Wedding Series: Prioritize a Wedding Budget

I researched, read and pinned a lot of stuff about wedding planning. What percentage you should spend on what. Who should pay for what. To be quite honest, non of it was remotely helpful. Why would I spend 8% of my budget on flowers? 3% on transportation? Who makes this stuff up?

I talk about prioritzing a lot (link to new years, link to dream wedding). We were able to find our dream wedding because we stuck to our top priorities.

The same can be said for our wedding budget: we stuck to it by sticking to our top priorities.

The wedding industry is a crazy one. Cookoo-banana-crazy. Put "wedding" in front of a product and you can probably triple the price. I completely understand couples who want completely stripped down, simple weddings: maybe a courthouse with two witnesses and a dinner at a restaurant or in someone's back yard. I can also completely understand the couples who want to go big: opulent decor, gourmet food, impressive venue, designer attire, and an unlimited guest list. I really do get it! It's a chance to throw the biggest, baddest party of your life.

Where things get complicated is when the stripped-down bride realizes that even a back yard bbq can cost a few hundred dollars. Or when the opulant bride starts adding up the costs of everything, when everything is "the best". Reality crashes down upon us and some things have to give. How do you know what to cut back on? How can you save money while still having quality? Who pays for what? Where do you even begin?

Step One: What kind of wedding makes sense for you (and your family) ?

This will dictate a lot. If you are the type to elope, and that's meaningful to you, for goodness sakes do it. It's you union. If you are the laid-back couple who wants a courthouse wedding, go for it. If it would suit your family culture to have an intimate wedding with only immediate family members, book it! And if you're like many couples, with large enough, blended-enough, opinionated and caring-enough families, you'll probably go for the big wedding. That's what we chose and that's what our wedding budget (and this post) is based around. A big wedding made sense for us and our families. Our parental units were all extremely generous and supported us financially. Different family members hosted and paid for different things. We paid for some things as well. (Had we had the small, intimate Dream Wedding 1.0 we would have paid for it entirely ourselves).

That brings me to another point. If you'd like to have complete undeniable control over every minute decision of your wedding, it's probably best to pay for it yourself. There. I said it. When people help you out financially it's just plain polite to include them in the planning. There are tons of factors I could get into about what size and type of wedding to have. But everyone and every situation is different. So I won't bother right now.

Our Wedding: We planned a big, traditional, indoor wedding for 180 guests.

Step Two: Prioritize Elements

Once you've decided on the type of wedding you'll have it's time to prioritize. Here are the major elements that go into a wedding:

  • Venue

  • Date & Time

  • Numbers of Guests

  • Bridal Party

  • Food & Drink

  • Decor

  • Attire

  • Entertainment

  • Ceremony

  • Flowers

  • Transportation

  • Favours

  • Invitations & Stationary

  • Photography & Videography

  • Hair & Makeup

  • Wedding Planner, Coordinator

Even if you're not engaged or wedding planning go ahead and jot these things down in the order that you think you would prioritize them. There. Boom. The very beginning of your wedding budget.

Are you planning a wedding? Then think about some of the quotes you have or the money you're prepared to spend. How does that line up with the prioritized list?

Only you and your partner can prioritize this list. There is no prescribed order. Some things just cost more by nature (food and drink) and others can be totally variable (flowers & decor). Some of us are lucky and can capitolize on connections: Maybe your uncle owns a gorgeous farm when you can host your reception. Maybe your dad owns a printing business and can print your invitations. Maybe your cousin is a hair stylist and can do your hair. We all have connections. Start to think about yours. This leads us to step three (which overlaps with step two).

Step Three: Your Skills and Connections

As you prioritize do not discount your own skills and connections! Are you super organized with mad excel skills? Do you have an eye for design? Does your fiancé have skills that can come in handy? What about your family members? Here are some skills and connections to consider:

  • Organizational Skills

  • Money-management and data-management skills

  • Design Skills - Web, stationary, artistic, floral, photography, etc

  • Speaking and writing skills

  • Musical Skills

  • Family businesses - bakeries, restaurants, florists, potential venues, etc

  • Family occupations and business connections

Step Four: Use Your Priorities to Set Framework

Taking into account your personal preferences, priorities and style, and the skills and connections you have, you can begin to stitch together a wedding budget. Each item will inform another. As you find creative ways to save money you can also re-allocate funds to other items. I'll use our wedding as an example to illustrate:

  • Entertainment - Live music is our number one priority throughout the entire event. Many friends, family members have skills and connections (including us). We are prepared to spend good money on a great party band.

  • Food & Drink - Ranking #2 priority. Open bar and food stations/buffet for social atmosphere. Evening wedding means cocktails, apps, dinner and desert. Planning for pie instead of cake. Are happy to spend good money on this too.

  • Venue - Indoor venue for large guest list.Want an atmospheric venue that has character without a lot of decor. Venue should have tables, chairs, bar and catering available without needing additional rentals.

  • Date & Time - Want a short engagement (under a year). Summer was too close and many venues were booked. That puts us in the fall. (My favourite season anyway). Weather is too unpredictable and need a completely indoor venue. Friday or Saturday evening.

  • Guest List - Large blended families, family friends and our friends. About 200 initally on guest list. Venue needs to accomodate that as well as many musicians and lots of musical gear.

  • Bridal Party - Medium sized bridal party: four bridesmaids, four groomsmen, one flower girl and ring-bearer. Want to pay/subsidize for attire and give jewellery as gifts.

  • Attire & Accesories - Ranks high on the priority list. We only get one wedding and want to wear something special. Rings to be custom designed by same designer as engagement ring (again, we wear these forever). Brooch bouquet for bride.

  • Photography & Videography - Candid photography is very important. Basic videography as well. Maid of honour is photographer and has many connections.

  • Ceremony - No religion to consider. Officiant to be secular. Only decor needed is a Chuppah. Tons of live music.

  • Invitations & Stationary - Will do a combination of paper invitations and a wedding website. Father of the bride has connections to printing companies.

  • Hair & Makeup - Want to do as much as this myself as possible. Bridesmaids and mother are performers and have experience with makeup.

  • Decor - Very low priority. Want the venue and the event to speak for itself.

  • Flowers - Extremely low on priority list (flowers die and get thrown out).

  • Favours - From our experience not a ton of value or meaning to favours. Want to find something creative and inexpensive to do.

  • Wedding Planner, Coordinator - Want to plan most things ourselves. (I am extremely organized). Use venue coordinator included in rental.

  • Transportation - Perhaps the lowest on the priority list.

The list above illustrates how one thing informs another. Is it exactly in descending priority order? Probably not. But it can demonstrate how the budget took shape. It also takes into account our skills and connections.

Step Five: Price out the Big Stuff

Instead of working from a number and working backwards we started pricing the big stuff to get a general idea. Then, using our prioritized list we filled in approximate budgets for the rest. I'll use our wedding as an example:

Scale: *$100-$500 **$500-$1500 ***$1500-$3000 ****$3000-$5000 *****$5000-$10,000+

Venue, Food & Drink - *****

Includes venue rental, ceremony, reception, open bar, catering, set-up/tear-down; everything.

Entertainment - ****

Ceremony musicians: Free (friends & family)

Ceremony music direction: Free (me)

Dinner Band: *(family friends)

Party Band: ****

Photography - **

Two photographers: ** (friends)

Video: Free (friends, family cameras)

Now that we had those big three quotes we could start to set budgets for rest:

Attire Budget: Bride, Groom, Bridal Party - ****

Ceremony - * (for officiant)

Stationary - use connections to cut costs

Flowers - as few as possible, use connections.

Transportation - take cabs!

Wedding Planner - Not hiring one.

Hair & Makeup - Get my hair done at salon, do makeup myself.

Favours - None

From the above items we were already sitting at many thousands of dollars. (Which seemed UNBELIEVABLY HIGH to me at the time). But these were our biggest items, this was the wedding we were signing up for. This was dinner for 200 guests after all! (At the very least).

From there we made deliberate, concious efforts to save money everywhere we could.

Step Six: Identify Where to Cut Back!

Once you have the big items priced out try and find creative ways to save money with the rest. If you've priroritized correctly there won't be much more to spend on anyway. Here are the top ways we saved money:

Scale: *$100-$500 **$500-$1500 ***$1500-$3000 ****$3000-$5000 *****$5000-$10,000+

Book Off-Season *****

By booking off season (in Toronto, this means between October and March) you save money on venue rentals.

Book Off-Night*****

By booking on a Friday we saved the entire venue rental fee. I'll repeat that - they waived the venue rental fee.

Skip the Flowers - ***/****/*****

The only flowers I wanted for our wedding were the bridesmaid bouquets. (Candles for centrepieces). Here are the only flowers we had at our wedding: 4 bouquets for the bridesmaids, 5 boutenieres for the fathers & grandfathers, 6 wrist corsages for the mothers & grandmothers, petals for the flower girl, 4 roses in each centrepiece. I truly cannot fathom how much people spend on flowers for weddings. It must be many many thousands of dollars. A family member paid for and arranged our flowers so I'm not sure exactly how much it cost. Even for those few it was probably at least $1000.

Skip the Limo **

We got married in the city in an area very accessible by transit (for our guests). My husband was driven to the venue early by one of the groomsmen. Our hotel, where I was getting ready, was about a five minute drive from the venue. My plan was for the bridesmaids to take a cab over to the venue, followed by my dad and I in our own cab. Why rent a limo for a five minute drive?

Use a Wedding Website **

This can cut down on stationary costs like crazy! Think about it: traditional stationary can be a save the date card, an invitation with RSVP card, map/direction card, outer and inner envelope, plus envelope and return postage for the RSVP, a thank you card, and postage for all of this. Wedding websites are easy to make for free online and can provide your guests with all the details they need, including RSVP. You can even send digital invitations and skip the postage entirely.

Skip the Favours (Maybe not entirely) **

From our experience no one really cares about favours. Do you? Do you use that cake server? Or oriental fan? Did you plant that packet of seeds? Or eat that chocolate? To us it was not good value for our money. What we did instead was creative and cheap: we made "Tickets" with table numbers on them to put at each place setting. The ticket also had an online link to download all of the songs we featured throughout our entire wedding. A "wedding playlist".

Design Your Own Stationary *

If you are creative, take advantage! We designed all our own stationary including save the dates, invitations, thank you cards, ceremony programs, seating chart and favours. There are many templates and fonts available online for free. Maybe you even know a friend who can help you out with this.

Skip the Officiant at the Rehearsal *

This is a cost-saving tip from our officiant: only hire them for the ceremony. As he said to us, "You know your wedding better than anyone. Run it yourself and save some money". And that's exactly what we did.

Skip the Hair & Makeup Artist *

I did not hire a hair & makeup artist for my bridal party. Instead I asked each bridesmaid to arrive at the hotel with their hair done. It was totally up to them where they went or if they did it themselves. I got my hair done at my regular hair dresser's for about $80. We all brought our own makeup and did our makeup together. Before the wedding I spent about $120 on makeup.

Use Your Connections (Any range of savings)

Use. Your. Connections. We had several friends and family members make music at our wedding. Our dinner band were family friends. Our friends shot video. Our maid of honour is a photographer, we asked her to find two reliable photographe friends to shoot our wedding. (Professional wedding photographers can be thousands and thousands of dollars. Our recent university grad photographers cost $1200 including all editing and rights to all of their images). My dad had connections at a printing company (invitations) and a backline company (musical intrsuments & amps). My husband's step-mother had a florist connection.

DIY, but Only with care

Do-it-yourself wedding trends are in. They look cute on pinterest when executed properly. But DIY with care. Don't get over-ambitious. Craft stores can have big mark-ups. And the time you spend making the crafts could be lengthy (time is money!) Here's what we DIY'ed: my brooch bouquet, ceremony programs, table numbers, groomsmen pocket squares, seating chart.

Step Seven: There Will be Unexpected Expenses

There just will be. You will go over a budget, somewhere. But there are also ways to make up for it and cut back. My dress was much more expensive than I ever thought it would be, but it was important to me. It was a high priority. Plan for a contingency and relax - it's just a wedding, and it's just money.

Step One: What kind of wedding makes sense for you (and your family) ?

Step Two: Prioritize Elements

Step Three: Your Skills and Connections

Step Four: Set a Framework

Step Five: Price out the Big Stuff

Step Six: Identify Where to Cut Back!

Step Seven: There Will be Unexpected Expenses

Wedding Series

Navigating Divorced Families

Navigating Inter-Faith Families

Brooch Bouquet Tutorial

Finding Your Dream Wedding

Pros and Cons of Engagement Ring Shopping Together

Saying "Yes"

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