Wedding Planning Tips: Setting and Sticking to a Budget

Planning a wedding can be stressful but doesn’t have to be a financial burden. Find out how to set and stick to a budget for your big day.

It pays to be smart about how to plan and pay for a wedding.

The average cost of a wedding in the States is nearly $30,000 and couples typically spend between $19,000 and $33,000.

These numbers do not include the honeymoon.


Of course, costs are all relative depending on where you get hitched.

Couples in Beverly Hills allegedly spend $36,000 to $60,000 for weddings (you know it's gotta be more in 90210).

But if you're tying the knot in Bangor, Maine, then be prepared to "only" shell out $15,000 to $25,000.

Wherever you'll get married, unless you're planning to elope, by saying "I do" in front of friends and family, you should be majorly prepared to cough up some major dough.

But just keep in mind:

You don't have to spend crazy money.

Spending a bundle doesn't create lasting happiness—in fact, a pricey wedding could create quite the opposite.

You want every detail to be just right on your wedding day, so it's easy to say, "You only get married once–let's just do it." But every time you go off budget, chances are good you'll regret the indulgence later.

Plus, doling out more cash for the big day will not necessarily make you happier in real life. An Emory University study found that:

  • Couples who spend over $20K on nuptials are 3.5 times more likely to get divorced than couples who spend $5-10K.
  • Couples with an engagement ring between $2K and $4K were 1.3 times more likely to get divorced than those with a ring costing between $500 and $2K. (No wonder some celebs rack up the divorces!)
  • Don't celebrate yet, frugal friends. Spending too little also hurts. The study found that couples who spend less than $500 on an engagement ring have increased divorce rates.

Top 10 Countries With Highest Divorce Rate in 2018

Why all the pain and misery?

Well, spending too much stings and straps stressful debt onto a new union.

You will definitely be mad at yourself for going into debt to pay for a couple hours of fun, even if this is the biggest day of your life.

That regret intensifies as debt accumulates.

But if you take the time to consider what's negotiable (and what isn't), develop a budget, and stick to it you can still create a truly memorable day.

So, get ready to start saving for, paying for, and affordably planning your wedding right now, no matter where you live or how grand your ideas.

1. Smart couples know a thoughtful wedding is a smart financial investment.

Don't immediately associate a wedding to an unavoidable and frivolous expensive act.

Think of your wedding as something important that requires thoughtfulness instead of a high credit card limit.

2. Pay for the wedding you want and the wedding you can afford

Most people don't want to spend a boatload on their wedding.

If you make extravagant decisions about your wedding based on the judgment of guests or what cool pics you can post on Instagram, you'll make choices for the wrong reasons.

This is a day that you and your partner should hold dearly.

It's not one to show off, unless, that's what you and your partner want.

Regardless of what you want, collaborating on, creating, and sticking to a strategically crafted budget will make you happier in the long run and save you from starting a marriage in the red.

Because who wants to fight about money on the honeymoon?!

Follow these basics steps to design a budget from scratch:

Be with the ones you love. Slash that guest list

Adding one more guest and their +1 may not seem like such a big deal, but depending on the price per head, you could add another few hundred dollars to your costs just because of food and liquor.

"The smaller the guest list the more you'll save on all your other details, including décor, stationery, favors, and rentals, because you won't need as much of everything," says The Knot.

Agreeing on the number of people who will attend your wedding is ground zero for decision making.

How do you break down your fantasy guest list?

  • Focus on people you know now. You don't have to invite your long-lost BFF from grade school, or the friend you haven't seen in a year.
  • Create tiers and rank them in order of importance. Then slash an entire tier (like all of your coworkers) if the budget demands it.
  • Be strategic about who is extended a +1 invitation.
  • If your parents' friends aren't your friends, they're out.

Decide your must-haves

Make decisions immediately about what you can do without.

If a band is a deal breaker then, "yay!"

At least, you know where you and your partner stand.

You don't want to be neck-deep in the details (and bills) and realize that you could care less about costly table centerpieces.

Do your research

Savings are possible if you know where to look for them.

If you live in a city, hit the suburbs to discover lesser-known but excellent vendors who charge less and are willing to travel.

Wedding costs will vary tremendously based on the venue and number of guests. Don't limit yourself to a small area of pricey vendors.

Make these determinations early because they will determine how you set the rest of your budget.

Don't get carried away

As most finance experts will tell you, even though you might qualify for a sizable mortgage loan, it's the monthly payment that you need to be comfortable with.

The same goes for a wedding.

You might be able to afford that $7,000 one-of-a-kind wedding gown, but do you really need to pay that much on a dress that will be worn once?


Just be sure to apply some critical thinking to your decision.

"Remind yourself of the reasons you are having this wedding.

Is it to impress your friends and family, or to be able to celebrate finding your soul mate for life?"

Don't sway from your plan of how to pay for a wedding, unless it's to minimize your costs or eliminate an unnecessary element.

American Weddings By Year from 2008-2017

3. Creative thinking enables smart couples to keep the wedding budget from morphing out of control

No matter how eclectic or traditional your tastes, who doesn't want to be remembered as the couple who threw a memorable and unique wedding? Nevertheless, having clear budget parameters forces you to think creatively about your options and avoid overspending.

Substitute to save

Real flowers are gorgeous, but they're expensive if you want gerbera daisies out of season.

  • Paper flowers can make a statement.
  • Think of fun aisle markers like balloons or even pinwheels.
  • Use Styrofoam wheels decorated with icing as some of the tiers on your wedding cake. Huge impression and savings.

Save on the dress

It's all about the dress, right? Not necessarily, but if you're in that mindset, here's how to tighten the purse strings:

  • Plan ahead. Order your dress eight or nine months early to avoid rush fees and last-minute alterations.
  • Be designer savvy. Shop a trunk show for deep discounts on gowns, veils, and customizations.
  • Get socially smart. Follow dress shops on social media and skim for coupons. Hiring a wedding planner may get you introduced to otherwise unknown gown outlets too.
  • Don't be above the sample. Land a gorgeous gown with a huge markdown at a sample sale.
  • Buy online. If you won't lament missing the experience of trying gowns in person, get great deals from online wedding gown outlets.
  • Check out eBay. It's not bad juju if you buy a gown secondhand.
  • Go custom. Customization might be pricey in the grand scheme of wedding gowns, but if you know a fashion design student, your dress for the big day could be their A+.

Shrink the wedding "necessities"

A quick list of typical wedding elements to downsize to save yourself some moola:

  • Make your own wedding invitations.
  • Nix the bridal party (your besties will be thrilled to be merely guests, and you eliminate the expense of bridal party gifts, flowers, accessories, and lodging).
  • The groom wears a suit and shoes he already owns.
  • Skip the limo and take your own cars.
  • Have the ceremony and reception in the same place.
  • Forgo the rehearsal dinner, or minimize guest list.
  • Use your smartphone playlist and forget about a DJ.
  • Buy a bouquet of fresh, seasonal flowers that day.
  • Pass on the boutonnieres and use pocket squares.
  • Get married on any day but Saturday.

Don't do something just because tradition says so

There are wedding traditions you can skip, and most of them will save you (and whoever is paying for the wedding) big bucks.

You don't have to…

  • Wear a white dress
  • Have a wedding party
  • Have a long ceremony
  • Wear a veil
  • Have a wedding cake
  • Have a floral bouquet
  • Have a designated wedding car
  • Immediately leave for your honeymoon

Be innovative with food and drink

A four-course meal is a lovely idea, but cleverness is valued as much as formality.

Depending on the time of day you get married, you could throw a wedding brunch or late night party with snacks.

If you skip the traditional reception venue, consider going to a restaurant for the meal. Backyard buffets are another option to consider.

Insource and save thousands

Mine your contact list to determine who might be able and willing to bake the cake, handle the tunes, or offer up their award-winning rose garden as the setting for your special day.

You wouldn't believe how willing your family and friends could be.

Borrow, don't buy

Nearly every element of a wedding day gets used one time.

Give new meaning to the "something borrowed" phrase and hit up beloved friends and family for shoes, jewelry, attire, and even décor.

Crowdsource your photos

Smartphones are ubiquitous, and photo filters are da bomb.

They can turn all of us into makeshift pros (or at least, we feel that way).

Have a professional photographer on site for formal photos only.

For the rest, ask guests to take as many photos as possible.

Establish a photo-sharing site so folks can upload their best snaps throughout the celebration.

4. Smart couples get help—and don't get stressed out about their wedding

So excited about getting married that you're buying a bridal magazine every day?

You may be a perfect candidate to get a wedding planner.

Having someone to keep you grounded—and who is not swayed by your infectious enthusiasm— could be just what you need to stick to a budget.

Don't discount the value of a wedding planner

When you're trying to honor a budget you may wonder why you should add another person to your list who needs payment.

But it is possible to find a wedding planner that fits within your budget.

If you and your betrothed aren't savvy negotiators, a wedding planner will speak for you.

Vendors may mark-up their wares and services when they know you're in a mindset where you'll agree to astronomical prices.

Having an advocate works in your best interest, and within your budget to avoid obvious mark-ups, and you'll enjoy the perks that come from someone who's in the know.

Wedding planners can save you so much money that they end up paying for themselves!

Here are some additional pros of hiring a wedding planner:

  • Counting on another person besides yourself who knows everything about the entire wedding day and is prepared to manage it. The wedding planner knows, respects, and fights to see your wedding vision come to fruition, no matter the circumstances.
  • A pro helps with legal contracts with vendors, and keeps you within your budget constraints (a string ensemble isn't needed when one violinist could do the trick).
  • A wedding planner will save you from stress and handle 25th-hour snafus with aplomb.
  • Wedding planners have connections that can land you discounts or VIP treatment.
  • Your wedding planner is the heavy when sticky situations arise with vendors or venues.

And if you're planning a large event, destination wedding, or last-minute nuptial, a wedding planner can be your ride-or-die.

They'll take care of what's too big, too unknown, or too fast for you.

But just like other items on your wedding budget, it pays to shop around for wedding coordinators, interviewing them about charges (hourly rate, flat fee, or a percentage of the overall wedding cost).

Contracts must be signed, and you have to gel with their personality since they'll be planning the biggest day of your life so far.

In this guide, The Knot details how wedding costs have traditionally been divided between the bride and groom.

Those days are gone.

The bride's parents are no longer expected to cover the majority of wedding costs, and quite often couples foot the entire bill for their wedding (especially older, more established couples).

No matter what tradition says, your wedding is unique to you and every typical wedding obligation is flexible, including who pays for the wedding.

Plus, as tempting as it is to accept that hefty check from the parents, getting the proverbial financial monkey off your back is nevertheless a generous gesture that comes with a leash.

Expect parental and in-law input on everything from where the wedding is held to what you serve for the meal to who you have in your wedding party if family is part of who pays for the wedding.

And if your opinionated grandma kindly offers to foot the bill for your gown, just say no—that is one personal purchase you want to make on your very own.

6. Smart couples finance their wedding to get as many benefits as possible

An expensive wedding doesn't guarantee a great wedding.

Your enthusiasm, happiness, and a stellar guest list will determine the true success of your shindig.

But no matter how big, small, or unusual your nuptials, you (and/or your families) still have to pay for it.

Plastic is fantastic (sometimes)

Plastic can be your BFF, or your frenemy.

If you're gonna pull out the charge card, here are some of the best ways to do it:

Get your just rewards. Rewards credit cards abound.

Earn points for just about anything you love—books, trips to theme parks, magazines, airline mileage.

Or, enjoy cash back to contribute to wedding expenses.

Just make sure you select the best rewards card.

You might charge $10,000 on your card, but if you're only earning 1 percent cash back, you'll only get $100 in rewards.

Go low. Choose a credit card with a no-interest introductory rate for 15 or 18 months.

Giving yourself a deadline to pay off your wedding debt helps you plan a budget, and motivates you to pay off that card before interest kicks in.

Charge, then pay. If you're flush enough to pay for the wedding up front, use the plastic to pay for vendors and big expenses. Then pay off the card immediately. You'll earn points and rewards, and boost your credit score in the process.

The personal nature of personal loans

It may be a relief to have financial help from family for wedding expenses, but people with a financial stake in your nuptials also have an opinion.

This may prompt you to resort to a personal loan for wedding funding.

Things to consider before you pursue a personal loan:

  • If you're taking out a loan to get quick money for your wedding but have the funds tied up elsewhere to pay off the loan, make sure there are no prepayment penalties.
  • Personal loans typically range from $2K to $35K. Don't borrow more than you need.
  • Online personal loans usually come with three- or five-year repayment terms—don't miss your deadline, otherwise your credit could be negatively affected.

Cash is still king

Paying cash remains the best way to pay for your wedding.

You know the money is there.

You aren't looking forward to the wedding day only to wake up the morning after dreading the bills you'll soon receive.

Some vendors even offer discounts if you pay cash.

Just beware of paying cash up front so you don't get taken for a ride—deposits are safer, and make sure you have a contract.

If you want to know how your peers are paying for their weddings

The Knot and PayPal teamed up for a survey about how couples are paying for their weddings:

  • 99% use a checking or savings accounts
  • 57% borrow money from a financial institution
  • 49% pay cash as needed
  • 36% pay with credit cards
  • 16% borrow from family or a friend

Ultimately, you don't want to attempt to finance a wedding you can't afford.

Credit cards and loans can work in a pinch, but if you're planning ahead, working with a budget, and saving your dimes, you shouldn't have to resort to outside help to pay for your wedding.

7. Include the honeymoon in your budget

How to pay for a wedding is one thing. How to pay for a honeymoon is quite another.

Your wedding budget should include your honeymoon.


Because you don't want to go into debt or miss out on an experience that is integral to feeling like you've successfully gotten married.

But let's slow down here, do you need a honeymoon?

The short answer is "no," but you both deserve one.

First, a honeymoon doesn't have to be right after the wedding.

Nor does it have to be a trip of a lifetime.

Even if you honeymoon long after the wedding, it will be worth it.

Bare minimum, immediately after the reception (or whatever is last), make sure you get a private space for you and new spouse to decompress and appreciate what you just experienced.

If that's a honeymoon suite or Airbnb in town, or a fancy hotel in San Francisco en route to Tahiti, then great.

Just make sure you set aside time alone to decompress and privately celebrate.

But, like the wedding itself, your honeymoon should never be a trip you can't afford.

Save money while relaxing

The last thing you want to worry about on your honeymoon is getting the bill at the end of the trip, and figuring out how to pay for a honeymoon when you get home.

These tips will save you money before, during, and after the fact.

  • Work with a travel agent. Leave honeymoon deets to a travel agent for one-stop, stress-free planning.

  • Buy a package deal. Bundling hotel and air can save you big bucks, as can booking through an all-inclusive resort.

  • Travel in the off-season. The shoulder season (time between peak and off-peak travel) can get you to your destination during non-busy, good-weather times. Plan your wedding around dates like this, or be willing to honeymoon later to get the best deal.

  • Book early. Once your wedding is set in stone there is no reason to drag your feet on airfare or hotel reservations, especially if you're going to a popular destination.

  • Take a mini-moon. If money is tight, or you can only get married during peak tourist season in your honeymoon destination, consider just a few days and nights away. Plan a repeat trip or bigger splurge for your one-year anniversary.

  • Go off the beaten path. You could go to the City of Lights or witness the Northern Lights. In other words, go where the currency exchange benefits you, like Iceland.

Tell everyone "we are on our honeymoon"

Most of all, always mention that you are on your honeymoon.

2018 Items Consumers Purchase For Honeymoon Travel

Tell the concierge, porter, stewardess, hostess, wait staff, cab driver, and the folks in the cabana next to yours.

You never know what delightful perks or freebies you could get out of newlywed bliss.

8. Smart couples save for the wedding and look for savings

Weddings are an indulgence for many, and it's not difficult for spending to get out of control.

But if you think of a wedding as an investment, you are more likely to handle the financial aspect responsibly.

If you want to give yourself the best chance to pay for your wedding without financial strain, plan a long engagement so you aren't facing rush fees (dress alterations) or last-minute changes (fish instead of chicken) and, of course, so you can save for as long as possible.

5 ways you can start saving for your wedding right now

When wedding budget discussion begins, couples are forced to look at how they handle their existing cost of living.

Any money conversation can be painful, but if you want to stay out of debt as your marriage kicks off, you gotta start talking numbers and taking action right now:

  1. Cut down on monthly expenses. Slim the usual suspects: overly large data plan, too many premium cable channels, the gym membership you rarely use.

  2. Sell, sell, sell. eBay and Craigslist are standbys for big-ticket items.

  3. Get a second gig. Whether you hostess, bartend, or freelance in your field, the salary from a side hustle can build your wedding fund quickly.

  4. Eliminate mindless spending. Your daily latte, lunch out twice a week, takeout every night, grabbing a cab when you could walk—what seems like nothing, altogether adds up to something.

  5. Open a wedding savings account. Have a dedicated place to put your wedding money. Seeing a zero balance in that account will guilt you into setting aside money regularly.

Bankroll your wedding

A DIY wedding is a serious possibility if you're crafty and willing to do the work.

There are places you can hold a ceremony or reception that won't cost you a dime.

Also consider the innate skills you have at your fingertips that could help bankroll your big day:

  • Do you have some social cache? A popular YouTube channel? A major Twitter following? Get a sponsor for your wedding in return for using a product of theirs and boasting about it effusively on social media. If there is a great deal of buzz about your wedding, some sponsors will want to take part simply to have that anecdote on their resume.
  • Agree to pass out product samples to guests as wedding favors. This could help a new business looking for free advertising or an opportunity to break into the wedding industry.
  • Volunteer to write a monthly wedding blog or column about your journey while promoting products and services in exchange for wedding freebies.
  • Or simply consider reaching out to the company or individual who seems the most logical option to foot the bill and get some publicity for themselves at the same time.

9. Smart couples make technology their wedding-planning (and budget-planning) best friend

If you're a modern player planning a modern wedding, your smartphone is riding shotgun. Here are just some of the platforms that garner rave reviews.

"Follow the money"

When you start planning with a wedding budget calculator or app, keep using it.

Don't allow your wedding costs to balloon because you aren't keeping track of where the money is going.

Set up weekly reminder to add in any new purchases, estimate the next big expenses, do some math, and make sure you're keeping yourself accountable.

Here are some helpful tools set you on your way:

  • Mint: You may already use it to track daily spending. Call on Mint to create a wedding budget and stay on track with paying (text reminders) and spending (email summaries of activity).

  • Wedding Budget Calculator: The Knot's app itemizes over 50 wedding expenses so you can track deposits, final payments, and overspending.

  • Wedding Paper Divas' wedding budget allocator lets you enter the total amount you want to spend, then suggests how to allocate funds for common wedding expenditures.

Websites to showcase your wedding

  • Riley & Grey: If design is important to you, create a gorgeous, user-friendly wedding website and populate it with your wedding's unique details for guests to access.

  • Appy Couple: This stylish site lets you create a wedding website that syncs with the app for photo sharing, socializing with your bridal party, and RSVPs.Inspirational wedding sites and apps

  • Carats & Cake: Pinterest might have inspiration, but Carats & Cake has visual glory and the opportunity to book the makers of wedding beauty on the spot. Enjoy the photos of real weddings, get the rundown of vendors used, and check out their portfolios.

  • Wedding LookBook: Busy brides can browse and bookmark in The Knot's dress-dedicated app.

Best wedding planning apps

  • Wedding Happy: You will be supremely organized with a pocket wedding planner that notifies you about when to research a wedding aspect, book a vendor, and tackle a task.

  • The Venue Report: Having a destination wedding? Getting married in your hometown where you haven't lived for decades? Find the ideal venue on this thorough website.

Don't get lost in the minutiae and the many techie wedding resources available.

Dedicate an hour to doing research, pick your top finalists, and, after a test run, choose your winners and stick with them.

The big day has arrived.

This is your wedding. Keep your head on straight and your budget tightly drawn and don't be swayed by others.

Stay true to your ideas and wants—it's your wedding after all. Do it your way, even if you repeat someone else's idea, even if you do it smaller, even if you don't do something at all.

The most important takeaway from your wedding day should be the memories you create, not the debt you've developed. Don't get caught up in the vanity.

As long as you can pay for the wedding day without going overboard or into major debt, and you're so delighted about the experience that you'd do it all over again exactly the same way, then you've won.

And hey, you're getting hitched—go shout your love from the rooftops!

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