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Wedding Budgets 101

You are engaged! Immediately following the congratulations will come the question: "When's the big day?" As you imagine your walk down the aisle, you may be tempted to dive right into wedding planning. But take a breath and enjoy the moment. Before searching for the perfect venue or dress, you must answer one crucial question: 'What's your wedding budget?'

Beautiful aisle for an outdoor wedding in Palm Springs, California

Photo by Samuel Lippke

While the word budget may be a killjoy, knowing your budget upfront allows you to embark on a stress-free journey, prioritizing pleasure while feeling at ease financially. Your budget becomes your guide in selecting everything, from the invitations to the location to the wedding planner. With a handy spreadsheet dividing your budget into categories, you can narrow your options like a ninja.

Before we look at the budget categories, here is something you may not have considered: the wedding industry is tiered. Like the auto industry, there are Kia, Acura, Mercedes, Rolls-Royce, and even Lamborghini venues and vendors specializing in a specific market. These five tiers, semiluxury/economy, midlevel, high-end, luxury, and ultra-luxury, are determined by the demand, experience level, and offerings of specific vendors and are not transparent, often leading to great confusion and added stress for couples.

According to the Knot, weddings in New York City average $ 90,000, nearly double every US city except Los Angeles. NYC semiluxury/economy-level weddings start at $60k and go upwards of $400k for an ultra-luxury wedding. Determining a realistic budget allows you to find vendors specializing in your market segment. Ask potential vendors about the average budgets they work with to determine if they are a good fit.

Wedding Budget Variables

A wedding budget is loaded with variables because your vision evolves throughout the process. Listed below are some of the most significant ones;

Guest List

The number of guests you are hosting determines the venue size you need to book and the price of every other budget item. The more guests, the more catering and staff you will need, the more tables to decorate, the more invitations to send, the more liquor to buy, and so on. For those with robust budgets, large families, and multitudes of friends – the more, the merrier! If you have a lofty vision but are working with a down-to-earth budget, pare down your guest list to spend more per person. Either way, your wedding day will be unforgettable because it celebrates you and your soulmate. Your next step will be to make a guest list so you can strategically choose everything with this number in mind.

Geographic Location

Venues and vendors vary in price depending on where you choose to get married. A luxury photographer based in New York City will be priced differently than one in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania. The same goes for your wedding planners, florists, and entertainment.

What Matters to You

Prioritize three areas that are most important to you and your partner. For example, the catering and bar service will be your priority if you two are foodies. Splurging on the gown, tux, and accessories makes sense if you work in the fashion industry. Or, if you imagine yourself on the dance floor with your friends all night, make sure the music and entertainment are fantastic. Figuring this out will make the day uniquely your own. You can then find cost-effective routes for everything else.

Budget Categories

Hold on to your hats; we will break down your wedding budget into percentages by category. You will be on the high end of the range for the areas you deem as priorities, and you'll be on the lower end for areas that are less important to you. Wedding planning services are separate fees and not broken down in these percentages; we will get to those later.

Ceremony Venue: 2 to 5%

There is usually a rental fee if the ceremony space is separate from your reception venue.

Reception Venue Rental: 7 to 20%

Reception venue rentals will start at around 7-10% of your overall budget, but properties that do not offer in-house catering may cost more, up to 20%. This rental fee is separate from your F&B costs.

Food and Beverage: 24 to 40%

This category varies depending on if you are booking an off-premises caterer or an in-house caterer. Your guest count will also determine the style of the meal (plated, family-style, or buffet), venue type, and location.

Cake: 2%

The intricacies of the cake determine the price. Designs that include fondant, sugar florals, and other fine art elements tend to lean on the higher side.

Photography: 10 to 20%

Photography packages vary based on the photographer's experience, travel, number of hours needed, if a second or third shooter is required, if you're purchasing wedding albums for yourself or your parents (highly recommended!), and if you're ordering fine art prints. Plan a good portion of your budget for this category.

Cinematography: 5 to 20%

Again, the experience level of the cinematographer will largely determine the cost. Also, decide if you want a highlight film (around 5-7% of your budget) or an entire movie (about 10-20%).

Floral Design: 10 to 15%

The number of arrangements, type of florals, and their style all factor in here. Chuppahs, unique installations, and tall arrangements add up quickly.

Officiant: < 1%

Many religious officiants will perform the wedding for free, but giving them a monetary gift is customary as footing any travel expenses. If a family member or friend is marrying you, you'll want to check with the town and state to confirm the process and fees for obtaining a one-day marriage designation or look into getting them ordained.

Fashion and Accessories: 5 to 8%

The wedding dress(es) will take up this budget, and you must also factor in the alterations, a veil or headpiece, undergarments, shoes, and jewelry. If the wedding involves a groom (or grooms), the budget can vary considerably depending on if he or they chooses to rent or purchase the tux(es) or suit(s). Other items include alterations, cuff links, neck accessories (think bowtie or tie), shoes, socks, and a watch.

Beauty: 2 to 5%

The percentage will depend on whether you provide hair and makeup for the wedding party. You might also consider providing extras such as a nail artist, waxing, facials, a barber for clean-ups, etc.

Music and Entertainment: 7 to 20%

You might want to hire a string quartet or live performer for your ceremony. In addition, you'll also have cocktail-hour music and a DJ (7 to 10%) or a band (10 to 20%) for the main event.

Stationery: 5 to 10%

Save the dates, invitations, RSVP cards, ceremony programs, menus, escort, place cards, thank you cards, stamps, and signage are all included in this budget. Stationery sets the tone for your wedding. Some clients invest in extras such as custom maps, itinerary inserts, calligraphy, wax seals, envelope liners, etc. You may choose an "off the rack" option (5 to 7%) versus a custom designer ( 7-10%). Printing (digital, foiling, embossing, etc.) also impacts costs. A way to save here is to opt for Paperless Post, but you may wish to hire a designer to create a one-of-a-kind invitation to be uploaded. (2-4%).

Favors and Gifts: 2 to 5%

If you have a destination wedding, you may choose to have welcome bags for all your guests (3-5%). Only out-of-towners will receive these bags if you choose a local wedding venue (2% or less).

In addition to welcome gifts, it's customary to give bridal party members a gift, such as something to wear on the event day. You also might consider giving your parents a token of appreciation, especially if they contributed to the wedding. Finally, you may want to factor in parting favors for every guest attending the reception.

Transportation: 3 to 7%

You and your bridal party will need a ride from your hotel or getting ready location to the venue and between the ceremony and reception venues. You might also rent a getaway, like a beautiful vintage car or limo.

Rentals: 5 to 10%

If you get married at a hotel ballroom, the venue might have tables, chairs, linens, dinnerware, and serving ware, all included. But if you'd like to customize the venue's offerings or have an outdoor or non-traditional venue, all these items will be rented.

Mad Money: 5 to 7%

Be prepared. There are always unexpected expenses that come up. Equipped with this list, you are ready to assemble the team to make your dream wedding a reality! While it may require hours of research, figuring out your budget and priorities and finding vendors to match are your first steps toward planning your wedding. And if you don't have the time or these numbers are making your head spin, prioritize hiring a wedding planner so you can enjoy your engagement and focus on the fun stuff like the cake tasting.

Four tier wedding cake decorated with flowers
Nine Cakes wedding cake

Photo by Four Eyes Photography

Wedding Planning Services and Fees


Full-Service Planning, Design, and Coordination

A full-service planner begins before or after the venue is chosen. (They can help you locate an ideal venue or destination.) You may have hired a few vendors, but bringing a full-service wedding planner to take the reins will lead to a seamless planning experience. Planners vary; some may offer event design (savings for you), while others work exclusively with outside designers or production companies, especially for large, production-style weddings. An excellent full-service planner is your sidekick, sounding board, and sometimes your psychologist. This type of planner generally offers concierge service and takes on a select number of clients annually to devote the attention to detail required to produce an extraordinary, bespoke event. Full-service planners charge a fee equal to 12-20% of the overall wedding budget. A seasoned full-service planner saves you time and money and will guarantee a flawless event.

Partial Planning

Perhaps you've hired several vendors but are stuck on what to do next. Or you need help creating a cohesive design. Maybe your schedule has become hectic, and you are looking for a planner to guide you to the finish line! If so, you may want to hire a wedding planner. Partial planning usually begins mid-way through the process. Expect to pay 10-12% of the event budget, a flat rate, or some hybrid, depending upon the scope of work. Invest in this service for peace of mind so your wedding looks and feels like you.

Month-of Coordination/Event Management

While commonly referred to as "day-of," a better description for this service is "coordination for the day of the wedding." Work starts with a consultation one to two months before the wedding. From there, a planner creates a timeline for the wedding day and works to ensure that everything comes together just as you envisioned. An event manager costs around 5-7% of the overall budget, and this small investment ensures that countless hours of planning will pay off and that you get the most from your vendors. Suppose a last-minute snafu crops up; having a coordinator on board allows you to be charming, gracious hosts rather than frazzled, last-minute problem solvers. While a venue and catering coordinator are crucial to the success of an event, they do not do what a wedding planner does. Please note that some wedding venues require hiring a planner or a coordinator for the wedding day.

We hope this was a helpful overview. As always, please contact us with questions or if we can help. Happy planning! xo


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