Congrats, You’re Engaged! Here’s How to Budget for the Big Day

A bride and groom kiss
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From the dress to the cake to the reception venue, wedding planning can pull you in dozens of different directions. It can also pull on your purse strings until they’re ready to snap.

According to wedding publisher The Knot, American couples spent an average of $33,931 on their wedding in 2018. That’s not even including the honeymoon!

Before you have a mini heart attack, keep in mind that the average isn’t the rule. There are many genius ways to save money on your wedding and still have a fabulous celebration.

But before you start browsing tulip arrangements, you need to have an idea of what you can afford overall.

To keep a handle on your spending and strategically tackle all the costs you’ll face, here’s the first item on your wedding to-do list: Set a budget for the big day.

What to Consider When Framing Your Wedding Budget

Fresh off the high of the proposal, you and your future spouse need to come together to answer some vital questions.

  1. What’s most important to you in regards to your wedding?

  2. How long do you want to wait to get married?

  3. How will you be paying for the wedding?

What Matters Most?

Like choosing a college or buying a house, the decisions you make when planning a wedding aren’t based on cost alone. There is a lot of sentimental decision-making involved.

You’ll want to be able to reflect fondly on your wedding for decades to come. You may already have strong opinions about what you want your big day to look like. Sit down with your fiance to come up with the top three priorities for your wedding.

Is it important to have your ceremony in the church your parents got married in — even if that place is 2,000 miles from where you live? Do you want a band to play all the songs that hold special meaning in your relationship? Is it vital to serve foods that represent both of your cultures?

Establishing what’s worth splurging on will help you create a budget reflective of what you really want your wedding to be like, rather than following a template of what the typical couple spends.

What’s Your Timeline?

A wedding day is marked on a calendar.
Aileen Perilla/ The Penny Hoarder

The period between saying “yes” and saying “I do” can have a big effect on what you’re able to afford. A 18-month engagement gives you time to save up for a more extravagant affair while you might have to make sacrifices if you have only six months to plan.

According to The Knot, the average engagement lasts 13.6 months.

When figuring out when you want to get married, know that the time of year can affect costs too. Wedding season typically lasts from late spring to early fall. You may find vendors are cheaper in off-season months.

You’ll also want to beware of planning a wedding close to holidays when venues may be booked and caterers may be busy. A wedding on New Year’s Eve or Valentine’s Day may seem fun or romantic, but you’ll likely pay a premium for those special dates.

Who’s Paying?

Before you start planning, an important factor to figure out is how you — or someone else — will be paying for your wedding.

Your parents or other close relatives may want to chip in to cover wedding costs, but don’t just assume — or expect — they will. Have a direct conversation with family about the financials. If your folks are contributing, make sure you understand whether they’re providing a set amount or if they plan to cover a certain item — like the wedding gown or the booze for the reception.

Pro Tip

If family is contributing financially, make sure you understand their expectations, like inviting a ton of extended relatives or having the wedding in your hometown.

After determining what family will cover, you and your fiance need to hatch out a plan for everything else. Figure out how much existing savings you can throw toward the wedding without eating into vital emergency funds. Determine how much you can realistically put aside every month leading up to the big day.

Take a look at your existing budget — or budgets, if you manage money separately — and figure out where there’s room to cut expenses. (Use this post on how to save money fast as a starting point.)

In addition, start brainstorming ways you can make a little extra cash to plump up your savings. (This post on quick ways to make money has some neat ideas.)

Pro Tip

Open a separate savings account so your wedding savings don’t get spent on everyday expenses.

Your savings, plus any family contributions, will make up your wedding budget total. If what you expect to have saved falls short of what you expect to spend (which we’ll discuss next), you have three choices:

  1. Plan a less expensive wedding.

  2. Push back the wedding date to allow more time to save up.

  3. Borrow money for your big day.

You probably won’t come across a financial expert who would recommend taking out a personal loan for a wedding. However, if this is the route you’re taking, look into opening a credit card with a zero interest introductory period. And — this is important — plan to pay it off before that period is over.

Creating a Budget for Your Big Day

Once you’ve made the important decisions about what you want, when you’ll get hitched and how you’ll afford the wedding, it’s time to lay out a budget.

You can do this on a spreadsheet you make yourself or one available online or through an app — such as WeddingWire’s wedding budget tracker or The Knot’s wedding budget planner.

Your budget should include sections for estimated costs, quotes from vendors and the prices you actually pay. Make note of when initial deposits are made and when final payments are due.

Average 2018 Wedding Costs

The results from The Knot’s 2018 wedding survey give you an idea of what newly married couples spent in various budget categories:

  • Invitations: $386
  • Ceremony site: $2,382
  • Officiant: $286
  • Ceremony musicians: $797
  • Wedding dress: $1,631
  • Wedding dress accessories: $250
  • Bridal makeup: $102
  • Bridal hairstyle: $123
  • Groom’s attire and accessories: $283
  • Bride’s wedding band: $1,078
  • Groom’s wedding band: $584
  • Flowers/decor: $2,411
  • Photographer: $2,679
  • Videographer: $2,021
  • Transportation: $856
  • Reception venue: $15,439
  • Catering: $70 per person
  • Wedding cake: $528
  • Reception band: $4,247
  • Reception DJ: $1,292
  • Photo booth: $325
  • Wedding favors: $245

You’ll also need to add the cost of the marriage license, which ranges depending on location but generally costs less than $100. (Finally, something cheap!)

Now think about extras. Do you want to hire an instructor to choreograph your first dance? Do you want sparklers at your send-off? Are you getting special gifts for your bridal party? You’ll need to budget for those.

There’s also all the costs you might not even think about. Do you need to purchase a liquor license to serve alcohol at a nontraditional venue? Did you factor in the cost of stamps for your wedding invitations? Make sure you don’t forget tipping and taxes.

Budgeting for Your Wedding Your Way

A couple snuggle at a sidewalk cafe.
Carmen Mandato/ The Penny Hoarder

While the figures above represent the average of what over 14,000 couples spent for their weddings, what you actually spend may vary drastically depending on where you live, when you’re getting married, the size and style of your wedding and other factors.

Since you’re a Penny Hoarder, we know you can throw a fantastic wedding for much less than $33K.

Contact vendors to get quotes on prices. Sites like WeddingWire, The Knot and Thumbtack can help you find florists, photographers and the rest. Get recommendations from recently married couples in your social circle or chat with brides and grooms from online forums.

Pro Tip

Get quotes from multiple vendors. You might be able to get them to match a competitor’s price. And be sure to go over contracts in detail so you know what is and isn’t included.

It’s important to include some cushion in your budget to cover miscellaneous expenses that will pop up. About 45% of couples in The Knot’s wedding survey said they went over their planned budget.

Having a 5-to-10% cushion can help you avoid going over budget, so you can start off your marriage on a financially responsible note.

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.