How To Create A Realistic Budget For Your Dream Wedding

I know, you’re thinking “is it really possible to have ‘realistic budget’ and ‘dream wedding’ in the same sentence?” and the simple answer is yes. Creating a wedding budget can be tedious, overwhelming, and sometimes discouraging, but if you follow these 5 steps below, you’ll be well on your way to planning your dream wedding – on budget!

1. Discuss Your Dream Wedding

For many, this part might be easy (and fun!) because many of you have daydreamed about what your dream wedding looks like for years. However, when talking about your dream wedding, the key thing is to discuss what elements are most important and will help bring your vision to life.

Do you imagine florals playing a big role in your wedding? Or will you rely on great music to set the mood through a string quartet or live band? Or perhaps an abundance of high quality food and drink are important to you. Whatever your ideal wedding looks like, it’s important to prioritize your budget to cover the things that will bring your dream wedding together and cut down (or out), the things that won’t.

Now don’t go crazy with wedding planning just yet, the point of this discussion is to simply identify what areas are most important to you first, and once you figure out what they are, you’ll be more prepared to move onto the next step.

2. Do Your Research

After getting engaged, some people jump right into wedding planning by booking their appointment at Kleinfield to find their dream dress, but unless you have an endless cash flow or know exactly how much the different components of a wedding cost, you might be setting yourself up for disappointment. So unless you have an unlimited wedding budget, I recommend you do your research and start with the areas that you’ve prioritized.

Begin by asking married friends how much they spent on vendors and various other wedding components, call up the professionals and ask how much their services cost, join online wedding groups and forums to get feedback and recommendations, etc. Ask people if there were any areas they went over budget, or if there were any fees they were surprised with.

Next to a house or a car, a wedding will likely be one of the biggest purchases of your life and you certainly wouldn’t purchase a home or a vehicle without properly doing your research and checking out the market, would you? If you approach wedding research the same way, not only will you be better prepared to create a realistic budget but you’ll be less stressed as well.

3. Solidify Your Overall Wedding Budget

Now that you know what elements are most important to you to achieve your dream wedding, and how much they cost, it’s time to have “the talk”. Who is paying for the wedding? Are you both picking up the tab or will you be receiving contributions from one or both of your families? While this can be an awkward conversation to have, it’s an absolutely crucial one if you want to be able to create a realistic wedding budget.

Here are a few common ways to approach creating your budget:

1. You and your fiancé pay for the entire wedding on your own

As people are getting married later in their lives, we’re seeing more couples paying for the wedding completely on their own. Longer engagements are also increasingly more common when paying for your own wedding as it gives you more time to save. This route can be difficult if you’re unprepared or have unrealistic expectations, but having the freedom to make your own wedding-planning decisions can be priceless as well.

2. Families make a contribution with a fixed amount

Sometimes your families can be just as excited as you are when they find out that you’re engaged and they want to express their love and support by providing a monetary contribution to help you achieve your dream wedding. While this donation can certainly help bring you that much closer to your vision, keep in mind that sometimes this makes the contributors feel like they have a say in your big day. When having a discussion about budget, be sure that you talk honestly about your expectations to avoid any unnecessary stress in the future.

3. Families make a contribution towards a specific wedding element

This is my recommended approach if your families want to make a financial contribution. If you want to go the traditional route, the bride’s parents would pay for the wedding reception, and the groom’s parents would pay for the rehearsal dinner (and/or the alcohol portion of the reception).

Think that’s too much? No problem. Maybe you can kindly suggest they contribute by making a payment towards a specific area of the wedding such as the wedding dress, flowers, stationery, favors, etc. The general idea is that they’re making a donation towards a specific part of your wedding. This way it’s obvious where their money is going and they’re less likely to feel like they have a say in all your wedding decisions.

While every family is different and therefore no one right way to approach this, one thing to keep in mind when setting up these discussions is to make sure that you have separate meetings with each family. None of the families involved should know what amount the other is contributing because nobody should feel pressured to make a contribution or feel like they need to “out do” the other side.

4. Iron Out The Guest List

Compiling your guest list is honestly one of the most important parts of creating your budget because these numbers directly influence almost every element of your wedding – food, beverage, stationery, favors, rentals, etc.

Did you know that your reception (venue, food, beverage) can realistically take up anywhere from 45% – 50% of your entire wedding budget? This is why your guest numbers are so important! Thankfully, it’s also something you can control.

I recommend sitting down with your fiancé (and anyone who is contributing a financial amount to your wedding – especially if they’re paying for the reception) and coming up with your guest list. Once completed, use this as your maximum number (not everyone will be able to attend) and then if the number is unrealistic in relation to your overall wedding budget, then proceed to trim the list.

5. Create Your Wedding Budget!

Now that you know how much money you have to work with, how many people you’re inviting, and what elements you’re prioritizing, you’re ready to create a realistic budget for your dream wedding!

If you intend on working with wedding professionals, here is a percentage recommendation to get a jump-start on creating your overall budget:

Venue: 45%

Photography & Videography: 18%

Florals & Décor: 15%

Planner: 10%

Stationery: 6%

Entertainment: 4%

Ceremony: 1%

Miscellaneous: 1%

Please note that “attire” is not listed here, and that’s normally because wedding dresses are not generally considered as part of the overall wedding budget. Also, a family member commonly gives it as a gift to the bride when making a contribution.

A great way to approach creating your wedding budget is to write down your total amount and then proceed to divide it up from there using the recommended percentage amounts listed above as a general guide. You can also adjust the amounts based on your priorities. This is known as the Top-Down Method.

If you’ve already done some research and received quotes from vendors, you can use the Bottom-Up Method using the amounts already quoted to determine the rest of the budget. For example, if you’ve received a quote from a banquet hall for $22,500, if you divide that by 45% then you know that $50,000 is a reasonable wedding budget. From there, you can determine the budget for the remaining vendors and elements.

If you want a more detailed wedding budget breakdown, download our FREE Wedding Budget Spreadsheet. Once you start inputting the numbers in the appropriate areas, you can truly start customizing your budget to accommodate your priorities. All you have to do increase the budget in one category and take it away from another to compensate – just don’t forget to make sure that everything adds up to 100%!

I know that creating a wedding budget can be daunting and at times down right frustrating. But if you learn what areas to prioritize, do your research to figure out how much professional wedding vendors truly cost, and come up with a must have guest list, you’ll be able to create a wedding budget that is not only realistic but manageable; which is very important if you want to avoid feelings of disappointment. Remember, there are many things in wedding planning that come with a pretty price tag, but keeping your sanity is priceless.

Best of luck and happy planning!


Valerie Tesoro is a Toronto wedding planner and day of wedding coordinator dedicated to beautiful designs and flawless execution. Whether you require planning assistance or wedding day coordination, Valerie can help bring your vision to life. Contact her today; she’d love to learn more about you and your dream wedding!

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