The least favorite wedding planning task is also (arguably) the most important: creating a budget. It’s the first of many money conversations you’ll have over the course of your engagement, during which you’ll be required to attach a literal and figurative value to things you never thought you’d need to quantify. (Think, the aesthetic of a coupe versus the functionality of a standard flute, or the benefit of hiring a driver for the night over saving money—but risking your timeline—on an Uber.)

 

There’s no right or wrong way to create a budget, but the brides who’ve come before you can provide invaluable tips and hacks to maximize your top line (you’ll notice some were under and over their budget in the final bill). We consulted five former and current brides (including one of our own Navigators) to see how they nav.ed the process, from picking the location to haggling with vendors.  

 

Leona Campbell Photography

Name: Erin Truex

Wedding Date & Location: June 2016 in Ojai, CA

Budget: $20,000

Final Bill: $16,470

Leona Campbell Photography

 

How did you budget for your wedding?

“When I got engaged, my dad told me our wedding gift was $10,000; we could use it for the wedding, put it into savings for a home, or spend it however wanted. My now-husband and I chose to put it toward the wedding, and match it.

“I was working full-time and had a consulting contract on the side, so I assigned expenses to each consulting paycheck to make the process more manageable. I’m a planner by nature—I put everything in a spreadsheet. I initially searched Pinterest for tools and resources that others had used, but nothing felt helpful. So I used Excel to track my budget.”

Is there anything you wish you’d spent less on?

“It might have been the initial excitement, but I spent way too much on save-the-dates. I found beautiful letterpress postcards and vintage stamps from California, and they were gorgeous, but so unnecessary at $400. When it came time for the invitations, I spent $150 at most on simple thermography printed invitations.

 

Name: Sara Giles

Wedding Date & Location: November 2018 in Atlanta, GA

Budget: $30,000

Final Bill: $27,000

Brides & Dolls

Why was an all-in-one venue appealing to you?

“Our most important factor was location, and we were happy to spend most of the budget on creating the atmosphere we wanted. But we’re also busy working full-time jobs, so having a venue that included food, drink, and some decor was a must.”

What was the best money-saving hack you picked up?

“We made a payment schedule with autopay, so that even if we’re just paying into our savings account, we don’t have to remember to put money aside. We’ve also cut back on extras we typically enjoy, like going out. Instead, we make staying in more fun!”

 

Name: Allison Tsai

Wedding Location: September 2017 in Boulder, CO

Final Bill: $25,000

Emily Sacco

What aspects of your wedding were most important when you created the budget?

“I fell in love with the Hotel Boulderado, which was built in the early 1900s and has a great, spooky vibe. Lots of the original details remain, and that look and ambiance became really important to me. So, getting that venue was my top priority, which also took the biggest chunk of the budget. Good food was second priority, especially since we wanted everything to be vegetarian, and most of our guests were not. We wanted to make sure we didn’t give vegetarian food a bad name.”

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to brides planning their budget?

“It can be easy to look at Pinterest and get caught up in wanting your wedding to have all these perfect bespoke details. In the grand scheme of things, who cares if you don’t have burlap-wrapped mason jar bouquets dotting your tables? Who cares if your cake doesn’t have Starry Night hand-painted on it? That stuff really isn’t that important, and it’s not what you or your guests will remember. It’s more about the energy and vibe that you create. Spend money on the things that make you feel good, whether that’s your dress, hair and makeup, or a killer photographer.”

 

Name: Mallory Cyr

Wedding Date & Location: October 2018 in Denver, CO

Budget: $20,000

Final Bill: $17,000–$18,000

Peter V Photography

Are there any tools or resources that you’ve used to manage your budget?

We used the budget tools on The Knot and WeddingWire to get an idea of how much we should be delegating to each category, and then adjusted as needed. We’ve also been using an app called Qapital, which lets you set up different goals, and ways to save toward them. We’ve itemized things like our photographer, DJ, bar, and officiant, so we know there will be money for them separate from our overall venue budget. It’s helped us to visualize our goals, so that we know where we need to continue putting money when we can.”

Is there anything you actively budgeted less for?

“I’ve had a hard time justifying spending a lot of money on flowers, or paper goods that’ll go in the trash at the end of the day. We’ll have minimal décor, and fake flowers. We found a really great all-inclusive venue that includes the linens, lighting, cake, and some other things, so that’s helpful. I basically want to spend as little as possible on ‘the other stuff’ while still creating a day that leaves people going, ‘That was perfect, and really reflected them!’”

 

 

Name: Amanda Page (Nav.it Director of Marketing and Creative)

Wedding Date & Location: August 2017 in Door County, Wisconsin

Budget: $10,00

Final Bill: $12,000–$15,000

Danielle Gruley

How did your overall vision for your wedding impact your budget?

“I was so proud of the fact that I was having the most DIY, casual, unconventional wedding, that we hardly budgeted. If something felt overpriced or manipulative in any way, we walked away. I didn’t want to overthink things—I looked at what I thought a fair amount to spend per guest was and went from there.

“Because my wedding was so small and, in fact, unconventional, vendors were willing to make special arrangements and alternative pricing options to accommodate what I needed. The venue wanted a lot of money to close the whole place, but because I only had 40 guests and was more interested in their outdoor facilities, they were willing to work with me on a special contract. It also seemed that the personal style and aesthetic of the venue owners aligned with mine so much that they just wanted to work with me on our special day.”

Did your budget change once you started planning?

“I had been very clear about what I wanted for my wedding from the very beginning. I had the same pictures that I was showing vendors, right up to the end. And what I noticed was that at the last minute, most of the vendors claimed that what I was quoted wasn’t accurate to what my pictures showed—and I showed them the same pictures from day one! This happened with everything: flowers, reception venue, ceremony chairs. It caused me a lot of last-minute tears and frustration. I honestly think it’s part of their strategy…they know you aren’t going to change your mind at the last minute and are emotionally committed to everything, so you’ll approve the ‘slight’ overages.”

Danielle Gruley