The first step in planning a wedding is to know thy numbers! I used “thy” because it’s as serious as a Commandment. I know what you’re thinking; you don’t know what anything costs, so how can you possibly put together a realistic budget? Should you rely on wedding websites with checklists and countdowns to handle a budget tracker? Perhaps you should ask your friends and family what they spent on their wedding details?
To quote Meghan Trainor, “Nah to the ah to the, no, no, no!”
First of all, what someone else spent on their wedding is entirely irrelevant. The reason I design custom proposals for my clients is because the details are never the same. Just because your BFF got married at the same place that you are now getting married at, means absolutely nothing. You could use the same DJ, the same florist, the same everything, and you might pay more than she did, or even way less. Another reason why it doesn’t matter what anyone else spends?
To quote Meghan again, “Your lips are moving then you’re lyin’, lyin’, lyin’!”
No one is honest about money. Seriously. No one. People will tell you that they murdered someone and where the body is buried way before they will tell you the numbers in their bank account. I once had a bride insist that I could do her flowers for thousands of dollars less than I was quoting because her friend had the same thing and didn’t spend what I was asking her to spend. You know what I did? I called that florist to ask how he made a miracle happen and he laughed and laughed and laughed. Why? Because her friend was lying and he actually quoted higher and got paid more than the numbers I was dishing out. Turns out that he actually was their planner and cut them a deal on the flowers and only charged a wholesale cost. Guess who didn’t know that? My bride. Until I told her. In my office. And then her jaw hit the floor followed by her asking me why would her friend lie to her like that?
Those wedding websites are also chock full of nonsense and many budget articles (or any articles for that matter) are written by people with no wedding industry experience. It’s like going to Web MD for advice instead of your doctor. You end up with cancer every time. National averages, what people are paying, where do these numbers even come from? I was never part of a poll and none of my brides were either. Has Quinnipiac ever called you for anything? No, right? So that means the margin of error has to be about a billion.
The first step to figuring out your budget is to turn off all the noise and discuss with your fiancé whom is paying for what. When you buy a house and you go on Zillow, you know what you can spend up to and you don’t need to know what the average house price is. You’re going to put in a number and Zillow will give you what you can afford. Wedding planning is the same exact way. You come up with a number, bring it to vendors and they will tell you what you will get for that number. Never, ever (like ever) go to a vendor without a number in mind.
I’m sure plenty of you are terrified and think (because the wedding websites put this in your head) that if you go to a vendor with your maximum number, they are going to go up to that number minus a few hundred. This isn’t like buying a car and you’re not dealing with some sleazy salesperson. To make you more comfortable, go in with a range that you are willing and able to spend and take it from there. There is no point in visiting venues that start at $295 per person (plus plus) when you only budgeted $150 per person all in. Don’t waste anyone’s time here, including your own. Know your numbers before you do anything.
Once you have your overall number, it’s time to break it apart. Think about everything that you will need from dress to venue to flowers and more. Cut your number in half and give that number to your venue including food, beverage and essentials like tables, chairs, etc. The rest of the budget you will now use for your vendors. Make a list of your priorities and split the money up accordingly. For instance, if music is the thing you care about the most, then put a little extra in that part of the budget, and so forth.
Where it gets tricky is when you have to be realistic. I know that no matter how much I scream not to do it, people are still going to go on wedding websites to tell them what things cost. Are you going to be able to get a DJ for $500 and an officiant for $100? No, not very likely. If you find that you are approaching vendors and every single one of them says that they can’t work with your budget, then it’s too low and you will need to make some concessions.
Let’s take flowers as an example. For a wedding with a guest count of 200 people, that will be 20 tables and therefore 20 centerpieces. You will also have your personal flowers including bouquets, corsages and bouts, as well as ceremony décor, cocktail hour décor, a card table arrangement and anything extra that you fell in love with on Pinterest (oy, Pinterest…that’s another subject). What do those numbers look like? Ok, I realize I said to ignore numbers given to you on wedding websites, but I am a real life professional planner. I’m an actual verified source, so, you’re good here. Ready?
In my market, the NYC Metro Area/North Jersey, here are some average numbers to consider:
Centerpiece range: $150-$300 each (times 20)
Ceremony décor: $500-$2,000
Bouquets: $100-$375 each (let’s use 4)
Bouts and Corsages: $14-$30 each (let’s use 8)
Card Table: $100-$250
Quick math: $4,400-$10,000, plus delivery, set up, breakdown, taxes, fees, blah blah blah.
This means, that if $6,000 is your floral bill, then your total budget was likely $60,000 and that $30,000 went to the venue. You now have $24,000 left over to handle everything else including gown, music, transportation, hair and make up, etc. It is surprising how fast money will and can go when you are planning a wedding.
I’m sure many people are thinking that $60,000 is a ridiculously high number for a wedding budget, especially when that is more than a down payment on some homes. However, massive wedding websites will have you believing that you can do this for a whole lot less and that will make planning an uphill battle for you. There’s no reason to get angry or frustrated or think that wedding vendors are out to empty your wallet. They have to put food on the table and a roof over their head as well, so never go to a vendor with an attitude about how they are ripping you off or are “too expensive”. If you can’t afford something, it’s not the end of the world, but at the end of the day, you will have to be realistic.
The worst thing that you can do is to go into wedding planning without numbers and a budget in mind. It is aggravating and not too much fun to deal with, but if you get it out of the way upfront, you can enjoy the planning process. Don’t work on the budget as you go because you will waste time looking at things that you might not be able to afford and that’s time you should be having fun being engaged. The worst part of dealing with your budget as you go along is that you will go over that budget and go into some deep debt.
Numbers aren’t fun and math is like, a total drag. But get this taken care of at the jump of wedding planning and it’s smooth sailing from there!
photography by Jessica Janae Photography