How to Budget for the Cost of a Wedding

The time has finally come! You can hear wedding bells in the near future. While this is supposed to be an exciting time in your life, if you’re anything like me, your heart begins to race and you feel overwhelming anxiety. The question quickly becomes, “How am I going to pay for all of this?”

According to data from the Condé Nast Bridal Group and The Knot, the average wedding cost in 2011 was $26,989. Granted this includes everything from elopements, where the marriage license and Justice of the Peace are the only expenditures, to lavish “celebrity weddings,” whose budgets can exceed the Gross National Product of half the world’s countries. Ridiculous! Weddings have become quite a consumerist ideology. And to think weddings originated as more of a business transaction between fathers and grooms than an exchange of vows like in today’s fairytale.

None-the-less, you still want to celebrate your love and a life full of happiness with friends and family. So where do you begin? What can you afford?

First, I think it’s important to remember that you are starting a life together and you do not want to start out in debt. Young couples are most likely also dealing with student loan debt, wanting to put a down payment on a house, and saving for retirement. So it is important to consider these responsibilities when estimating the cost of your wedding. It is also necessary to make sure enough money is set aside for an emergency fund. Dave Ramsey suggests 3 to 6 months of personal expenses saved up for your emergency fund.

After your financial plan for the future is in place, start your budget for your wedding. This will help to put the cost into perspective. Do you really want to jeopardize a car or a down payment on a house for one day???

Financial Help

If you are unable to cover the costs of a wedding on your own it may be time to go your parents and your fiancée’s parents and ask for assistance. More than half of all weddings are paid for by more than one party.

Who’s coming?

Once you have a general idea of the amount of funds available (the amount you have saved already and contributions from the parents) you should figure out the number of guests you can accommodate. Joyce Scardina Becker, wedding planner and designer, suggests using a combined count of “Number of Adults Likely to Attend.” For the time being, add together the “Yes’s” and “Maybe’s” from this column to get a total possible guest count. Then multiply the total number of guests by your estimated cost per head amount. Call around to a few different places to see if you can get a general cost in your area. For example, if you have 150-guest count and you find that it will be $100 per person that is equivalent to $15,000. Granted you can expect this to be a much higher amount for a metropolitan wedding in areas like Chicago, New York, or L.A. You can only imagine how quickly this can get costly.

Save Up!

If you do not have enough money for the event, it’s time to save! Consider your expenses each month and subtract that from your monthly income. With the money left over multiply that by the number of months until the wedding. Add this amount to the amount of funds available and here you have your budget. If this ends up not coming close to what you want for your wedding, you may want to consider moving the date of the wedding back.

All You Need Is Love

A wedding can be extremely pricey, especially considering the details you desire for making your special day unique and memorable. Take it from Leslie Tayne, who is a financial attorney and debt specialist. She works with clients who are all too familiar with the dangers of poor budgeting when it comes to planning a wedding and how it could lead to heavy debt. She offers these tips:

• Write-down all your “wish” items to determine what you need versus what you want so you can prioritize and identify what and where you are willing to sacrifice.
• Make a commitment to save for your big day based on what items you have identified as priority.
• Dare to compare by doing your homework and price comparisons to see where you might be able to save and cut corners, which could open up opportunities for funding other wish items that you had originally considered forgoing. 

Consider your finances and what your plans are after the wedding to determine the most suitable budget without compromising your future plans. Putting your entire wedding on a credit card and then hoping to buy a new home can make for a reality check that could end up putting this plan on hold. Paying for your wedding should not end up being the cause of your debt.

Break Even

One thing I didn’t quite think of was this tip from Glen Craig, financial blogger at : If you want to know what you can afford then figure out what it will take to break even. Figure out the cost per guest. Now, will those guests give you at least that much as a gift (most guests give cash gifts)? Be honest here. Some people will not give as much as others but there are always a few that give a more generous gift.

If your guests will at least cover the cost per guest with their gift then you can afford the wedding, meaning that you won’t be in debt afterwards. If you won’t break even then it’s time to reconsider some aspects of the wedding to bring the cost per guest down (or find wealthier guests).

Cut Back

After taking all of the previous suggestions into account and you find yourself not being able to come up with enough money try cutting back. Reduce your guest list, choose a cheaper location, or have the wedding on a Friday or Sunday. There is an exuberant amount of ways to save and reduce costs on your wedding day. Remember this day is about you and the one you love, not about keeping up with the Joneses and digging yourself into debt.

Wedding Budgeting Tools:

The Knot Wedding Budgeter – includes a worksheet to enter in your estimate and actual costs for individual wedding categories. This also allows you to keep track of your RSVPS and total budget.

Budget Worksheet – This includes saving goals including items like emergency fund, wedding, car purchase, down payment, retirement, etc.

Can I Afford This Wedding? – A simple sheet lying out your monthly costs and a basic break down of the cost of each wedding category.

Do you have any tips to share? Please comment below!

Wedding Cash Back Resources


Additional Wedding Resources

  • David’s Bridal Coupons
  • Coupons
  • The Knot Wedding Shop Coupons
  • Wedding Paper Divas Coupons
  • Gift Bag Ideas for Wedding Guests
  • Avoid Going Bankrupt from Your Wedding
  • Ways to Save Money on a Wedding
  • How Can I Save With Cheap Wedding Supplies?
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