Many couples sit down and create a budget as soon as they get engaged and start planning their wedding. The numbers are imaginary until you have an actual guest count, but it's good to have a list of everything you expect you're going to need to pay for even if you can't fill in all the blanks. And another problem is that you don't know what-all needs to be listed on that budget on day one.
It's okay to put a question mark in the blank, but leave that blank there so that you don't forget about it when you're adding up everything you need to spend. Sometimes it's these question marks that keep couples from spending needlessly on things they find late night on Pinterest. That's a legitimate budget-buster.
On the front end, you have to think about things that have nothing to do with the actual wedding venue: wedding dress, groom's attire, rings, save-the-dates, invitations, and travel costs if you're having a destination wedding. Put those things in your budget.
You'll also have blanks for each and every one of your vendors including the cake baker, the florist, the photographer, the videographer, the venue, the reception caterer, the rehearsal dinner, the welcome bags for out-of-own guests, the ceremony music, the reception music, the wedding favors, some beauty appointments for the bridal party, the minister, your marriage license, any required permits, reception décor, necessary lighting, various rental equipment (everything from linens to tents), other activities, and a lunch for the bridal party on the wedding day (so they don't have too much champagne on an empty stomach prior to the ceremony).
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Frequently, brides and grooms forget to include two very, very important items in their wedding budget: 1) a setup and teardown crew, and 2) gratuities for absolutely everybody who works your wedding from the kitchen staff to the lady who made the tasty bride and groom cookies for your reception favors. It's easy to forget that you have to pay somebody to clean up everything after your wedding even if you've paid other people to put it all up. And depending on whether you're getting married at a hotel or planning your wedding at a private venue, your gratuity costs will probably run between 18 and 23 percent — a hefty chunk of change unless you've planned ahead for it.
As long as you plan ahead and have a real idea of all the things you're going to have to pay for, you are creating a realistic wedding budget. It may remain just a really good estimate until you have your final headcount and can recalculate how many people you have to feed and how many tables, chairs, and linens you're actually going to need, but it's a baseline you can use when you're organizing your finances ahead of time for your big day.
Owner of Weddings in Vieques, a destination-wedding planning company off the coast of Puerto Rico, Sandy Malone has helped countless couples plan their big day since 2007.