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 The Zola Team

bride and groom in front of black vintage car
Photo by Unsplash

The First Look ✨

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 planning their wedding. While setting your wedding budget may not be the most exciting item on your planning to-do list, it is an important 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, 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.

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. 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 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 wedding size?
  3. What is my idea wedding location (city, state, country)?
  4. What is my ideal wedding season?
  5. What is my ideal ceremony and/or 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. How do I want my guests to feel at the wedding (entertained, loved, excited, etc.)?
  12. What details do I want to prioritize for the biggest portions of the wedding budget?
  13. What details, if any, am I interested in DIYing?
  14. Who would be my ideal pick to officiate the wedding?
  15. Would I prefer an open or cash bar (or something else)?
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