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Wedding Budget Breakdown: How to Plan a Wedding That Doesn’t Come Back to Haunt You

Avoid going into debt for your big day with these wedding budgeting tips.

Justin Cupler

Contributing Writer at Tally

October 28, 2021

Your wedding day is supposed to be a day you'll remember forever, but it’s also a day that can lead to some serious overspending. This can result in mounds of newly-married debt, which could spell out issues down the road. 

Fortunately, you can have the wedding you’ve always dreamed of without going into debt. Learn how to create a wedding budget breakdown that avoids debt and other cost-saving wedding ideas that can give you an amazing experience without the extravagant price tags. 

The importance of budgeting for your wedding day

Entering into marriage is one of the biggest steps you'll ever take, and every aspect of it needs thorough planning, right down to the wedding costs. 

With that in mind, one of the last things you need is to begin your marriage with a mound of big-day debt looming over your heads. Couples with significant debt are often prone to arguing about their finances, leading to lower marital satisfaction and even splitting up. Laying out a firm wedding budget breakdown can help you avoid this situation. 

It’s important for starters to create a strict budget for your wedding — one you can afford without taking on marital debt — and stick to it. This may require one or both halves of the couple to scale back their dreams of a huge wedding in favor of building a secure and debt-free future together. 

Wedding budget breakdown

Wedding planning is something many people dream about their entire lives. Their ideas of a perfect wedding may involve white horses, carriages, top-notch decorations and top shelf spirits. But, just because they decided to lock things down with a life partner doesn’t mean those dreams are financially possible. This is where a firm wedding budget comes into play. 

Here's how to tie the knot on a budget, so you can start your life together debt-free

Planning your wedding budget breakdown

Wedding budget breakdown: bride and groom looking into each other's eyes

The first step in your wedding budget breakdown is creating the overall budget for your event. This is the total amount you and your future spouse estimate you can save between now and your wedding day.

  • Start by assessing your current savings, plus your emergency funds — the three to six months of living expenses you each have saved for unexpected, urgent expenses. Add these totals together to get your initial wedding savings. 

  • Next, look at your individual incomes and determine how much each of you can set aside on an ongoing basis to put toward your wedding. Account for all current debt payments and other bills, as the goal is to come into this marriage as free of debt as possible. Ideally, you can each set aside about 10 to 20% of your income to put toward the wedding. Keep in mind that your finances are still separate, so one-half of the couple may be able to set aside more than the other. This uneven split can be a good exercise in understanding marital finances, as this will likely be an ongoing theme throughout the marriage. 

  • Add all three totals (current savings + emergency savings + % of income you can set aside) together and this is your overall wedding budget. It may also be a good idea to add in a slight buffer in case you come up a little short on a given month, so you may want to subtract 5 to 10% from the bottom line. 

Last but not least, while you don’t necessarily want to assume your families will contribute to the wedding, it doesn't hurt to ask them politely. If they’re planning to help you out financially, note the amount. 

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Determining approximate costs

Your big day will have numerous moving parts, vendors and other costs to work into the budget. These may include:

  • Florist

  • Wedding officiant 

  • Videographer

  • Wedding cake

  • Wedding invitations

  • Wedding venue

  • Bridesmaids dresses

  • Wedding dress

  • Tuxedos 

  • Centerpieces

  • Table linens

  • Wedding reception venue 

  • Wedding bands or DJ

  • Food

  • Rehearsal dinners

The list can go on, depending on your expectations of the ideal wedding day. 

Call around to get quotes from vendors to determine an approximate cost for each aspect of the wedding. Place these estimates in a spreadsheet or notate them on paper. Total all the costs and determine if they align with the budget you've created. 

If the costs align, great, you're in good shape. If the costs are higher than you budgeted for, you may need to determine the must-have items and others that you can eliminate or consider alternatives for, which we'll cover next.

It can be wise to avoid turning to credit cards or personal loans to fund your wedding. Stick with the cash you have on hand and are able to save over time. Your future selves will appreciate your financial savviness. 

The average cost of a wedding is $22,500. If you put that on a credit card at 19% interest and a 4% minimum payment, you'd have to pay $900 per month for 199 months, according to Bankrate. Plus, it would cost you $14,601.87 in interest over that time. 

All said, that amounts to $46,205.38 in payments for a wedding. That could be a pretty sizable down payment on a first home, instead. 

Saving money on your wedding

If your wedding plans are coming in over budget, and you simply can’t eliminate certain items, you might consider other alternatives to save money. Here are a few cost-cutting options you can try. 

Wedding invitations

The price can vary drastically, but the average cost of wedding invitations generally falls between $400 and $650. That's a lot of cash for something likely to end up in the recycling bin. 

Instead of paying a fee for professional wedding invitations, why not make them yourself? If you're creative and crafty, you can go all out by buying card stock and gluing your own accessories to make the invitations stand out. If you're a more understated couple, you can simply print out the details on card stock with some images of you two featured on the invitation. 

You could also go digital and send out e-invites to everyone on your guest list. 

Flowers

Wedding budget breakdown: woman pinning a boutonniere on the groom

Wedding flowers are another huge expense in any wedding budget breakdown. A bridal bouquet can run $250, bridesmaids' bouquets are around $80, centerpieces can run for $600 and the list goes on. 

With the right creative mind and a quality wholesale florist nearby, you can purchase flowers on the cheap and make your own wedding bouquets and other DIY floral arrangements for the ceremony and reception. 

Another tip is to buy in-season flowers, as they are generally less expensive than ones grown out of season. When you choose your wedding date, determine which flowers are in-season on your big day.

Wedding officiant

If you include a wedding officiant in your wedding budget breakdown, the average fee can range from $500 to $800, and it can get higher with customization. If you have a friend or family member marry you once you have your marriage license, you can save money. Almost anyone can become ordained online — sometimes it’s even complimentary — and the actual registration of your marriage may cost just $5 to $34.

Videographer and photographer

Videographer taking a photo of the bride and groom

On average, a wedding videographer costs $1,799, but they can range up to $2,500. That can put a serious dent in your wedding budget breakdown. A wedding photographer can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000.

These days, many videographers are also photographers. If you find one that will combine videography and photography into one package, you could save some money. You can also find an emerging videographer who's hungry to build their portfolio and willing to give you a great deal for the opportunity. 

The other, more dramatic option is to forego these services altogether. Today's smartphones have amazing camera and video quality, and there are plenty of free and inexpensive video and image editing tools on the market. You could have a friend or family member handle the video and photo shooting, then edit it yourself. 

Alternatively, you could hire only video and photo editing services to edit the videos and photos shot by your friend or family member. 

Wedding attire

Wedding attire can get downright pricey. The average cost of a wedding dress is a whopping $1,600, and the average groom pays $350 for a tuxedo. That's nearly $2,000 for clothing you'll wear once before you put it in storage. 

Instead, you can rent these items for significantly cheaper. For example, a tuxedo rental is just $100 to $199. A wedding dress rental generally runs from in season$50 to $600. Combined, you're looking at $150 to $799 total. 

You can also think outside the box and do a casual or themed wedding, potentially eliminating the need for costly attire in your wedding budget breakdown. 

Wedding and reception venues

Your wedding guests will probably expect a place to gather for the ceremony and reception. In seeking the perfect venues, couples will spend an average of $5,000 for the wedding, and the wedding reception can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $74,000, depending on the space you choose. 

There are many ways to save big on wedding and reception venues. If a great venue is a must-have, then you can save money by having your wedding outside the normal marrying season, marrying on a weekday or in the evening, scaling back the guest list and more. 

You can also go the more drastic route for even bigger savings and skip the venue altogether. Maybe you have a friend with a charming home and a beautiful garden you can tie the knot in. You could even hold the reception on their screened porch or something similar.

Music

At the reception, guests will expect to dance, which brings in the cost of a wedding band or a DJ. The average price of a live wedding band with lighting, prep and everything else is $4,000 plus a 10% tip. You can go the cheaper route and hire a wedding DJ, but they’ll still cost you about $1,200.

There are many ways to save on music at your reception. Hiring a less-experienced DJ who is eager to book a gig can save some money. You could find a music-loving friend who would love to try their hand at being a DJ, too. 

You can also create a playlist on Spotify or a similar streaming app and let that play throughout the night. All you'd need to do is rent a good sound system, and you're well on your way. 

It's about the love, not the cost

Happy bride and groom

Above all else, remember that getting married is about building a strong shared life of love together. It’s also about developing a solid footing for your future, which is much easier if you’re not in massive amounts of debt from your big day.

You can still have a great wedding without all the extra expenses. You can do so by making wise, creative decisions and not letting your desire to have a storybook day set you up for financial struggles down the line.

If you’re interested in learning more about personal finances, consider signing up for the Tally† newsletter. It can offer you tons of financial tips and insights about paying off debt as you enter marriage. 

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