10 Tips for Creating Your Wedding Budget

Make the most of your money with these tips from wedding experts

Updated 02/06/14

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According to the Brides American Wedding Study, last year the average couple spent $23,883 with an average of 153 guests. Here's the typical breakdown of what they spent and where:

We consulted Annie Lee, top New York wedding planner and founder of Daughter of Design, for her wedding budget tips. From what to book first to cutting some costs, here's your wedding budget creation road map.

1. Get on the same page as your fiancé about wedding spending. Decide how much of your own funds you want to use, and agree not to go into debt. Ideally, you'd have six months' salary in savings, untouched, for this purpose. If that's a stretch and you want a big party, consider opening a joint wedding savings account and prolonging your engagement so you can stockpile and pay as you go.

2. Draw up a realistic guest list. If you have large families and/or tons of friends, divide it into an A team (musts) and a B team (optionals).

Tip: If you're on a tight budget, it's okay not to invite colleagues and to get a little thrifty with your plus-ones.

3. Ask your parents if they want to pitch in and, if so, how much. Once you've asked both of your parents if they're willing to help, add it all up and you've got your budget. FYI, 75 percent of couples ignore traditional who-pays-for-what rules. A full 36 percent cover the entire bill themselves.

4. Once you have your figure, cut it by 10 percent. This gives you room to go over, which many people do—especially for destination weddings. (Studies show that 40 percent of those couples overspend, as do 32 percent of those who marry locally.)

5. Get comfy with math. Your spreadsheet should have three columns: Estimated, Modified, and Actual. Amounts under Estimated will be driven by research, vendor proposals will fill up Modified, and Actual will have your final expenses. Note: You can also consult our handy wedding planning checklist tool to ensure you're not missing one minor cost.

6. Use average percentages (like the ones above) to help you allocate your money. Rearrange according to your priorities. (For instance, if you geek out to gold foil and letterpress, up the paper percent.) Then adjust numbers after calling vendors for costs. Ta-da! You've filled in your Estimated column. Make sure the total doesn't exceed your budget—and never delete your estimates, so you can always see where you started.

7. Book the venue first. It's the biggest piece of the wedding pie, and it'll help you lock in your guest count, which is a crucial predictor of total budget. (For example, if your venue charges $200 a head, the difference between 200 and 250 guests is $10,000.) Side note: Book vendors like your stationer and florist later, but if you have a dream person, make sure he's available on your date before finalizing the venue. FYI, figure 10 to 20 percent of invitees won't attend, especially if you have guests coming from out of town.

Antici­pate a higher drop-off for a destination wedding.

8. Book the caterer second. If your wedding will be at a hotel or country club, catering costs will likely be part of the deal, and your per-head costs will fluctuate based on your menu choices. If you're celebrating in a loft or a tent, your caterer will be a separate item and probably the second-biggest number in your spreadsheet.

9. Book everything else. Before signing on the dotted line, always ask, "Have I missed anything? Does this number include everything everything?" If you're hiring a planner, she'll know the drill. If you're on your own, make sure vendors reveal every hidden cost, from cake-cutting and corkage to overtime and freight-elevator fees. If you're not sure, ask a friend who planned a comparable party and may have learned the hard way. FYI, the caterer's service-and-gratuity fee (often called "tax and tip" or "the plus-plus") can add as much as 30 percent to your bill.

Ask your caterer to include it in the proposal so you can budget for it from the get-go.

10. Tweak your numbers as you go. In the end it'll all work out! We promise.

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