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A major point of concern and confusion for many brides-to-be is the budget. If you haven’t planned a large-scale event, it’s understandable that you’ll have some questions. You make be wondering how to plan a wedding on a budget, or how to know what kind of expenses to expect. There are a lot of moving parts, but rest assured, you’ve got lots of wedding planning guidance at your fingertips!

To help you get on track, we created this helpful resource to build and stick to a wedding budget, which you can download below:

The ideas and options for planning a wedding are spiraling into a wider and wider sea of choices. In a way, that makes it even more fun. Brides today have the ability to choose between far more personalized and customizable options than ever before. Want a donut wall instead of a traditional wedding cake? Can do. Buying paper flowers instead of real bouquets? There are tons of vendors online to choose from.

Wedding budgeting checklist and planner
Buying a cute planner is as smart first step for good wedding budgeting!

The point is, your wedding should reflect you and your partner, and how you want to celebrate your love. No matter what style of wedding you opt for, you’ll need the right tools to make sure it’s successful. Although the internet is flooded with wedding advice and amazing ideas, Pinterest won’t be chipping in to pay for your wedding. That’s why you need a solid budget, which is the true foundation for crafting a perfect — but attainable — event. 

Luckily, we created just such a tool for you: a wedding budget spreadsheet! We’ve made it available as both a Google Doc and an Excel file, so all you have to do is download it and start filling in the fields. Although spreadsheets might seem dull, especially when compared to the starry-eyed romance of your wedding, this is definitely the best way to make sure you avoid some nasty financial surprises that could ruin the big day.

Setting a Realistic Wedding Budget

But just what should you expect to pay on the day itself, as well as leading up to it? Who should you expect to work with, and what does everything generally cost? It’s important to know what’s reasonable so that you can avoid going too high (and spending more money that you have saved), nor too low (and sacrificing on quality).

But just what should you expect to pay on the day itself, as well as leading up to it? Who should you expect to work with, and what does everything generally cost? It’s important to know what’s reasonable so that you can avoid going too high (and spending more money that you have saved), nor too low (and sacrificing on quality).

So grab your mimosa, get the spreadsheet ready, and let’s dive in.

How Much does a Good Wedding Cost?

The first thing most couples want to know is how much the wedding is going to cost. Of course, that’s up to you. Your budget, your parents’ budget, the number of guests you want to invite, the location and venue, the type of food served… these will all weigh heavily into the final tally. However, until you start speaking with specific vendors, you can use the following figures, based roughly on a 150-person guest list.

Today, the national average for a wedding is about $33,931 (excluding honeymoon expenses). Keep in mind that the general cost runs likely runs higher in bigger cities and lower in smaller ones. You’re definitely free to adjust what you pay for and prioritize to meet your own budget. Still, it may be helpful to note what couples on average are paying for different types of vendors:

  • Reception Venue: $15,439
  • Photographer: $2,679
  • Wedding/Event Planner: $2,002
  • Reception Band: $4,247
  • Reception DJ: $1,292
  • Florist/Décor: $2,411
  • Videographer: $2,021
  • Wedding Dress: $1,631
  • Groom Attire: $283
  • Wedding Cake: $528
  • Ceremony Venue: $2,382
  • Ceremony Musicians: $797
  • Officiant: $286
  • Catering (price per person): $70
  • Transportation: $856
  • Favors: $245
  • Rehearsal Dinner: $1,297
  • Engagement Ring: $5,680
  • Invitations: $386
  • Hairstylist: $123
  • Makeup Artist: $102

Wedding Budget Breakdown

About half of all couples spend more than initially planned, many underestimating the cost of vendors. If you’re worried about wedding costs, break them down by percentage of total. Rest assured, If there are categories that you feel are more important, you can always shift the money around. Here’s a general rule of thumb for how much money you should be allocating toward each vendor category (excluding honeymoon).

  • Food / Bar / Venue: 50% of Budget
  • Flowers / Lighting / Decorations: 8% of Budget
  • Photography / Videography: 12% of Budget
  • Attire/ Hair / Beauty: 9% of Budget
  • Music / Entertainment: 7% of Budget
  • Ceremony: 2% of Budget
  • Wedding Planner: 3% of Budget
  • Transportation: 2% of Budget
  • Invitations and Stationary: 2% of Budget
  • Wedding Rings: 2% of Budget
  • Favors and Gifts: 2% of Budget
  • Other Expenses: 1% of Budget

Unexpected Wedding Costs

Most brides and grooms tend to take the above figures into account, then forget about the smaller costs that crop up along the way. It’s best to carefully think through every aspect of the big day as well as the preparations leading up to it so that you’re not surprised by anything at the last minute. This will most likely happen under the best of circumstances, but you can cut down on the chances by keeping the following costs in mind from the beginning.

bridesmaids in burgundy bridesmaid dresses with umbrellas
Don’t let bad weather rain on your parade…clear umbrellas are a cute photo moment!

Remember you’ll likely also have to pay for:

  • The bachelor and bachelorette parties
  • Gifts for bridesmaids and groomsmen
  • Gifts for family members, such as parents
  • Beauty treatments aside from the big day, such as trial hair and makeup appointments, mani/pedis, facials, etc.
  • Suit and dress alterations
  • Rehearsal dinner
  • Other meals, such as day-of wedding breakfast  or brunch the day after
  • Wedding favors
  • Vendor tipping
  • Lighting and other décor
  • Backup plans (i.e., a tent for rain)
  • Thank you notes

These costs can really add up, so make sure to roll them into your budget from the beginning. Moreover, don’t forget to leave a little aside for unexpected emergencies, which will happen. If you need to rush out for an extra case of champagne, a pair of heels, umbrellas from a surprise rain shower  – or anything else – you don’t want to wonder where that money will come from.

Set aside at least $100, but ideally more like $500 to $1,000. Hopefully you won’t want to use it, but it’s best to be, as the Scouts would say: always prepared.

How to Cut Wedding Costs

Although having a good handle on expenses and using our Wedding Budget Template (more details below!) will certainly go a long way toward ensuring you make the smartest financial decisions, you do not have to pay market rates for everything in your wedding. There are several ways exist to cut down on the budget, but here are a few of the best:

  1. Enlist your friends. If you know someone in the baking, floral, catering or wedding planning industry, you might be able to get some great deals. If you opt for free labor, make sure your friend is a close one and really wants to do it. You also need to know the venue’s rules; many won’t allow friends and family to make food or serve booze, for instance. Have any musical or ordained friends? Consider asking them to be a part of your ceremony by performing or facilitating the vows. 
  2. Buy booze at the grocery store. Many caterers will try to convince you to buy beer and wine through them at a higher price. Check with them beforehand to see if you can purchase alcohol by the case on your own, which can be a huge money-saver. You’ll still need to pay caterers extra to serve it, though, if they even allow it (you’ll need to check beforehand).
  3. Avoid unnecessary tradition. Sometimes, you think you need to pay a lot for something just because it’s common. But do you really need those engraved invitations? Or the towering white cake? If you’d be just as happy with some simple stationery and donuts from your favorite shop, go for it.
  4. Simplify Desserts. Wedding cakes cost a lot and often go uneaten. Consider doing a different type of dessert, like mini cupcakes. You could always get a small, decorative cake for cutting and pictures, with cheaper sheet cakes for the masses. You can also ask your bakery to cut the cake into smaller slices to cut down on volume.
  5. Use the template! We kept our wedding budget spreadsheet simple and easy to use. Just follow these steps listed below!
Donut wall for affordable wedding dessert idea
Redefine wedding desserts with an adorable donut wall! Photo credit: Happywedd

Wedding Budget Template

Open whichever version suits you best: Excel or Google Docs. Please note in Google Docs you have to select “File > Make a copy” so you can edit your own version.

  • Enter your total wedding budget in cell K5.
  • Add individual estimates for each component.
  • Use the “Miscellaneous” category for anything we haven’t captured in
    the spreadsheet.

As actual expenses happen, add them into the appropriate “actuals” columns. This will enable you to see if you’re going over or coming under budget and allow you to adjust accordingly. Also note that if you add or remove rows, the final amounts and formulas may need to be adjusted to reflect the new format.

  • Wedding Budget Template on Excel: Here’s a copy of the Brideside Wedding Budget Template that you can download to use in Excel on your computer. You’ll need Microsoft Excel to use this file.
  • Wedding Budget Template on Google Docs: Brideside’s Google Docs wedding budget template lets you easily collaborate with others (like your future spouse or parents). Save and edit your own copy by going to “file” and then “make a copy.” You can name the file anything you want and it will be saved to your Google Drive.

Take a deep breath! Not only do you have a thorough wedding budget overview, but also a handy template to keep by your side throughout the planning process and right up to the special day.

Less Spend, More Fun 

Total wedding spend is certainly high, but any woman who has been in a wedding party can tell you that the cost of being a bridesmaid isn’t cheap either. Wedding Wire estimates the average bridesmaid dress comes in at around $208, and alterations can add nearly $70.

One way to help knock down the cost is by looking into more affordable bridesmaid dress options, like the Brideside collection, with all full-length dresses priced at $150. Our private label collection marries the trends you love with an attainable price point.

When you’re ready to start exploring wedding and bridesmaid dresses, get in touch with us. We’ll pair you with a complimentary stylist to help you bring your dream wedding to life — and fit within your budget.