Some people prefer to elope or opt for a small, intimate affair with only a handful of guests and a minimal budget, but if you want a wedding on a more elaborate scale, that can be expensive.
However, if you can give yourself enough time to budget and plan, it’s possible to get your finances in order and save up for your big day. Here’s what the experts say about the steps you need to take to make your dream wedding a reality.
1. Start with an open conversation
Amy Nichols, a luxury wedding planner and founder of Amy Nichols Special Events in Santa Barbara, CA says first and foremost, it’s important to know what your priorities are and what you envision for your wedding. Planning a family-focused, simple wedding is completely different than planning a 200-person wedding in New York. You have to decide what’s really important for you and your partner, and what isn’t. If that’s location, allocate more of your budget to finding the perfect venue.
Money can be tricky, and it may feel uncomfortable, especially if someone else is helping foot the bill. Still, it’s important not to let the fear of discussing costs overcomplicate things; talking about money will help you in the long run.
“[Have] open and honest conversations about money with everyone from your fiancé, your parents, your planner, your venue, your caterer,” Nichols says. The more direct and forthcoming you are about your budget and what your expectations are, the more you’ll be able to pinpoint your must-haves, what you hope for, and how much you need to save.
2. Decide what’s included
Some people choose to include their honeymoon or wedding dress in their budget. However, Nichols recommends wedding budgets specifically cover everything needed to make your wedding day happen.
She prefers couples to have a secondary budget for things like the honeymoon or wedding bands, once they decide how to divide the costs. One way to start funding that budget it by saving small amounts on a weekly or monthly basis—whatever works best for you and your partner. That can mean automated transfers from your checking to savings or setting aside a certain amount from each paycheck.
3. Set your wedding budget
Build a realistic budget, using how much you’re willing to spend and average costs. Nichols explains the best thing you can do when building your wedding budget is to have a realistic idea of the approximate costs.In a 2022 survey of 12,000 couples across the country, The Knot found the national average for a wedding is $30,000. However, the average in many individual states is much higher, with New York and Massachusetts topping out at $46,000 for the big day.
“You can set a budget, but if it’s completely unrealistic…say your budget is $5,000 for a venue, but all of the venues that you want to get married at that are in your area are $10,000, then that’s not a realistic amount to allocate,” Nichols says.
Ask yourself if you can afford to get married wherever the destination may be. Do your research to find typical costs for everything from venues to vendors. Creating a budget is also a good time for everyone involved to continue having an open dialogue about what they’re looking for or can contribute.
4. Avoid overspending by making a budget for everything
Amy Hamasaki, certified financial planner and founder of Mountain Wealth Planning, a financial planning services company in Mountain Park, CO, says many people are surprised after they completely blow through their budget.
Breaking your budget down by categories, having an individual budget for each of those categories, and monitoring your spending can help you stick to it. Spreadsheets can be a great way to keep track of your budget, Hamasaki adds.
5. Minimize food and drink costs
Feeding guests and providing alcohol can be expensive—Nichols says people rarely expect it to be as expensive as it is. For example, in areas like San Francisco, Nichols says you can expect to pay an average of $300 per person just for food and beverages. At that price, a modest guest list of just 50 people would set your budget back by $15,000.
However, there are several ways for you to cut costs:
- Opt for an appetizer and drinks-only reception.
- If you plan on serving appetizers before dinner, pare down the selection to a select few.
- Choose budget-friendly foods, such as chicken instead steak.
- Serve meals buffet style where guests can help themselves.
- Limit your alcohol selection to wine and beer, or opt for a cash bar.
6. Cut back on spending
Sit down with your partner to figure out what you can cut back on. Going through the exercise to determine how much you spend every month is important. You may find you’re not comfortable spending so much on certain things.
“I think where people really overshoot their own personal spending budget is restaurants, entertainment, and traveling,” Hamasaki says. Being aware is the largest factor for success, Hamasaki says.
If you’re looking to spend less ahead of your wedding and down the road, here are several options that may help free up some extra money to put toward your budget:
- Review any recurring charges and cancel subscriptions and memberships you’re not using,
- Check to see if you can bundle cable and internet plans.
- Contact your power company to see if they offer a time-of-use plan to help reduce your electric bill.
- Switch your cell phone plan to a less expensive option.
- Compare your insurance rates and look into any bundling options (such as home and auto) or good driver discounts.
- Consider refinancing your mortgage if it will lower your interest rate and reduce your monthly payments.
- Consolidate your debt with a low or 0% APR personal loan or credit card to help save on interest costs and potentially reduce the overall monthly cost of your debt repayment.
7. Pick the right date and time
Choosing a less popular date or season for your wedding can bring down costs. For example, Nichols says fall and summer in California are popular for weddings, so an off-season date is a good way to save money.The same goes for choosing to have your wedding on a weekday instead of a Saturday evening during peak season.
Non-traditional venues can also be a great way to save money—a backyard, a rooftop bar, an aquarium, museum, library, or even an art gallery.
8. Trim the guest list
In the end, the more people on the guest list, the more space you’ll need and the more people you’ll have to feed. If you’re on a tight budget, Nichols recommends saving by scaling back your guest count as much as possible.
That can mean deciding who you invite, who gets plus ones, and if kids are invited. More often than not, when working with planners, you’ll build your budget on a per-person basis.
Another quick and easy way to save on the guest list: skip the paper invitations and go digital. There are multiple sites out there that allow you to create a personalized wedding page where guests can RSVP and shop your wedding registry.
9. Open an account for your wedding
Opening a savings account designated for wedding costs simplifies the process of monitoring your spending and ensures you’re in line with your budget.
“Pulling just from one account for all set expenses really keeps the budgeting a lot cleaner,” Hamasaki says. She recommends opening a high-yield savings account so your money earns interest at a rate higher than traditional savings accounts. High-yield savings accounts typically allow regular withdrawals (around six times per month, but some banks offer unlimited withdrawals).
If your wedding is a ways off, you and your partner may want to consider a certificate of deposit (CD). CDs are a type of savings account that pay interest (at a competitive, fixed rate) on an amount of money for a set period, which could be six months, a year, or longer. There are penalties for early withdrawal with most CDs, however. So the length of the CD needs to fit within your planning timeframe.
Saving for your wedding doesn’t have to be complicated. Budgeting and planning can make the difference between worrying about costs and enjoying your special day. If you’re having trouble getting started, begin by sitting down with your partner and deciding your priorities.