There is a LOT of advice out there on the topic of budgeting for your wedding. And unfortunately? Most of it is not that great. In my opinion, the hardest thing about budgeting for a wedding is that most people only plan a wedding once — and until you start nailing down specifics and requesting quotes from vendors and venues, it’s nearly impossible to know how much YOU might spend for YOUR wedding under YOUR unique set of circumstances. Weddings are not easy to generalize! That being said, there are some universal tips — many from our own experiences as brides — that we’d love to pass along!
1. Start saving early. This might be my single best tip, especially if (like me) you tend to have “champagne tastes on a beer budget.” Even if you might not know exactly how much your wedding will cost, it’s a pretty good bet that it will be expensive. Like all expensive things, the sooner you start saving, the smaller the amount per month you need to save, and therefore the less painful it will be. Y’all, this is the truth: I started saving in college for my wedding. I put away money every month into a savings account, beginning with $50. If you know you’re going to want some of those amazing extras that a parent might not be as willing to splurge on, like videography, I’d highly recommend this tip!
The Reason via Southern Weddings
2. Set your budget. Thankfully, even though it’s nearly impossible to know how much the wedding in your head will cost before getting engaged and talking to vendors, it’s still possible to set your budget, because your budget should be based on the amount of money you have, not the amount of money you want to spend. In addition to tallying whatever you and your fiance will contribute, check in with both sets of parents (if they haven’t made the first move). I would recommend going into the conversation with a grateful heart and without expectations, and being thankful for any contribution they might want to make.
Amy Arrington via Southern Weddings
3. Prioritize your budget. Once you’ve determined the pool of money available to spend, it’s time to begin slicing it up. Start to talk with your fiance about what’s most important to you both, and start to reach out to vendors and venues with whom you’re interested in working. As quotes come in, you’ll start to see how your money might need to be allocated.
Wedding quotes can be eye-popping and confusing at first, but there are lots of articles out there that will help you understand them better (two I recommend on flowers: here and here). It also might be helpful to look at how other couples have split their budget — mine is right here, and Ruffled also runs a great series on real budgets. Also: don’t forget to calculate tips into the cost of each vendor. You can find our tips for tipping here.
Hunter McRae via Southern Weddings
4. Set up good relationships with vendors from the start. Keep in mind that most vendors like to work with nice, calm couples who respect their work and want to collaborate with them in the creative process. Tell them about what you have planned for your wedding and why you’re excited about it; tell them why you love their work. Vendors tend to go above and beyond for clients they genuinely like and who are appreciative of them — it’s just human nature.
Caroline + Ben via Southern Weddings
5. Negotiate with care. A photographer might be willing to take 10% off his package price under certain circumstances, but please don’t expect a discount — they’ve set their prices with careful thought. Instead, if the price quoted is beyond your budget, see if you can subtract something from what he’s presenting — an album, hours of coverage, number of prints — for a lower price. A florist should be able to work with you on what flowers are in season and which blooms will have the most impact per dollar. I’ve even known some vendors who love to travel waive their travel fees for certain locations that they’ve always wanted to visit — if you’re getting married in a particularly stunning location, it might be worth a shot! As I said above, just remember to go in with a grateful heart and without expectations or a bossy attitude.
For my wedding, I had a good experience asking the rental company I wanted to work with if they would price match a few standard items from one of their competitors. One more tip: if you have the luxury of a long engagement, you might be able to book vendors like photographers or videographers at, say, their 2013 prices even though your wedding is in 2014.
Abby Jiu from Southern Weddings
6. If necessary, cut based on your priorities. I hate blanket suggestions on what to cut from the budget, because those decisions should be based solely on what’s most important to y’all as a couple. I would have been horrified if someone had suggested I cut my invitations, after all! That being said, a few ideas to get your wheels turning: skip ceremony flowers (choose a beautiful location instead); skip favors unless you can think of something that’s truly meaningful to you as a couple; buy a pre-loved gown or sell yours post-wedding; borrow a car from a friend or just ride in yours instead of renting a limo or vintage car; skip a reply card and have guests email their RSVPs; order a simple cake design and crown it with a gorgeous topper (bonus points if it’s a family heirloom!).
Gabe Aceves via Southern Weddings
7. Consider alcohol. Though alcohol can be a big expense for a wedding, there are actually many ways to cut its cost. A few suggestions: cut the champagne toast; offer a limited bar (beer and wine) all night, or offer a limited bar at cocktail hour then open it up to a full bar at the reception (that’s what we did); or inquire about purchasing your own alcohol (especially if you have somewhere you can get a discount). Also, don’t assume that either paying by consumption or paying a per-person price is cheaper — here, it really helps to know your audience. John and I looked at our guest list, and, even though it was the scarier option (because we didn’t know exactly what the final cost would be), chose to pay on consumption. We ended up paying HALF the bill we would have if we had gone with a per-person fee.
Heirloom Collective from Southern Weddings
8. Supplement your professionals. While some things should ALWAYS be left to professionals, I think there are some amazing ways to cut costs while working hand-in-hand with the pros you’ve hired! For example, I provided the centerpiece containers and ribbon to my florist, knowing I’d be charged a mark-up for those items if I didn’t. We also hired a live band for our reception, but worked with them to play a CD my uncle mixed for us over their sound system at cocktail hour. One last tip from our wedding: Moya hand-lettered our first names for our invitation, and we were able to use that digital file several places in our wedding instead of, say, paying her to letter each one of our favors individually.
9. Borrow! Not everything has to be bought new (or even old) for your wedding! Borrowed pieces can lend a beautiful air of family and heritage to your wedding day, and, in my experience, guests love having a hand in the magic! I borrowed my clutch, my bracelet, my earrings, lots of our centerpiece containers, our communion cups, easels from my artist friend, pillows and blankets for our lounge area, cake plates, and probably many other things I can’t remember. Replacing expense with meaning = always a win in my book.
Me in our veil, by Tanja Lippert, and Marget in our veil, by Katie Stoops
10. Share! I was lucky enough to be marrying just two months after my now sister-in-law, so we purchased several things to use at both of our weddings, including our veil and four boxwood garlands. We were also able to split some bulk supplies (like out-of-town bags) and therefore get a lower cost. I’ve heard amazing stories of brides getting married on the same weekend at a venue using the same tent draping, for instance, or the same arbor for their ceremony. See if your venue will put you in touch with your fellow brides, or put out feelers on social media or through friends of friends to see who you might be able to connect with! I love this idea!
Melissa Schollaert via Southern Weddings
11. Take care of your guests. We like details as much as y’all, but at some point (especially when you’re on a limited budget), it’s time to stop worrying about what your wedding will look like in photos, and start thinking about how it will FEEL to you and your guests. Sometimes, $15 worth of bug spray at a cocktail hour can be worth more than all the fancy linens and candles in the world. People will remember when you made them feel comfortable and included and welcomed, and they will also remember when they had to wait in a line or ate cold food or trek a mile to the bathroom because you didn’t want to pay for a port-a-potty. They will almost certainly forgive you for those things, because they are your dearest friends and family and they love you, but wouldn’t it be better to avoid them altogether? For us, gracious hospitality is always a budget “do.”
Brett Heidebrecht via Southern Weddings
12. Remember it’s not the only party you’ll throw in your lifetime. As I was planning our wedding, every so often I’d see an idea that I really, really wanted to include… except that it didn’t fit in our budget, or it didn’t fit with the aesthetic of our day. Whenever this happened, I sat myself down and issued a reminder: this party was not the last one I would throw in my lifetime. It might be the biggest, and it might be the most expensive, but I had years of dinner parties, birthday parties, and anniversary parties ahead of me, and there would more than likely be a place to incorporate my idea of the day into one of those future bashes. This almost always talked me down from the ledge :)
Bethany & Dan via Southern Weddings
I’ll leave you with perhaps my favorite way to sum up wedding budgeting: it’s possible to have a wedding on any budget, but it’s not possible to have any wedding on any budget. Your wedding will be gorgeous and meaningful and memorable because you two are at the center of it — blissfully happy and in love — no matter how much you spend or don’t spend. Years from now, that love and happiness is what you and your guests will remember above all else. It’s true.
Kristyn Hogan via Southern Weddings
Friends, I feel like I’ve hardly scratched the surface with these budgeting tips, even though this post is astonishingly long! What do y’all have to add? Where are you splurging and where are you saving for your wedding? Are you borrowing or sharing or supplementing? We’d love to hear in the comments!!
Melissa Schollaert and Amy Arrington are delightful members of our Blue Ribbon Vendor Directory!