Wedding Planning 101: Setting a Wedding Budget

Yay, you’re engaged! Now, I know the first thing most of us want to do when wedding planning is look at all the gorgeous Pinterest boards we’ve put together and hope that somehow our perfect wedding will magically pull itself together. Oh, if only that was the case…but, it’s not. And, since my wedding is finally starting to come together beyond a venue and a photographer – which were, of course, the two most important things – I’m going to start sharing the whole process with you, one post at a time. And that starts with a wedding budget.


Well, today it’s all about the very first thing you should do when you start the wedding planning process. Decide on a budget. It’s not the most fun, sexiest part of wedding planning, but you can’t do anything without a budget. You may be dreaming of a 300 person black tie wedding with a Motown band, a candlelit tented dinner at a vineyard, and a custom ballgown dress, but if your budget is $15,00, that’s not going to happen, so there’s no point even going down that road. Deciding on a budget early let’s you adjust your expectations and use your time planning efficiently.

The first step is coming up with a rough budget of what you’re thinking you may want to spend. I’ll be totally transparent here – for us, we’re paying for most of our wedding ourselves and I don’t want to have to dip into savings or resort to credit cards, so early on I realized that previously mentioned dream wedding wasn’t going to happen. I came up with a rough number that seemed realistic and, from there, we had to decide on our priorities. Did we want to cut corners on food and venue while also DIY’ing as much possible, but have more people there? Or did we want to have an intimate wedding with fewer people but room for a higher cost per head? Do we care about flowers? What about photography? Ultimately, we decided the places we wanted to spend were food, venue, and photography, and we were comfortable with a tiny wedding in order to splurge on those areas and avoid any sort of DIY situation.

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In coming up with my rough budget, I did A LOT of research. I honestly had no idea how much things cost before diving into the planning process, and I would have been lost in the process of developing even a rough budget without a general idea of how much I would spend on everything from a venue to food to a photographer. Start by referencing a website like WeddingWire. I logged onto WeddingWire and was able to search vendors in Charlottesville, narrow them down by budget, read reviews, and save those that seemed like a potential good fit. They have all the details you could need for each vendor – maximum capacity for venues, photos from real weddings, average prices for vendors. It makes it easy to start picking and choosing who might work for you.

Once you have a list of possible vendors, reach out! You need to talk to these vendors directly to get an actual idea of their pricing. Also, let potential vendors know your budget up front. There’s no point in wasting your time or theirs if their minimum for a wedding is $2,500 and your maximum is $600. On the other hand, some vendors may be willing to work with you even if you’re a bit below their usual quote. For instance, my photographer was open to photographing my small Sunday wedding because she already had her big wedding for the weekend booked for that Friday evening.

Another important part of research? Talk to your married friends! Ask where they would have saved, where they would have spent, and what they would do differently. What I heard again and again, was that my friends and colleagues tried to save on photography and ended up disappointed with their pictures. Yes, you want to be present in the moment, but those pictures let you remember the day for years to come. In the same vein, not one person recommended spending the money on a videographer (no surprise there).


Now that you have your rough budget in place, your priorities set, and you’re starting to talk to specific vendors, it’s time to really buckle down on the exact amount of money you’re willing to allocate to each category of your wedding. You’ll be shocked how quickly those line items start adding up and how easy it is to totally forget a category that might add another 0. That’s where wedding budget tools like WeddingWire’s Budget Planning Tool come into play. You’ll enter in each category, or use their recommendations, and then break it down line by line with your estimated costs, which will later be updated with your actual costs. There’s no better way to keep yourself on track then to have that bottom line number staring at you.

But, as I mentioned, it can be easy to let both small and large expenses slip through the cracks, so I’m breaking it down for you into the exact categories I used. And, hey, I’m not a wedding expert, so if you see something I missed, definitely let me know!

  • Place
    • Venue
    • Accomodations
  • Logistics
    • Marriage license
  • Paper Goods
    • Invitations plus postage (don’t forget postage – it adds up!)
    • Save the dates plus postage
    • Programs
    • Placecards
    • Menus
  • Photographer
    • Engagement
    • Boudoir
    • Wedding
  • Food and Drink
    • Dinner
    • Wine
    • Table linens
    • Place settings
    • Cake
    • Service fee + tip
  • Ceremony
    • Ceremony fee
    • Chuppah
    • Ketubah
    • Musicians
  • Ambiance
    • Florist
    • Other decor
  • Bride and Groom
    • Heather’s dress
    • Heather’s hair
    • Adam’s tux or suit
    • Wedding bands
  • Other
    • Transportation


I’m not sure if these will always ring true, but I wanted to share a few myths regarding budget that I encountered while wedding planning. 

The first myth is that you’ll save by getting married in an off season. I talked to roughly ten to fifteen venues all around Virginia and Washington, DC. I went in with a potential date of December 2 – which is the date we did eventually settle on – but was open to any date between November and February, and not one venue offered any sort of “off season” pricing for a winter wedding. And, yes, I asked. What I saw across the board is that venues have a set cost and they are sticking to said cost.

You’ll save by booking a day other than Saturday is another one I found not to be true. We are having a Sunday wedding, and, guess what, it is the exact same price as a Saturday wedding. This was the case at every venue I received a quote from.

The only saving myth that seemed to prove true? From speaking with a few florists, wintertime IS a slow season for florists, so you can save a little bit here. 

I will add a caveat. We’re getting married in Charlottesville, which is one of the most popular cities on the East Coast for weddings, so perhaps they have a bit more leverage in charging the same price year round. If you live in a smaller market, definitely give the off season, non-Saturday negotiation a try. It never hurts to ask. 

Plus, with all your research, planning, and careful monitoring of your budget, you’re sure to save money in the long run. Also, if you’re recently engaged, make sure you enter WeddingWire’s #JustSaidYes contest. It’s super easy and you could win $10,000 towards your wedding vendors – get engaged, tag a pic on Insta with @weddingwire and #justsaidyes, cross your fingers that you’ll win! More details here.


Thank you so much to WeddingWire for partnering with me on this post! I’m excited to continue to work with WeddingWire throughout my wedding planning process and to share it all with you, my wonderful readers!



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