The Ultimate Guide to the Wedding Budget: How to Allocate Your Funds and Tricks to Stay on Track

No matter your starting number, our industry experts tell you how to break down your budget, blow-by-blow

Updated 12/24/18

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Breaking down your wedding budget is one of the trickiest (yet most important) wedding planning tasks. Since creating this figure influences all of your other decisions—venue, guest list, which meal options to select, and if you can spring for that pricey DJ—it's essential you select this figure correctly. No matter your starting number, think about dividing your budget in terms of “for you” and “for them,” says Alicia Fritz of A Day in May Events in Traverse City, Michigan. “A budget begins with a guest list that informs most of your costs. Be prepared to spend the most (around 40 percent) on taking care of guests’ basic needs—that's venue, food, and beverage." The remaining amount includes fixed costs like your photographer, videographer, and entertainment. Then, there's the more logistical and arbitrary stuff—transportation, labor, lighting, stationery, and anything else you’ve deemed essential in the mix.

According to the Brides American Wedding Survey from 2018, the average wedding costs approximately $44,105 and has about 167 guests. (Note: Hiring a wedding planner? A day-of coordinator can charge $1,500 and up, while an event designer will cost around 10 percent of your budget.) Use the handy guide below as a rough outline for spending breakdowns and adjust according to your priorities.

Venue and Catering: 40 percent of your budget

Photography and Videography: 15 percent of your budget

Wedding Attire and Beauty: 5 percent of your budget

Music/Entertainment: 10 percent of your budget

Flowers: 10 percent of your budget

Favors and Gifts: 2 percent of your budget

Transportation: 3 percent of your budget

Stationery: 3 percent of your budget

Cake: 2 percent of your budget

Decor: 10 percent of your budget

And keep these questions in mind: Is your dream venue (or that dress, or imported peonies, or whatever is currently weighing on your mind) nonnegotiable for you? If it will put you over budget, cut down in another area that matters less to you. And if it isn't a deal breaker, then find another pick that you're sure to love just as much.

To track your spending every step of the way, do what wedding planners do and create an Excel workbook or Google Doc.

Here are the important elements to include:

Down the side of your document, break each category into its component's costs. For example, under "Bride's attire," make line items for the dress, accessories, and alterations.

Fill in columns with essential information. Every spreadsheet should include vendor contract information, estimated cost, actual cost, additional service fees, and tips, transportation and parking costs for off-site vendors, and taxes. Create a line for your grand total, and use the auto-sum function to add things up as you go.

A version of this story originally appeared in the February/March 2019 issue of Brides, on stands starting December 18.

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