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  • Writer's pictureGiselle Smith

Three Big Wedding Questions: Budget, Guest Count & Date

Updated: Feb 10, 2019

You're getting married and I am so excited for you! Thanks for joining us today for post one of our stress-free wedding planning series. Before digging deep into wedding planning, scouring through Pinterest or choosing your favorite vendors, you need to have a strong foundation for your plan. Avoid a fiasco by answering these three big wedding questions before you do anything else:

  • What is your budget?

  • How many guests can you invite?

  • When will you get married?

Budget Basics

The first question you need to ask yourself is how much can you afford to spend on your wedding? Have you been saving for your wedding and if so, how much do you have saved? How much of your monthly income can be allocated for your wedding? The average wedding in the United States is at $33,391 according to a 2017 study by The Knot, but this is unrealistic for some brides and that is OK. Having realistic expectations for what you can afford and how much the things you want cost will save you from stress later on. Do keep in mind that while traditionally parents paid for the wedding, these days most couples pay for part or all of their big day, so it is not fair to assume that either your parents will be footing the bill. Budget can be a tricky subject to approach, but be sure to ask both pairs of parents early on what they can realistically contribute to the event. Once you know how much you have saved, how much you can contribute each month and how much your parents will be adding in, you will have an idea of your overall wedding budget.

After you know how much you can spend, you can determine how much you will spend on each element of your day. We like to divide the elements up into percentages and calculate from there. Here is how it works: We assign a percentage to each element based on normal weddings and multiply that your overall budget.

  • Ceremony & Reception Venues 17%

  • Photography 18%

  • Planning / Coordination 8%

  • Wedding Flowers 10%

  • Catering 12%

  • Cake 2%

  • Alcohol (if you plan to serve alcohol) 6%

  • Rentals & Decor 7%

  • Bridal Gown 5%

  • Groom's Attire 2%

  • Officiant 2%

  • Entertainment 5%

  • Stationery 2%

  • Wedding Day Hair & Makeup 4%

  • NOTE: This percentage scale does not include additional events such as a rehearsal dinner, a welcome dinner, a bridal brunch, showers, etc. and fun things like lounge areas or photo booths are nice, but they are not must haves and are not included in this basic budget outline. The same goes for tips, gifts and favors as what you spend can vary greatly.

For a $10,000 wedding that looks like this: Ceremony & Reception Venues $1700, Photography $1800, Planning / Coordination $800, Wedding Flowers $1000, Catering $1200, Cake $200, Alcohol (if you plan to serve alcohol) $600, Rentals & Decor $700, Bridal Gown $500, Groom's Attire $200, Officiant $200, Entertainment $500, Stationery $200 and Wedding Day Hair & Makeup $400. With a $10,000 budget, you need to be very careful in your spending and be on the lookout for vendor specials or perhaps vendors new to the market. Avoid buying decor at places like Hobby Lobby because it adds up quickly and may not be necessary in your overall design.

For a $20,000 wedding expect to spend: Ceremony & Reception Venues $3400, Photography $3600, Planning / Coordination $1600, Wedding Flowers $2000, Catering $2400, Cake $400, Alcohol (if you plan to serve alcohol) $1200, Rentals & Decor $1400, Bridal Gown $1000, Groom's Attire $300, Officiant $200, Entertainment $1000, Stationery $400 and Wedding Day Hair & Makeup $800. Do notice that Groom's Attire and Officiant categories did not increase completely. At a certain point, what one should normally spend on certain vendors will cap for example, no matter your budget a rental suit or tux is usually <$300 and most officiants are around $200 for the hour you need them on site. A $20,000 budget will give you closer to the average wedding in Kentucky. Depending on your state, this may be below or above average.

For a $35,000 wedding you have more wiggle room: Ceremony & Reception Venues $5950, Photography $6300, Planning / Coordination $2800, Wedding Flowers $3500, Catering $4200, Cake $700, Alcohol (if you plan to serve alcohol) $2100, Rentals & Decor $2450, Bridal Gown $1750, Groom's Attire $300, Officiant $200, Entertainment $1750, Stationery $700 and Wedding Day Hair & Makeup $1400. A lot of categories come close to capping at this level, but brides with larger budgets still easily over spend especially on elements like catering and rentals which are based on guest count. With elements that have leveled in quality based on this budget range, you can use excess monies to upgrade! Maybe you want a band instead of a DJ or you dream of a designer wedding dress? Allocate accordingly. A budget of $35,000 is just above the national average and it is where weddings you see most on Pinterest and Instagram begin. P.S. If flowers are what you fancy most, allocate a bit more budget to your blooms and call us; $4500 is where our custom floral packages start with larger pieces and cool installations.

For weddings over $35,000, it is harder to keep your budget in check if you have the money in the bank to spend. I am saying that it is easier to over-spend if you have a bigger budget (as backwards as that sounds). A thousand dollars over on catering, a few hundred dollars extra for a upgraded napkins and five hundred dollars on gold metallic calligraphy can add up to tens of thousands of dollars quickly without seeming like it. Be sure to sit down with your fiancé and family to set limits everyone is comfortable with. Gourmet appetizers, petite desserts, fabulous paper products and signage, china/flatware/glassware to make your tables pop, luxe lighting and to-die-for floral installations are all items your guests are sure to notice. Trusting the talents of your higher end vendors will pay off and make what your budget buys look like a million bucks.

Your percentages may differ if you prioritize entertainment over photography or your dress over the look or aesthetic of your wedding. While what you value may vary, the formula still works. Some of you may be thinking that you don't need a planner or coordinator, but we ALWAYS suggest allocating some of your budget to planning or at least coordination because a professional will likely save you more money than you will pay them and a lot of stress.

Guest Count

Sometimes couples make the mistake of assuming that they can or even should invite everyone they know and interact with, have known in the past, are related to or work with to their wedding. Your day is special and not everyone can be a part of it unless you have unlimited funds. That is fine. You have to make peace with it. You can have a much nicer wedding (read: more like your Pinterest and way less stressful) with fewer people in attendance. Questions to ask yourself about each couple when creating your guest list include:

  • Are they in your immediate family or wedding party?

  • Have you spent quality time with them in the past year?

  • Do you think that by them not being there, you would not have as much fun or that you would truly miss having them there? Or as Marie Kondo would put it, do they spark joy?

  • Will someone who is paying for a portion of the wedding be upset if they are not invited? If yes, does the person paying understand the cost per couple? Do you?

When you think of guest count in terms of budget: Do you like them enough to buy them and their spouse or date dinner + place settings, drinks + glassware, slices of cake, invitations + postage, a chair to sit in, 1/4 of rental cost of a table + linen and the cost of 1/4 of a centerpiece (assuming you're having tables of eight, a couple is 1/4) plus installation fees and gratuity on all of that? Do you like them enough to sacrifice upgrading your own experience (or to downgrade it) to celebrate with them? If you think about it, for a wedding of 150 guests at $35,000, you are likely spending $150-$250 per invited couple (cost per couple) for those elements affected by guest count. This means that by inviting 10 less couples you can save $1500-$2500 and maybe add in something you have always wanted or something that will allow for a more fun, memorable experience for those guests you do invite. Although the savings are less for weddings on a lower budget, it can still make an impact of $50-$85 per couple or $500-$850 for 10 couples for a $10,000 wedding which could help you have a nicer dinner for the guests attending or allow money to be reallotted to choose higher quality vendors. Less is more when it comes to guest count.

Set the Date

Once you have your budget lined out and know how much space you need for your guest count, you can choose a venue to officially set your wedding date. There are some things to consider that tie in with Budget and Guest Count when setting your date:

  • Wedding Season vs. Off Season - Wedding season varies by location, but typically runs April through October in Kentucky, but warmer states like Texas have peak seasons from March-June and September-November. Choosing an off season month in your area can save you a lot in terms of venue. Keep in mind that most flowers are available year round but during September and March it is more difficult to get prized peonies. Ask your florist to choose blooms that are in season for your date.

  • Day of the Week - Saturday is the most popular day to get married. Because of this, it is also the most expensive day to get married. Choose a Friday or Sunday to save $1000+ at most venues or a Monday-Thursday for extreme savings. This year we have have three Monday weddings and our brides chose holiday Mondays which allowed all of their guests to attend despite being a week day PLUS one Tuesday wedding the week of Thanksgiving. Being flexible will save you money.

  • Tents Do Not Save You Money - If you're thinking a backyard or farm wedding with a tent will save you money, it won't unless you were planning on booking a venue that requires a tent and furniture rentals in addition to the venue rental fee. Indoor venues typically come with lighting, electricity, a dance floor, tables, chairs, built-in bars, heat/AC and bathrooms. With a tent you will need to rent not only the tent, but all of those other things and can expect to spend $4000+ not including the bathrooms. Nice trailer bathrooms typically begin at $2500. That said, tented weddings are gorgeous, but be sure your coordinator is familiar with the tent installation process.

  • Consider the Weather - If it is cold outside and your wedding is outdoors, you can expect to spend $$$ on outdoor heaters and contingency plan tenting to shelter guests in a rain storm can also cost a pretty penny. Choosing a warm, dry month to marry in may cost more because of high demand, but may save stress in the end.

  • Venue Capacity - This seems obvious, but be sure to choose a venue that will comfortably fit your guest count with a dance floor. If you have very carefully chosen those on your guest list, you can imagine that most everyone is someone you are close to and will be in attendance. It is not safe to bank on fewer guests showing up and booking a venue that cannot hold all of those invited. More on venue selection to come next week!

Thanks so much for reading along today for the first post in our stress-free wedding planning series! Be sure to subscribe to the blog to receive email updates and to get your FREE Wedding Design Outline PDF when it releases in a couple weeks. You can print this neat outline, hole-punch it and pop it into a binder with your budget and vendor contracts to keep your inspiration in order.

I hope this blog post helps get you started. Happy Planning! XOXO

Lovely images by Awake Photography at Prospect House with planning by my dear friend Taylor Bible of Taylor Bible Weddings with florals by yours truly.


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