment reminders and tips on how much to spend.

When you’re enjoying being newly engaged, the last thing you want to think about is your wedding budget. In fact, almost half of all Zola couples report that setting and sticking to a budget was the most stressful part of wedding planning. While setting your wedding budget may not be the most exciting item on your planning to-do list, it is an important, if not crucial, first step. Knowing how much you can spend helps you focus your planning and narrows your big-decision options, such as which venue to book or which wedding vendors to hire.

While we can’t promise you completely a stress-free experience leading up to your wedding day, we can help you avoid financial headache as much as possible by tackling one of the most confusing questions for many couples: how to set your wedding budget.

How to Set Your Wedding Budget

Determining how much you’re going to spend on each area of your wedding costs isn’t exactly simple. That said, there are a few straightforward steps you can take to help you gain an idea of what your wedding budget should look like.

1. Determine Who's Contributing

To start, figure out who is paying for the wedding and what each person or couple is contributing. Many couples pay for the wedding themselves, while some couples’ families cover all or some of the expenses. See our guide on who should pay for the wedding for a full breakdown on who might contribute and the best ways to broach the subject of asking for wedding budget contributions.

2. Finalize Your Numbers

Once you know who is chipping in and how much they’ll be adding to the budget, it’s time to finalize your totals. There are two sums you should consider:

  • Total Budget — To determine your total wedding budget, add together how much each person is contributing. It sounds simple, but there are a few mistakes that some couples make during this stage:
    • Assuming that family and/or friends can or will contribute without discussing it with them first.
    • Factoring in lines of credit, such as credit cards or loans, rather than creating a budget based on readily available funds like cash, savings, and income.

Pro Tip: Never acquire more wedding debt than you can repay within a few months.

  • Guest List Size — There’s a per-head expense for each guest you invite. This means that the bigger the guest list, the more you can expect the wedding to cost. With that in mind, the second total you need to consider right away is how many people you’re planning to invite.

3. Do Your Research

After you have finalized your totals, we recommend researching typical costs for weddings in your area to figure out how much you should expect to spend on the vendors that you need to help you pull off your day. Think the local, average costs of wedding planners, florists, venues, and more.

The average cost of a wedding is over $30K, but typical costs vary widely depending on the location and the size of the guest list. Remember, beautiful weddings are planned on budgets of all sizes every year, so don’t get discouraged if prices are more than you initially expected. For some tips and tricks on how to cut costs, see our guide on how to plan a wedding on a budget.

4. Prioritize Your Spending

Your research should give you a sense of what to expect and will help you set your priorities for your wedding. 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.

To set your priorities, we recommend you and your partner do the following exercise: answer the the questions below individually at first, then take some time to sit down and discuss why you chose your answers.

  1. What is my ideal engagement length (1 year, 6 months, etc.)?

  2. What is my ideal number of guests?

  3. What is my idea wedding location (city, state, country)?

  4. What is my ideal wedding season?

  5. What is my ideal wedding ceremony and/or wedding reception environment (indoor, beach, church, etc.)?

  6. What is my ideal wedding dress code (black tie, casual, cocktail, etc.)?

  7. What is my ideal wedding budget?

  8. What is my ideal wedding vibe (laid-back, formal, intimate, etc.)?

  9. What is my ideal wedding theme or style (glam, boho, rustic, etc.)?

  10. What are three things I want my wedding to include (lots of dancing, great food, beautiful invitations, etc.)?

  11. What vendors do I not want to go without (videographer, wedding planner, etc.)?

  12. How do I want my guests to feel at the wedding (entertained, loved, excited, etc.)?

  13. What details do I want to prioritize for the biggest portions of the wedding budget (wedding flowers such as bouquets and centerpieces, reception venue, etc.)?

  14. What details, if any, am I interested in DIYing?

  15. Who would be my ideal pick to officiate the wedding?

  16. Would I prefer an open or cash bar (or something else)?

Wedding Budget Mistakes You Should Avoid

Alongside wedding budget how-tos and tips are some much needed things to avoid. The following are a handful of budgeting mistakes you should be on the lookout for as you traverse budget and wedding planning. Getting ahead of them now (hopefully) makes it so that you won’t have to handle them later.

  • Setting aside less money than needed. It’s better to save more money than you believe you’ll need than to set less aside and think you’ll ultimately be okay. Even if you might be, certain expenses can catch you off guard up until—and even through—your big day. Prepare not for what’s needed, but that and then some, just in case.

  • Spending money without keeping expense records. It becomes difficult to stick to a wedding budget when you aren’t vigilant about keeping track of expenses. Each time you agree to an expense or purchase something, put the total spent into your wedding records. Keep this up to date and reflect often on how much you’ve spent and how much wedding money you have left.

  • Not considering the “extras” in your budget. There are a number of things you might not initially consider when creating your budget; from little things like linens, ceremony programs, and your marriage license to larger items, such as wedding attire, gratuities, and your rehearsal dinner. Up front, take the time to create an exhaustive list of everything you might spend money on (and then some miscellaneous spending room) to avoid overlooking anything. This will save you from having to adjust or overspend later.

  • Not saving for emergency purchases. Alongside miscellaneous spending, you need to include an emergency purchases budget amount. This allocated money can be put toward just about anything leading up to you wedding, from forgotten and needed expenses to actual emergencies. Not accounting for this from the beginning can eventually put you in a difficult situation.

  • Not using any rewards program you may have access to. If possible, we highly recommend putting expenses on a rewards credit card you’re familiar with and understand. Ideally, you can put charges on this card, immediately pay them off, and then utilize the rewards points towards things like your honeymoon. Doing this from the beginning can save you a significant amount of money on future flights, hotel stays, and other perks specific to your rewards program.

Wedding Budget Breakdown Example

With a plan to create your budget and a list of mistakes you avoid, you’re now probably looking for some hard figures. It’s important to note that wedding expenses and wedding budgets are extremely individual—it’s part of what makes researching all things ‘wedding budget’ to frustrating. That being said, we can provide you with some averages based on recent research.

Here’s how most couples divide up their wedding budget breakdown. (Note that this totals over 100%, as not everyone will include every category in their wedding expenses).

  • Wedding venue: 24%

  • Catering: 18%

  • Photography: 7%

  • Videography: 5%

  • Flowers: 8%

  • Entertainment: 9%

  • Hair and makeup: 2%

  • Cake and/or dessert: 2%

  • Officiant: 1%

  • Stationary (save the dates, wedding invitations, thank you cards): 3%

  • Wedding dress, suit, or other attire: 7%

  • Wedding planner: 6%

  • Rentals: 5%

  • Transportation: 2%

However, this is more of a typical wedding budget breakdown than anything. Your priorities for your own wedding will likely shift these numbers at least a little bit.

Conclusion

Discussing and coordinating wedding finances can be an overwhelming portion of the wedding planning process. With that in mind, we hope to give you all of the information and tools you need to help you work with your wedding budget.

If you’re having—or anticipate having—trouble keeping track of your expenses, try using our wedding budget calculator. In the Zola app, simply tap on “Budget.” This will take you to a fully customizable budget sheet you can update throughout wedding planning. No stress, no mysterious expenses.

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