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How to figure out your wedding budget

Key takeaways

  • This wedding cost checklist can help you devote the right portion of your overall wedding budget to each expense.
  • Make sure to leave room in your wedding budget for easy‐to‐overlook costs.

Clink your champagne glasses: You're engaged. After you shout your happy news from the social media rooftops, it's time to get down to wedding budget business. Unless you've planned a wedding before, it could be hard to know how much to allocate to each wedding expense. (And there are a lot.)

I'm not only a Fidelity Smart MoneySM editor but also used to work in the wedding industry, having interviewed well over 100 wedding vendors and planners, engaged couples and newlyweds, and wedding guests over the course of 10 years for major industry publications. (I also planned my own wedding and helped friends with theirs.) Here's a wedding budget breakdown based on industry standards and what real couples have spent to help you throw a celebration of love that you'll love.

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Wedding budget breakdown

Couples don't tend to spend the exact same amount on every item—different couples prioritize different parts of their wedding budget. That's why the wedding cost breakdown below gives percentage ranges. If you care a lot about a certain aspect, aim for the higher end. Not so important to you? Go for the lower end and try these ways to save on your wedding.

Reception venue and catering: 40% to 60%

This is likely the biggest chunk of change you'll spend, and for good reason: It's where you'll entertain your guests, plus what you'll serve them. Some types of venues, such as loft spaces, barns, galleries, and museums, might charge a flat rate for the space, and then it's on you to rent tables, chairs, linens, and tableware—and bring in food and drinks too. Try not to let the space alone eat up half your budget, no matter how gorgeous, because food and drinks are pricey too. Don't want to do the math? All‐inclusive venues, such as catering halls, country clubs, restaurants, and hotels, might streamline logistics—they usually offer the space, meals, drinks, and other essentials for a per‐person price.

Music and entertainment: 10% to 15%

Ask guests what they remember about other people's weddings, and you'll often hear 2 things: the food and the music. But that doesn't mean you have to go the live‐music route. Hiring a DJ tends to cost less than a band, and a playlist on a smartphone with some speakers costs even less than that. Just don't forget to include ceremony music in this part of your wedding budget. You probably don't want to walk down the aisle in silence.

Flowers and other décor: 10% to 15%

Remember how guests tend to recall the food and the fun? They tend not to remember the flowers. But a barren space is probably not where you envisioned your big day. So leave room in your wedding budget for décor—likely including some decorations along the ceremony aisle and where you exchange vows—as well as reception centerpieces and bouquets and boutonnieres, if you care to floral‐up your wedding party. Other décor could include lighting and a focal point (such as a chuppah, aka bridal canopy, or an arch) where you exchange vows.

Photography and videography: 10% to 15%

When the party's over, couples are left with their wedding photos and video (and maybe some extra cake in the freezer). As priceless as those mementos might be, it could be worth it to talk to married people about whether they're happy with their photo and video decisions. Then consider looking at a range of packages and pros before you choose one or decide guests' smartphone shots and videos are enough.

Wedding wear and grooming: 3% to 6%

On top of your and your partner's wedding‐day outfits, include costs for professional hairstyling or shaving, makeup application, and accessories such as jewelry (ahem, wedding rings) and shoes in this wedding budget item. But you don't have to account for your bridal party's costs: It's usually part of the deal that they'll pay their own way.

Ceremony venue and officiant(s): 3% to 5%

If you're not tying the knot the same place you're partying, leave space in your wedding budget for a place to get hitched, plus someone legally authorized to pronounce you married.

Favors and gifts: 2% to 3%

Getting some wedding planning or funding help? It's kind to show your appreciation with a gift. And whether you decide to go old‐school and give truffles to every guest or offer printable pics from a photo booth, factor those favor costs into your wedding budget.

Transportation: 2% to 3%

Limos, town cars, and fancy classic cars can cost a pretty penny. Even taking a cab or rideshare from home to your ceremony to your reception to a hotel could add up.

Stationery: 2% to 3%

Printed invitations—plus envelopes, stamps, and maybe calligraphed addresses or labels—aren't the only costs in this category. Invitations often include response cards, direction cards, and cards with info about where to stay near the wedding. Factor in optional items such as save‐the‐dates, place or escort cards or a seating chart, table numbers, and thank‐you cards too. If you're going digital instead, you could add this small percentage back to your overall wedding budget and spend the money elsewhere.

Cake or other dessert: 2% to 3%

There's no sweeter reception finale than serving dessert. Tiered cakes with intricate sugar designs, like the ones proudly displayed in bakery windows, usually cost more than simple sheet cakes—yet taste the same. There's also no rule that says you must end your party with cake. An alternative dessert (think: donuts, cupcakes, or cookies) might be more cost‐effective and a welcome surprise.

Optional: Wedding planner: 2% to 5%

A pro coordinator could help you identify vendors in your price range—which could be especially useful if you're getting married far away from where you live. They also could design your event to be personalized and memorable. Or you might decide you just want a day‐of coordinator, a point person to make sure the big day runs smoothly. That costs less than a planner, but some catering halls include a banquet manager in their packages to do roughly the same thing. Check your contract before booking an external person. If you hire a planner, though, you'll need to spend less in other areas of your wedding budget to afford this expense.

How to budget for your wedding

Now that you have a wedding cost breakdown, let's talk about the total wedding budget number. In the past, the bride's family might've paid for the whole shebang. These days, couples often cover a lot of the costs themselves (and there might not be a bride getting married anyway). Take the following steps to figure out your overall wedding budget.

  1. Look at what you already have in your own accounts.
  2. Then, consider how much of that you could safely put toward your wedding without neglecting your other expenses and saving goals.
  3. Decide how much you could reasonably save up during your engagement to add to that total. It's better to be conservative and wind up with more stashed than spend too much.
  4. Set time for separate conversations with your parents and/or any close family members you suspect might want to contribute toward your wedding.
  5. Talk to your loved ones without making demands—funding your nuptials might not be in their budget—and ask: "Would you like to help us pay for our wedding? If so, how much would you feel comfortable contributing?"
  6. Give them a few days to get back to you.
  7. If they agree to contribute, consider asking for the money up front so you know you can count on that cash. Be prepared that some people may not like that idea, preferring to pay a vendor directly rather than hand you a check.
  8. Add up what you already have, what you could reasonably save, and other reliable contributions, and you have your total wedding budget.

Depending on how close that number is to what people in your area spend on a wedding, you might have to tweak your expectations.

Wedding budget mistakes

Amid all the details surrounding the big day, it's easy for many couples to forget certain wedding-budget truths.

1. There are many easy‐to‐overlook wedding expenses, including:

  • tips for each vendor
  • hair and makeup trials if you're testing out your look before the wedding
  • thank‐you cards
  • stamps for invitations, response cards, and thank‐you cards
  • wedding rings
  • wedding‐night hotel room

If you're planning a honeymoon after the big day, you'll need money (or credit card points to redeem) for that too. And because the party tends to be the main attraction, it's also possible to neglect budgeting for ceremony costs. Add all of these expenses to your wedding spreadsheet.

2. Inviting a lot of people drives up a lot of wedding budget items, such as:

  • food
  • drinks
  • stationery
  • favors
  • flowers (because you might need more centerpieces if you have more tables)
  • the cake
  • possibly the venue (if you need to upgrade to a bigger space)

Having a big bridal party could make flowers and transportation more expensive too if you're giving everyone a bouquet/boutonniere and a lift to the event.

3. It's important to account for plan Bs. For example, if it rains on your outdoor wedding you might need to rent a tent. And while a photo session in the rain could make for great pictures, you might need to buy your wedding party umbrellas to stay dry.

4. You must read vendor contracts carefully. There might be info about extra costs, such as location fees for traveling over a certain amount of miles or visiting more than one venue, built‐in gratuities, overtime charges, and cancellation or rescheduling fees.

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