A wedding day is a happy but also complicated day filled with many moving parts—not to mention the added pressure of having to be a perfect occasion. Weddings are also a big business. Not surprisingly, as in many industries, a whole profession of advisors exists, generically known as “wedding planners.” Though not new—the oldest planner trade organization dates back to the 1950s—these nuptial consultants are increasingly in demand as wedding celebrations grow ever more elaborate, involved, and individualized.
Here’s what you need to know about how wedding planners work and if hiring one is worth it for your big day.
- Some wedding planners have a large involvement in the planning process from start to finish, while some can be hired just for the day to help coordinate the big event.
- The wedding planning profession is unregulated and doesn’t require any licenses, training, or official credentials, but if you hire one, make sure they're a member of an established wedding planner organization.
- The average cost of a wedding planner as listed in the 2020 Brides American Wedding Study is $2,300.
Types of Wedding Planners
A wedding planner, sometimes called a “director,” “coordinator,” or—a bit archaically—“bridal consultant,” is basically a professional who organizes, oversees, and orchestrates either an entire wedding or specific aspects of it. Their duties can range from setting a budget to setting place cards, or from culling a list of florists to cueing the band.
There are different types of wedding planners. The most common categories include:
Also known as “full-fledged” planners, they are involved in the wedding ceremony and celebrations from start to finish. Often employed many months in advance, they find and hire vendors and venues, handle invitations, sketch out a floor plan and schedule, and direct everything and everybody on the wedding day itself. In 2020, according to research firm the Wedding Report, the average sum spent on a full-service planner was $2,773. However, the rate of top-tier pros can range from $4,500 to $12,000.
Also known as “month-of” planners, they get engaged much closer to the main event—four to six weeks or so. They might be involved in finding you a specific vendor, but more often they become the point person for the vendors you’ve already hired. They also confirm logistics, arrange timetables, help with seating plans and other last-minute tasks/details, and are on site to coordinate it all come wedding day. Their 2020 average tab comes to $1,055, though they often charge anywhere from $1,250 to $6,000—roughly half of the full-service planners.
These are what most people think of when they hear “wedding planner.” Indeed, they’re the most commonly used type, chosen by 37% of the planner-hiring couples surveyed in the 2020 WeddingWire Newlywed Report (full-service planners were the second-most popular, used by 31% of couples). Those in the biz prefer to call them “wedding coordinators” or sometimes “wedding directors,” because they don’t do much, if any, planning. Coordination, not creativity, is their thing. They function as the stage manager of the big day (and sometimes the rehearsal): directing the vendors where to set up and the wedding participants where to go while keeping everything on schedule and troubleshooting along the way. A day-of planner costs an average $825 in 2020, though rates for the more experienced range from $1,250 to $3,395.
These fulfill a particular function or focus on a particular type of celebration, such as a destination wedding. A subset of this type is the “design and decor” consultant, more properly called a “wedding designer.” Like a theatrical set designer, this pro focuses on the look of the wedding: color scheme, decor, style, lighting, and floor plan. While they’ll engage and interact with vendors, overseeing setup and breakdown, they don’t get involved with the unaesthetic aspects of the wedding or the overall schedule.
Obviously, there’s overlap among these categories. Design-only reps aside, about “75% to 80% of planners do all of the major types of planning,” says Veronica Foster, director of outreach for the Association of Bridal Consultants, the oldest wedding industry planner organization.
The average cost of a wedding planner—about 8% of the total price tag of a wedding—cited in the 2020 Brides American Wedding Study, according to Anna Price Olson, associate editorial director of Brides
How Wedding Planners Charge
Wedding planners charge in a variety of ways. Many offer flat-rate packages augmented by à la carte add-ons. Full-service planners frequently charge a fee that’s a percentage of the total cost of the celebration (the venue and the vendors); around 20% is standard, says Anna Price Olson, associate editorial director of Brides. Day or hourly rates are less common but growing, especially among day-of planners; $75 to $275 per hour is a typical range.
Who Benefits From a Wedding Planner?
Given the variety of services and prices, there’s conceivably a wedding planner for every couple. If the logistics of your affair are complex, due to size, location, or the number of days/events, a planner can be invaluable. Many consider them a must for a destination wedding that guests must travel to—or any long-distance celebration, for that matter.
For example, one professional couple—a public health researcher and a pediatrician—was based in Seattle but wanted to hold their wedding in rural Maryland, near the bride-to-be’s childhood home. Needing “someone to coordinate cross-country,” as the groom says, they located a planner online to find local vendors and do walk-throughs of their rustic venue, figuring out where and how to stage the ceremony, situate the band, and arrange the tables.
A wedding planner can also benefit those with a tight timeline. While the concept of wedding planning suggests an elaborate, long-range affair—and some full-fledged consultants do demand an advance period of several months—planners can also move fast. Unlike couples, they’re not starting from scratch when it comes to researching florists, stationers, or caterers. They have vendors and venues at their fingertips and can streamline the selection and signing process.
Planners’ familiarity with various vendors and services can be a boon to same-sex couples, untraditional couples, and couples with special needs. Brides 2020 American Wedding Study found that same-gender newlyweds are 10% more likely than different-gender newlyweds to say that wedding planning was a challenge, whether due to homophobia, the use of gendered language, a lack of inspirational and informational resources, or downright “discrimination from vendors,” as one officiant who performs LGBTQ+, multifaith, nondenominational ceremonies said. Some planners specialize in LGBTQ+ couples. At the very least, a good planner can short-list and connect you with enlightened providers who are open and sensitive to all.
Finally, a planner can be a valuable resource for any couple that just feels too busy, too disorganized, or too overwhelmed by the wedding process to cope alone. If you and your intended don’t like reading services contracts or digging into details—if you’re more cut-to-the-chase, boil-down-my-choices types—then a planner is the professional for you.
Who Doesn’t Need a Wedding Planner?
Conversely, highly organized couples who prefer to be hands-on and love researching and delving into details would probably find a planner to cause more stress, rather than less. While you always cast the deciding vote, you do have to trust your planner and delegate to some degree. If you feel you can’t, the arrangement won't work. More specifically, if your wedding is small or its logistics are very simple, there’s probably no need for a wedding planner.
It can also depend on your site. Some venues are all-inclusive, providing furnishings, decorations, and catering or offering you a list of approved vendors to work with. They often provide an event coordinator of their own, who is on site during the proceedings. If that’s the case, a planner might be redundant. For example, this writer was married at a New York City university club, which had a professional, proactive events department; my assigned catering manager essentially functioned as a wedding planner, leaving me to figure out only a few details on my own.
Choosing a Wedding Planner
Anyone can claim to be a wedding planner. The profession is unregulated and doesn’t require any licenses, specific training, or official credentials. You may see the term “certified” or “master planner” by someone’s name, but that’s an industry designation, not a state-sanctioned one.
That said, make sure a planner is a member of an established wedding planner organization, recommends Foster. In the U.S., the best known include the American Association of Certified Wedding Planners (AACWP), the Association of Bridal Consultants (ABC), the National Society of Black Wedding & Event Professionals (NSBWEP), and the Wedding International Professionals Association (WIPA). “It shows they’re a serious professional,” says Foster—willing to pay dues, subscribe to a code of ethics, and even take courses to maintain or advance their status.
The perils of an unprofessional planner were made clear to one Washington, D.C., couple, both attorneys. Right after they signed the planner’s contract, six months before their wedding, she ghosted them. It turned out she had a busy day job; wedding planning was only her sideline gig. The couple ended up finding most of the vendors and venues and making arrangements themselves. Their planner did show up for and handle the day-of logistics—though not seamlessly. As the bride walked down the aisle, sounds of a ringing phone filled the air; the planner was playing the music through her mobile—and had forgotten to turn off the ringer.
Working With a Planner
Along with checking out a planner—in addition to professional affiliations, ask for recent references—you should set expectations, so you’re clear on exactly what services you’ll be getting for your money. Beyond that, it’s important to find people who align with your values. As Olson puts it, “You’re hiring someone you’ll be spending a lot of time with, who’s going to be part of your daily life.”
Never allow a situation in which you feel that you’re giving up control of your wedding; it’s the planner’s job to put your plans into action. “She didn’t try to micromanage us or have specific ideas,” recalls the married-in-Maryland health researcher of their planner. “From the beginning, she said she’d do what we wanted.”
The percentage of couples surveyed in 2020 Brides American Wedding Study who used a wedding planner, according to Anna Price Olson, associate editorial director of Brides
The Bottom Line
Can a wedding planner even save you money, as some sites breathlessly claim? Not exactly. First of all, they themselves are an expense. And don’t buy into the myth that they’ll score you substantial discounts from suppliers. At best, a vendor who works often with a planner might throw in a few freebies—more flowers, an extra hour of photographer time—but that’s it.
However, a wedding planner can save you time, and time is money. An effective planner maximizes your buying power by thinking of innovative ways to stretch the nuptial dollars. They can help you draw up a wedding budget and stay on that budget, avoiding impulse spending and splurges on things you don’t need.
Of course, that includes keeping their costs in line. On average, people spend about 8% of their overall wedding budget on planners. Olson recommends allotting no more than 15%. Set the right boundaries, both economic and emotional, and a wedding planner can turn out to be, as she puts it, “the best investment a couple can make.”
What Is the Difference Between a Wedding Planner and a Wedding Coordinator?
Although the terms are often used interchangeably, and do overlap to a degree, “wedding planner" and “wedding coordinator" mean different things to industry professionals.
A wedding planner helps design and orchestrate a wedding from the beginning. As such, they help couples draw up a budget, find and hire vendors, structure and set a timetable for the ceremony and reception, and oversee everything on the wedding day. A wedding planner is often a full-service provider.
“Wedding coordinator” is the preferred term for a month-of or day-of professional wedding consultant, whose services are more limited. Coming later into the process, these individuals play little part in the wedding design, budget, and choice of vendors. They do become the contact person for the vendors and the venue. They also prepare a schedule for the wedding day events and are on site to manage them, making sure all goes smoothly.
What Is a Certified Wedding Planner?
A certified wedding planner is someone who has completed an industry-approved educational program (covering event planning and design and sometimes small business management) and who often has substantial professional experience as well. The certification is granted by the educational authority, such as Longevity University’s Wedding Planning Institute, which offers courses through several colleges.
Industry associations also have certification programs. For example, the American Association of Certified Wedding Planners requires candidates to have done full-service planning for three weddings within 18 months, have completed two mentorships by AACWP members and accredited educational courses, and furnish business credentials: a business license, proof of liability insurance, client references, and two accounts with national suppliers.
How Much Do People Spend on Wedding Planners?
Couples typically spend about 11% of their total wedding budget on wedding planners or coordinators, according to 2020 data compiled by the Wedding Report, a research firm.