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5 Steps for Creating a Wedding Budget

It’s time to plan the biggest day of your life – your wedding. Professional planners urge you to start with a wedding budget shaped by the most important elements to you and your partner. 

By Kristina Russo | American Express Credit Intel Freelance Contributor

7 Min Read | December 20, 2019 in Money



As with any personal budgeting, wedding budget plans start with goals: first imagine the style and size of the wedding you want.

Use average wedding costs and benchmarks but don’t feel constrained by them.

Consider available sources to fund your wedding budget.

Search for tools and apps to help you stay on target.

Congratulations, you’re engaged! Hurry up and start planning your wedding!

All joking aside, almost half of couples begin wedding planning within three or four weeks after the proposal, usually by making a wedding budget.1 But believe it or not, most of those initial budgets are ultimately exceeded by up to 45%!2

That big difference may come from the fact that a wedding is often the first big event that couples plan together, so they may not have a frame of reference for how much things cost or how to establish a useful wedding budget. Putting together a wedding budget that is thrifty without being cheap – and still Instagram-worthy – can be a challenge.

Let’s explore the key considerations, average costs, financing sources, and planning tools that can help you create your wedding budget.


Step 1: Develop the Big Picture

A good first step for a wedding budget is to establish an overall wedding vision with your partner. Outlining the nature of the event you envision helps guide the many detailed decisions to follow. Common big picture wedding budget considerations include:

  • Will the wedding take place in your hometown, or are you among the 25% of couples who plan a destination wedding?3
  • Is your style casual or formal/upscale?
  • Will it be a single event or more? For example, two receptions when the wedding partners’ families are from distant locales, or a destination wedding followed by a party for friends at home.
  • One day or more? Traditional Indian weddings can be multiple-day events; Chinese weddings tend to have multiple stages on a single day but with different clothing and guests.
  • What time of year? October is most popular—and costly!4
  • Are there one or two must-haves for each partner? 


Most importantly, develop a range for the number of guests, since that’s the single biggest driver of a wedding budget. In fact, some of the tools and apps discussed below equate costs on a per-guest basis – which could help you zero in on who is worthy of an invite.


Step 2: Calculate How Much You Want to Spend

The average cost of a wedding in the U.S. is roughly $40,000. But there are significant regional differences within that national average: the New York metro region tops $50,000, while in St. Petersburg, Florida, the cost is closer to $22,000.5 That average wedding budget breaks down as follows:

  • $5,000 to $6,000 for the engagement ring.
  • $5,000 for the honeymoon.
  • $30,000 for the ceremony and reception, with an average guest list of 130.6


Key elements within the ceremony and reception cost, from most- to least-costly, are:

  • The venue.
  • Catering.
  • Music.
  • Photography.
  • Flowers.
  • Attire. 


Based on industry averages, 42-to-50% of wedding budgets are spent on venue, food and beverage; 18-to-20% for photography/videography, and another 8-to-18% for décor.7 Using these percentages can help you flesh out any size wedding budget. It’s worth noting that wedding budgets are significantly less for second (or more) marriages—they tend to be about half the cost of first marriages.8


Remember: These average costs and typical budget elements are important as guides, but don’t feel obligated to hit the averages. Weddings should be as unique as you and your partner!


One more thing: The best wedding budget planning must account for the unexpected. Most wedding planners recommend setting aside a 5-to-10% contingency fund for the unexpected or hidden costs that inevitably arise.9


Step 3: Comparison Shop to Zero-in On Prices

In the end, most couples engage over a dozen vendors for their special day. To help keep your wedding budget on track, it’s a good idea to do a fair amount of comparison shopping before engaging any particular vendor.


Getting proposals and quotes from as many vendors as you can increases your bargaining power, leads to more planning ideas and, importantly, gives you more confidence in your estimates. One bride-to-be told me she and her partner “religiously got quotes from as many vendors as humanly possible before even deciding what a fair price was for a service.” Unfortunately, this may require a significant investment of your time, as many vendors will only give actual prices in person – though the same bride-to-be said she automatically disqualified vendors who wouldn’t give a “ballpark price” over the phone.


And here’s a wedding budgeting tip that is often overlooked: tips. Gratuities are often sizable and customary – or even required – but may be excluded from proposals.


Step 4: Consider Your Wedding Budget Funding Sources

Hand-in-hand with creating a wedding budget is evaluating the source(s) of funds to pay for the big day. Most often, weddings are funded by some combination of a couple’s personal savings, family contributions, wedding gifts, and debt.


Paying your own way. Many couples pay their own way. Because people are getting married later in life, their parents are often retired on a fixed income or otherwise unable to adhere to the traditional custom of paying for most of the wedding. So, it’s important for couples to have realistic expectations for how much they can save during the engagement. Many people target 20% of their take home salary over the course of an average 14-month engagement.


Family funding help. If you’re lucky, parents or other family members may want to contribute to your wedding fund. Having these tricky discussions in advance, about how much and how they would like to contribute, is valuable when creating your wedding budget. Some people commit to contributing a set dollar amount, others would rather pay for a particular aspect of your wedding, and some may prefer to contribute a specific item like the cake or the favors.


Wedding envelopes. A riskier approach is to bank on some amount of cash gifts from your guests. There are some regions and cultures where cash gifts are the norm, and some couples open those envelopes on their wedding night. But in other parts of the country cash gifts are considered poor taste, so knowing your guest list and local traditions are important.


Wedding loans. More people are using loans to cover wedding costs. In mid 2019, online lenders said they were issuing three to four times as many wedding loans as they did the previous year, and had begun marketing loans specifically for brides and grooms. These loans can carry interest rates as high as 30%.10 If borrowing is part of your wedding budget plan, you may want to consider using a credit card. Especially if your credit score qualifies you for a 0% intro APR credit card, you can save money if you develop a plan to pay off your balance before the introductory period expires – and have the discipline to follow your plan.


Step 5: Wedding Budget Planning – There’s an App for That

There are many tools and apps available to help you create and track your wedding budget. Wedding budget spreadsheets, checklists, and templates are available on many different wedding websites. You can use mobile apps to establish budgets, research vendors, and track costs. These apps can also help organize vendor communications and documents, even compare quotes from multiple vendors to highlight the best deals. And they're portable, which helps you stay strong when you’re on-site at a vendor tempting you with a super cool upgrade. Quick online searches can point out the right tools for you.  


Speaking of online searches, 80% of the time spent planning a wedding is done online.11


The Takeaway

Creating a wedding budget is an essential first step in planning your wedding. Gaining an understanding of the information and tools available can help make the process less intimidating and stressful. And having a wedding budget helps you focus on what’s important to you… whether it be food, dress, music – or the hashtag.

Kristina Russo

Kristina Russo is a CPA and MBA with over 20 years of business experience in firms of all sizes and across several industries, including media and publishing, entertainment, retail, and manufacturing.


All Credit Intel content is written by freelance authors and commissioned and paid for by American Express. 

The material made available for you on this website, Credit Intel, is for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal, tax or financial advice. If you have questions, please consult your own professional legal, tax and financial advisors.