Image of Sierra and Patty on her wedding day. Not discussing wedding budget.
Wedding Budget Update: Over Budget and Under Budget

The wedding budget update is complete! Sierra prepared a budget very soon after getting engaged and adjusted it regularly. Her vendors have been paid and she is settling into married life. I asked her how her budget looked post-wedding.

Did you go over your wedding budget?

Unfortunately, yes. I think we ended up spending closer to $20,000 instead of our original goal of $16,000. I am actually a bit disappointed in myself because I spent 14 months being super thoughtful with my spending and budgeting. Then, over the next 4 months, I began spending the money we had been saving. It wasn’t dissimilar to flood gates opening. As soon as I started spending on items for the wedding, it became a lot easier to spend money on other things, too. I tend to be an all-or-nothing person.

The dinners out, random home goods, and other standard purchases I typically work into my monthly budget had been missing from our budget for over a year. So, when I found myself at Michael’s buying votive holders for reception tables, it made it that much easier to just pop over to Macy’s or grab take-out for dinner. While going over budget wouldn’t have been that big of a deal, our contingency funds slipped away in summer time madness.

Where did you spend more and why?

I spent that additional $4,000 on a lot of last minute items. Tips were a big part of that and I budgeted for tips for food and alcohol. I didn’t consider tips for our transportation, photography, music, cake delivery, and flower delivery in the original budget or a gift for our friend who so graciously married us.  Also, I purchased food and alcohol for the few days before the wedding while spending time with  friends and family. I had a hand full of “oh crap” moments, like when my printer ran out of ink, and when I misplaced the place cards. All of the little things in those last couple of weeks really added up.

Were there any items where you were under budget?

I budgeted $1,000 for transportation, and that ended up being around $500. Other than that…nada. A very wise (recently married) man told me in the early months of planning, that I should assume everything will be at least $1,000. He said to write the 1 and then ask the vendor what the following three digits would be. He was absolutely correct. The cake was much less than that, but where we saved there, more money was added elsewhere. I think if we had assigned $1,000 to every vendor/line item on my wedding list, we would probably end up pretty close to the cost.

What budget tips would you offer for newly engaged couples?

Don’t get carried away. Let me say that again. DO NOT GET CARRIED AWAY. It is so easy to get swept up in what everyone around you is telling you. Everyone has an opinion about how things should be done. People come out of the woodwork to tell you how you should plan your wedding. Just ignore them, and do you. If I could go back in time, I would actually hire a planner, explain to them exactly what I wanted, and let them handle the details of making that work in the budget.

We did a first dance – I wish we didn’t. I hate being in front of a crowd.  I was so stressed about it, and the only reason I agreed to it was because the band kept asking about it. To that same point, we originally wanted to get married in front of our parents earlier in the day, and then have the rest of our guests attend the reception (again, not great with being in front of people). I was feeling a lot of pressure (some self-inflicted) to have our ceremony in front of all of our guests. I was so flustered during and afterward, it was hard for me to come back to center and just enjoy.

What was your proudest wedding budget moment? 

The one time I stuck to my guns, I am super proud of. We originally came up with a menu, but due to the venue and items we chose, we didn’t have an exact price per person for our reception. During a meeting with the venue, I decided to lay it all out there and give them a total cost cap of $10,000 regardless of the final number.

The week before, the owner called me to let me know we would go over my cap if we didn’t make some menu changes. We originally chose scallops as a passed hor’derve because who doesn’t love scallops. As it turns out, fresh scallops (and what they claim to be the best of the best) are pretty expensive. Go figure. They ended up being so expensive that removing them from our menu saved us a couple grand!  I know it sounds silly.  But at the time, it seemed so important to have those scallops. Even as I respond to this, I am chuckling at the fact that I even considered keeping them. Everything seems so important in that moment.

What tips would you offer the couple’s family members?

Please, keep perspective. I hear so many people judging their sisters, daughters, and friends about the amount of money they spend on weddings. In fact, it is almost built into the wedding tradition. Was the food any good? Did you like the ceremony? Can you believe they spent that much? A woman in her 60s recently told me that her reception had cost $6 a plate. When we were comparing reception costs, the per plate cost ranged from $65 to $150. Now, I realize that is a 40-year difference, and inflation is part of it, but weddings and receptions are completely different now.

Today, weddings are a business. The cost for that same photographer to do family photos versus wedding photos is huge! The same goes for plenty of other vendors. If a couple goes the unconventional route, and decides to serve pizza and ice pops instead of chicken cor don bleu and cake, be open to it. Maybe that better represents their personalities and they would rather put their life savings toward a home or travel. If a couple pays $60,000 to have a wedding and reception just like their parents did 30 years ago, don’t assume they were irresponsible with their money.

Photo credit: Eyedesignstudio