wedding table decor

Planning A Wedding Budget (it’s easier than you think)

August 17, 2021

Whether planning a wedding in San Diego or in any other destination around the world, planning a wedding budget is a must. As a San Diego wedding planner, setting a budget for each client is crucial. It is one of the first areas we tackle before any venue is considered, or contract signed. But how do you set up a wedding budget in the first place? Read on for some wedding planning advice, it’s not as scary as you think.

What should be included when planning a wedding budget?

Before crunching any numbers, it’s time to sit down and answer the 5Ws (who, what, where, why, when). Using this technique will help you layout all the things that are floating around in your head.

Let’s break it down: who defines you and your partner, but also your general likes and dislikes. For example, no DJ, great food, etc.

Where explains the location of your wedding. Put down your favorite and your partners’, plus an extra for good measure. Make sure that any of these locations or types of venues would still make you excited on the big day.

What prompts you to answer what kind of celebration you want everyone to enjoy. Are you hoping for something casual with a relaxed dress code? Have your heart set on an intimate winery tour and dinner? Or do you want the event of the year dressed to the nines? What also identifies what is included in your wedding budget. If your attire comes from a parent and doesn’t need to be accounted for, don’t include it. Write it down as an area already figured out.

When helps you level what season you prefer, or if you have no preference, that’s still important to know. Keep in mind that selecting off-season might be a draw if you’re concerned about the overall cost.

Lastly, why answers the reason behind everything you’ve previously selected. It describes why you want “x” at “x” venue. Notice that you can’t answer one of your whys? That’s okay, it doesn’t mean that idea isn’t important, but it shows the couple potentially not so great or trendy ideas that will fade into the background when you look back at your pics ten years down the road.

Average Breakdown of Wedding Costs

50% Venue, Catering and Rental Costs

Let’s start with the main expense. 50% should cover the venue and any of its fees (think service, ceremony fee, staffing for a particular area, etc) If the venue doesn’t include catering, then keep this in mind when tallying up your initial costs. Catering includes all food and beverage for your guests, and oftentimes covers the cake or any other dessert being served. Rental items include the tables, chairs, linens, glassware, flatware, china, etc. Many venues include some rentals in their pricing, which can be a huge benefit if you’re looking for basic items, but remember that if you have your heart set on specialty items that the venue doesn’t carry you’ll need to source these elsewhere.

12% Photography and Videography

How will you remember your wedding? Depending on how important photography and/or videography are, couples might want to adjust this number a bit. Those who prefer film photography might forgo videography to help free up additional capital. Do you need a second shooter? Consider hiring an additional photographer if your wedding is above 85-100 guests. You’ll be grateful you did! If looking for both video and photo services consider finding a company that does a package for both.

9% Attire, Hair & Makeup

Some Brides and Grooms take care of their own attire and do not include it in planning a wedding budget. Oftentimes Brides cover the cost of hair and/or makeup for their bridesmaids as their gift. See what makes the most financial sense for beauty services, but remember that many artists have a minimum number of services before they will travel to you on your big day.

8% Decor (includes florals)

Decor is a category that (in my San Diego wedding planner/florist mind) is very challenging to limit to 8%. To be honest, most of my clients prioritize decor, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have budgets. Every couple needs a wedding budget. Read on for some tips on maximizing your decor to the fullest.

7% Entertainment

Band or DJ? string quartet for the ceremony and cocktail hour? saxophone for the reception with DJ? The options are endless. Make sure to select a professional who has liability insurance. You never know when an accident will arise. Unsure of where to look? Ask your venue for recommendations or if they have a preferred vendor list. Professionals on a preferred vendor list have worked at the venue before, and are familiar with its operating procedures. This list can be a great resource if you’re not sure where to start looking for your wedding team.

3% Wedding Planner

I know I’m a little biased here being a San Diego wedding planner, but try to hire a day-of coordinator if budget allows. 3% of your wedding budget is so small compared to the piece of mind that a professional can give you on your wedding day. Consider a wedding planner or day-of coordinator (yes, they are two very different job titles) as insurance against disasters big or small. Planners and coordinators let the couple enjoy their day. No one needs to beg family members to help, or your best friend to clean up after all the guests have departed. Make this area a priority, you won’t regret it.

2% Paper Goods

Invitations, save the dates, postage, place cards, signage, custom napkins, calligraphy for envelopes. It’s hard to believe that there can be so many little things in this category but it adds up. Looking to minimize costs in this area? Consider sending paper invitations but a digital rsvp. This option saves on postage and paper and allows for spending in other areas.

2% Officiant

Plan on hiring a professional, close friend, or family member? If the officiant is one of your near and dear, make sure that the three of you work on your ceremony together. You can never over proofread! There are professionals for a reason, but that doesn’t mean your Aunt or Uncle wouldn’t be on cloud nine if you asked them to marry you and your partner. Don’t forget the cost of the marriage license or any service fees for purchasing new birth certificates or update an old passport. Many government agencies do not offer rush services, so it’s best to do this early.

2% Wedding Bands & Favors

This area is often omitted from my client’s budget, but it depends on each couples’ circumstances. Many times the couple already has their wedding bands and considers it part of their attire. Favors are often removed if there is an option to create an experience at the wedding that all guests would enjoy. A $3-5 trinket cannot compare to bringing in a surprise churro bar, specialty cocktail, photo booth, performer, or musician. These kinds of upgrades are a gift for everyone, and chances are high that your friends and family will remember when they were surprised with “x”.

2% Transportation

Arriving to your ceremony in horse-drawn carriage, hot-air balloon, huge limo, or driving with your girls? Figure this area out sooner rather than later. Most couples leave this as a last minute thing to do, but try to nail down the details at the five to six month mark. If something happens and forces your vendor or other arrangement to change you won’t be as stressed as you would be hunting the week before your wedding.

How To Wedding Budget


Now, the money part. After collecting all your answers to the previous questions it’s time to move on to the next step of planning a wedding budget. Figure out how much you and your partner can afford to spend on the wedding. If there is already money set aside, include this amount. If your families are helping, add this in as well. Calculate your final figure and then divide it in half. This new number is what you’ll refer to when researching venues.

A trick that really seems to work for my couples is to write this number down before the venue search begins. Recording this figure where you can easily see it might sound obvious, but it really functions as a reminder. Writing the figure down makes it more permanent, and less likely to fluctuate depending on how interested you are in a venue. Instead of telling yourselves that “we can swing it,” or “we’ll figure it out later”, all you have to do is look at your number. If the numbers are close, or the budget can easily handle this venue then mark this venue as a possibility. If it’s not, swipe left.

Wedding Pros

Request information from your favorite venues and wedding professionals and compare their costs to how much money is available in your budget. When researching vendors take the suggested percentage of each area and multiply it by your overall budget number. For example, if your overall budget is $40,000, calculate 12% of that number for photography/videography, and so on. If the numbers in your budget allowance are similar to that of the professional then you can request further information. If the cost is much too high for what your budget can allow, then move on. Another suggestion that has worked well for my couples is to set these higher priced vendors to the side. See if they have a smaller package available, or are flexible on cost depending on what you’re looking for. You’d be surprised how many times a couples’ dream vendor that was too expensive ended up working out!

San Diego Wedding Planner Ideas for a Budget-Friendly Wedding

Outdoor San Diego Wedding Venues

Whether planning a wedding in San Diego or any other state, always look around you. The location of your wedding ceremony can really help keep you in your budget. Each venue has its pros and cons. For example, if you prefer a ceremony outdoors, use the existing flowers and plants around you. The more natural beauty around you (Mother Nature) the less you truly need to add. For my San Diego brides, have you considered a local park in your community? Check out San Diego Parks and see if one of their locations could be a great fit. Their instagram account showcases some pretty spots too.

Indoor San Diego Wedding Venues

If a Church is more your style, consider enjoying the venue as is. Churches typically limit the kind of decorations and their location so it might just be better to enjoy the ceremony sans added decor. This can really stretch your floral/decor budget quite a bit. Without adding arches or ceremony aisle pieces this tip can save you thousands.

Prefer a venue that is an all-in-one? If you’re planning on a late afternoon/early evening wedding, keep the ceremony simple with candles. Most venues allow live flame along as they are contained within glass hurricanes. Candles can be a showstopper when executed correctly, and they are a great way to transform a space with minimal decor funds. Spending less on ceremony allows you to put more resources towards the reception. Maximize your reception space because that is where 80% of the event is taking place. The Pannikin Building and Flora Event Venue are just two of the locations that come to mind for my local San Diego clients. If you’re looking for some examples of simple ceremony decor with a pretty reception, look at this article from my wedding archives.

How to Win the Wedding Budget Game

At the end of the day, planning a wedding budget can be exhausting. A budget is an exercise in identifying your needs versus your wants. Everyone wants a beautiful wedding, but do we need to have everything? Probably not. Chances are that you might even forget what you wanted ten years later because you already had everything you actually needed.
But truthfully, prioritize what is important to you both, and be okay with it. You might have splurged on your dream photographer, but couldn’t afford extra fancy linens. It’s going to be okay. Think about it this way, how many pictures of your wedding tables are going to be hung on your wall? Stay realistic, and remember that it’s the friends, family,and experiences that we will remininsce about in years to come.

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  3. […] 5. Size doesn’t matter when it comes to planning a wedding! Whether your celebration includes 10 or 100 people, they all deserve the same level of attention and care. It’s important to remember that though larger weddings are typically more expensive overall, the components of a small wedding remain the same—just on a smaller scale. To help save money, consider reducing your guest list. You’ll find that you can create an unforgettable experience no matter how many people attend. For additional information on how to create a wedding budget that will keep you on track, head over here to our article. […]

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