As a wedding planner, I get asked all the time, “how much does a wedding cost.” As frustrating of a question as that can be, the answer is truly very convoluted. The truth of the matter though is that you can’t begin to plan an event until you have a basic idea of that answer! So, how do you begin to plan when you have no idea what it will cost you or how to spend your money? It may take some legwork, but the easy way to attack your budget is to break it down into manageable chunks.
Start with your guest list
The biggest driving factor on your big day will be the size of your invite list. Your guest list will determine your venue options and of course, the more guests you have the more money you will spend. Your catering budget will be higher, you’ll have to provide more seating and décor for those tables, and more invitations will be ordered. You get the picture – things add up. Put together a rough draft of your guest list so you can have a realistic idea of just how many people you wish to include in the celebration. Include your A list, your B list and even your C list! You can always make cuts later
Once you have an idea of your estimated guest count start to prioritize your big day. By this I mean: what is most important to you? Do you want to throw a killer party with the best bar and food service imaginable? Do you want to blow everyone away with over the top décor? Or do you care more about a memorable video and beautiful pictures to look back on years down the road? Whatever it is, make a list of your top 5. This will be where you want to concentrate the most of your budget and will help you determine the “required” expenses.
Factor in the little things
Being engaged is an exciting time in your life and it is so easy to get carried away purchasing every cute thing you see on Pinterest. This can send you down a slippery slope really quickly and before you know it your budget is blown. Before you make any rash decisions sit down and make a realistic list of all of the extras you want to include in your budget. Will you be paying for your bridal party to get ready with hair and makeup? What about your champagne flute and cake cutter – will grandma be gifting that to you or are you on your own? Are you including your vendor tips in your overall wedding budget or will you be pulling this from a personal account? These things add up and compiling an honest list of everything that has to be factored in will help in the long run and ultimately keep you on track!
Once you have your lists, start researching vendors in your area. Find out what these companies typically charge for their services. This may require calling people and asking them for their price lists or asking friends and family in the area who have been down this road before. This information will help you determine what the “industry standard” in your region is and what you can realistically expect to spend for the items or services you desire. I suggest creating a price range for each category with one or two vendors that fall into each level that you can refer to later.
Set a limit
Now that you’ve figured out what your industry standard is and what you need to include set a hard limit on your event. Figure out what you and your fiancé are willing to spend for your big day, what contributions you can expect (whether it be from family, sponsors or friends) and create a hard max on your budget. Do the same to your “wish list.” You’ve already prioritized your top 5 categories, so look at your list of “small factors” and determine what can go and what can stay. Consider a “Love, Like and Want” list. As your big expenses are contracted and accounted for you can work your way down these lists to see what else you will put your money towards.
Put it all together
The final stage to the big budget puzzle is to put it all together. You know what you are willing to spend, where you want to put that money and what else needs to be included. This is where you grab that handy guest list estimation and your research. If food is your top priority, can you serve a guest list of 175 people using the vendors you’ve culled in your ideal budget? If the answer is no and you aren’t willing to adjust your menu or your vendor, you may have to cut your guest list. This formula applies across the board.
Bring in reinforcements
Let’s be honest here… Unless you’re an accounting wiz or plan events on the side, even following these steps can be a headache! It can also be daunting to do all of the research and pricing necessary to focus your wedding. This is where you call in the professionals! A wedding planner will be able to give you the inside scoop on the industry without the legwork on your end. They will also help manage your budget and keep you on track along the way so you won’t forget anything. The expense is well worth it when all is said and done.