Monday, February 6, 2012

So.... What's a wedding budget?

Dear ESB,

Ok I'm engaged. Now what to do?

The man and myself have trouble understanding what a wedding budget means (both our first try at this thing). We have trouble understanding the concept of a budget in the first place to be honest. 

We are not poor but we are sometimes struggling under students loans and the high cost of life in The Netherlands. 

Any tips and tricks about budgeting? I'm not talking about DYI our cake-toppers but really something to help us figure out what should cost what. Is there a website, a book or someone to call?

Thanks for your help.

[insert a nickname here... Brokeback Bride?]


There is no rule about what should cost what.

First, you need to decide how much money you're comfortable spending. This could be based on how much $$ you've got in savings (yeah right, I know), how much you think you can save, how much you can finagle on credit cards (not recommended, but it's been known to happen), how much family members have offered to contribute, or any combination of these things.

Then you get to think about what your priorities are.

Here's a wedding budget worksheet from Real Simple, which is worth glancing at, if only so you can gleefully x out things like "flower girl's buds and basket" and "valet parking." Pls ignore the helpful "Reception (50 percent)," "Attire (10 percent)," "Flowers and Decorations (10 percent)," etc, estimations.

There is NO RULE that says only 10% of your budg may be allotted to attire (or that you have to spend 10% on flowers), so don't let anyone tell you different.

If you want to get married in a SEEEEEEEEEELLAMIN dress at city hall and go for fish and chips afterward? Awesome.

Meg's brand new book, A Practical Wedding, has several examples of real-live wedding budgets, which are super down-to-earth and helpful. Such as:

$5,000, CHICAGO, ILLINOIS · Ashley and Zach LaMotte got married in a simple civil ceremony...

Made by the bride, using materials she had on hand.

Lunch for twenty-two at a restaurant, including lots of wine, dessert, and tip.

The Chicago Cultural Center, where the City of Chicago performs civil ceremonies on Saturday mornings (and you're allowed to bring twenty or so people to cheer you on!).

Two hours of coverage.

The bride and her mom made the bouquet and her husband's boutonniere out of vintage fabric flowers they already owned.

DRESS: $1,082
A splurge! She fell in love with the dress and later sold it for $500. Ashely said, "I loved that dress every dollar of that $1,082, and I love the dishwasher we bought with the $500 we got when we sold it, too."

A three-piece suit and hat that the groom loves and has worn multiple times since the wedding.

Why not splurge a little? They'll wear them for a lifetime.

See? That wasn't so hard.

Note: Do not, I repeat, DO NOT, sign up for The Knot in order to utilize their budgeting tools. You'll get a never-ending stream of "177 days until The Big Day" emails, and then as soon as your fucking wedding is over they hit you with THE NEST.

One Dollar Camera by Won Park via The Design Inspiration


  1. i'm fucking amazed that 1000$ covers lunch for 22 including LOTS of wine.

    1. I'm amazed more people don't go this route considering what you get at a restaurant normally versus what catering halls charge per person. 45 bucks a person is way better than what my caterer wants.

    2. yeah, i think most restaurants just see it as "what we would make on a normal Xday night" and that can definitely vary from place to place. this seems like the way to go.

  2. I'm in the same boat as this bride-to-be. I'm a grad student and he's a struggling writer. No extra money.

    From three months already following you and APW, I already feel like the whole mood can be "fuck it! I'm only gonna have what I WANT at this wedding!" which means my rockin $72 dollar wedding dress,, a whole lot of plans for home-made streamers and food, and hopes for a simple civil ceremony.

    SO, Bride-to-be, DONT WORRY ABOUT WHAT YOU "SHOULD HAVE". What you should have is a happy celebration about the happy life you are embarking on.

    Rock on, ESB!

  3. Please hold the firing squad and hear me out.... Marthas Budgeting tool was actually quite useful for me for keeping track of what needed to be paid, and what we'd spent, and had left to spend. We entered our original budget, it "auto allocated" funds to certain areas, and we moved things around accordingly. We also prioritized, and put most of our budget into food, drink & the party. Things such as centerpieces, flowers and favors went to the wayside for late night bacon sandwiches and music.

    1. I agree! The martha budgeting tool wasn't bad at all, and I also used her seating plan tool.

    2. You know ESB is into Martha, right?

      No shame for Martha-loving around here.

    3. @Rachel oooooooooooooooooo good one. i'd forgotten about that one.

  4. This couldn't be better timing. I got engaged last Saturday and while I'm nowhere near date setting yet, it's nice to know that I'm not the only financially challenged (aka - numbers terrify me) bride-to-be.

  5. I made a budget spreadsheet in excel based on similar lists as above (a column for the item (venue, dress, band, photos, etc), a column for how much we were willing to spend, and a column for the actual cost, with formulas at the bottom for how much over/under budget we are. It's also an easy way to see in a glance that you've spent a couple hundred less than you planned on the venue and put the money into another category.

    But yes, first thing we did was decided how much we had to spend, and alongside that we did a lot of investigating of venues, suppliers, etc in the area to see how much things even cost. The internet is your friend, research and email people and get prices so you have a better idea. When we got an idea of how much different things were we could then align that to what we had in the bank and in turn prioritise what to keep/ditch. Also, remember to think of things per/head (catering, booze, rentals). If you want something lavish you may need to cut the guest list to afford it, but if you opt for something more casual you can get more for your buck.

    But as people have said, you can spend as much or as little on the wedding as you want. It doesn't cost very much to actually get married (legally all you need is the marriage license fee and to pay the registrar), it then comes down to how much you want/have to pay on any additional aspects (dress, reception, food, photos, music, decorations). A civil ceremony with a backyard BBQ is just as lovely as a big country club wedding. Just depends on what you want!

    1. I just wanted to add that Google Docs has a spreadsheet suite with similar built-in options. Check out Google Wedding Docs!

      And then delete all the silly stuff and customize it to what you want to do. It's also a good exercise to see their default $10k budget allocation and what it actually gets you if you have a typical wedding. Contrasted with many blog-featured weddings where just the dress and photography alone is over $10,000.

    2. Google Docs release a pre-made wedding suite that has nice auto-calculate features for setting-up a budget:
      Google Wedding Docs

      Even though there is a lot of silliness, just looking at the default divisions of a $10k wedding budget was very informative for realizing "oh crap, it can really ADD UP fast". Especially when you realize that many of the seemingly budget and unwedding-y shindigs in the blog-o-sphere spent over $10,000 on the dress and photography alone (which is okay, if that is your priorities and budget). Louise of TheThirtySomethingBride always includes budgets in her featured weddings Unfake Weddings which feature all different types of couples and places.

    3. Erin's note made me think of two things:

      1) Rentals can cost a lot and people should be mindful of that. You might get a free yard or park or something but you'll need to rent all of your tables and chairs and bar, etc.

      2) Photography can be hella expensive if you want good work. We had no idea about pricing at first and contacted one really famous photog. She was all "I start at $15K, bitches." Eep! Anyway, most of the photographers we looked at were in the $2-3.5K range, depending on the package (not including travel).

    4. Yes sorry, I used google docs spreadsheet in fact so my partner and I can both view and update. We've got a tab for the budget, guests, suppliers and contact info and meeting time. We also use it to record info about venues we see and photographers we like

  6. Completely with esb here - budgeting is KEY if you want to rock the day while not bankrupting yourself. I lived off the Practical Wedding blog, and I'm SO glad there's a book now - I'd have bought it when I was planning.

    We did three things which ensured we could have a wedding we loved within our budget:
    1. Set a maximum figure for the total wedding (for us, that was £2000 (around 3000USD/2,500EUR)
    2. Make a list of top three priorities EACH, then combine them and compromise! Our final top 3 were venue, no. of guests and being able to feed & water everyone.
    3. Keeping a wedding budget spreadsheet - it meant that if we overspent on one aspect we've immediately have to trim the budget elsewhere (we went £200 overbudget on food, for example, and that money was cut out of my dress budget)

    It can get anal, but it's worth it - you don't want to wake up the morning after the wedding and be in unnecessary debt!

  7. All of this is helpful advice, but I want to give a little tough love: parties are expensive.

    The wedding described in ESB's post was only $5K but it was for only 22 people (and I am surprised that food and drink for 22 people only cost $1000 in Chicago).

    I plan our work holiday party every year and we always spend over $8K and that's for appetizers and open bar for 75-85 people on a Saturday in Chicago. That includes a photobooth but no decor or invites or cake or get the idea.

    There's no science to it. You prioritize. The hardest part will be # of people + the reception (venue, booze, food). A lot of the other stuff is easier to manipulate.

    One of my best friend's is talking about getting married here in Chicago. She thinks the guest list will be 150 people and she has a budget of $12K. She starts talking Garfield Park Conservatory and Hearty Boys Catering and I had to tell her that none of that is going to happen. She's talking A-list vendors in a huge city with a budget about 1/3 of a typical Chicago wedding. $12K is plenty of money for a wedding with 150 guests, but you aren't going to be able to do it at a premiere venue (Garfield Park costs $2500 to rent, with no tables, chairs, etc.).

    Planning a wedding is all about trade-offs. I would start with estimating a guest list and looking into venues/reception costs.

  8. My fiance and I are planning our wedding reception at an Irish pub in the Washington, DC metro area. It's got tons of space, we know the food is good,the service is good, and the people who will prepare and serve the food know the place so there shouldn't be any problems there.

    I am incredibly happy that we chose the restaurant we did because the cost includes plates, napkins, tables, chairs, blah blah blah.

    I think the key to using a restaurant for a wedding is to choose one that normally fits in your budget. The pub where we are having our wedding doesn't have an entree over US$23. Therefore, they are not going to serve us something similar and charge us $60 per person.

  9. my idea of budgeting is finding your overall limit & prioritizing what is important to you. book or buy those things first- your dress, venue, or photographer? THEN bargain shop for the rest with what you have left.

  10. Good work, ESB. Catering to the needs. AND a shout-out to Meg. I'd say "home run," but I know you don't give a fuck about sports.

  11. I had to read that letter to ESB twice... I'm also newly engaged and living in NL (and yeah, I totally feel you on the high price of living). I am so crazy intimidated that we are going to have to book vendors without meeting them. I can always send family to scout if necessary, but I am a little scared to start planning because I know there is SO MUCH to do. eek.

  12. My wedding budget currently makes me cry. Food and venue prices will vary DRASTICALLY from area to area; we found a venue through a local university that would charge us regular event catering prices (around $65 per person, for the type of meal we wanted, including the staff to serve it), and the food/venue for 75-80 people should be around $8,000.

    That is roughly half of our entire budget. The rest is rings (~$3000, because I have metal allergies and can only have platinum, and my fiance wants his band to match mine), photographer ($2500), and attire/miscellany. License and officiant fees are around $75. I vetoed flowers because A) expensive and B) I'm just not a fan. So I am probably going to spend around $100 (or possibly more, depending on what sales I can find) on decorations for tables.

    We're lucky in that my parents have offered to pay for food and the venue rental fee, and my fiance's parents have offered to pay for booze (which is thankfully fairly cheap because it's through the university bartending service). I feel so, so bad that things cost this much, and I feel guilty for spending this money on us... Especially when the total amount of our budget costs more than my current student loan balance.

  13. this may be a bit contrary but if i could do it again i would spend more on our wedding.

    yeah, it's just a party but it's the best damn excuse for a party... ever.

    1. I regretted not spending money on a day-of coordinator and videographer.

    2. Good call on the day-of coordinator. It seems like a huge luxury splurge when you're just starting out (they cost $800-1k where I live for just the basics). But really when you're having a $10-20k wedding with a lot of people, you're going to be doing a lot of atypical wedding things to save money ("friendors", weird locations, etc) which make the day more complicated than a country club wedding where everything is a no-brainer. Having a professional making the trains run on time gives you total peace of mind on the day. Hell of worth it.

  14. We spent some time talking about what we wanted our wedding to look like first. Church? Garden? 60 people? 260 people? Destination? Afternoon? Evening? Winter? Spring? Even though I was never one of those girls who planned their wedding since they were 7, I realized I did have some opinions and preconceptions (and my fiancé did, too).

    If you want a fancy dinner for 400 in a ballroom with a live band and fireworks, there's just no cheap way to do that. Figure out what you want, then look at what you can afford and start finagling!

    Wedding budgeting also been a good catalyst for us to plan even further into the future; buying our first home is important to us, and we have not allowed the wedding to get so large as to endanger that timeframe. Good luck!

    P.S. Seconding GoogleDocs as a great tool.

  15. I liked the budgeting tools at Wedding Mapper.

    Keep careful track of payment due dates and methods of payment. Not every vendor takes every type of credit card. Also, most require cash as the final payment.

    The expenses about 6 weeks before the wedding were enormous. Shower outfits, accessories, rehearsal dinner, transportation, shipping, tips, bridal party gifts, etc. Each one is not expensive on it's own, but add it up with your other payments and it is a lot.

    The cost of wedding dress alternations caught me off guard.

    Greatest opportunity to save or blow the budget is on wedding paper - invitations, menus, programs, escort cards, calligraphy, stamps, etc.

  16. Word of advice; don't skimp on your photographer. Good photos are the greatest wedding gift you can give to yourself!

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