Expert Advice: 10 Things to Know About Setting a Wedding Budget

Setting a budget for your wedding day is the most important decision you'll make, as it lays the groundwork for selecting your venue and vendor team, guest count, and possibly even the date.

With finances being a delicate issue to discuss with your partner or those who are contributing to your wedding fund, we asked our wedding experts to share their insight and best tips for setting a wedding budget.

1. Determine Who is Contributing

“Setting a wedding budget is like the first step of adulting as a couple. Sit down and have an honest conversation about your finances. Lay out your income, savings, and any contributions from family members. Be transparent about what you can comfortably spend without turning your honeymoon into a staycation. Consider factors like whether you're planning to take out a loan or if you've been socking away a little wedding fund for this very moment. Once you have a number, stick to it. This is your financial North Star, guiding you through the maze of wedding expenses without straying into debt-induced stress.” -Arron McNeile, owner of McNeile Photography

“Having conversations about money is never any fun. However, we'd be willing to bet finances surrounding the wedding are something that most parents have given a little thought to, regardless of how much or how little they can contribute, so having that conversation is probably a little easier than you think. Don't dump all the money into one big pot. People who contribute money to a wedding like to have some input on how their money is spent. By keeping it separated, you can have those discussions without them needing to be too involved in other spending.” -Tammy Waterman, owner and Master Wedding Planner at Special Moments Event Planning

“Talking about money can be difficult. When it comes to your wedding budget, you have to have open, honest conversations with your partner and those helping to pay for your wedding. Discuss with your families about who will be paying for what. While some couples' families will pick up the entire tab, other couples prefer to cover costs themselves. If you’re uncomfortable asking your parents or future in-laws for money, how about asking them to purchase certain items? For instance, the wedding cake or let them pick up the tab for the rehearsal dinner. Whether your family pays a portion of your wedding costs or foots the entire bill, having upfront conversations about who will be paying for what will certainly relieve the stress of limited cash flow.” -Riley Gersch, owner and wedding planner of Elegant Affairs by Design

“Your first step is to sit down with your family to see if they will be paying for or helping to pay for the wedding and have a frank conversation about money. You can't plan a wedding without first knowing who is contributing and how much. The next step is for the couple to determine how much, if anything, they feel comfortable contributing. You don’t want to start your marriage out with wedding debt or cause added stress because you are stretching your finances too thin. These can be delicate conversations, but they are a must.” – Karen Cerboni, owner and lead planner, EventFull Weddings

2. Determine Your Wedding Style

“We know that starting the process of wedding planning and figuring out your overall wedding budget can feel like a daunting task, so the first place to start is by narrowing down and determining your wedding style. Think about the overall feel, size, and location of your day. Then start to research wedding vendors that match your style and overall price range.” Limelight Photography

“According to the experts (and Google), on average, most couples spend 25-40% of their after-tax income on their wedding (this is a good guidepost to setting a wedding budget and also means there's a few couples spending more and a bunch less). Start by thinking about the type of wedding you want to have: location (i.e., beach), accurate number of guests, must-have vendors (i.e., photo, live music), etc. Once you and your fiancé have agreed on most of these elements, it’s time to research and figure out the approximate costs associated. In other words, work backward from the required items to ultimately set your overall budget. Know that there is at least one set of numbers – do you include the dress, lodging, travel to check out venues, etc? If not, be realistic from the get-go!” -Brandon Wheeler, owner of Gulf Beach Weddings

“Couples should begin exploring their wedding vision with a quality wedding planner before they set a date or budget.  A wedding planner can help them determine a realistic budget based on their style and vision. If necessary, couples can choose a longer engagement period to allow more time to save towards the budget, or multiple family members may be willing to contribute towards the event (nowadays it's rare that the parents of the bride cover 100% of wedding costs; it's typically a combination of parents and the couple).” -Christi Winsor, owner of Winsor Event Studio

3. Set Your Priorities

“The most important is to decide a range in what you would like your budget to be. This amount does not need to be set in stone yet because there is still some research to be done. Work together to prioritize and make a list of the things that are most important and the things that you might be able to do without being contingent on your budget (venue, photographer, wedding planner, florals, food, cake, attire, etc.). Once you have made your list, decide on an estimate for each category and then begin your research. Reach out to some ideal vendors to see if they fit into your budget, if you have a little wiggle room to allow, or if you might have to cut some things that you weren't dead set on. After you have gotten a better idea of the ideal vendors and the costs of everything, revisit this list and make a final decision on what your precise budget is for each. For many people, this is their first wedding, and they do not have much experience. In doing some research and reaching out to vendors, the couple can then decide more specifically their final budget range.”  -Amber McWhorter, owner of Amber McWhorter Photography

“What's your wedding kryptonite? Everyone has that one thing they daydream about when they think of their perfect wedding. It could be the dreamy venue, the show-stopping photography, or a culinary journey that puts all other meals to shame. Sit down together and figure out what truly matters to both of you. Maybe you're both foodies, and the thought of a mediocre wedding meal is a deal-breaker. If that's the case, consider allocating a larger chunk of your budget to catering. Or perhaps you've been scrolling through Pinterest and can't get enough of those jaw-dropping wedding photos. If photography is your heart's desire, then earmark a solid portion of your budget to make those moments last a lifetime.” -Arron McNeile, owner of McNeile Photography

“Think about the items that are the most important to you (i.e. band/DJ, catering, the photographer, the wedding dress) and decide what percentage of your total funds you’d like to spend on those things. This will help you be a little more flexible with your budget since you’ll be okay with spending a little outside of your budget on the things you prioritize while going under budget (or doing without) things that don’t matter as much to you. Sit down with your spouse and separately write down 2-3 items that are most important to both of you. Compare your two lists and figure out how you can combine them. Also, write down the 2-3 items you can both go without (i.e. rose petal aisle way). Adjust your budget numbers to reflect your priorities.” -Brandon Wheeler, owner of Gulf Beach Weddings

“Wedding planners help with prioritizing the wish list items and dividing the budget into those specific categories. Focus on the bigger items and worry less about tiny details your guests may not even notice or will not remember. With a comfortable budget and realistic expectations, your planning will be much less stressful, and we guarantee you will love your wedding day.” – Karen Cerboni, owner and lead planner of EventFull Weddings

“Sometimes the budget won’t allow you to book the best of the best or everything you desire to have. At this point, you need to make a list of what is important to you and your spouse. Make a chart with one column being ‘Needs' and another column being ‘Wants.' Determine what you can’t imagine your wedding without and see what you’re willing to compromise on to make it happen. You’ll sometimes be surprised what these come out to be!” -Melanie Eubanks, owner of Lemon Drops Weddings & Events

“Knowing what to prioritize in terms of your budget is a good place to start. For example, if having great food is a top priority, start by talking to your caterer to get a quote for what you really want for your wedding menu. If you can first establish your catering budget it will make it easier to calculate what you have left to play with for your decor, music, etc.” -Melissa Misgen, owner of Elite Events Catering

Bride and Groom in Classic Getaway Car Wedding Portrait | Tampa Bay Photographer McNeile Photography | St Pete Car Rental Service Classically Ever After

Black, White, and Gold Modern Gatsby Wedding Inspiration | NOVA 535 | Kelci Leigh Events | McNeile Photography

4. Research How Much Weddings Actually Costs

“What area are you getting married in? This is going to play a factor in the costs and average pricing of the market you want to get married in. For example, Tampa Bay is a known destination wedding spot, and many travel here to get married. That means the average wedding cost is going to be higher in an area like Tampa Bay. Whereas, if you got married in a different state in your small hometown, pricing will be significantly lower. That means a $50,000 budget can go a long way or a small way, depending on the area. Knowing your market will help you with realistic expectations.” -Delaney Driver, owner of Wilder Mind Events

“Don't rely on general information on wedding budgets you find on some of the mass media wedding websites. They are very, very general, based on averages that are not specific to the area you live in! As you prioritize the things that are most important to you, start meeting with the vendors that you are interested in and see how much they charge, then work to fit in the things you really want to spend your money on. The best way to do this is to hire a professional wedding planner. They are going to be very skilled at helping you create a budget that is realistic and with the vendors in mind who will fit that budget and your personality the best.” -Carrie Wildes, owner, Carrie Wildes Photography Art & Design

“I'm sure the number one question is, ‘Where do I even start?!' When chatting with our couples, we always ask what their estimated budget is, knowing that they won't have all the answers. Unless you have inquired with every vendor and venue, it is hard to know what to base that number on. We assist our full-service clients with budget management and help determine what is most important to put more funds towards. When discussing your budget, first chat about your guests and guest count. This is a huge factor in regard to what venue you will choose, how much catering and rentals cost, as well as decor and florals. There really is no standard budget when it comes to a wedding because it depends on your style, guest count, and what the maximum is you wish to spend. However, wedding planners can always give you guidance as to the range of cost for what you imagine for your special day!” – Lauren Gertz, owner of MDP Events

“I believe the budget should be based on what you are comfortable spending and can actually afford, not by listing all the things you want at your wedding and then trying to afford them. A lot of couples don’t realize the cost of weddings, so if the budget doesn’t fit the vision, reset expectations and discuss how to still work to achieve your dream wedding. After you know the budget, own it and be comfortable with it. Your wedding day is going to be one of the most memorable days of your life regardless of how much it costs.”-Karen Cerboni, owner and lead planner of EventFull Weddings

“It's time to channel your inner detective. Google, call, email – do whatever it takes to get those vendor quotes. And remember, this isn't just about finding the cheapest option; it's about understanding what you're getting for your hard-earned cash. For example, when talking to a photographer, ask about packages, extra fees, and what's included. Does the package cover engagement photos, or is that an additional cost? Is there a limit on the number of photos you'll get, or are you free to capture every magical moment? The devil is in the details, and you want to make sure your budget is covering everything you envision.” -Arron McNeile, McNeile Photography

“When considering a budget for wedding catering, it helps to understand the different aspects that will be included. There are typically four categories: menu price, service (chefs, bartenders, captains, professional servers, etc.), rentals (china, linens, etc.), and beverages/bar. Full-service caterers will provide you with your dream menu at a set price per person, which will vary depending on the actual menu and guest count. For example, a single entree menu with chicken may have a lower price per person than a plated dinner with guests options of beef, fish, chicken, vegetarian, etc.” -Melissa Misgen, Elite Events Catering

“If you have a pet, consider adding a pet care section to your budget. If you want them to be a part of your wedding in any way, like coming by for photos or walking down the aisle, then you'll likely want to budget for a wedding pet care company that will take care of all the logistics involved so your baby can have their own best day ever while you have the peace of mind that all of their needs are being met. Even if you're not planning to include them in the day at all, you'll still likely need to account for their care at home while you and your family/friends are busy celebrating your special day.” Kelly Nova, owner of FairyTail Pet Care

Most online wedding budgets are pretty unrealistic when it comes to budgeting for high-quality service providers such as wedding planners and photographers. Professionals in those categories in the Tampa Bay area are priced at $3,000-$10,000+, and considering their value, their investments should be planned accordingly, especially if couples want a high-quality result for their wedding. Quality wedding planners work with their couples the most out of any vendor, guiding them throughout months of planning and helping negotiate contracts while also working the entire wedding day to ensure everything runs smoothly and comes to fruition. Quality photographers work the entire event time capturing the celebration and then spend hours editing for amazing images that last well beyond the wedding day. Investing in quality vendors is an investment in your overall wedding experience. – Christi Winsor, owner of Winsor Event Studio

“Don't go based on what you see on Instagram or TikTok; average costs of weddings differ from area to area and for your desired wedding style. Also, take into account inflation, sometimes what a friend or family member paid may not be the same rate anymore.” -Valentina Rose, owner of Valentina Rose Photography

5. Understand How Your Guest Count Impacts Your Budget

“More wedding guests always means more money, and controlling your guest list is always a struggle. The ‘+1' is one of the most significant ways to drive up those costs quickly. We have a colleague who preaches, ‘no ring, no bring.' If the friend you are inviting isn't engaged or in a serious relationship, they don't get a +1! It's cold, but the reality is your friend will more than likely spend the whole night with mutual friends, leaving the ‘date du jour' alone. Another excellent barometer for judging who makes the cut on the guest list is to consider if you would take them out for an expensive dinner, any other night of the year, and pick up the tab.” -Tammy Waterman, owner and Master Wedding Planner at Special Moments Event Planning

“Guest count is everything. Coming up with a tentative guest list while you have the ‘money talk' is going to help you know how big of a wedding you are going to have. Each guest you have at the wedding is an added cost, and if you have 300 people versus 100 people, your budget will not go as far with the larger guest count. The guest count will also let you know what venues will work for you.” -Delaney Driver, owner of Wilder Mind Events

“If you’re struggling to think of where to start for creating a budget, try thinking of the guest count for the wedding. Do you want something small and intimate or do you want a large sea of people to gather for your event? It makes sense that the more people you have, the higher the cost of the wedding is going to be. Each guest on your list is going to need a chair for the ceremony, a few appetizers during cocktail hour, a table to sit at reception, a meal at dinner, and plenty of drinks throughout the night, and this is before adding flourishes like favors, menus, and programs. Remember that each guest on the list is an increase in price.” -Melanie Eubanks, owner of Lemon Drops Weddings & Events

“If you’re looking to cut costs, the first place to cut down on is the guest list. The average guest costs you at least $100, so the difference between having 50 guests versus 100 guests is huge. Another easy way to cut down wedding costs is to have your wedding day outside of the peak seasons and perhaps even consider having a mid-week wedding. In addition to cutting down the price, the privacy, availability of vendors, and reception locations make these days ideal. In addition, hotel stays, airplane fares, rental car rates, etc. are all more inexpensive during the week…take advantage!” -Brandon Wheeler, owner of Gulf Beach Weddings

Better Together Neon Sign Greenery Backdrop | Whimsical Colorful Wedding Inspiration | Tampa Bay Planner Eventfull Weddings

Vibrant, Modern, Yellow Wedding Inspiration | Hyatt Clearwater Beach | EventFull Weddings | Iyrus Weddings

6. Spend Smartly

“I always suggest to my couples to take their overall budget and divide by how many months they have in the planning process, and then I have them make payments to different vendors throughout the planning time. This is super helpful because they don’t feel like everything is due at once and at the end of the planning process. It’s much more manageable for couples, and they love it in the planning and budgeting process. Typically, we start with how many guests they are going to have; then, we break it down by categories to see where their budget works with each category. We explain how it will change based on the number of guests. Most couples come to us with an overall budget in mind, and we help tweak it for them.” -Katy Turchich, owner of Coastal Coordinating

“Did you know that wedding planners can actually save you money? Planning a wedding can be extremely stressful and expensive! Although planners may be perceived as luxury vendors, it is also important to understand that planners can be a critical part of managing a wedding budget. Wedding planning is not a one-size-fits-all service. Your wedding vision is unique, and a wedding planner will customize their services to fit your needs. We help our couples by negotiating volume discounts, avoiding contract nightmares, utilizing preferred wedding vendors, and, most importantly, freeing up your time because time equals money. Most couples can expect to spend an average of $1,000-$2,500 on ‘Day of' wedding planner services.” -Riley Gersch, owner and wedding planner of Elegant Affairs by Design

“Do not become venue poor. This is a situation most wedding vendors see time and time again. When reviewing pricing for venues, take into consideration any additional costs that may not be included, such as catering and rentals. Be sure to review the contract in full to ensure you are aware of all fees. If you are ever unclear, always reach out to your venue sales associate for clarification.” -Ashley Johnson, lead planner and owner of B Eventful

“Look at a few things as focal points and play them up. Look at a ceremony structure or arrangements that can be repurposed. Splurge on a couple of things that people will notice. Investing in things like upgraded linens, candles, and lighting on a sweetheart table and cake table goes a long way. The two of you and the wedding cake are two of the most photographed elements of a wedding.” -Tammy Waterman, owner and Master Wedding Planner at Special Moments Event Planning

“Now you are ready to find a planner! I always recommend hiring your planner before securing your venue. Your planner is going to help break down your budget into categories based on your priorities and should provide a guideline of how much you can spendd in each. One of those categories is venue. Often we see couples secure their venue and then get a planner only to find out they spent too much on the venue and now have to make sacrifices.” -Karen Cerboni, EventFull Weddings Spend your budget wisely. After you secure your venue, book your must-have vendors like photography, catering, bar, and music. You and your guests will remember the overall experience more than the details. You don't want to skimp on photography because that's yours forever. Food, cocktails, and entertainment are what your guests are going to remember most. Of course, if you have the budget, flowers make a huge first impression. Leave details like custom invitations, menus, statement seating charts etc. until you have secured all of your must-have vendors if your budget still allows.” -Karen Cerboni, EventFull Weddings

“Before you start booking vendors and venues, do your research about each and see what is included when you hire them for your big day. You want to book a venue and vendors that work for not only your vision but also your budget. If a venue may not have the exact look you’re going for but does include tables, chairs, flatware, etc., it may be cheaper to dress up the space than find a spot that has the feel you’re going for but includes nothing else. Remember that there are always fees, and anything that has to be delivered or brought in is going to cost a bit more because of the labor. Know what you’re getting for the amount you’re spending and weigh the options. A higher price tag for one vendor may look daunting, but if it saves you from having to hire multiple vendors to do the same job, it may save you money in the long run.” -Melanie Eubanks, owner of Lemon Drops Weddings & Events

“Time to put on your budget boss hat. Tracking your spending is crucial. Whether you're a spreadsheet wizard or a fan of budgeting apps, find a system that works for both of you. Record every expense, no matter how small. This not only helps you stay within budget but also gives you a clear picture of where your money is going. If you see that you're approaching the limit in a particular category, it's your cue to reevaluate. Can you cut costs somewhere else, or do you need to adjust your priorities? Being the budget boss means staying on top of your financial game and making informed decisions along the way.” -Arron McNeile, McNeile Photography

7. Don't Spend More Than You Can Afford

“Categories are your wedding budget BFFs. Create a comprehensive list of everything you'll need, from the venue to the little details like table centerpieces and party favors. Once you've got your wedding wish list, start divvying up your budget among these categories. Be realistic about your expectations. Sure, everyone dreams of a wedding straight out of a fairy tale, but budgeting is about making those dreams fit into the real world. If you find you're getting a bit spend-happy in one category, be prepared to make adjustments elsewhere. This is the art of compromise, my friend.” -Arron McNeile, McNeile Photography

“Don’t go into debt to pull off your dream wedding! Remember, this is only the beginning of the rest of your life. We know that it’s tempting to want to spend the max amount for your big day. However, we advise you to wisely determine how much you can afford before you even start to look for vendors and venues. Once you have your set amount, stick to it!” -Limelight Photography

“Media hype in weddings is enormous. Too many of the pretty things you'll see online actually cost more than you might expect, and everything grows exponentially. That one swoon-worthy centerpiece on Pinterest might be okay if you need one, but not if you have twenty tables. Have realistic expectations, don't go into debt, and use those fantastic photos as an inspiration for something that works in your budget.” -Tammy Waterman, owner and Master Wedding Planner at Special Moments Event Planning

8. Don't Hire Vendors Based on Price Alone

“There is truth to the phrase, ‘You get what you pay for,' and a quality vendor could mean the difference between a fantastic wedding day experience or one filled with regret, so couples should carefully examine their budget and be willing to invest more in areas that are important. Hardly anyone will regret investing in a service or product that delivered everything they dreamed of, but if you pay a ‘bargain price' and are disappointed, you paid too much, no matter how cheap the cost was. You can't go back and re-do the experience, and the last thing you'll want is to cut costs in ways that lead to remorse instead of fond memories.”  -Christi Winsor, Winsor Event Studio

“Price, Product, and Personality are all factors to consider when hiring a wedding vendor; cheap is not always a good thing. If they don't really offer what you want or the thought of spending your wedding day with them bothers you, the price isn't that great. Sometimes cheaper packages are just less expensive because they have taken a bunch of stuff out that you might really want.” -Tammy Waterman, owner and Master Wedding Planner at Special Moments Event Planning

“We all want to be wise with our money and find ways to save. While there are definitely ways to save while planning your wedding, we also advise you not to go cheap on what is most important to you. Cheaper does not always mean better. You want quality vendors who will deliver quality work, which in turn will make your wedding enjoyable and stress-free. Do your research on different vendors in your area. Look at their reviews to determine how they treat their clients. Whether it be a wedding photographer, a wedding planner, or a hair and makeup team, how someone makes you feel is what is most important. Yes, it’s important to look at the prices of vendors, but it is equally important to hire someone who will make your day less stressful and provide you with the best service.”-Limelight Photography

“When considering your vendors, take into consideration their value versus their price. It is important to understand what is of most value to you. Take the time to meet with each vendor who will be with you the day of your wedding and make sure they are a good fit for your wedding day. Be sure to ask detailed questions so you fully understand the value you are getting for the price the vendor is asking for. Not every wedding vendor is created equally. We all have our own style, personalities, and price points.” -Ashley Johnson, lead planner and owner of B Eventful

“Catering makes up the most significant part of your wedding budget. And, unfortunately, all caterers are not created equal. A local restaurant or deli that also caterers might have great food, but can they provide enough staff to care for your wedding guests? Do they provide bartenders, rental items, and linens, or do you now need to book those things separately? Wedding venues that provide catering in-house and experienced off-premise caterers might initially look a bit more expensive, but dive deeper into what services they provide compared to less expensive options.” -Tammy Waterman, owner and Master Wedding Planner at Special Moments Event Planning

Rooftop Wedding Ceremony Ideas | Clear Chiavari Chairs | Tampa Bay Kate Ryan Event Rentals | Photographer Carrie Wildes Photography | Rooftop 220

Modern Black and Gold Tampa Heights Wedding | Carrie Wildes Photography

9. Plan for the Unexpected

“Life is full of surprises, and your wedding budget is no exception. Unexpected expenses have a knack for popping up at the most inconvenient times. It might be a last-minute alteration to your dress, an unforeseen venue fee, or that ‘must-have' décor piece you stumbled upon. Whatever the surprise, be ready to roll with it. Flexibility is your secret weapon in the budgeting battle. If you overspend in one area, look for ways to cut back in another. Maybe you can DIY some décor elements or skip the pricey extras that won't make or break your day. Stay adaptable, and remember, it's not about having a perfect budget; it's about creating a perfect day within the budget you have.” -Arron McNeile, McNeile Photography

“Not everyone writes their proposals the same way. One vendor's package might look so much cheaper for the same things as others until you realize that they separately price out staffing and rentals. A venue might seem like a real bargain until you add something like a cleanup fee, additional hours, parking attendants, or the rentals you might need. So, read the fine print and calculate all of the extras you might need to add in.” -Tammy Waterman, owner and Master Wedding Planner at Special Moments Event Planning

“Setting a healthy and reasonable budget is one of the best ways you can set up your wedding for success. Your initial budget should have the flexibility to account for potential unexpected service increases, such as an increase in floral cost, or unexpected purchases, such as additional accessories. It is always better to overestimate your budget costs to eliminate unnecessary stressors. Take the time to meet with family members who plan to contribute to your celebration. It is important to be honest and open with anyone who plans to contribute to your wedding day to avoid any unexpected expenses.” -Ashley Johnson, owner and lead planner of B Eventful

“Oftentimes, when I discuss floral budgets with potential clients, I find they are unaware of service fees associated with their contracts. When planning your wedding budget, keep in mind that most contracted vendors will include service charges or fees that you may not be aware of. Some vendors will charge a flat rate for their services. However, other vendors have additional fees such as delivery, set-up, flip, strike (tear-down), and floral mockups. These charges will vary depending on the level of service required on the day of your event, but they are important to keep in mind and factor into your overall budget.” -John Elice, Wedding and Event Consultant and Floral Designer at Bruce Wayne Florals

“As much as you make plans to ensure that everything goes smoothly and stays within budget, remember that unexpected costs may arise. To avoid breaking the bank and causing you an abundance of stress, lay aside a set amount to go toward the unexpected. Whether it be an unknown vendor cost or a weather-related issue, allow room in your budget to pay for unknown situations. It’s always best to be prepared! ”-Limelight Photography

10. Discuss the Budget Throughout the Planning Process

“Communication is the glue that holds this budgeting journey together. Regular check-ins with your partner are non-negotiable. Share your thoughts, concerns, and any budget-related epiphanies that strike you in the middle of the night. Make decisions together. This is a team effort, and neither of you should feel the weight of the budget solely on your shoulders. It's about compromise, understanding, and finding common ground. Keep the lines of communication wide open, and you'll navigate the budgeting waters with much smoother sailing.” -Arron McNeile, McNeile Photography

Quotes have been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.