How to plan a wedding budget and stick to it

Ever thought about exchanging vows in Times Square as the ball prepares to drop? What about skipping town to find a small chapel in the countryside? One thing’s for sure—if you dream it, just about anything’s possible for a wedding these days.

And whether you settle on a few friends gathered casually on a rooftop or a grand affair downtown, knowing how to go about setting and allocating a wedding budget is the best way to make your wedding dreams a reality without breaking the bank. 

Key takeaways

  • Planning a wedding budget is one key way to set your priorities and estimate what it might cost to achieve them on your big day.
  • The average cost of a wedding is back to pre-pandemic levels, reaching around $34,000.
  • Planning your wedding at off-peak times or using DIY decor are a few ways you can get more out of your wedding budget.

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How much does a wedding cost?

The average wedding cost in the U.S. in 2021 was $34,000, back up from the 2020 pandemic price tag of $19,000, according to wedding planning website The Knot. 

But that doesn’t mean you need to spend that. Instead, you’ll want to think about the things that are most important to you and go from there.

Older couple laughs during their wedding reception.

How to set your wedding budget

Thinking about your priorities and discussing wedding budget planning as a couple is a great first step when thinking about how to set a wedding budget. 

Decide what’s most important
Before you start discussing exact amounts, it helps to identify what you and your future spouse want for your big day. Consider the following questions: 

  • Do you share a passion—like hiking, biking, old movies or your pet dogs—with your soon-to-be spouse? 
  • Is there a location that’s meaningful to you both?
  • Who do you want there with you on your big day?
  • Do you have family traditions and customs you want to incorporate into the ceremony or reception? 

Once you’ve got a clear picture of what’s important to you and your partner, you can start making a list of priorities. Begin by making a list of different items or services you think you’ll need and then rank them in order of importance.

Having an idea about how expensive things are might help you prioritize. Here are some popular examples, along with average prices, according to WeddingWire.

  • Wedding dresses, tuxedos or other outfits (average cost: $1,000)
  • Wedding venue (average cost: $6,000)
  • Photography (average cost: $2,000)
  • Videography (average cost: $1,800)
  • Wedding cake (average cost: $500)
  • Bouquets/floral arrangements (average cost: $1,500)
  • Having a live band play (average cost: $4,500) vs. having a DJ (average cost: $1,000)

Knowing specifically what’s important to you will help when it comes time to more firmly set your wedding budget.

Consider the details
Hashtags, wedding websites and first dances are details you can dive into later if you choose. But while you’re wedding budget planning, there are a few more practical decisions to tackle first.

  • Who’s paying? Whether you’re footing the bill or someone else—like a parent—is contributing, knowing where the cash flow is coming from is important.
  • How do you want to pay? Consider whether there are ways to make paying for your special day even more rewarding. Doo you require a personal loan for your wedding? Many credit cards offer perks that could add up if you pay your credit card bill instead of paying a vendor directly. 
  • How many guests will you invite? Whether you and your betrothed are flying solo or you’re inviting most of your hometown, nailing down the size of your guest list will set the tone when budgeting for a wedding.

What is a good budget for a wedding?

Guest count, time of year, number of vendors and venue type are factors that can greatly impact wedding budget allocations—with the venue often being about 30% of a wedding budget. 

But here’s a little secret: There’s no typical wedding budget breakdown. Must-haves are different for every couple, so think about the things you can’t do without and go from there. 

Wedding planner Tracy Brisson agrees, saying that these commonly cited percentages can vary greatly based on location and the couple’s wishes. Some people might prioritize lasting memories and earmark more money for photography, while others may want to throw the best party their guests have ever been to and might spend more on the reception.

Understanding which details are nonnegotiables for you will help you plan ahead to make sure they’re part of your wedding budget allocation. And if it turns out the only detail you both care about is a vintage convertible and an open road, then own it! Knowing what matters to you is the only way to do your wedding your way.

Indian couple in traditional dress on their wedding day.

How much should I budget for a 100-person wedding?

The wedding cost for a ceremony and reception for 100 people will vary due to a number of factors, including location, amenities and even the time of year. The Knot reports that people holding weddings with over 100 guests had an average cost of $38,000 in 2021, while weddings with 50 or fewer guests averaged closer to $15,000.

Tips for saving money on your wedding

If you’re looking to get more out of your budget or you just want to leave extra wiggle room in case of emergencies, there are a number of ways you can save some money for your wedding. These tips can help you reach your ideal wedding while sticking to your financial goals.

Plan for an off-season wedding
The most common months for weddings are from June to October. Because of the increased demand, venues typically have higher costs in those months. Planning a wedding outside those months can help you save significantly.

Reevaluate the guest list
Many of your costs will depend on the number of guests who attend your wedding ceremony and reception. Reducing the number of people you invite will save you money at the venue and on any invitations or party favors you might be using.

DIY what you can
Another thing to consider is which aspects of your wedding you want done professionally. Depending on the skills of the people involved in your wedding planning, DIY crafts or floral arrangements can help leave additional money in your wedding budget for other line items.

Newly married couple with paint on their clothes at the Hindu spring festival of Holi.

Planning a wedding budget in a nutshell

Planning a wedding budget is a good way to enter your nuptials in a fiscally responsible way, while also maintaining what’s important to you and your partner. Identify the specific things that are important to both of you and set a number that will leave you in a good financial position. 

Consider what’s negotiable, as there are plenty of ways to save money if you’re flexible about timing or which guests you absolutely need at your wedding. This can help you plan a one-of-a-kind wedding and start your new married life on the right foot.

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