So, you’ve gone over your budget. You broke the cardinal rule of creating a wedding budget and sticking to the recommended spend for each line item. What do you do next? Well, first take solace that you’re far from alone: Some 45 percent of couples spent more than they planned, according to a recent study, by an average of $7,300. Next, get back on track with wedding spending. Here’s advice from wedding experts about what you can do when you’ve gone over your budget.
The best way to go over budget is to not have a budget,” says Alison Semmler, owner of Lifestyle Maven Events in NYC. “Many couples will start the wedding planning process and see what things cost and say, ‘It costs what it costs.’ But very quickly they hit a number where they realize that it's no longer affordable to them. So it's really important that a couple sets a budget at the start and tries to stick with that as much as possible.”
“I tell my clients from the beginning, ‘You're going to hear me talk a lot about nice to have versus the need to have,’” says Genevieve Roja, founder of Northern California’s Lily Spruce. “I feel it's our job as planners to help our clients protect their large financial—and emotional—investment with practicality and—gasp—frugality. As a company, we very much operate under the values of not needing to spend every last dime.”
Ask yourself: What are your goals and objectives? What are the things important to each of you? “So when the going gets tough, we can come back to these goals and let them be our decision-making North Star,” Roja says. “You said before that your bridal accessories weren't important to you—but now you're splurging on high-end, luxury shoes that are impractical for your venue? As their wedding planner, we can direct them toward creative solutions: You wanted amazing food, so can you consider buying your booze from Costco and using the extra toward a more filled-out menu? Can you forego a videographer to fund your welcome dinner drinks?”
Set a ceiling or cap on your expenditures or plan to have a rainy day backup, because most couples do overspend—despite best efforts. And be honest with the other stakeholders contributing financially to the wedding. “Most parents aren't aware of modern wedding day costs, so take time to educate them, or lean on your planning team to provide realistic wedding budget numbers in case you have to tap them as a financial resource,” says Roja.
Semmler recommends that couples start with the must-have items. “I always tell my couples that no one cares if you have a ton of wedding flowers and your wedding is beautiful if they're hungry or bored. While I love a beautiful wedding, it's really important to focus on things like food and entertainment and then move backward.”
The biggest way to cut down on costs is to limit your guest list, says Amy Shack Egan, founder of Brooklyn’s Modern Rebel. “Your catering is typically priced per person, so the fewer people, the fewer mouths to feed—hence, a cheaper bill. It also means you won't need as big of a space, and when planning weddings in a place like NYC, space is at such a premium that larger wedding venues can be very expensive."
One of the biggest wedding cost savings is to transition from hosting a band to a deejay, says Jo Reitz of New Jersey’s Square Mile Events. “Aside from the higher flat fee to contract a band over a deejay, you also should consider that with a deejay you will only need to provide one or two wedding vendor meals, whereas with a band you will be paying for eight to 20 vendor meals, depending on the number of band members and music technicians.”
“I find that leaving decor to the end is helpful for a lot of clients because they're seeing how much they spend on their wedding venue, the food and beverage, and other large ticket items, and then we're able to see how much money we can allocate for the overall design,” Semmler says. “Of course, we always have tentative amounts in mind when we're talking about design. But it's really helpful for people to have those items established and then tweak their design if needed.” That’s not to say having a beautiful wedding isn’t super important, she adds. “But there's a lot of ways to have a really beautiful big day without spending $25,000 on flowers.”
Speak with your florist and brainstorm on ways you may be able to repurpose some of your floral elements from one part of your wedding to another. “For instance, if you are creating two urns to flank the ceremony space, you can have them moved to the reception area to provide additional décor without spending more money,” says Reitz. “Also ask your florist if you can swap out any blooms for less expensive flowers that are in season or don’t need to be imported from another country.”
Most venues have a food and beverage minimum that must be met. If you have exceeded that number and are looking to bring your budget down, Reitz notes, you can ask for more cost-effective menu selections or drop down the number of cocktail hour bites. You can also include only wine and beer for your open bar or buy your booze from Costco. Remember that custom cocktails mean more booze and more staff.
Loni Hsieh, who hosted a 400-person wedding in the Bay Area, found savings on her dessert table. “We bought a fancy wedding cake for the pictures, but had Costco sheet cake for everyone else,” she said.
If your guest count had to be cut significantly due to COVID-19 restrictions, there may be some negotiation power where you can ask your venue to apply your food credit towards a room rental fee or ask about an opportunity to upgrade linens, Reitz adds.
If your venue is hosting two weddings in one weekend, you can ask to be put in contact with the other couple to see if you can share costs for rental items like a tent, string lighting, or a ceremony structure. “There’s no guarantee that the other couple will oblige, but it’s worth the ask if you’re looking to save some money on rental items,” says Reitz.
As fun as those can be, they’re not necessary for your guests to enjoy themselves. If you’ve maxed out your overall budget on core wedding vendors like a photographer, florist, and entertainment, you can find some savings by removing the fun add-ons. You can also cut costs by foregoing a rehearsal dinner and/or post-wedding brunch or changing the format to be more casual. “Think light passed hors d’oeuvres instead of a full meal,” Reitz says.
If you feel like you can’t make any concessions with the vendors you’ve already contracted, think about buying used wedding decor and/or fashion or selling your items after the wedding. Sites like Tradesy and The RealReal are great resources to both find and sell gently used wedding items.
If you’re starting to plan your dream wedding for a second or even third time due to COVID-19 restrictions, you may find some negotiating power if you agree to host a wedding during the off-season or on a non-peak day like a Thursday or Sunday.
Finally, it's okay if you overspend. “The trick is finding all the creative workarounds that keep you under budget and a goal,” says Roja.
Hsieh says couples should plan for the marriage and not just the wedding day. “Don’t go into debt to have a party. Don’t plan a wedding based on other people’s opinions. You can never make everyone happy and other people probably won’t remember any of the details of your wedding anyway. Imagine celebrating your 50th wedding anniversary. Ask yourself, What do you think you’ll remember 10, 20, or 50 years from now? Plan according to your answer.”