The backs of a bride and groom, arms around one another, as they walk away, under trees. The bride has a bouquet in her hands.
Wedding

Setting Priorities for Your Wedding Budget (or, realizing your wedding isn’t special)

Photos by Myleen Hollero

Last year around this time, I was putting the final touches on my wedding. We had a lovely ceremony under a canopy of trees with 110 guests. I’ve gotten a lot of questions from friends about wedding planning since I’m quite organized and thrifty-minded, so I thought I’d write a few posts and share what I’ve learned while it’s relatively fresh in my mind.

First things first: set your date and your budget.

How long do you need to plan a wedding?

Well, it depends. Some people say a year, but I did not relish the idea of planning a big event for an entire year. No, thank you! Now, if you have a very specific date in mind or a dream venue, then you might need to book a year or more in advance to make sure you snag your date at your venue. For us, we started five months before our date. I’ve heard of people who’ve planned everything in three months or less, but I don’t recommend that, especially if you have out-of-town guests who need to book plane tickets. I think five to six months is good if you have flexibility around your date and your venue. I will go into our timeline in another post.

We came to our date by a process of elimination. We knew we wanted it to be in the fall when the weather is generally good where we live in the San Francisco Bay Area. Then we looked at all the weekends over a two-month period and asked our closest family members and friends which dates they could make. That narrowed down our list. Once we found our venue and cross referenced it with the dates we already had, that left just a handful of dates to choose from.

Setting Your Wedding Budget

According to a survey conducted by The Knot, the average cost for a wedding in 2016 was $35,329. Wow. That’s quite a chunk of change! And that’s just the national average. Depending on where you live, it could cost more or less. In San Francisco, where I live, the average cost was $42,716.  Unless you have endless resources, you’re going to have to set a budget for your wedding. Only you and your partner will know what’s best for you. Take a good look at your finances and see what you can comfortably afford. I would also factor in a contingency, because things often cost more than you think they will.

Now, your budget is tied closely to guest count. The more guests you have, the more it will cost. I’ve known couples who had small intimate weddings with just a dozen or so guests that cost a few thousand dollars. And I’ve been to big bashes held in museums that cost many tens of thousands of dollars. So you’re going to have to figure out what the sweet spot is in terms of number of guests and the kind of experience you want. Start with your guest list and work from there. The guest list was probably the most stressful part of wedding planning for us.

View of outdoor wedding ceremony as taken from behind the seated guests. Couple is getting married underneath large redwood trees.

How to Prioritize your Wedding Budget

To keep within your budget, prioritize. What’s most important to you?

Here are some common expenses for weddings:
Venue Rental
Food & Drink
Clothing, Hair, and Makeup
Wedding Party
Photographer and Videographer
Wedding Planner
Day Of Coordinator
Officiant
Entertainment
Invitations and Website
Decorations
Favors

Real talk now. I hate to break it to you, but your wedding is not special. Most weddings follow the same structure and your guests are not going to remember every detail about it. What I’m saying is don’t sweat the small stuff. If you obsess over every single detail, you’re going to be a ball of stress (and no fun to be around). Instead, identify the top three or four things that are most important to you. Here’s what the list above looked like after we prioritized them.

Top Priority
Food & Drink
Venue Rental
Photographer
Entertainment

Middle Prioroty
Clothing, Hair, and Makeup
Invitations and Website
Day Of Coordinator
Officiant

Low Priority
Wedding Party
Wedding Planner
Decorations
Favors
Videographer

For us, one our top priorities was the food. I love to eat (it’s one of the things that brings pure joy to my life), and I wanted a memorable and delicious meal. I’ve been a regular at a food stall at my local farmers market and knew that I wanted them to cater our wedding.

Our choice for food affected our venue. Many venues require you to use a caterer from an approved list. We needed a venue that would allow us to use the caterer we wanted. Another priority for us was a venue that had outdoor space for our ceremony. These two parameters knocked a lot of spots off our list, but having these parameters also made the venue search easier.

Photography was another priority for us. I wanted professional photos and I also knew it was super important to my mother. My sister got married before I did and my mom’s living room basically became a shrine to my sister’s wedding. (Now it’s a shrine to both our weddings.) We also wanted fun entertainment (though we didn’t want to spent much money on this), but we had a specific idea of what we wanted to do and didn’t compromise on it.

When you know your top priorities, focus on those. The other stuff doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, you should also make a list of what you don’t care about and question if you even want to have those things at all. These are the places where you can save money. For us, we didn’t care about a wedding party (didn’t have one at all), videographer (didn’t have one of those either), favors, or decorations. Of course, we wanted the space to look nice, but because it was low on the priority list, I only allocated $100 to decorations. (Yes, that includes flowers.)

If event planning is too stressful for you or you’re too busy for it, then it may be money well spent for you to hire a planner. But because I’m super organized and have planned large events before, we felt that we didn’t need a wedding planner. We did, however, decide on having a day of coordinator so that we could enjoy our day and not worry about any of the details or logistics on the actual day (or saddle a friend with it). Our clothing, to a certain extent, was also not that important. I mean, of course, I care about clothing (I blog about fashion after all). I want to look awesome on my wedding day! But I was not wed (har har) to a certain idea of what I had to wear. Being flexible meant that I had a wider range of options, and in the end, my entire outfit cost less than $400.

I hope this is helpful and has given you some things to think about. In upcoming posts, I will discuss our timeline, creative ways we saved money, and how I kept organized while planning. If there’s any particular topic you’re curious about, let me know and I will try to address it.

Outdoor wedding reception at dusk. About 11 round tables.

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