Wedding Budget Creep and How to Avoid It

Note: This article was created in concert with WalletJoy.

On average, couples underestimate their wedding ceremony and reception budget by nearly 45%. Forty-five percent! If that sends chills down your spine, you aren’t alone. Here’s how to avoid a similar fate.

Regardless of whether you have a budget of $1,000 or $100,000 for your big day, overspending on your wedding can lead to a lot of financial stress, and that’s the last thing you need as you embark on the adventure of marriage.

You Need to Have Those Tough Conversations

dream wedding on a budget

The first thing you need to do is figure out how much money you have, or don’t have, to spend on your wedding.

Now that you’re getting married, it’s time to put on your big girl or big boy pants and have some tough conversations with your partner and anyone who might be involved in helping to pay for your big day.

You need to be transparent and honest about what you can afford to contribute. If you are getting financial help from parents or other family members, ask them for a specific number that they are comfortable providing. Thank them profusely.

I realize it can be hard or downright awkward to talk about money. People can be very secretive or cagey when it comes to money, but having the tough conversations now will save you a lot of anguish later on.

What Do You Really Want On Your Wedding Day?

You’ve been thinking about your wedding day for months, or maybe even years. This probably gives you a false sense that you know exactly what you want your wedding day to be like and which things are the most important to you and your partner.

Each of you should create a list of everything that goes into a wedding and order them from most to least important. Include everything from the flowers and music to the photographer, lighting, food, etc.

Even if you and your partner love food and music, it doesn’t necessarily mean that both of you will have them at the top of your list. For some brides, having their dream photographer is a top priority; others are fine with a few simple photos taken by family and friends.

Once you both have your list, you can compare them and create a master list of the things that you collectively care about the most. This will help guide every decision you make. If neither of you care about ‘up lighting’ for your venue and it’s expensive, it’s easy to scratch it off the list.

Think of each dollar in terms of what it will mean to you in the future. For example, if you are thirty years old, each dollar you save could potentially be worth 10 dollars by the time you retire if you were to invest that money now. That means saving $10,000 could result in having an extra $100,000 for retirement. Is that live band really worth $100,000 to you? Only you know the answer to that.

This document of your priorities will serve as the foundation for your budget and as your compass as you make decisions. Add a column next to each item with how much you plan to spend. Voila… you now have a wedding budget.

Use the list below as a starting point:

  • Ceremony venue
  • Invitations and Save the Dates
  • Ceremony musicians
  • Ceremony officiant
  • Photographer
  • Videographer
  • Florist
  • Wedding coordinator/event planner
  • Reception venue
  • Catering
  • Reception bar/liquor
  • Reception band
  • DJ
  • Wedding day transportation
  • Cake baker
  • Hairstylist
  • Makeup artist
  • Attire (bride and groom)
  • Lighting
  • Wedding rings
  • Little details (name cards, favors, hotel bags, etc.)
  • Wedding party gifts
  • Thank you notes

wedding budget creep

Be Detailed and Write Everything Down

The days of crossing your fingers and hoping for the best are over. If you are going to stay within your wedding budget, then it’s on you to make it happen.

This means that you’ll need to take detailed notes and write everything down. Don’t forget small things like RSVP cards, stamps, your marriage license, etc. There are so many small details to remember, and you need to account for every last one of them. Make sure you budget for gratuities and tips.

Track how much you’ve spent. Get a system in place. It can be something as simple as a notebook or a Google spreadsheet; just do whatever works best for you. The important thing is to track it WHILE you plan the wedding and make purchasing decisions. Don’t just tally up how much you spent after the wedding, it’ll be too late to make a change at that point.

Regularly check how much you’ve spent against what you had initially planned. If you go over budget on flowers, then you need to cut back somewhere else. When push comes to shove, eliminate items from the bottom of your priorities list.

Your Guest List Can Make or Break Your Budget

Repeat after me: “our wedding is not a family reunion.” Now say it again.

Ahhh, that feels good, right?

At the end of the day, most people would love nothing more than to include everyone. But that may not be possible. Unless Scrooge McDuck is paying for your wedding, you’ll need to be very deliberate with who you’ll be inviting.

You might have loved ones try to pressure you to invite Aunt Sally from Montana, who you didn’t know existed until last year, but this is YOUR day. Other people might tell you that it’s rude not to invite someone who invited you to their wedding.

Remember, only one thing matters here: who can’t you imagine not being at your wedding? Those are the people who should definitely make the cut. But for everyone else who you may not be able to invite, just remember, they aren’t the ones who won’t be able to afford to buy their first house for another ten years because they spent too much on their wedding.

Life is all about tradeoffs. No one said it would be easy, but you need to make tough choices. You might even make some mistakes, and that’s okay.

Think Outside of the Box

On average, reception venues are the most expensive component of a wedding. For that reason, considering non-traditional venues or selecting an off-peak date could result in huge savings.

It’s important to remember that you don’t need to follow the herd. Just because all of your friends had invitations fit for a royal wedding doesn’t mean that you need to! Try to save on pricey details like printing in multiple colors. No one will look at your invitation after the event. Most of them will go straight to the garbage can after a few weeks, so don’t spend money you can’t afford here.

When it comes to photos, skip the special effects. That sepia filter might not be that cool in fifteen years. You can always edit the files later; just make sure to negotiate, so you get a digital version of all images.

Don’t Be Surprised by Hidden Fees and Plan for the Unexpected

Ask every vendor you work with about hidden fees in advance. Are service fees, tax, and gratuity included? Does the vendor or venue charge overtime? Do trials cost money?

You’ll also want to build wiggle room into your budget. If you have a budget of $15,000 and you plan to spend $15,000, then you are going to go over your budget. There’s no doubt about it. That’s why you should only plan to spend 90% of your wedding budget, and leave the rest aside for unexpected expenses that will undoubtedly arise.

If you follow these steps and stay organized, you’ll have a spectacular wedding without breaking the bank. Remember, it’s about the marriage, not the wedding.