As part of preparing my session for the Canadian Financial Summit, on how to plan and finance a “medium-budget” wedding, I did a quick pie chart to break down how much we spent on each category.
Similar to the One Minute Budget, and percentage-based budgets in general, there are rules of thumb when it comes to wedding budgets. One of the most popular ones is to allocate about 50% of your total budget to food and drink. It’s especially helpful since getting a per-person estimate for food and drink is one of the easiest numbers to find early in the planning process.
That can give you a good baseline to start from. If you’re looking at a venue that charges $100 per person, and you’re going to have 100 people, that’s $10,000. If you’re having a typical wedding, that puts your total budget around $20,000 based on these rules.
But just like any percentage-based budgeting rule, it’s not perfect.
That estimate assumes that you’re including every other category of spending in your wedding budget, from hair to makeup to a dress to invites. So if you’re cutting out some major categories, or scaling way back from what people “typically” spend in others, it can skew your numbers—and give you more money to spend on the parts that really matter to you.
So while yes, budgeting rules can help you guesstimate a wedding budget at the beginning of the process, there’s a lot more that needs to happen between your guesstimate and your final spending totals.
I know, because while sure, food and drink is supposed to be about 50% of your total budget, we ended up spending 74.3% of our total budget on our venue, the food, and the beverages.
And if I learned anything from it, it’s that priorities matter.
We spent a lot because it mattered
When we first started wedding planning, the very first thing we did was agree on three key priorities. There are a lot of things you can spend money on for a wedding (or in life in general, tbh) but we wanted to agree early on what was most important to both of us.
We came up with:
- Time with family and friends
- A low-stress planning process
- Being debt-free at the end of it all
When we made a list of all of the family and friends we wanted to invite—a process in which we were still pretty ruthless, by the way!—we were looking at a list of 90 people.
So uh, I guess hosting it in our backyard, which is not 90-person compatible, was out of the question. But having those people at our wedding was our #1 priority, which is why we started to look into wedding venues around town.
As we did, I realized there are two kinds of venues. There are the ones that are a bit more DIY, where you need to bring in multiple vendors to make the space wedding-ready. Then there are the ones that are more traditional venues, that come all set with catering, drinks, cutlery, the whole nine yards.
Since priority #2 was a low-stress event, we erred on the side of an all-inclusive venue. Did it mean we maybe weren’t going to win Pinterest with our wedding photos in a hyper-unique space? Sure, but that wasn’t a priority.
And since priority #3 was to remain debt-free, it meant that to afford our venue and all of the food and drinks, we cut way back on other things like decor, and went without many more traditional elements of a wedding, like paper invites.
We didn’t spend elsewhere because it didn’t matter to us (also we were lucky)
To make our venue and food spending fit our budget, we scaled way back on other parts of the wedding.
We spent a grand total of $40 on a shirt for The Husband (weiiiiiird) to wear, and my dress was a generous gift from my mother. We had friends gift us their DJ-ing skills (playlists on Google Music and a laptop) and officiating the ceremony. While we included thank-you gifts for them in our total budget, it still cost much less than hiring pros.
We fully skipped paper invites, fresh flowers, a videographer, expensive rings, a pro wedding planner, a cake, and tons of other more traditional elements of a wedding.
(To be quite frank, I forgot we didn’t have a cake, or that cakes are a traditional part of a wedding, until writing this post almost a month later.)
If it wasn’t in service of our three priorities, it was a pretty easy pass when it came to planning. Sure, there were some parts of the budget that weren’t a top-three priority but were still important to us—like photography and pro makeup for me—but on the whole, if it was a small thing and not a priority, it got cut pretty quickly.
Or just didn’t get brought up because we forgot we were supposed to do it.
This isn’t to say that I didn’t have some wedding guilt at some parts in the process about things like skipping paper invites, because I totally did, and often found myself casually browsing Minted until the price tag and exchange rate brought me back to earth. But if you’re clear on your priorities, it makes the hard choices a bit easier to stick to.
Spend money on the things that matter
When I look back at our wedding budget, and our actual spending on the wedding, I don’t regret a thing. I’m happy we spent almost 75% of our budget on hosting our family and friends for a party, because it means we spent most of the money on our #1 priority. I’m equally happy that line items like rings were under 2% of our budget, and that others don’t show up entirely, because that’s what allowed us to meet our #3 priority: being debt-free at the end of it all.
Would I have liked to have a Pinterest-perfect wedding with all the frills? Sure, but not as much as I loved the wedding we did have, that fit what we could afford to spend. And honestly, looking back on it, I couldn’t have asked for a better or more stress-free (priority #2!) celebration.
Thank-you. This post came at the right time for me. At the beginning of planning wedding, yikes! I think it is such a good idea that you both set out your three priorities, as many people have opinions on what you should do for your wedding.
Having a budget in mind is very important. In some ways knowing what you are willing to spend will help dictate your priorities that you and your fiancé set.
It’s refreshing to hear that the intentions you set out for your wedding day were fulfilled without breaking a wedding budget bank!
Yay, to small, no frills weddings!
Thank you so much Ashley, I’m so glad to hear it was helpful!
Love this! We also are trying to stay debt free after our wedding but since we both work for family businesses we have a roughly 280 on the invite list, most of which are invites tied to the business (but are also good friends, so we do want them there). Hence our 3 year engagement and crazy saving.
Just curious, how did you end up doing paperless invites? Just like, a google calendar appt? Ha! We are probably not even going to do engagement photos, so we are thinking of skipping the paper invites, especially when we have everyone’s email addresses, but not their physical address.
If you end up writing an article about your wedding breaking everything down, I’d totally be up for reading that. If you want to keep it more private tho, I totally understand.
Hi Samantha! I read another article recently where a bride was upset she spent all this money on invitations and half the people didn’t mail them back and she was constantly tracking people down for their RSVP! She said if she had to do it again, she’d do an email invitation. At my last job, we had a huge client event we wanted to invite people too, and we used Greenvelope. I think there is a small fee, but you could always cancel when the wedding is over! My cousin also uses eVite for all of her kids birthday parties!
This was my biggest fear by far with paper invites, because I am the person people need to chase for replies haha! I am just so used to digital replies that the idea of mailing back a card seems like such a hassle – we got really great feedback from most people that the RSVP was so much easier when done digitally!
Thanks Dawn! Great suggestions that I will look into! I definitely don’t want to track people down, and I know that for me personally, if I get a paper invite, I almost always wait until last minute to reply and I don’t want to have to deal with that stress! Appreciate you sharing!
Hey Samantha! We did actual emails, sent from my Gmail account, and sent people to RSVP on our wedding website (built with Squarespace, which I highly recommend, it was so easy!) There was a form on the website that then sent all answers to a Google Sheet, so it was super easy to keep track of everything. I’ve also seen Paperless Post ones that were gorgeous recently, and can do the same thing of sending people to your wedding website!
And I’ll probably do a post as soon as we get photos on the biggest “hacks” or money saving things we did! I’m honestly just waiting to get the photos to include them in the post haha.
Yes yes yes! So ready for some wedding pictures and this article! Please share :]
I’ll definitely look into the website and linking a Google sheet. I think all the ones I’ve seen recently have been through the Knot but honestly I’ve done zero research. I still have almost two years so I’m just dragging my butt a bit >.>
Great article! Congratulations on the wedding and sticking to your priorities! How did you deal with declining the social pressure of many of the traditional elements of a wedding without offending people who did those things?
I have been responding ‘we loved that part of your wedding but we are trying to make ours personal to us!’
Do you have any tips on how you handled it?
Oh that is a much better line than my… feel guilty about it and pretend it’s not happening, lmao. Honestly, I can only think of one time when I had to seriously backpedal and try to avoid offending someone who did invest a lot in things we skipped, and I went full personal finance nerd and just brought up the budget. “We would have loved to do X, but it just wasn’t in the budget for us. Yours sounds / looked amazing though!”
Girl, being ruthless with the guest list is what saved us in the long run. I felt like a jerk during the process (because there are definitely other people I could have invited) but looking back, it was easily one of the best decisions we made. Not only did it bring our costs down considerably, but when I look back at it, I can remember having genuine interactions with just about every person we invited. That mattered a lot to me.
Also, I really love the way you broke down the areas where you scaled back – and noted the areas where you were particularly blessed through friends. Likewise, when we were planning our wedding, we were the recipients of many thoughtful gifts from friends (tangible and talent) and it really does make a big difference.
Anyway, goes without saying I love this post and I love the message. Congratulations and all the best as you enter into this new season of marriage 🙂
Thank you so much Tara! And omg, I lived in absolute fear of not saying hi to everyone at the wedding, because we didn’t do a traditional receiving line, BUT because it was a smaller event it wasn’t too hard. I can’t imagine how many people we would have missed with a 200-person guest list! It’s so true that it’s hard to be ruthless at the beginning, but it’s so worth it when you actually get to see the people you love at the event.
Very glad to hear you made your wedding exactly what you wanted it to be! That’s the best-case scenario.
Will we get to see photos??
Great post! We are not planning our wedding and we are also trying to “fight” conventions, specially with our families as they’d love a more traditional wedding. We’ll end up doing paper invites for the oldest family members, but we design them ourselves and we’ll print them ourselves as well. Great reference the 50% rule, I didn’t know it and it will be super useful!