Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 9.12.48 PMOne of my all-time favorite shows is TLC’s “Say Yes to the Dress.” I watch it mostly because I LOVE weddings and I LOVE looking at wedding dresses. I mean, what girl doesn’t?

The funny thing about “Say Yes to the Dress” is that it gives viewers an incredibly skewed vision of wealth. Most brides on that show spend upwards of $10,000 on a single dress. I’ve seen brides spend as much as $30,000 on one dress. It’s CRAZY. So crazy, in fact, that when you see a bride who spends only $5,000, you think, “Oh, she’s poor,” and when you see a bride with a $1,500 budget (a rarity, let me tell you), you think, “Oh. Poor dear. She must be homeless.”

The fact of the matter is, most brides don’t have $30,000 to spend on a wedding dress – much less an entire wedding. But how does one go about setting that magic wedding budget number? From one bride to another, here are some tips for setting a realistic budget – and sticking to it along the way.

Setting Your Wedding Budget

Step 1: Decide How Much You Can Contribute

What do you have saved up? How much could you realistically set aside prior to the big day? Take stock of your assets, and come up with a number you can live with.

And while you’re trying to decide how much dough you’re OK with parting with, don’t even think about the wedding gifts. Yes, most brides say that you’ll make a little bit of your money back, but don’t count your chickens before they hatch.

Step 2: Have That Super Awkward Discussion

Is your family planning on taking care of some expenses? What about your future in-laws? Asking for money is never comfortable, but whether or not they contribute, you need to know what to expect. Invite your parents and in-laws over for dinner, serve up some drinks to make things less awkward and ask them to give you a number or an idea of what they’re willing to pay for (the bar, the flowers, the rehearsal dinner, etc.).

Step 3: Draft a Guest List

My dream wedding, had you asked me a year ago, would have been a 20-person bash in Hawaii or some other exotic location. Once we started naming all the friends and relatives who “needed” to be invited, we quickly realized that goal wasn’t realistic. Some couples are able to make small guest lists work (more power to you if you can!), but 120 guests later, I can tell you that cutting the guest list wasn’t something we felt we were able to do.

Drafting a guest list will help give you an idea of how many people you’ll need to entertain – which is directly related to your overall costs. Yes, you can always cut or add guests later on, but you should definitely make a must-have guest list to at least get a minimum headcount.

Step 4: Get Quotes

I’m speaking from (rather painful) experience here. One thing you must do before you set any numbers is research wedding costs. Here are some things you might want to get estimates for before you set your budget:

  • Venues. Do you have a venue or venues in mind? What are their prices like? What extras will they charge you for? Ask as many questions as you can, because you’d be surprised at the ways venues will find to nickel and dime you. (I’m looking at you, Chrissy and Drew’s wedding venue.)
  • Invitations. They’re more expensive than you’d think. And did you know that you have to provide stamps for both the outer envelope AND the RSVP envelope?
  • Catering. Take that guest list to get a rough estimate for food and drink.
  • Photography. This is one thing you absolutely can’t skimp on, so research professional photographers in your area and get some quotes.

Step 5: Set a Number

Now that you’ve got your facts, figures and quotes, you can set that big, magical number. From there, you’ll be able to break it down even further to figure out how much you can spend on each aspect of your wedding. has an awesome chart which details what percentage of your budget you should spend on each expense:

Reception 45%
Wedding Clothes 10%
Photography 10%
Music 10%
Flowers 10%
Cake 3%
Officiant 3%

You might also consider building a cushion into your budget for unforeseen expenses. For instance, when I was in the initial planning stages, I didn’t consider all the little things that are really adding up now. I didn’t think about must-have décor items such as a card box or a guest book. I didn’t consider gifts for the wedding party. And I didn’t even think about giving tips to my vendors. No matter how much research you do, there’s probably something you’ll end up paying for that you won’t have considered. Building in an “unforeseen expenses” cushion – whether it’s $50 or $1,000 – could help you with that.

Sticking to Your Wedding Budget


I’m sorry to say this, but you’re probably not going to get every single thing you want for your wedding day. That doesn’t mean it still won’t be your dream wedding, but it does mean you’ll have to compromise. For instance, I splurged on my venue. Since I have a beautiful background for my ceremony and reception, I’m not going to have a lot of flowers or décor.

Don’t Be Afraid to Haggle

I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve gone bridezilla on my vendors a few times – and I most definitely got my way. You don’t have to get nasty, but you do have to be firm. If you’re upfront about your budget, your vendors will work with you to get you the results and the look you’re going for.

Remember the Big Picture

When your wedding day is over, you want to be left with beautiful memories, not a mountain of debt. Those Jimmy Choos might look tempting now, but when you look at your wedding photos, your smiling faces will be what matters, not your designer shoes. Remember that your wedding day is one day of your life, and your future self will probably thank you for being a budget-savvy bride.

How are you saving money on your wedding? Share your tips and tricks in the comments below!


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