How to Build Your Wedding Budget

Get your marriage started on solid financial footing

In 2021, the average wedding cost totaled $28,964, according to data collected by Brides. When creating a wedding budget, it helps to first understand the total dollar amount you want to spend or can afford to spend.

Compile a list that highlights the top expenses to include in your wedding budget and then allocate a percentage of your budget to each expense to determine the dollar value to contribute to each item. A wedding budget can be affected by how long you have to prepare for the day and how much you have in savings or plan to save monthly.

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.

What Influences a Wedding Budget?

The total cost of a wedding may be influenced by:

  • Where you live
  • Whether you choose a local wedding or a destination wedding
  • How many people invited
  • Which wedding traditions you choose to uphold, or new ones that you introduce

In 2020, Brides reported 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,” limited to 10 people, with a cost of 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.

What to Include in Your Wedding Budget

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. When building a wedding budget, it can help to start with an exhaustive list of everything that may cost money and then narrow down the list to only include what you can realistically afford.

  • 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

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 a Spending Limit

If you’re aiming to spend $19,000, your wedding is 10 months away, and you currently have $3,000 saved in a wedding fund, then 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.

If you go over your spending and decide that at most you can save $400 per month, then 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

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.

Wedding Budget: The Percentages

Divide 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. Using this type of budgeting method can help you see at a glance how much you should be earmarked for each wedding expense.

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

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 of 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 family, 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.

Article Sources
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  1. Brides. "Why You Can Expect to Spend More on Your 2021–2022 Wedding—and How to Save on Costs."

  2. Brides. "Marriage in the 'New' America: A Pandemic, Equality, and an Industry Ready for Change."

  3. The Knot. "The Knot 2020 Real Weddings Study [COVID-19 Edition]."

  4. WeddingWire. "Newlywed Report 2020."

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