How to Create a Wedding Budget and Save for What you Really Want

Plan ahead so your dream wedding is within your limitations

Updated 01/14/18

GP Kidd, Getty Images

Looking to save money on your wedding expenses? (Aren’t we all?) While planning this once-in-a-lifetime celebration is full of big-ticket items, there are ways to keep the costs down (or at least know what to expect when the invoices arrive!) and to make your money go a little farther. As you start figuring out just how much your wedding will cost, we have a few expert tips to help make your budget work for you.

Figure Out Your Budget

Determine Who is Contributing (and How Much!)

You can’t create a budget for your wedding without knowing how much you have to spend! Start by talking with your parents. Ask if they would be willing to contribute to your wedding expenses, and determine how much they are prepared to chip in. Knowing an exact dollar amount here is crucial, as you’ll need it to determine your total budget. Some parents may prefer to cover a specific item (such as your dress or the photography fee), in which case you should find out what price range or maximum price they’d be willing to spend.

Make a List of Priorities

While nearly every wedding website offers some sort of break-down based on your total budget (and those generic spreadsheets are a great place to start!), every wedding has different priorities and every couple spends money differently. Talk to your S.O. about the items that mean the most to you, whether it’s having spectacular flowers or serving the best meal your guests have ever had at a wedding. On the other hand, you should also talk about the things that aren’t as important to you, like a live band or high-end rentals.

Knowing what matters most (and might require a little extra $$) and what you can live without will help you customize your budget to fit your needs.

Do Your Research

While your budget will be mostly based on what you or your loved ones can afford to contribute, it’s also important to know what to expect as far as costs go. For example, you don’t want to budget $1,000 for photography only to discover that the going rate in your area is $5,000. Reach out to a few vendors you like in key categories to get an estimate of what their services cost, then use this information (plus your list of priorities) to start allocating funds.

Put it All Together

With your total budget, research, and priorities in hand, sit down and start tweaking the budget to fit your needs. Remember to include any specific spends (like the $3,000 your mom is giving you to buy your wedding dress), and set aside a little extra for last-minute expenses or to cover any upgrades you deem worthy later on.

Know How to Save

Consider the Off-Season

June through September is prime wedding season, meaning you’ll be paying a premium for in-demand services. One great way to cut costs? Pick a different month! Look at dates in late April and May, as well as into October or early November, for lower prices along with a chance of decent weather. Avoid holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve, when travel and hotel rooms are costly and spaces are being booked quickly for holiday parties. Of course, keep the region’s weather patterns in mind: Avoid hurricane season in coastal areas, as well as months known for major snow and ice storms.

The price will be low, but there’s no party if your guests can’t get there! If you have prime wedding season in mind, alternate days like Friday or Sunday (or even a weeknight!) usually come with lower prices than Saturday evenings.

Shop Sample Sales and Trunk Shows Your wedding dress will probably be the most expensive article of clothing you ever buy, but it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Browse the list of designers at local bridal salons to figure out who carries styles you love, then sign up for their mailing lists to get notifications about upcoming trunk shows, sample sales, and other events. When the email comes in, schedule an appointment ASAP so you can peruse the largest selection. Don’t forget to check out veils, accessories, and shoes too!

Book Smart When you’ve found vendors you love, look for ways to make your dollar go as far as you can. Move floral arrangements from the altar to the bar, and use bridesmaids’ bouquets as centerpieces. See if your photographer also offers videography, or rents a photo booth for less than you might pay for a dedicated company.

Know When to Spend

Invest in Photography

This doesn’t mean you have to devote a massive portion of your budget to photography, but this is the time to opt for quality over cost. A good photographer is truly worth it—those photos only get more valuable over time, and memories are priceless! There are so many special moments (planned and candid) that happen throughout your wedding day, and while you might be able to find a cheaper option, that lower price could mean things get missed. Instead, do your research, ask around, and invest in a package that offers all the coverage you really want.

Don’t Skimp on Food

There are lots of ways to get more for you money with catering, but cutting back on how much food you offer is not the way to do it. Instead of skipping hors d’oeuvres or opting for smaller dinner portions, work with your caterer to find options that allow you to give your guests a really indulgent meal. That might mean food stations instead of tray-passed appetizers (which will cut down on staffing costs) or a buffet-style meal instead of a plated surf and turf duet. Your guests have put in the time and effort to be there with you, so reward them with a delicious (and filling!) dinner.

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