Ready to have a real talk about wedding budget? This week I’m honored to welcome my friend and talented wedding planner and business owner, Taryn Blake, to talk about one of the most important things you need to know before start planning your dream day. Without further ado, here’s Taryn’s great article about wedding budget.
Budget + Guest Count = Starting Point
Your guest count and budget pretty much got engaged the exact minute you did – because from here on out, they’ll make every decision together.
When you sit down to talk budget, talk guest list too. You have to start budgeting with a solid guest count in mind for a few reasons. One, it will dictate the size of venue you need to look at and two, because it’s the single item that creates ripples of influence over other wedding decisions.
Think of it this way: Every 8 guests is a table. Let’s estimate out some costs (averages here, you can go up or down)
- 4 save the dates ($3 each)
- 4 invitation sets ($12 each)
- 1 table and 8 chair rentals ($30 total)
- 8 full place setting rentals ($45 total)
- 1 linen ($20)
- 1 floral centerpiece ($200)
- 5 candles ($30)
- 8 hors d’oeuvre portions (3-4 pieces per guest / $50)
- 8 dinner meals ($550)
- Approximately 64 drinks from the bar (2 drinks per guest per hour for 4 hours / $192)
- 8 cake servings (at $7 slice – $56)
- 4-8 favors ($40)
- 4-8 programs ($10)
- 4-8 escort cards (or calligraphy fees for added lines / $20)
- 4-8 menu cards ($10)
See what I’m getting at? That’s over $1300 for one table of 8. Do you love 8 people enough to spend $1300 on them?
Your guest count impacts your budget in so many ways that you cannot accurately begin guesstimating costs until you know how many ways you need to share the pie. Now, I don’t suggest taking your guest count and multiplying it by a made up number to see where your grand total lies. You should know what you are comfortable spending (or what you are getting from parents) and then use this guest count as you start chunking it apart.
For example – if you want to spend $30,000 on your wedding and are inviting 200 guests, at the numbers above you could assume:
- save the dates = $300
- invitation sets = $1200
- table and chair rentals = $750
- full place setting rentals = $1125
- linen = $500
- florals = $5000
- candles = $750
- hors d’oeuvre portions (3-4 pieces per guest) $1250
- dinner meals = $13,750
- bar (2 drinks per guest per hour for 4 hours) = $4800
- cake servings = $1400
- programs = $250
- escort cards / signage = $500
- menu cards = $250
That’s $31,825…. on guest-dependent items alone. That doesn’t count your venue, photographer, DJ, planner, attire, etc. So now you have three choices: find more budget, cut per person expenses (i.e.: cut out flowers, lower your bar options, don’t get custom invites), or trim the guest list. From experience, I can tell you trimming the guest list is the fastest way to save.
Allocating Budget: It’s not about percentages
I want to call google and tell them to remove every budget article that gives you a percentage of what you should spend on each vendor. Percentages mean you are choosing a vendor on budget alone – which you should never do – and it also means that every person on earth values each vendor the exact same way – which we know isn’t true.
Even if two couples have the exact budget and exact guest count – everything else about their wedding will be different. One couple may be total foodies and want an experience that takes their guests through an “around the world” type of cuisine. That might be 20% of their budget on food costs. The other couple? They love stone fired pizza and are getting a food truck – a whopping 5% of budget. BUT the wood fired pizza couple has had their heart set on a venue since before they were engaged, so they’ll happily use 30% of their budget on it. The foodie folks? They’re cool with a smaller space – using 10% of budget.
See? Percentages don’t care about what you value. They’re just a fancy thing wedding blogs made up years ago to try and give you some structure to a thing that cannot be structured. Sure they may be based on “national averages” which can carry some merit, but I’ve never received a wedding inquiry that said “We’d like our wedding to be the national average….” – NO! You want your wedding to be about YOU. What you love and value and want to remember.
When you have your budget number and guest count, you should estimate out what you think is a fair number for each wedding item you will need. If you aren’t working with a planner and need a place to start with estimating – ok, fine, use percentages as a placeholder. But don’t live and die by them. If a vendor means more to you, move those numbers around and borrow from another area.
Expectation vs. (Pinterest) Reality
Pinterest, oh Pinterest… the tangled web of lies you weave. Styled shoots, editorial images, celebrity weddings, staged photos…. Don’t get me wrong, I love Pinterest. It’s full of inspiration and trends and can get your wheels turning on some super cool inspiration. But those inspiration pics should come with a price tag. So many times I’ll talk to couples and I hear the words they’re saying about their budget, but I can also see the pictures they’re showing me of their expectations – and they seldom match. And I get it – if you’ve never planned a wedding before, price tags can be scary because you don’t know what to expect.
2019 was a year where I could have recorded myself saying “actually, fluffy greenery runners aren’t really going to save your flower budget” – even though they were all over Pinterest as non-floral ways to save money…. in reality, fluffy greenery can cost you $17/foot – thats $136 a table if you go end to end – and over $250 if you want it to hit the floor like all those gorgeous Pinterest shots. If you do want to save money using greens, you absolutely can, but don’t expect that fluffy floor-length goodness you pinned. Pinterest expectation does not equal reality if you want to spend $50 per table.
What I hate is that Pinterest can put pressure on couples to spend more. You fall in love with the vision and you’ve put a lot of work into curating the perfect boards – but the reality is that you have to learn what fits in your budget. Take your inspiration images to your potential vendors and ask them what it will cost. Then decide – do you value that expectation enough to use real budget on it? Maybe you do and that’s great! But don’t feel pressure to extend beyond your means. A great vendor team can offer up beautiful alternatives that can work with your budget – or at least be realistic with you about what can and can’t be accomplished.
Unforeseen Budget Breakers
The biggest regret I hear from couples is that they signed on the line too quickly with their venue or other high-ticket vendors without seeing the big picture. They got engaged (and excited!) and didn’t get budget advice up front. They booked their venue and catering — and then sat down and looked at what they had left to spend, realizing they now need to make major concessions on their photographer, band, florist and invitations — and forego guest shuttles and custom signage altogether.
“We just didn’t realize what this would cost” is what I hear all too often. More often than not, couples end up adding to their budget – sometimes working another job or taking out a loan, just to cover the basics.
A few other ‘budget breakers’ we counsel our couples on:
- Service charges, taxes and gratuities – Caterers are going to take on a service charge (up to 20%!). You have to pay tax on wedding items. And it’s pretty much standard to provide wedding-day gratuities for great service — even to wedding vendors who own their own businesses. These items can add up at the last minute if you aren’t ready for them.
- Hair and makeup teams – If you have 14 bridesmaids, you cannot hire 1 hair and makeup artist to get services done in 3 hours. You need a team of 2-3 on each service. If you book someone who doesn’t have a team, you’ll be paying to add on assistants down the road OR adding money to your venue contract to buy extra hours!
- Wedding day food – y’all need to eat! Plan to feed your bridal parties at least once during the getting ready period of the day and factor this into your budget.
- Rental item drop-off and pickup – Most venues allow morning-of drop offs and require items out by the end of the reception. Some rental companies are going to charge you extra for same day service or late-night pickups! Keep in mind, your setup teams are going to need your linens early on. Find out if your linen supplier can get you items in advance or if there will be a charge for early drop-off.
- Vendors returning for tear down – Venues require that most vendors come back to take down whatever they put up. For example, if you are getting flowers installed on a tent ceiling, your florist needs to come back and take it down at the end of the night. Make sure this cost is added into your contract. Also find out what you are responsible for returning – sometimes the couple has to box and return cake displays or table vases.
- Audio needs – Outside ceremonies are great, if we can hear you. Make sure your DJ is including mics and speakers in your ceremony contract – and no hand held mics for your officiant. They can’t hold a mic and turn pages in a book at the same time.
If you need assistance with budgeting, planning or just want an experienced guide to help you make the most out of your wedding – hire a planner! Your planning team should be one of the first, if not the very first, vendor you bring on board. A planner will provide realistic and transparent budgeting information, read vendor quotes and contracts to ensure they all align and act as an advocate for your expectations and budget resources. All Taryn Blake Events couples get an in-depth budgeting spreadsheet to map out estimates and track actuals – and we can work one-on-one with you to allocate budget according to your needs.
Taryn Blake Events is a modern wedding planning and design company. A well-established industry veteran, recognized as a company “Revolutionizing the Wedding Industry” by Forbes.
Taryn started her career in corporate events, expanded into weddings – and never looked back. She co-owns Behind the Bash Wedding show
and loves to speak at industry events!