budgeting advice


The wedding budget talk. An often not-so-fun yet necessary aspect of planning your big day. To help you out and give you a few pointers we’ve learned, we’re kicking off a three-part series with tips and advice regarding this pesky topic! This series is aimed at getting you on the right path toward planning the wedding of your dreams without breaking the bank. Part one is all about understanding a bit about the wedding industry: we believe having background knowledge about wedding costs will help you know when to splurge and when to save when choosing your vendors. So let’s dive right in!

Your First Piece of “Homework”

Let’s start at the very beginning: number of guests! Step one involves you and your fiancé creating your guest list. This will be your first piece of homework that will determine your budget and venue possibilities. You’ll need to cast a wide net thinking of everyone you would ever want to come and slowly whittle it down. Don’t forget to talk to your parents about their expectations for the number of invitations they will get. Note: sometimes this can be woven in nicely when bringing up the budget talk with both families. It will be hard to know how much money you need for your wedding until you know how large or small of a wedding you would like.

The Average Costs of Weddings

The average cost of a wedding in 2018 according to The Knot’s Real Weddings Study is $33,931. However, the average cost of a Southern California wedding ranges from $39,329 – $44,142. In North Carolina, that number is just above $30,000 according to The Heart of NC Weddings. Regardless of what your budget ends up being, there are a few things you should know about how your budget “should” break down based on the average wedding percentages (adapted from  TheKnot.com). As you go through each, know that these are just general ranges but you may choose to spend more or less in one category over another. We’ll go into adjusting the categories based on your “Top Three” in Part Two.

As you think about your wedding, determine if any items will not be included in your main wedding budget (honeymoon etc.) and if any items are being gifted to you.

Wedding Budget Categories

  • Reception: 40-50%
    The reception budget category is comprised of your venue site fees, catering and dessert costs, bar costs and any miscellaneous fees that may be included in your BEO (Banquet Event Order) from the venue or caterer. If your venue does not have an in-house catering company or they are not making your desserts, you’ll want to add a category to your budget and break out desserts/catering.
  • Ceremony: 2-3%
    The ceremony category will only be used if you are getting married at a church or separate venue from your reception, otherwise you can allocate this percentage elsewhere. This is the recommended amount of your total budget to spend on that space. If the venue is all-inclusive, you can move this percentage up to your Reception budget category.
  • Attire: 8-10%
    This includes wedding gown, shoes, accessories, tuxedo or suit, ties or bow ties, cufflinks and any bridal party gifts.
  • Flowers: 8-10%
    Table centerpieces, ceremony aisle decor, ceremony arch decor, bouquets, boutonnieres, cocktail table centerpieces and any other miscellaneous flowers or installations you dream up!
  • Entertainment/Music: 8-10%
    Are you going to have a live band or a DJ? Would you rather have a iPod shuffling through a playlist, a string quartet or mariachi ensemble? These are questions to ask before you allocate entertainment budgets since DJ’s and live bands will run much higher than someone plugging in an iPod. Note: For those who do not want/need more involved entertainment, you’ll need to budget for speakers and microphone rentals and designate an emcee and a person who will play your specific songs for certain moments (think first dance, cake cutting song, etc.)
  • Photography/Videography: 10-12%
    Now this one is pretty straightforward but if you’re planning on only hiring a photographer or hiring both you may remove or add some percentage points.
  • Planner: 8-10%
    Hiring a wedding planner obviously relieves a lot of stress throughout the planning process and on the big day. A wedding planner will recommend places to save on your budget and vendors that fit each budget category. The planner organizes the entire set-up and tear down, ensuring your wedding day timeline runs smoothly.
  • Stationery: 2-3%
    Save the Dates, to the Invitation Suite, Rehearsal Dinner invites and Thank You notes. Also remember to budget for postage and fit it into this category! This section can also include calligraphy or printing for escort cards, menu cards and table numbers.
  • Hair & Makeup: 1-2%
    This will vary depending on if you plan to cover the costs for your bridesmaids or not. 
  • Wedding Rings: 2-3%
  • Parking/Transportation: 2-3%
    Do you plan on transporting your guests from a nearby hotel to the venue? If you answered yes, you’ll need to budget for that here. Do you want to have a limo or getaway car? Then that will also fall into this transportation category. Some venues require you to contract out a valet company or pay for a parking lot in which case you will need to allocate some of your budget here.
  • Gifts: 2-3%
    Are you planning to give a gift to ask your bridal party to be part of your wedding? That needs to go here! Are you giving gifts to everyone (bridal party and family) on your rehearsal dinner? Place that here!
  • Rentals / Miscellaneous: 8%
    This is the part we find the most fun! If you plan to use rentals for your tabletop you would put those items in this category or a separate design budget category. This may include chargers, linens, glassware, flatware, napkins, or anything else of that nature.
  • Just-in-case: 5%
    Let’s be real, you’re going to go over in some budget category so you might as well plan for it.
  • Gratuities: This ranges for each vendor and we have a special tipping guide for all of our brides. Especially because almost all of these categories are service-based, tipping will be greatly appreciated!


Money is a delicate matter for all families regardless of how much is in the bank. Some families have saved up for a long time, while others may be looking to you as the couple to independently fund the celebration. Regardless of your situation, we’re giving you tips on how to have the budget talk with your family and fiancé!

Budgets & Families

There is no “one right way” to have the budget talk. You are the person who knows your family best, therefore you will know the best approach based on your relationship with each parent and how they best react. First, you’ll want to decipher if each of your families are on the traditional side or the non-traditional side. Do they each want the bride’s family to fund the entire nuptials while the groom’s family covers the rehearsal dinner, or are they each looking to chip in equally or not at all? Knowing this will help to guide your approach.

We recommend having a casual dinner or talking to one parent first to feel out the situation as a start to discussing the wedding planning and budget expectations. Having read Budgeting Part One and by now you’ve established a starting ground for your guest count, you’ll already have an idea of the average costs associated with wedding planning so that you go into the budget discussions well educated.

Once you know from both sides how much money you’re getting from your families, and how much you are chipping in yourself, congratulations – you officially have a total budget (or budget range)!

Fight it out now and fight less later.

We’ve come across this quite a bit as a philosophy in the wedding industry when it comes to couples and their budgets. The idea is simple. Imagine your top three wedding “must haves” – those things or people you see immediately when you enter into your wedding. Is it a couture gown, gourmet food, and a live band? Or is it an open bar amongst all of your family and friends with lush flowers?

You and your fiancé should start the planning process with this discussion. Both of you will develop your top three wedding must haves. Then you will reveal them to each other and explain why these are important to you. Be kind, but honest! The hard part will come next as you compromise to focus in on the ultimate top three categories. Once you come to this conclusion, you will know how to prioritize your budget and even splurge a little more in those categories. Everything else that was not a priority will not get priority status when it comes to your budget. This means if extravagant dessert bars wasn’t on either of your top three lists then you cut back here. If designer attire was not in your top three then you opt for attire that is a little more affordable. Make sense?


By now you’re getting more settled into your wedding budget. YAY! Here comes the tough part. You will start plugging in numbers to your budget and the feeling of overwhelm will begin to hit as you get quotes for each category. We totally understand. We know it is this very part where a lot of couples consider eloping. Don’t get discouraged, we are here to help! We don’t want to have you living in an unrealistic reality, but we want to make sure that you are staying focused on your wedding “Top Three” and getting the most out of your wedding budget.

3 Steps to Avoiding the Overwhelm

  1. Start researching! Gather information for venues that spark your interest, photographers whose work you love and of course get to know wedding planners who are well connected and can guide you throughout this process. We always say you never know until you ask, so before you cross off something or some place thinking it’s totally out of your budget, inquire with them!
  2. But don’t go too crazy! Keep your options limited to three at a time. In order to keep everything manageable you’ll want to make sure you eliminate one before you bring on another option. Think of it like the closet clean-out mentality: when you buy something new, you get rid of something old. Don’t let your “closet” get messy and overcrowded. That will make your wedding planning process that much more overwhelming. P.s. Always be courteous and respond to your vendors who follow up with you even if you just tell them that you need more time. Just like dating, vendors don’t want to feel like you ghosted them.
  3. Remember that budgeting for anything is always a shuffle. If you go over budget in one category, you’ll need to make up for it in the next category. That’s where your wedding “Top Three” come in handy. Use those as a guide to decide if you really “need” something or not.