Understanding Wedding Budgets
There are lots of fun things to do when you’re planning a wedding… and then there’s the budget. It would be great if you could just skip all the boring parts and go from getting engaged to picking out wedding favors. But alas, money doesn’t just grow on trees and you have to set a budget.
Have you set yours yet? Great — now that you have a total dollar amount, it’s time to figure out how you’re going to spend it. Everyone has their own priorities about what they consider important for a great wedding. There are, however, some generalities that apply to every budget breakdown no matter what you have in mind for your big day.
This Is a Template for Mapping the Various Costs of Your Wedding
This guide is to help couples allocate their funds, whether they have $5000 or $30,000+ to spend. Keep in mind that the figures you see here are general guidelines and costs are based on national averages. We’ve also included some regional pricing guidelines for couples getting married in the Jacksonville area. Use them as a starting point but feel free to make adjustments to suit your own preferences.
You’ll also need to take into account that different parts of the country may charge differently for wedding services. Whether you’re in Jacksonville or elsewhere, that can mean your budget breakdown ends up being a little different.
But that’s okay. As long as you’re in rough proximity to the guidelines you see here (and as long as everything adds up to 100%!), things will work out just fine. These are just suggestions, not rules!
In fact, consider this a template. Use it to build your own version of a wedding budget breakdown loosely based on the one we outline below. At the end of this guide, there’s a spreadsheet you can use to personalize your budget. We don’t even mind if you change it all completely — it’s all up to you!
The important thing here is that you make some sort of roadmap for spending and then stick to it as closely as possible in the months ahead. We’re just here to get you started.
First up, let’s go over the costs associated with common wedding expenses, as well as the time you can expect to put in.
Cost Associated With Planning & Budgeting For a Wedding
The average cost of a wedding these days is roughly $33,400. Whether your budget falls well under that figure or much higher, or if that describes more or less what you’re working with, keep in mind that it varies according to location. For example, the Jacksonville, FL area is on the lower end of the spectrum compared to other states.
So here’s the breakdown according to what type of budget you have. Again, the breakdowns are roughly the same with a few tweaks for scale.
“Budget” Wedding (Under $5000)
If your budget is $5000 or under, it’s safe to assume you aren’t planning to have a ton of guests. We’ll make that assumption here to keep things simple. Let’s say you’re inviting 50 people and you have $5000 to spend — the following numbers are based on that.
Catering: 40% ($2000)
The average cost of catering a wedding is $41 per person if you want to serve your guests a meal at a table and have a staff to serve them. Buffet style dining typically costs less, at a national average of $28 per person. If you’re getting married in Jacksonville, you can expect to pay a little less than these averages. Let’s go with $25 per person for a bare bones, buffet-style reception in the Jacksonville area. That gives you a total of $1250 for catering.
With a budget of $2000, that leaves you $750 more to spend. We’ll leave that part up to you, especially since prices can vary and it’s good to leave a cushion in your estimates.
To save money, consider these alternatives to a dinner reception, all of which are cheaper:
- Cocktail hour with passed hors-d’oeuvres to control the quantity
- Small Bites
- Dessert only
- Delivery only
- Use in-house catering, where service is included
One way to save on your catering budget is to tweak your menu choices so you’re not paying for anything you don’t absolutely need to have. Sit down with your caterer and go over the entire range of options, whittling the cost down to fit your budget.
Consider the following common catering options and save money by doing them yourself:
- Cake (save on cutting fees, $1 or more per slice)
- Cold/Hot beverages
- Drinks (caterers charge an average of $15 per person for bar service) (save on corking fees too, $1 or more per bottle)
- Tabletop decor
- Serving trays & utensils
- Warming trays
If you live in a college town, you may be able to use their catering service for as little as $14 per person. With over a dozen colleges in the Jacksonville area, you may have some luck.
Dress: 5% ($250)
With $250 to spend, it’s entirely possible to find a beautiful wedding dress. You could just walk into a David’s Bridal shop and find them for under $200. With a little persistence, however, it’s entirely possible to find an even better deal if you scour the sales or find a creative way to obtain the perfect dress on a budget.
Flowers: 10% ($500)
Aside from feeding your guests, the flowers for your wedding can be one of the largest line items in your budget. And, while you can save money by getting your blooms at Costco or buying flowers that are in season, it’s not an easy area to do things yourself.
So at the very least, you’re talking…
- $100 for the bride’s bouquet
- $250 for bridesmaids bouquets ($50 @, and let’s assume 5 of them)
- $30 for corsages ($15 @, one for each mother)
- $60 for boutonnieres for the men ($10 each, 5 groomsmen and 1 groom)
That’s $440 without spending a dime on any centerpieces or ceremony flowers. With just $60 more to spend, you may have to forgo these and other flower options such as an entryway arrangement and reception flowers.
Reception Venue: 5% ($250)
$250 might get you a wedding spot in a local library or museum in some towns but in Jacksonville that will just get you a conference room at the Main Library. On this budget, you might need to consider hosting your guests at home or in a park.
Travel Expenses: 3% ($150)
This includes transportation from the ceremony to the reception, if applicable.
Ceremony Venue: 4% ($200)
You’ll need to be smart about where you hold the ceremony because your budget permits either a church wedding with a $100 donation or an outdoor venue like your home or a park, combining the ceremony and reception into one location. That will save on travel, too.
Music for your ceremony may be included at a church wedding, but be sure to ask. Otherwise, consider the national average of $755 for wedding ceremony musicians and start getting creative! Consider a harpist or guitar player, since these instruments sound lovely on their own and costs will be lower.
Rehearsal Dinner: 3% ($150)
Consider a get-together at a casual restaurant or bar or host the dinner yourself at home to save money.
Bridesmaids’ Dresses: 0%
With this budget, it really makes sense to follow the modern trend of having your bridesmaids buy their own dresses. If this is not acceptable to you, you can tweak the numbers on this template and pull the funds from a different line item expense.
Photographer: 20% ($1000)
There’s hardly a couple in existence who doesn’t want beautiful, professional images from their big day so expect to spend a large chunk of your budget here. Consider a photographer, not a videographer, to keep expenses down.
Cake: 3% ($150)
Wedding Party Gifts: 3% ($150)
You’ve asked your bridesmaids to buy their own dresses so bridesmaids gifts are appropriate here.
Announcements: 2% ($100)
Girlie Bride Beauty Stuff: 2% ($100)
$100 will get you a good hair stylist for the wedding day. Makeup costs more so consider your priorities here!
Emergency Fund: 0%
On this budget, consider winging it and going without an emergency fund.
At this next level, you can add a few treats like paying for bridesmaids’ dresses.
Catering: 40% ($4000)
Dress: 5% ($500)
Flowers: 10% ($1000)
Reception Venue: 5% (500)
Travel: 2% (200)
Ceremony Venue: 3% ($300)
Rehearsal Dinner: 4% (400)
Bridesmaids’ dresses: 4% ($400)
The average cost of a bridesmaid’s dress is around $200 but with your budget, you’re looking at $80 each (5 bridesmaids). You can either limit the number of bridesmaids or scour the shops for dresses that look fab but don’t cost a lot.
Photographer: 15% ($1500)
Cake: 3% ($300)
Wedding Party Gifts: 3%
Emergency Fund: 2% ($200)
This could include any number of hidden costs and last-minute essentials you may need to cover. Some examples:
- Alterations. Last-minute wedding dress alternations: prices range from $50 to reshape the neckline to a flat fee of $700 to cover whatever it takes to make the dress fit properly. Since you’re on a tight budget, be sure to minimize the likelihood of having to do major alterations. It’s easier to take in a too-big dress than it is to let a small one out.
- Tips. With a complex event like a wedding, there are always some unexpected tipping occasions. Keep some cash handy.
Wedding Planner 0%
With a little more to spend, you can consider a few wedding add-ons like stashing away some money for an emergency fund.
Catering: 40% ($8,000)
Dress: 3% ($600)
Flowers: 7% ($1400)
Reception Venue: 5% ($1000)
Travel: 1% ($200)
Ceremony Venue: 3% ($600)
Rehearsal Dinner:4% ($800)
Bridesmaids’ dresses: 3% ($600)
Photographer: 15% ($3000)
Wedding Party Gifts: 2% ($400)
Announcements: 2% ($400)
Wedding Beauty: 1% ($200)
Emergency Fund: 2% ($400)
Wedding Planner 10% ($2000)
The national average spend on a wedding planner in 2016 was just over $2000, according to a 2016 survey by The Knot. That’s 10% of your budget so keep in mind it’s still a hefty chunk out of your total spend. For some couples, it’s worth every penny to have someone else worry about the details and deal with the hassles.
With more to spend, you can scale up in every department. Typically, a bigger budget like this goes toward expanding the guest list but there are other ways to “scale” up, too:
- Couture bridesmaid dresses. With your budget, you could make a classy move and splurge on gorgeous couture dresses for your bridesmaids. You’ll also benefit because your wedding photographs are probably going to be even more amazing.
- Classier gifts for your wedding party. Lots of modern brides either buy the dresses or buy small gifts for their bridesmaids but with a bigger budget, you can do both. You could even go old-school and show heartfelt thanks to your bridesmaids with gifts from Tiffany’s. If you’re a traditionalist, this is a lovely way to make a statement about friendship. These start at $225 so with 4 bridesmaids you’re at $900, or three percent.
- A better wedding planner. Most people can expect to pay roughly 15% of their budget on a wedding planner. We curtailed spending in the 20K budget to keep it down to 10% but if you have 30K you can shop around and be a little more picky with whom you choose.
- A fancier venue. You can consider a wedding reception venue like the Jacksonville Zoo, which rents different areas of their property for weddings. The starting site fee for a wedding in the off-peak season is $1500.
Here’s the breakdown:
Catering: 40% ($12,000)
Dress: 5% ($1500)
Flowers: 4% ($1200)
Reception Venue:10% ($3000)
With this budget, you can consider a wider variety of options. No need to limit yourself to backyards, churches, and parks. We’ve allotted a higher percentage here because once you make the jump from those budget-friendly options to special wedding venues, it’s a significant price hike.
Travel: 1% ($300)
Ceremony Venue: 6% ($1800)
Rehearsal Dinner: 5% ($3000)
Bridesmaids’ dresses: 3% ($900)
Cake: 2% ($600)
Wedding Party Gifts: 2% ($600)
Announcements: 1% ($300)
Wedding Beauty: 1% ($300)
Emergency Fund:2% ($600)
Wedding Planner: 8% ($2400)
Some Final Thoughts on Wedding Budgets
Wedding budgets aren’t the most glamorous part of planning a wedding but as far as wedding gifts go, this is one of the best gifts you can give yourselves as a couple. Getting the budget breakdown just right is one of the best measures you can take toward making sure you don’t go over budget.
Starting out your new life together as a married couple will be even more heavenly when you haven’t bankrupted yourselves with the wedding. The added benefit? More to spend on your honeymoon!
Appendix: Template Spreadsheet Summary