by Dana W. Todd
Creating a wedding budget is similar to creating a monthly budget—you must start with what you know you can afford and work backward.
For a standard budget process, that number is your monthly income from a job or other source. For a wedding budget, that number is a little more subjective, but you need to be realistic about whether a $15,000 or $50,000 budget is something you can afford.
“In the glow of getting engaged, far too many couples don’t talk about money,” says Lynnette Khalfani-Cox, The Money Coach and author of 10 best-selling personal finance books.
When Should We Set a Wedding Budget?
Right after the engagement is the right time to set the budget, says Khalfani-Cox. Keep in mind that you need to choose a realistic number that takes into account your income as a couple and any family resources. Perhaps a parent wants to pay some of the ceremony and reception fees. That figure absolutely should be considered when setting the budget.
“It is not unreasonable for a couple to charge up to 25% of their wedding costs on a no-interest credit card if they have a plan for paying it off in six to 12 months,” says Khalfani-Cox. “It’s excessive and financially foolish, however, to charge half or more of the costs on a credit card. You’re putting yourself behind the financial eight ball, creating lingering debt when you’re just starting out as a couple.”
Aziza and Jacob Read used some of their savings from summer internships, appropriated a portion of their current income from full-time jobs, and received some funds from family members to pay for her dress and the rehearsal dinner, so they were able to pay all expenses without going into debt. “We used a cash-back credit card for some purchases but made sure to pay it off at the end of each month,” Aziza Read says. “We chose our top three priorities—entertainment, food and music—and made concessions in other areas so we could stick to our top-line budget number.”
How Much Should We Budget for a Wedding?
The national average budget for a wedding is currently $30,000, but according to wedding planner Shanae “Miss Party Life” Hall of Party Life Productions, the majority of her brides have budgets of $45,000 to $60,000. She asks brides to decide on an overall budget when they first begin working with her, and she then prepares a budget analysis for them based on their expectations.
“You don’t need to stress yourself out figuring out how much flowers cost,” Hall says. “You just need to know the overall price you can handle. Our budget analysis then helps couples realize how many guests they can actually afford, and [it] helps them understand the impact of adding or subtracting guests.”
Hall encourages couples to hire a wedding planner before booking a venue as many facilities have hidden fees, such as mandatory food and beverage costs and parking limitations that have to be included in the budget. A planner can help you avoid these fees by finding venues appropriate for your budget.
You may want to set up your budget line items yourself. If so, there are a host of low-cost digital and printed wedding budget trackers online. Those who hire a wedding planner will get budgeting assistance. “We help the couple put everything into their budget except attire,” says Hall, who often points out expenses brides overlook, such as signage and the cost of creating a special sweetheart table at the reception.
Another thing couples often overlook is a contingency line item in the budget for things that pop up or are forgotten in the original budgeting process. “If you’re working with a professional wedding planner, your contingency budget can be smaller—just 3% to 5% of the total budget,” says Hall. “We have a lot of experience with budgeting, which brides can use to their advantage.”
If you’re going it alone, Khalfani-Cox recommends a minimum 10% contingency budget but preferably 15% to 20%. “Couples should back into that number,” she says. “If $25,000 is the maximum they can spend, then they should set the wedding budget at $20,000 and put in a contingency line item of $5,000. Smart financial planning for any large expense—whether a wedding or a new house—needs a contingency fund.”
Planning a realistic wedding budget will help you and your spouse-to-be enjoy the process without worrying about the stress of added debt going into a new marriage.