Planning a wedding starts with setting a budget. For many couples, it's also their first experience of making complicated financial decisions together. And these days, it's couples—not parents—who generally do the heavy lifting when it comes to paying for weddings and the events around them.

Having a plan for spending can keep you from wasting money unnecessarily or racking up excessive debt to get married. Knowing what to include in a wedding budget and how to save the money you’ll need can help you start newlywed life on the right financial footing.

Key Takeaways

  • Establishing a wedding budget can help you avoid wasting money or starting married life in debt.
  • Things such as where you live, the size of the wedding ceremony and reception, and your personal preferences can affect the total cost of a wedding.
  • When planning a wedding budget, it’s important to consider which expenses to include based on what you can realistically afford to spend.
  • It’s also important to discuss who pays for what with your future spouse when working out your wedding budget.

Average Cost of a Wedding

How much does a typical wedding cost? In 2020, average wedding spending came to $28,964, according to data collected by Brides. This emphasizes why planning a wedding budget is so important.

Without a budget, you may be at greater risk of overspending or creating debt to pay for wedding expenses. Keep in mind that $28,964 is an average. What you actually spend on a wedding may be influenced by:

  • Where you live
  • Whether you choose a local wedding or a destination wedding
  • How many people you invite
  • Which wedding traditions you choose to uphold (or new ones you introduce)

The bigger the ceremony, the more it may cost. In 2020, Brides reports a growing trend of micro-weddings, typically with no more than 50 guests. And 42% of couples in a study by The Knot chose to hold an even tinier “minimony,” with up to 10 people, in place of a full-scale wedding. The typical minimony clocked in at only $1,400.

Factors such as inflation and supply chain disruptions can increase the average cost of a wedding, which is something to consider when planning your budget.

How to Build Your Wedding Budget

If you’re ready to start planning your wedding budget, these tips can help take some of the stress out of the process.

Know what to include

The actual costs included in your wedding budget can vary based on the type of ceremony. These are some items for which you may generally expect to incur costs when planning a typical full-scale wedding:

  • Venue
  • Rental fees for tables and chairs
  • Officiant’s fees
  • Marriage license
  • Catering
  • Alcohol
  • Wedding cake
  • Wedding favors for guests
  • Bridal party/groomsman gifts
  • Bachelor/bachelorette party
  • Flowers and decor
  • Photographer/videographer
  • Music and entertainment
  • Wedding invitations/stationery
  • Bride and groom attire
  • Hairstyling/makeup
  • Wedding bands
  • Transportation
  • Rehearsal dinner

Whether your wedding budget includes all of these things or just some of them can depend on the scope and scale of the ceremony you’re planning. For example, if you decide to get married on your grandparents’ 100-year-old farm, you may not have to budget for a venue booking fee. If you’re outsourcing items such as photography and hairstyling to friends, they may offer their services for free in lieu of a traditional wedding gift.

When building a wedding budget, it can help to start with an exhaustive list of everything you think might cost you money. From there, you can work on narrowing down the list to only include what you can realistically afford.

If you’re considering a destination wedding, be sure to factor into your budget the added costs of travel arrangements, passport fees, and currency exchange rates.

Set your spending limit

When budgeting for a wedding, it helps to first understand the total dollar amount you want to spend or can afford to spend.

If you’re not sure how much you can earmark to spend on a wedding, consider:

  • How much you and your future spouse currently have in savings
  • How much you can each afford to save monthly toward a wedding
  • How long you have to prepare until the wedding day

For example, say you’re aiming to spend the $19,000 on average that couples spent in 2021 according to The Knot's research. Your wedding is 10 months away, and you currently have $3,000 saved in a wedding fund. You’d need to save $1,600 per month to reach your goal. But what if the take-home pay for both of you is $3,200 per month? Saving half your take-home probably isn't feasible. The next part of planning a wedding budget is looking at your regular monthly budget to see what’s doable.

Say, for instance, that you go over your spending and decide that at most you can save $400 per month. That amount saved over 10 months, combined with the $3,000 you already have, would give you $7,000 in total savings for the wedding. At this point, you have a few choices. You could:

  • Downsize the scale of the wedding to stay within your $7,000 savings limit
  • Look for ways to increase your income so you’re able to save more money each month
  • Ask family and friends for help in paying for the wedding
  • Take out a personal loan or use credit cards to finance wedding expenses

These solutions have their pros and cons, which you’d have to weigh before choosing the right one.

If you’re considering a personal loan or credit card, look for one that offers the lowest interest rate possible to make wedding debt less expensive.

Break your budget into percentages

If you know what you can spend on a wedding and which expenses you plan to include, you’re ready for the next step. This involves dividing your budget into percentages to cover each spending category.

Here’s an example of what that might look like, based on a $19,000 budget:

  • 40% for the venue and catering ($7,600)
  • 10% for furniture rental ($1,900)
  • 10% for photography ($1,900)
  • 10% for flowers and decor ($1,900)
  • 10% for entertainment ($1,900)
  • 5% for bride and groom attire ($950)
  • 5% for hairstyling and makeup ($950)
  • 3% for the cake ($570)
  • 3% for stationary/invitations ($570)
  • 2% for favors ($380)
  • 2% for transportation ($380)

Your budget percentages may look different based on which expenses you plan to include. Still, using this type of budgeting method can help you see at a glance how much you should be earmarking for each wedding expense.

Consider using a free budgeting app to keep track of your wedding budget and expenses.

Decide who pays for what

When building a wedding budget, it’s important to talk about who’s going to pay for what with your future spouse and respective families. According to WeddingWire’s 2020 Newlywed Report, parents paid 52% of wedding costs, while the couple getting married paid 47%. Another 1% of costs were borne by other loved ones.

Couples most often used their savings to pay, though they also used cash, checks, and credit cards. When working out who pays what, consider what both families can afford to pay as well as what you and your future spouse can afford to pay individually.

Traditionally, the bride’s family has shouldered the burden for wedding costs, But these rules don't hold as much these days. In the 2020 Brides survey, 58% of couples paid for the reception themselves, and half paid for the rehearsal dinner. Traditional rules likely apply even less for LGBTQ+ couples, in which there might be two "families of the bride" or no brides at all. Today's couples are making up their own rules.

For all kinds of couples, wide gaps in income or assets can also shape who pays what. For example, if one of you makes 70% of your household income while the other makes 30%, you may choose to split wedding costs along those lines. Or if one of you has substantially more in savings, that partner may choose to put up more money toward wedding expenses so the couple doesn't have to take on debt. The goal should be to find a compromise that works for you, your future spouse, your families, and anyone else who will contribute financially to the wedding.

The Bottom Line

Planning a wedding can be stressful, but financial concerns shouldn’t overshadow the big day. Estimating your expenses using an online wedding budget calculator is a good place to start. From there, you can work out a plan with your future spouse to decide how to save for a wedding and who should pay what, allowing you to enter married life with as few money headaches as possible.

Think of the wedding planning process as an important way to develop skills in discussing and negotiating the important money decisions that are sure to be part of your future together. Your adventures are just beginning.