Budget and money management can be one of the most overwhelming and intimidating parts of the wedding planning process — but it doesn’t have to be. From a big-picture perspective, here are the basic steps to preparing your first wedding budget draft. (We’ll get into details next month, don’t worry. One step at a time!)
Talk with your partner.
Before talking money with anyone, you need to have a general idea of what your wedding goals are. At its core, wedding planning is just one branch of event planning, and every event starts with a vision.
A wedding is about the relationship between you and your partner. So make time to sit, just the two of you, perhaps over dinner on the weekend or a glass of wine while the kids sleep, and dream together.
When you close your eyes and picture your wedding, what do you see? What has the most detail? Is there a jazz band playing? Are the bridesmaids in lilac chiffon? Is it a big urban party with all your friends, or a small beach ceremony with your closest family? Talk about what you want, what you dream of.
An important note here: everyone has something they want from their wedding. Even if your only answer is “casual and simple,” that is a wedding vision right there.
List your priorities.
Once you’ve done some dreaming, it’s time to start putting things to paper — but no numbers quite yet.
Make a list of your priorities before you start allocating funds. This will help you immensely when it comes time to make inevitable tough choices with the finances later.
I advise the couples who consult me to each, as individuals, list the top three things they prioritize in the wedding, then come together to make one top three list together. Perhaps your priorities are great photos, delicious food, and a DJ, while your partner’s list has an urban venue, great photos, and a band. Obviously, great photos will go on the list — and then you talk out the others and decide what matters to you as a couple, and what goes on the final list.
Talk to your families.
Again — don’t write any numbers yet!
Before determining how much you and your betrothed want to allocate to each step in the wedding planning, talk to your families. Couples can often be surprised at how involved their parents, grandparents, godparents, step-parents, and other important family figures want to be. If your grandparents want to buy your dress, or your parents plan to pay for the florist, these are things you’ll need to know early on.
If any family members do want to chip in, get an idea of where they want that money to go (dress, flowers, or just general gift for whatever you need?) and, if the context of the conversation is appropriate, how much they have budgeted for that.
Take heed, however: tradition says that anyone paying has a say in the planning process. Not all monetary gifts come with strings, but family drama often rears its ugliest head when a wedding rolls around. Be prepared to either compromise with the person paying or foot the bill yourself instead.
Make a budget breakdown
Now we get into numbers. This is the part most people think of when we talk about budgets.
Every couple is different, so every wedding is different. It stands to reason that every wedding budget will be different, too. But as a general starting point, these are the percentages I’d recommend for a wedding budget breakdown, with example numbers for $5,000 and $10,000 total budgets:
- Food and beverage: 24% ($1,200 / $2,400)
- Venue(s) and rentals: 16% ($800 / $1,600)
- Photography and videography: 10% ($500 / $1,000)
- Fashion and beauty: 10% ($500 / $1000)
- Music: 9% ($450 / $900)
- Rings: 7% ($350 / $700)
- Miscellaneous/emergency fund: 6% ($300 / $600)
- Fees and tips: 5% ($250 / $500)
- Flowers and decor: 4% ($200 / $400)
- Guest services (transportation, favors, gifts): 4% ($200 / $400)
- Cake: 3% ($150 / $300)
- Stationary: 2% ($100 / $200)
Plan for wiggle room
You know what they say about best-laid plans. No matter how carefully you plan your budget, hidden and unexpected expenses are bound to come up. Alterations and tailoring can cost hundreds of dollars. You may forget to factor a vendor’s tip into your total. The baker you book is perfect, but you have to buy a cake stand separately — and “little” expenses like that add up quickly. In the total budget breakdown, leave a percentage for a buffer, because I guarantee you’ll end up needing it.
You’ll also find in the planning process that nothing ever goes quite like you expect. You may find a florist you adore who costs $50 over your total flowers budget, or you may stumble across a new wedding planner who’s just starting her own business and is willing to give you a discount. Whatever your budget is for each line item, write it in pencil and leave room in the margins. The breakdown is bound to need some edits as the months roll by.
I know this looks like a lot, but take it one step at a time! And don’t forget the most important part of this entire planning process: you’re marrying your favorite person in the world.
If it ever gets to be All Too Much for you, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and rely on your life partner.
You have each other’s backs, for better or worse, as long as you both shall live.