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Finances are always the most stressful part of any event, so it isn’t surprising that the budget can be a major point of added contention during the planning process. Let’s also consider the fact that money consistently pops up as a leading cause of divorce; yet another reason why communication about finances is essential during the wedding planning process and throughout your marriage.

Last week I shared some wedding planning budget basics and, in honor of the positive response it received, I thought I’d expand upon it a bit. After all, knowledge is power people!

One of the most common questions about a wedding budget is how much should be spent on what? Flowers, catering, booze, invitations, gifts – there are so many line items to consider it’s hard to know the price tag that comes with each of them.

The best approach is to look at each expenditure as a percentage of your total budget. Considering the most common line items, you can use the following as a suggested guideline, with the caveat that every wedding is unique and will have additions or subtractions to this list:

Reception Costs: 50%
YES, FIFTY PERCENT. A wedding is about the celebration of marriage. Operative word: celebration. Your reception will be the largest expense of your entire wedding and rightly so (see operative word above). Reception costs include food and beverage costs, linens, guest transportation, favors, venue rental, table and chair rentals (if needed), tent rental (again, if needed), lighting, non-floral decor and any other “upgrades” such as a custom dance floor, draping or a custom lighted monogram.

Photography and Videography: 10%
Your wedding day will FLY by faster than you can say “I do.” The bride and groom are bouncing around from the ceremony, to the reception and then on to their exit. Often, the guests of honor miss many of the special moments that happen when they are busy greeting guests, cutting the cake and tossing the bouquet. An exceptional photographer and videographer, if you have the budget, is essential not only for snapping portraits of the bride and groom, bridal party and families, but also for capturing fleeting moments and memories. I was able to relive my wedding while viewing our photos for the first time, which to me is invaluable.

My advice, don’t scrimp on the photographer; scrap the videographer if you don’t have the funds.

Jazz quartet at our wedding. (Photo courtesy of Paul Morse)

Music: 10%
As cheesy as it sounds, your music selection is the soundtrack for your wedding. A DJ is the less expensive option. A live band is considerably more expensive, but I believe there is no substitute for live music. If a Motown or bluegrass band is what you’ve always wanted, do not shortchange yourself.

Large floral urns we used during the ceremony. (Photo courtesy of Paul Morse)

Floral: 5-7%
Flowers are beautiful and, some would argue, necessary part of a wedding. I beg to differ. I stuck to a small floral budget because I knew I wanted to spend more on other areas of my wedding. That being said, if a bride has dreamed of centerpieces dripping in roses, lilies and dahlias, then she’ll want to increase her floral budget and decrease budget somewhere else.

Bride and Groom’s Wedding Day Garb: 5-7%
Girls dream of their wedding dress for decades. How can we put a number on the happiness of a dream coming true? We can and we will. It is easy to get carried away in the idea of walking down the aisle in a couture creation, but be realistic about your wedding day attire. Bridal salons should always ask you your budget prior to putting you in a gown; don’t lie, don’t exaggerate, don’t overestimate. If you’ve got a $3,000 budget, do not, under any circumstances try on the $10,000 Vera Wang “just to see how it looks.” It will look amazing. You will love it. You will cry when the sales assistant tries to pry it off of your naked, Vera-less body.

The groom can rent a tux fairly inexpensively, but can also opt to purchase one. After all, he should be able to look his best too!

Getting down to the nitty-gritty…

Our programs, handmade, with love. DIY can work! (Photo courtesy of Paul Morse.)

Invitations, programs, escort cards: 3%
Enough said. DIY can save you tons, but don’t DIY to the point that you are covered in paper cuts and reciting ink options in your sleep.

Wedding Rings: 2%
There are $100 wedding rings and $100,000 wedding rings. Pick accordingly. Go to the same jeweler where your fiance purchased your engagement ring because they will likely give you a deal. Remember ladies, don’t get carried away with the bling. Anniversaries = upgrades.

Ceremony: 2%
If a ceremony and reception are in different locations, the ceremony venue might ask for a small rental fee. An officiant should not cost more than $100. Additional costs will come from other factors, such as whether a venue requires any type of audio enhancement such as a microphone and speakers. Jewish brides will want to account for the cost of a chuppah, which often can be rented from a florist. Chairs can also usually be upgraded for an additional cost.

Bridal Party Gifts: 2%
Gifts are completely dependent upon what you can spend. If you have the cash, spring for your bridesmaids and groomsmen. After all they are your support system, and let’s face it, you’ve likely been a bit more difficult than usual to deal with. Here’s a great idea for a bridesmaids’ gift.

Bride and Groom Gifts: undecided
It is tradition for the bride and groom to exchange gifts either at the rehearsal dinner or prior to the ceremony. Many grooms opt to gift the bride something to wear for her walk down the aisle.Gifts for each other can be sentimental and cost nothing, be over the top and cost a small fortune, or fit somewhere nicely in between. I don’t feel right putting a price on this section because I think it is something that should be incredibly personal and doesn’t need to have a price tag. However, if your gift does have a price tag, make sure you budget for it!

“Oh, SH*T” Fund: 7-10%
Things will go wrong. Last minute expenses will pop up. That one crazy vendor will try to throw in an additional $1,000 charge at the last minute, hoping you’ll be so stressed out that you won’t notice or care (yes, this really did happen to me!). Do your best to reserve some money for emergencies,  just in case…oh, I dunno, it rains and you have to pay to tent your ceremony space; or you accidentally lose your security deposit because of “damages.” If this money ends up being needed, a whole lot of unnecessary stress was avoided. If it isn’t needed, congratulations, you just saved enough to do some major upgrading to your honeymoon.

First class tickets to Hawaii anyone?