Expert Advice: 7 Things to Know About Setting a Wedding Budget

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Setting a budget for your wedding day is one of the biggest decisions that you will make before your planning even begins. Your budget sets the tone for selecting your venue, the rest of your vendor team, and possibly the date.

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

7 Things to Know About Setting a Wedding Budget | Wedding Planning Advice

1. Determine Your Wedding Style

“Start by thinking about the type of wedding you want to have. This means location (i.e. beach), number of guests, the formality level of the wedding, etc. Once you and your fiancé have agreed on most of these elements, it’s time to research and figure out the approximate cost of everything. It is impossible to create a wedding budget without first knowing the estimated cost of the elements you want for your wedding day. For example, you don’t want to create a budget of $1,000 for an open bar only to find out that an open bar tab at your venue actually costs $3,000.” -Brandon Wheeler, owner of Gulf Beach Weddings

“Have a realistic expectation of what weddings cost overall, and what each wedding pro will most likely cost on their own. You can find wedding cost guides online that will help you understand investments on the national – and even local – level. It’s important to understand, however, that the figures you see online tend to be estimates for more simple weddings. If you’re looking to have a blowout bash, expect to spend more: most of the weddings you see on Instagram are at least six figures.” -John Campbell, owner of John Campbell Weddings

2. Think About What’s Most Important

“Budget with your personal priorities in mind. Make a list of anticipated expenses (catering, entertainment, etc.) and rank them from most to least important. If you know having an incredible band is more important than décor, you might take some of your floral budget and add it to your entertainment category.” -John Campbell, owner of John Campbell Weddings

“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

“We 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

Elegant Sarasota Bride and Groom Walking on Anna Marie Island Beach at Sunset, Wearing Vintage Crystal Headpiece with White Fit and Flare Wedding Dress and Off the Shoulder Lace Sleeves, Holding Lush Ivory Floral Bouquet with Greenery, Groom in Classic Black Tuxedo | Florida Wedding Photographer Lifelong Photography Studio | Kelly Kennedy Weddings and Events

Lifelong Photography Studio | Kelly Kennedy Weddings & Events | Vintage Modern Anna Maria Island Wedding | Bali Hai Beach Resort

3. Determine Who is Paying for What

“Having those conversations about money are 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

“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 and wedding planner at Winsor Event Studio

“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

“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. 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 in 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 we need to reset expectations and discuss how we can still work to achieve their dream wedding.” – Karen Cerboni, owner and lead planner, EventFull Weddings

4. Figure Out How Much You Can Afford to Spend

“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

“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 – 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

“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

“Budget SUSTAINABLY! You shouldn’t be getting a second job or borrowing from your emergency savings to pay for your wedding. When my clients come to me with budgetary concerns, I remind them that this should be a happy process centered around their union. Why put unnecessary strain on your psyche, relationship, and wallet over an event that lasts one day.” -John Campbell, owner of John Campbell Weddings

Bride and Groom Outdoor Portrait with Wedding Adoptable Puppies Pets by Fairy Tail Pet Care | LoAdoro Bridal Sleek Fitted Modern Wedding Dress Bridal Gown with Birdcage Veil from Tampa Bridal Shop Truly Forever Bridal | Groom in Modern Suit with Dark Red Maroon Jacket with Black Satin Lapel and Bow Tie | Femme Akoi Beauty Studio | Dewitt for Love Photography | Winsor Event Studio

Dewitt for Love Photography | Winsor Event Studio | Modern, Fall Inspired Downtown St. Pete Wedding Shoot | Poynter Institute

5. Spend Smartly, But not Cheaply

“If you’re looking to cut costs, the first place to cut down on is the guest list. The average guest costs you about $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

“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 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

“Take your overall budget and divide it by the number of guests. For example, if your overall budget is $25,000 divided by 100 guests then that’s $250 per guest. How many of these invited guests would you and your fiancé take out to dinner and spend $500 on them? This begins a great way of backing out the budget and truly analyzing your guest list.” -Karin Bearnarth, Director of Sales and Events, Mision Lago Estate

“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, owner and wedding planner at Winsor Event Studio

Bride and Groom Cheering with Champagne Flutes in front of Greenery Bubbly Champagne Wall | Tampa Bay Wedding Planner Coastal Coordinating | Wedding Rentals Outside the Box | Wedding Hair and Makeup Femme Akoi Beauty Studio | Wedding Dress Truly Forever Bridal

Carrie Wildes Photography | Coastal Coordinating | Romantic Pastel Sunset Rooftop Wedding | Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach

6. Don’t Hire Vendors Based on Price Alone

“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

“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 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 or if you have a little wiggle room to allow for them. 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, and cut some things that you weren’t dead set on.” -Amber McWhorter, owner Amber McWhorter Photography

“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 a luxury vendor, it is also important to understand that planners can be a critical part of managing a wedding budget. 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.” -Riley Gersch, owner and wedding planner of Elegant Affairs by Design

“When deciding if you want to hire a wedding planner, it is important to know 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. 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

“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 are priced $3k-$10k+ and considering their value, their investments should be planned accordingly, especially if couples want high-quality results for their wedding. Quality wedding planners work with their couples the most out of any vendor, guiding 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 and wedding planner at Winsor Event Studio

“Always make sure you budget for your videographer and photographer around the same time and far in advance, (typically booked 8-18+ months out). If you think you’ll have room in your budget later for a videographer, chances are you won’t have anything left to spend if you wait. You should budget in the same ballpark as your photographer for your videographer, which averages between $3,000-$6,500+ each. Especially for your videographer and photographer, you don’t want to have to settle because of a lack of proper budgeting. These are the only things from your wedding day that will last and capturing quality images of those generational memories is so important!” -Kemari Ihlenfeldt, Owner & Lead Videographer of Kemari Lyn Films

Florida Bride in Boho Flowy Dress with Groom Kissing Holding We Do We Did We Eloped Sign, on Waterfront Pier, Tropical Colorful Floral Arrangement with Palm Tree Leaves, Pink, Purple, Orange Roses | Tampa Bay Wedding Venue The Godfrey | Wedding Florist Brides N Blooms | Wedding Planner Elope Tampa Bay | Wedding Dress NIkki's Glitz and Glam | Wedding Hair and Makeup Femme Akoi Beauty Studio | Amber McWhorter Photography

Amber McWhorter Photography | Elope Tampa Bay | Tropical Waterfront Tampa Elopement Inspiration | Godfrey Hotel

7. Plan for the Unexpected

“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

“Standalone venues might seem less expensive at first glance but, once you add it all up you might be spending more. Ask questions as to what items are included and more importantly, what’s not included. A la carte services like plates, flatware, bars, serving equipment, and staffing can add up. Be sure to ask your venue if there are any additional costs you should be aware of examples could be, security, parking attendants, or even a weather backup space.” -Katie Zeim, Senior Catering Sales Executive at the Vinoy Renaissance

“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


Marry Me Tampa Bay editor, Anna Coats, created Marry Me Tampa Bay in 2012 to showcase the area's best local weddings and vendors. She has been featured as a wedding expert on the national talkshow Daytime, Fox13, ABC Action News, Great Day Tampa Bay, and Bay News 9 (now Spectrum).

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