How to Create a Wedding Budget

One of the first things that crossed my mind the week after Chuck proposed was our wedding budget. I knew we would both want a special event, but wanted to keep it within reason as well. We didn’t want to get hitched at the courthouse on a Wednesday, but also didn’t need a white dove release after our “I dos.”

But what does “within reason” mean, anymore? According to the Huffington Post, the average cost of a wedding in 2015 hit an all-time high of over $31,000. Think about what you could do with that money! Put a down payment on a house, go on a bomb luxe vacation—even LIVE in some countries for several years! We didn’t want to go overboard, but didn’t have the first clue how to set up a budget.

We had certain “must haves” we already talked about, but after seeing so many friends get married, the expenses already sounded like they were going to be pretty intense. The nutty control freak in me wanted to get a number out there to work from. But, I quickly realized that the number I initially mentioned to Chuck wasn’t founded on….well….anything. After all, I didn’t have any kind of context of what is possible. 

Here are the steps we took to finalize our budget.

Step 1: Make sure your wedding budget flows into your overall budget

When we got started, I had no idea how our wedding budget would flow into our overall budget…. Because we didn’t have one yet. We had talked about finances just a little bit, but I didn’t have a great sense of where we were with retirement or even how much cash we had on hand all combined. That’s a whole other story.

You should absolutely have a comprehensive plan for your financial future BEFORE you start your wedding budget. If you don’t know what your combined debt looks like, or what your monthly expenses are, there’s no way you can figure out how much money you have to spend on a wedding.

 

Step 2: Use a wedding planner and/or cost guesstimate websites to come up with a ballpark number

Chuck and I immediately decided to hire a wedding planner—or at least consider hiring one if it wasn’t too expensive. At the time, Chuck was on the night shift for his brewing job (he brews beer—yum!) and I had an extremely demanding role managing a global sales team. Since we didn’t want a long engagement, we knew from talking to friends we would need to move quickly to nail down a venue, which was something neither of us had time to do.

Luckily we found Abbey Hoefling with Purple Summer Events. Quick Abbey pitch—she is affordable and her services are customizable. She’s doing such a fabulous job. Even if you don’t hire a full-time wedding planner, I recommend getting a “day of” coordinator to manage everything from vendor payments to where to put the band in your reception. Because let’s face it—you deserve to be drinking mimosas getting your hair done instead of working.

Anyway, Abbey was able to give us a sense of whether our wedding budget was within reason or not. Other planners we interviewed (but didn’t hire) also gave their opinion of our wedding budget, so even if you don’t decide to hire someone, you can still get expert advice on your budget.

If you’re not hiring a planner, no problem. I recommend CostOfWedding.com, which is a site that will ask you some questions about what you envision your wedding day to look like, and then gives you an estimated cost based on where you live. It was within $3,000 of our total wedding cost when I used it!

Step 3: Create a wedding Google Drive file & add a spreadsheet for your budget

Using Google Drive to plan wedding things is extremely important. If you’re not familiar with Google Drive, it is a FREE collaborative cloud storage platform. The “collaborative” part is very important—I can be in there adding budgets for DIY centerpieces and my mom (who lives 4 hours away) will pop in while we’re on the phone so we can look at them together.

For now, go to drive.google.com. If you have a Gmail address, login! If not, create one. In the upper left side just click New and then Folder. Name it something special! Mine is called “Samantha & Charles Wedding.”

After that, open the folder. Click New and then Google Sheets to create your spreadsheet for your budget.

OR BONUS! I actually created one that breaks down the average percentages of each category you would spend, so most of your work is done if you use this sheet.

Step 4: Start your guest list

Keep in mind--the more people you invite, the more food will cost. Food is a significant portion of your budget! Let’s say you can get food for $50 a plate (which was much lower than our food cost). If you invite 100 people, you’re already at $5,000…not including booze!

To do this, in your Google Drive file click New and Google Sheets. Start writing them out! Once you’re done, you can go to the upper right corner and click on the blue Share button, type in your parents email addresses, and ask them to contribute the people they would like to this guest list.

I highly recommend two things:

  1. Anyone contributing to your guest list should write their initials by the guests they request, and
  2. There should be an A|B column in your sheet. “A” guests HAVE to be there (think grandma or your aunt Sally). “B” guests are people you’d love to be there, but if money is tight and you have to cut people…

Step 5: Talk with your fiancé about your “must haves”

Chuck and I knew that we wanted 3 main things on our big day: awesome food, a free bar, and a live band. Maybe your “must haves” include a dress you’ve had your eye on that is quite pricey, or really amazing floral arrangements. Maybe it’s a massive cake or your pet walking you down the aisle. Whatever it is, get your list written down.

Your “must haves” are important to keep in mind, and important to mention to your family, because if your budget dictates that you need to cut something later on, you don’t want to get caught up in the emotion of the moment and splurge on something that you actually don’t care that much about. Similarly, your family’s “must haves” may be different than yours, and they should understand what’s important to you from the get go. If there are arguments about where money is spent, money they are willing to contribute could go toward the things they view as important.

Step 6: Verify if the family plans to contribute financially

Talking about money with your family can be quite tricky and awkward.

You don’t want to go in and say, “Hey, so, uh….are you guys giving us money for the wedding?”

BUT, since you have the spreadsheet all filled out and ready to go, you can use the handy Share button to share it with your family. On a phone call or in person with your family, you can tell them that this is the estimate of how much the wedding will cost based on experts in your area.

Perhaps the cost in the spreadsheet is $20,000 but you and your fiancé can only contribute $10,000. You might mention to your parents that the guest count will need to be X in order for you to keep the cost at $10,000. Or, perhaps you will need to have a wedding in a non-peak season in order to make it work.

Opening up the conversation about money with real data in front of you will likely get your parents thinking and talking about how much they can contribute. Chances are, your parents may not have thought about how much weddings cost since they got married! Since wedding costs are much higher than they used to be, showing them the reality of what you are faced with may help them understand what you can do with a certain amount of money.

One question I get a lot is, “What if my parents told me they are going to help us out, but they haven’t committed to how much yet?” The answer to that is that by showing them this spreadsheet, you can point out that you actually need to know a tentative dollar figure now, because it’s going to impact every decision you make moving forward. The first thing you need to do is find a venue, and as you can see by the spreadsheet, that and the food make up a massive percentage of your total budget.

Questions? Please email them to Samantha@couples-finance.com and I’ll answer them soon!