Hello! Let me start by saying that I’m over the moon to be joining the Whimsical Wonderland Weddings contribution team and I wanted to start off with one of the most important (and probably most yukky) parts of the wedding planning process: The Budget.
So, why did I choose this as my first feature? It wasn’t my intention to suck all the fun out of planning your wedding with my very first post, but as a wedding planner I get a really close-up look at the wedding planning journey with lots of couples every year and trust me when I say; nothing sucks the fun out of the experience more than spending a lot more than you’d hoped to spend.
I know a wedding is probably the most important event you’ll ever host, but I don’t believe anyone should go into debt to get married. I don’t think that’s what it’s meant to be about. While the planning process is a lot of work, it really isn’t meant to be stressful, and losing control of the finances can put a serious downer on what should be a pretty magical and fun process. So here I am, with my guide to planning your budget like a pro to make sure nothing spins out of control.
The first thing to know about a wedding budget, is that it’s always a work in progress. You’re not supposed to know what everything is going to cost from day one. You’re meant to decide as you go along.
The idea is to have a total figure you want to spend in mind from the outset, and to make sure you don’t go over that total limit. Variables will come into play along the process, so it’s a continuous balancing act to keep things on track.
With there being no set guideline on what to spend on each bit of your wedding, it can be incredibly tricky to work out where to start, so here’s my step-by-step guide to the evolution of a wedding budget….
Step 1: Figure out how much you have to Spend
It seems obvious, but before you do anything at all, take the time to sit down together and work out the amount you are happy to spend on your wedding. Take into account the contributions family may want to make, along with what you have available to spend, and that combined total figure should be your maximum wedding budget.
Step 2: Decide on your Concept
Once you know what you have to spend, it’s time to start thinking about the type of wedding you want. This should be a really fun, loose, brainstorming session where you think about what you both like and don’t like, what time of year you’re most drawn to and the general look and feel you’re going for. At the end of that conversation you should have a loose idea in mind of what your perfect wedding day will feel like.
Step 3: Write the Guest List
You need to know how many people you’re intending to cater for on the wedding day to begin estimating costs, so take the time before looking at venues to create a guest list. The number of guests might be something you need to compromise on later, so it’s a good idea to create an “A List” and a “B List” to give you a minimum and maximum number of guests to work from.
Step 4: Decide on your Priorities
No matter how much money you have to spend on your wedding, along the way there’s bound to be compromises. Before doing anything else, I always ask my clients to each give me a list of their top three priorities for their wedding day so I know from the outset what means the most to them. Some will answer “I’m not worried about having a fancy venue, but I really want to have an incredible band, a top photographer and amazing food”. Others will say “I really want to make sure all my family and friends are there and the other details don’t matter quite as much”. Having this conversation really helps to give a direction for making sure you pick the right venue and allocate your spending the right way from the outset.
Step 5: Create the Budget
Now you know how much you have to spend, the rough number of guests and which elements of the wedding are most important to you, you’re ready to begin creating a budget.
Do your research
Pulling together an estimate of what things cost will take a bit of time and research, but it’s also a good opportunity to shop around and get ideas of what’s available. There’s plenty of resources and budget planners online and suppliers will be happy to give you an estimate of costs if you reach out. Make sure you include everything you will or might need. You can always remove things later, but it’s better to cross things off a budget than to add things on. With the best intentions, costs you hadn’t thought of are going to crop up, so make sure you include a contingency to cover you for the unexpected.
Budgeting for your Venue
One of the most difficult parts to budget for in this initial stage is the venue and catering because there’s no average cost for any of this. My simple, fail-safe formula for knowing what any couple can afford to spend on their venue is this…
VENUE HIRE + CATERING = no more than 40% of the total wedding budget
That 40% is really a magic number, so keep it in mind and don’t tempt yourself by looking at venues which are over that budget.
Assess the damage
I like to think of the first draft of a budget as a “wish list”, so I always ask my clients to tell me everything they want and then we cost it up. Once you have the “wish list” version of the budget, you’re either going to be happy with it or having a panic attack, but either way it’s always good to have that reality-check moment before you start booking anything.
If you look at the first version of your budget and it’s more than the total amount you had in mind, then start thinking about the parts you’re willing to compromise on. Are you happy to reduce the number of guests? Would you be happy with reducing the size of your wedding party? Could you do without the fireworks?
You’re not trying to make any firm decisions at this early stage, but what you are trying to do is get a realistic picture of what everything costs so you’re making decisions with your eyes open and not compromising in the wrong places.
Step 6: Find your Venue
Now you’ve got the beginnings of your budget, an estimate of guests and an idea of what you’re looking for – you’re ready to start venue shopping. The venue sets the scene for the wedding and everything else fits around it, so take your time to make sure you choose wisely and don’t book anything else before you’ve secured the venue.
After you’ve figured out which venue (or venues) you like then you need to work out what your wedding would cost at that particular place.
Some venues will include things that others don’t, some venues will require transport and others won’t. Don’t just assume the pretty chairs in their brochure are included, ask the questions so you know what everything is going to cost.
If the venue has in-house catering, make sure you’re done an analysis of an approximate cost per head for this, and if the venue uses external caterers, take the time to get some approximate prices so you’ve got a very clear picture of all costs associated with the venue before you pay a penny.
Remember, the total amount you spend on the venue (including anything you have to hire in) and the catering should be no more than 40% of the total budget for the wedding. Use this as a target when venue shopping to make sure what you select is affordable.
Step 7: Adjust as you go along
Once the venue is booked, it’s time to start looking at the other things you’ll need and it’s a good idea to book the essentials first. This is the wedding planning equivalent of eating your vegetables, but if you book the must-haves first, you know what’s left over for the little extras.
As you go along, you’ll refine your design and begin to make choices and some things will cost less than you expected (yay!) and some will cost more. The idea is for the total amount you’re spending on the wedding to balance out overall. When you’re playing with an event budget, it’s amazing how easily you can save hundreds or even thousands by just tweaking a few details and adjusting here and there, so thinking of your budget as a balancing act is the best way to get the most from it.
As a little gift to all the WWW readers, you can click here to download a free template for your wedding budget which should help get you started on the right foot. Please leave a comment if you have any budget planning questions and I’d be happy to answer them for you!
Many thanks to The Hendrys for providing the photography for this post.