Happy Friday!!  Today’s installment of {the nuptial primer} is all about one thing: the budget.  Now before you cover your ears and run off in another direction, hear me out.  😉  Everyone has to face the facts about their wedding budget, and the sooner you do it, the better.  One of the biggest stressors in wedding planning (or life in general!) is money.  Signing thousand dollar checks during the first few weeks of booking can be overwhelming.  You could toss and turn in bed every night, wondering if you’re getting a great deal or the wool pulled over your eyes.  You might even be tempted to put a red pen to your guest list and consider if you really need to invite those last-minute additions…  Before you endure any unnecessary budget woes, I hope to preemptively alleviate some of them here with this post.  If you’ve already begun planning your wedding, my goal for this post is to inform your remaining purchasing decisions.  You should feel confident and satisfied with how you allocate each hard-earned dollar you spend on your wedding.

 jose villa photo

To start, here are my 5 ‘golden rules’ of wedding budgeting.  I will expand on each below.  Remember, I am not your financial advisor.  My advice comes from the knowledge I’ve gained in helping 120+ couples plan their weddings, and assisting them in staying within a budget.  Your mileage is gonna vary depending on your determination to stay within a budget.  😉

1) Don’t go into debt for your wedding.

2) Establish a budget ceiling early on in the process.

3) Prioritize and conquer.

4) Be realistic.

5) Ultimately, only YOU can determine if you stay within budget.

First, don’t go into debt for your wedding.  I’ll keep this short and sweet. I don’t think it is worth it to go into debt over your wedding day celebration. It’s like your kicking off your new life together with a gloomy stormcloud looming overhead.  You don’t want to worry about how long you’ll need to subsist off ramen before your bills are paid off.  😉  Chat with your sweetie and make a pact that you will spend within your means on your wedding.  Trust me — you are saving yourself from a lot of headache in the end.

Secondly, establish a budget ceiling early on.  If you read my last installment of {the nuptial primer} on what to do once you’re engaged, you know that this is important.  Discuss who is going to contribute to the wedding budget.  It could be just you and your fiancé, your parents, your fiancé’s parents… etc.  Have a serious convo with each party involved and get an *accurate* and *specific* amount that they plan to contribute.  Sometimes well-meaning parents will say things like, “We’ll just try to get the best deals we can along the way.  Don’t worry about the costs.. We’ll figure it out.”  As sweet and wonderful as that sounds, they are not going to be happy when they quickly learn that your understanding of “a deal” is worlds apart from theirs.  Most people do not have an idea of what things in the wedding world cost.  I have heard people balk at the price of everything from photography to food and beverage minimums to flowers.  I know that I am jaded to an extent, having been desensitized over years of exposure.  😉  That said, this is why it is ESSENTIAL that you get a specific number from each contributor.  You want to know from the get-go how much you really have at your disposal in order to make those initial booking decisions.

Third, prioritize and conquer.  I always tell my clients that they need to create a list of their “must haves” and “could do withouts.”  Everyone has their priorities when it comes to their wedding. What is worth the splurge, and what is a definite ‘save’?  You and your fiancé should chat over this before any vendors are booked, and then book your vendors in that order.  Why?  Because if you know you MUST have that photographer, even if it means 25 guests in your backyard, you should know that up front.  If wearing that dress has been your childhood dream, then snap it up early on.  I have only ever heard brides lament *not* going with their “must have” vendors… No one has EVER told me, “Gee, I wish I had saved the money and used a cheaper photographer”… but I hear “Man, I wish I splurged on [insert dream photog here]…” ALL.THE.TIME.  If you aren’t into your dress, or linens, or whatever, then save those for later and you can book them with the money that is “left over,” per se.  Here is where I interrupt myself to highly, highly recommend that you work with a wedding coordinator/planner at this stage.  While I believe prioritizing is vital to happy budget spending, I also see many uninformed but well-intentioned brides spend 60% of their budgets before they realize that they still need a venue, food, and beverages… Oops!  This is where the next point comes in:

Fourth, be realistic.  I cannot stress this enough.  In order to work out a meaningful and useful budget, you need to know what things cost.  As aforementioned, I think the best way to get “in the know” is to work with an excellent wedding planner who can guide you from the beginning.  I cringe when I flip through a wedding magazine that tells a bride that she should spend no more than x% on this or that vendor.  What if your wedding budget is $30k, for example… and the magazine says dedicate 8-10% of your budget to photography?  Well, that amount won’t take you far in the saturated pool of talented photographers here in southern California, especially if this is a priority item for you (which it SHOULD be — more on that in another installment!).  That said, if you are having 20 guests, you have nothing to fear… You have plenty of room to hire a photographer for double that (or more) and still get the necessities.  If you wanted 200 guests, however, you may need to re-think the priorities.  Where you are getting married will play a huge role in how your budget is appropriated.  Obviously, urban markets like LA and NY have much higher prices in general.  An experienced planner can give you input as to what the “going rate” is for an awesome photographer, florist, DJ, cinematographer, etc. etc. etc.  Before you snub your nose at your proposals, make sure you are being realistic about the market you’re in.

And equally as important: be realistic about your expectations.  If you are reading wedding blogs daily, tearing sheets out of magazines, and pinning inspiration galore to your Pinterest account, keep in mind that many of these weddings may be out of the reach of your budget.  I get inquiries on occasion where a bride will say, “Can I get your source on those [insert décor item here]??”  or “How can I DIY the [custom stationery] you had for this wedding??”  I have to carefully and kindly reply that, well, that bride spent well over six figures to hire the best-of-the-best to create, build, make, and design those things for her.  Unfortunately, some things cannot be duplicated on a dime.  Disclaimer: I have done weddings for 22 to 600+ guests, and I have worked with budgets of $18k to $500k…  There is no price threshold for a beautiful wedding.  The key here is to remember that some things, however, do come at a cost.  If you’re obsessed with the work of a certain photographer that charges $10k and up, it’s important to remember that while that may be far out of your budget’s reach, they have clients who pay that much for their work, and it is well-deserved.  You can’t expect to find a $1k photographer who creates that level of work.  You can’t pull tear sheets from MSW to show your florist and demand that they recreate the look for a fraction of the cost.  Be realistic, adjust the budget based on your priorities, and plan the most personalized wedding possible.  <3

Finally, only YOU can make sure you stay within budget.   I feel like Smokey Bear typing that.  😉  It’s true, though — the way your budget pans out is up to you and only you.  Sometimes my clients will ask me, “Can you help me plan a wedding for 100 people for under $X?”  My answer is usually, “Yes, most definitely… but it’s up to you to stay within the bounds of what that budget will look like!”  I can create a custom budget based on a client’s priorities and available funds, but when they see *that dress* or *that photographer* or *that venue,* sometimes things get thrown out the window.  In some cases, the couple decides that it is worth going over the initial budget to secure this newfound vendor.  😉  Other times, they will have to pretend they never saw it and move on.  (But as I mentioned… that is easier said than done.  Limit your wedding blog/mag intake if you are easily sidetracked or swayed by what you see.  You don’t need to be a wedding masochist and pore over images that torture you!!  LOL)  When some clients say their budget is $50k, they mean $45k and they will whittle away at everything to make sure they don’t go a penny over.  Other clients really mean $75k, and they start to loosen the reins as they find what they want costs more than they expected. Be honest with yourself, discuss every expenditure with your sweetie, and sign contracts confidently.  At the end of the day, you need to feel GREAT about who you book for your wedding.

Whew!!  That was a ton of info, but I hope it proved helpful to some of you out there.  😉  Based on the stats I saw, I think these educational posts in {the nuptial primer} are quite popular so far.  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments, and also learn what you want to read about next!  Thanks, as always, for stopping by.  

xoxo, Angel (who is 5 days away from her EDD!)

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Comments (3)

  1. michelle: March 2, 2012

    great info! it’s so important to know where to start, but more importantly to know where to stop. very sound advice for any bride-to-be!

  2. christina: March 5, 2012

    so so glad you posted this angel!!! this advice is so true, and what we try to convey to our couples all the time. it’s so important!

  3. Aida: January 8, 2016

    Do you have any suggestions for a good photographer in the LA or Santa Barbara area for the bride that can only budget less than $3000 toward photography. Your weddings are grander than I could even imagine 😍.

    Thanks 🙂

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