Building Your Wedding Budget

If working through a budget seems like a bit of a mood-killer, let us be the first to say we understand. But tackling the budget monster early on will save both of you a lot of stress and headache in the future.

Before we even start talking numbers, it’s important to remember that whatever your budget is, it’s OK. People pull off beautiful weddings at every financial level. Figuring out a realistic budget will allow you to go into your planning process with healthy expectations and a defense against the urge to buy every single thing related to your dream wedding.

Camden Chitwood from Emerson Events works with each of her clients to create a budget early on. “Sometimes couples can get so caught up in what everything is going to cost, that they aren’t excited during the initial vendor meeting. Knowing what you can spend within the budget you’ve allotted before walking into the appointment and being upfront with the vendor makes things much more relaxed!”


Reports show that the median American wedding costs $18,000, but that’s factoring in couples across a variety of geographic areas and with different financial situations. The cost of your wedding will depend on where you live, how many guests you invite, and what you choose to spend. To get started, think of where you might fall on the spectrum – do you expect to have a large budget for your wedding or are you doing things on a shoestring? Whatever the case, get a ballpark figure in mind.

Find the average cost of weddings in your zip code at

Once you’ve done that, you can decide if you’ll be approaching family members to talk about contributing to your wedding fund.

Asking people for money, even the people we’re closest to, can be awkward, am I right? When you ask, be straightforward and respectful. Let them know what your priorities are and how you’d like to spend your money, then ask if they plan on contributing anything. Be grateful for their yes no matter what the amount is, and be respectful of their no if that’s the case.


After you have your ballpark budget, plug the number into a wedding budget tool like, Wedding Wire, and The Knot, and let it do the work for you. These tools will tell you what percentage of your budget you should spend on big ticket items like your ceremony venue, reception hall, wedding dress, and vendors. You can refer back to this when making big purchases, keeping in mind that on top of every contract you sign, you’ll need to leave a little room for tax and tip. A good rule of thumb is to add 15% to account for tips and unexpected expenses. (Hint: Do this quickly by multiplying your total budget by 1.15. The resulting figure is your actual expected expenses.)


Now that you have a ballpark figure and a basic budget, consider building a wedding fund. By pooling the money into one place, you won’t have to worry about cobbling it together every time you’re ready to make a new purchase or put a new deposit down or accidentally spending money that should have gone into your wedding fund on something else instead. If you’re paying for or contributing to the wedding yourself, one of the easiest ways to start is by dividing your ballpark figure by 40, since that’s roughly how many weeks you have left in your planning process. The resulting figure is how much you should set aside each week.

Make things easy on yourself – set up an automatic transfer and get it off your plate. Your wedding fund will start to build itself, and you won’t have to scramble for the funds every time you sign a new contract. It’s a win for all involved.

You’ll find your decisions like how many people you can invite to the wedding and when and where you’ll get married much easier to make.


As you interview your vendors, you might want to keep a brief tally of your cost per guest. Vendors who charge on a per head basis may fit within your budget initially, but if your guest list expands, you might have to pay more. Extra guests may also mean adding more tables and chairs and other rentals, so stay aware of what you’re spending and make mental notes as to where you might need a cushion.


When hiring your vendors, you’ll typically pay a deposit upfront with the balance due either right before or on your wedding day. If a vendor is going to be on-site on your wedding day, you’ll want to make sure to include a tip with your final payment.

As you’re preparing your vendor payment envelopes, look back at your contracts to see if tip is included with the balances due. If not, slip a little something extra into the appropriate envelopes and hand them off to your Best Man to distribute after your ceremony or at the end of the night. Below is a quick cheat sheet of suggested tips for your vendors:

  • Bartenders: 10% of the liquor bill
  • Catering: Gift the manager a cash tip of 1-2% of the total fee or a personal gift, like a nice bottle of champagne
  • Chef: $100 or more
  • Coat attendants: $1.00-$2.00 per guest
  • Hairstylist and Makeup Artist: 15-20%
  • Transportation & Valet: 15%
  • DJ or Band: 15% or $25.00-$50.00 per musician
  • Waiters: Leave an envelope with $20.00 per waiter with the catering manager

Even if you’re not including an extra tip on top of what was agreed to, this is where a thank you can go a long way. Keep the thanks going after the honeymoon with a thank you note by mail and a review of their services for future couples to refer to.


Wedding insurance might sound over the top, but it’s not a bad idea if you’re investing a lot into your big day. A good insurance policy protects you from major financial liability in the case of any last minute cancellations, either due to weather, illness, or deployment, or fees from no-show vendors. Wedding insurance typically runs from $100 and upward depending on the type of coverage you select.

Start by checking out the insurance companies below:

It’s also a good idea to look into jewelry insurance before the wedding to make sure that your investment is safe and sound. Look into whether or not the policy covers both loss and theft. Sometimes you can save money by packaging your jewelry insurance with homeowners or renters’ insurance. If you’re not sure where to start, visit the companies below:

With the right planning and preparation, you’ll be able to tame your budget so that you can move through your wedding planning with less stress and more fun.

Want even more tips for planning your wedding? Our weekly countdown walks you through the entire wedding planning process from beginning to end, telling you exactly what you need to do and when you need to do it. Check it out here.