Feeling clueless on how much your wedding will (or should) cost? Setting a wedding budget can feel daunting! Here’s how to create a budget you can stick to – no matter how much money you have to spend.

6 Key Steps for Setting a Wedding Budget You Can Stick To

Remember, planning a wedding is extremely personal, and wedding budgets are not one-size-fits-all! There are many factors to consider, but here are the six key steps you’ll want to take for setting a wedding budget you’ll be able to stick to:

1. Have some honest conversations (with REAL numbers)

Who is paying for the soiree? If you’re paying for it yourselves, how much can you and your fiancé realistically save between now and your desired wedding date? If you need extra time to save for the kind of even you want, you can consider choosing a date a little further out.

Will family members be contributing? Have an honest conversation with each parent or set of parents about a specific number they are willing to contribute. It’s important to be extremely specific, as some parents may not have any clue how much a wedding costs these days! Let’s face it – weddings were a lot simpler (and usually more cookie cutter!) in the 1970s and 80s.

You’ll want to build in 5-10% extra for incidentals or things you didn’t know you needed (or wanted!). From adding walls to your tent at the last minute because the weather forecast is looking gloomy all the way to deciding to splurge on those amazing sparkly shoes that just go so perfectly with your dress…. A few extras will inevitably come up, so be prepared.

Once you know how much money you have to spend (and where it’s coming from), setting a wedding budget will become a lot easier!

2. Consider the major factors that influence the wedding budget

  • Guest List – It will obviously cost more to wine and dine 200 guests vs. 20. It may be a good idea to talk about a preliminary guest list as you are deciding your budget to avoid any disappointment later.
  • Location – Popular vacation destinations and major cities will likely be more expensive than small towns or venues like state parks. If a prime location is a priority, factor it into the budget.
  • Day of the week – Saturdays are almost always more expensive than Fridays, Sundays, or weekdays.
  • Season – Some locations become far more popular (and simultaneously more expensive) during certain seasons. Leaf peeping season in Vermont, June on the Outer Banks, summer in the Rockies, even just summer in most of the continental US – all of these peak season destinations will command a higher price than the off seasons
  • Bridal party size – The more bridesmaids and groomsmen you have, the more bouquets, boutonnieres, and gifts you’ll need to purchase. And if you’re helping out your pals with any of the costs (dresses, hair and makeup, etc.), that’ll add up quickly.

3. Establish your priorities

Always dreamed of a Vera Wang ball gown? Are dazzling photos what floats your boat? Want to have a full open bar with top-shelf spirits?

It’s absolutely essential to get on the same page with your fiancé about your priorities. Consider separately listing your top 3, and then see where they overlap. He wants a live band? You want a killer dance party? Voila! Welcome to being married, you just reached your first compromise!

4. Discuss your vision and adjust the budget as necessary

By now you’ve probably had some time to daydream and do some serious pinning – dreamy wedding photos might have even become an obsession! Make sure you and your fiancé are on the same page for your vision, then discuss if the wedding you’ve been dreaming up matches your budget.

Make adjustments to the budget if necessary. Alter your savings plan if you need to and are able. Alternatively, you might need to make adjustments to your priorities. Maybe you don’t need orchids imported from Thailand after all. Is that really what will make you happy in the end?

Items that are lower on the priority list can generally be sacrificed or adjusted if you can’t stretch your budget, but you’ll want to finalize the must-have list when you’re crunching the numbers!

5. Don’t forget the small stuff – it can add up

You know you need to plan for the venue, food, decor, and dress…..but don’t forget about the little things! If you don’t plan for small (but important) expenses in advance, they can break your budget. Postage, tips and/or gifts for vendors, trials for hair and makeup, demos for flowers, and marriage license fees are examples of expenses that are often forgotten until they are staring you in the face.

6. Download a budgeting app

I personally use and love YNAB (which stands for You Need A Budget). You can easily create a category for wedding budgeting, along with categories for all of your other monthly expenses. Set a monthly goal for what you can afford to save in the “wedding” category, and stick to it! If your monthly income varies, it’s easy to adjust the budget each month – so when you make more, you can easily adjust to save more, and not blow your hard-earned cash on things that are less important. I wish I had known about YNAB in 2012-13 when I was planning my wedding!

If you want an app that includes a full wedding planner AND built-in budgeting software, The Knot Wedding Planner App is a comprehensive choice with fantastic reviews by brides.

Setting a wedding budget is certainly no small task, but some honest discussions and a close examination of your needs and desires will help you nail down a number that works for everyone. Then you can start the fun of actually spending that money!

Still feeling a little overwhelmed? Check out my post on sample wedding budgets to see a few examples of where you might decide to allocate your money.