Congratulations, you’re getting married! After celebrating the happy news of your engagement with loved ones, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and start on your wedding planning checklist. Step No. 1, of course, is figuring out what to include in your budget.

Your wedding budget can quickly become overwhelming if you forget to factor in all the miscellaneous costs. Have you accounted for the petals tossed by the flower girl? What about host liquor liability insurance? It helps to start with an outline of the different expenses you can expect instead of letting them pile up along the way.

We’ve rounded up common costs that you should consider adding to your wedding budget checklist, as well as helpful tips on how to identify areas where you can cut back. Depending on where you’re holding the wedding and what you and your partner want for the big day, many of the following items are optional.

Take a look at our wedding planning tips and budget checklist for each section:


Though it’s not a popular choice, one cost-saving measure is being flexible about the day of the week you wed, according to Jamie Chang, a destination wedding planner based in the San Francisco Bay Area and the creator of Passport to Joy, a wedding planning course for engaged couples who can’t afford a full-service planner.

If you’re not particular about having a Saturday wedding, Chang says you can save a chunk of change by choosing to hold your wedding on a weekday or Sunday. “Venues don’t generally book these days for weddings, so you may be in for a discount if you go off the beaten path,” she says.

Regarding rentals for tables, chairs, place settings, and linens, you should ask the venue what’s standard and what they don’t have on hand, according to Heather Jones, director of catering sales for Wente Vineyards, a family-owned winery in Livermore, California. You can save money by going with the standard and buying any modifications in bulk from places like Amazon and Costco.

You may want to budget for:

  • Event space rental
  • Tables
  • Chairs
  • Place settings
  • Linens
  • Tips for delivery and setup staff
  • Tips for reception staff and attendants

Back to top

Wedding Attire, Rings, and Other Accessories

Many brides don’t realize the full costs of getting dressed for the big day. According to Chang, these costs include gown alterations, extra fabric for custom designs, and so on.

“Wedding dresses, in particular, are usually the bulk of the cost because they can be very intricate, made of delicate fabrics, and have many layers,” she says. “And when you’re buying a wedding dress, you’ll also need to alter it so it fits perfectly, which can be very tricky depending on how delicate or complicated the dress is, so this adds to the cost as well.”

So, how can you budget properly for this expense? Kylie Carlson, CEO of the Wedding Academy, which is based in the United Kingdom and provides online certification courses for aspiring wedding planners, recommends finalizing your attire as far in advance as possible.

“That way, when it comes down to needing alterations, you’ll have an idea of what you’ll need to spend on a tailor or seamstress,” she says. “Frequently, you and your partner will have several fittings leading up to your wedding, so you can either pay in installments or pay all at once when you pick up the garment.”

For groomswear, Carlson says the benefits of renting vs. buying are often argued, but renting is the safer option. You usually save money compared to purchasing a full suit, and the stipulations — like cleaning fees and the rental term — are clear.

And don’t forget about your tokens of forever love. As you can imagine, the cost of engagement and wedding rings varies greatly, so it’s important to have an open discussion with your partner about how much you both want to spend on these lifelong accessories. Carlson says many jewelry companies will offer a discount if both rings are purchased together, which is good news for couples looking to save money.

Finally, another common cost is day-of hair and makeup — plus tip. Carlson says the easiest way to save money is to do it yourself (or at least one aspect that you’re comfortable with). If you have a friend or family member who is exceptionally skilled, ask if they’ll assist you at a discounted rate or for free in lieu of a gift.

If you must hire a professional, Carlson suggests asking your go-to hairstylist who knows your locks well but may not actively seek wedding opportunities. Of course, consider keeping the style simple to save additional money.

You may want to budget for:

  • Wedding dress(es)
  • Reception dress(es)
  • Jewelry
  • Veil(s)
  • Suit(s) or tuxedo(s)
  • Shoes
  • Dress and suit alterations
  • Engagement rings
  • Wedding rings
  • Ring insurance
  • Ring resizing
  • Day-of hair and makeup, plus tip
  • Pre-wedding haircuts and colors
  • Manicure and pedicure

Back to top

Food and Alcohol

Your wedding catering preferences — whether it’s a brunch buffet or a plated dinner — will heavily influence the final bill. That’s why Chang challenges couples to get aligned on what they want and what they don’t need.

“To avoid getting too pricey with your reception menu, skip the seafood and steak. A sushi bar may sound fun and trendy, but it won’t pair well with an outdoor reception, and it may not be everyone’s cup of tea,” she says. “Instead, go for seasonal vegetables and pork, chicken, or stews to get the most bang for your buck. Anything out-of-season may unnecessarily spike your food costs.”

You can also save on wedding cake by asking your venue to include dessert in the contract. It likely won’t come from a specialty bakery, but the moment may taste just as sweet.

In terms of booze, Jones says you can save money by only serving beer and wine rather than offering a full bar. You could also consider nixing the Champagne toast tradition if you and your partner aren’t big fans of bubbly.

“More often than not, guests will toast with whatever they’re drinking at the time of the speeches,” she says. “It’s also quite an expensive item to have, especially considering there will be non-drinkers or those that don’t like Champagne, thus leaving your bottles to go to waste.”

You may want to budget for:

  • Pre-reception cocktail hour
  • Catering
    • Brunch, lunch, or dinner
    • Buffet or plated
  • Tips for catering staff
  • Wedding cake
  • Reception bar
    • Open bar, consumption bar, or dry bar
    • Full bar or beer and wine
  • Bartender services, plus tip
  • Champagne toast
  • Liquor license
  • Host liquor liability insurance

Back to top

Decor and Flowers

Your decorations and floral arrangements will be key at the ceremony, cocktail hour, and reception. After all, few locations look wedding-ready without adding special elements. Some aspects, like table centerpieces, can be handled on your own if you’re crafty or skilled, which reduces your overall costs. However, other aspects — like flowers — may need the special attention and care of a professional.

As you figure out how to save money on wedding flowers, start by researching the varieties that will be in season on your wedding date, according to Oleta Collins, the owner of Flourishing Art Design Studio, a floral design company in Bakersfield, California. You’ll save a pretty penny by choosing blooms that don’t have to be imported. And, of course, reusing your flowers is always a smart idea.

“Floral walls, circular arches, and arbors are not only an excellent ceremony backdrop; they are also beautiful behind a sweetheart or bar table,” Collins says. “This is best used in a venue where you have everything in one place, and transportation to and from another site would be difficult.”

For decor, she recommends asking your venue about what it already has on hand and the cost to rent. Renting directly from your venue could be less expensive than buying new decorations or using a separate rental company. Also, make sure to focus on what guests will actually see rather than nitpicking every detail.

“You don’t need everything, so focus on the more essential items that will make a big difference in the look and comfort of your guests,” Collins says.

Lighting is an aspect that’s often forgotten but should be factored in, according to Kimberly Sisti, a wedding planner based in San Diego and the owner of Sisti & Co., a florist and wedding design company. One way to make some of your elements pop is to light them up.

“If anything, better lighting allows your flowers and decor to work harder for you,” Sisti says. “In a poorly lit space, all the most beautiful blooms in the world won’t matter because you can’t see them. Keep in mind that maybe spending more on lighting can help you save money on your florals by using less. When it comes to lighting, fewer flowers can look like way more.”

You may want to budget for:

  • Lighting
  • Table centerpieces
  • Ceremony arch
  • Bouquets
  • Corsages
  • Boutonnieres
  • Ceremony flower arrangements
  • Reception flower arrangements
  • Flower girl petals

Back to top

Photography and Videography

Whether you’re hosting a grand affair or a small gathering, capturing your celebration of love in photos and on film is likely a must-have. According to Mary Angelini, the owner of Key Moment Films, a wedding videography company based in Palm Beach, Florida, many factors play into the pricing for these professional services. In addition to the cost of living, doing business, expensive photography gear, and education, she says a big part of the quote is reserving time.

“Photographers and videographers are only able to shoot one event a day,” Angelini says. “Many limit how many events they do a weekend or in a season so that they can stay fresh mentally to do their best every wedding.”

She also notes that summer weddings are typically more expensive than dates in the middle of winter. Skill, too, is an essential factor: People with more experience or an award-winning portfolio will charge higher rates than others. And don’t forget about location — hiring a photographer and videographer in bigger cities will rack up the price, according to Angelini.

“You can find incredibly talented people in lower-cost areas who are much lower in cost than an equally skilled person in a large metropolitan area,” she says. “The difference can be three to five times more in a metropolitan area.”

While it’s tempting to bundle your photography and videography services, Angelini says you get what you pay for. These two professions are widely different, and you’ll receive better results when you hire separate vendors and shop around for the best rate.

“Ask other vendors who they recommend for photo and video in a price range of your budget,” she recommends. “The wedding industry is a close community, and we have all worked with one another. Use your vendors to help you discover a company that may not be as popular but equally as talented.”

What you may want to budget for:

  • Engagement photos
  • Wedding day photos
  • Ceremony and reception raw footage
  • Wedding album, prints, DVD, and/or video

Back to top

Music and Entertainment

If you aren’t picky about music and would rather save money, Chang says a DJ will always be more cost-effective than a band. With a live performance, you’ll be paying for the services of multiple people, plus there’s more equipment and setup involved.

“But if you have to have a live music element, consider hiring a duo or trio for the dinner portion in conjunction with your DJ,” she says.

You may want to budget for:

  • DJ
  • Live band
  • Tips for the musicians
  • Sound system
  • Microphone
  • Activities and games (e.g., photo booth, trivia)

Back to top

Wedding Favors and Gifts

Big-box stores like Costco are great places to find affordable wedding favors. For example, you could go with a simple DIY idea, like Mason jars filled with sweets. If you prefer a more personalized approach, there are hundreds of gift options on sites like Etsy — though handmade items will almost certainly be more expensive.

Before treating your guests, you’ll want to thank your wedding party. Many couples use the time before the ceremony — either at the rehearsal dinner or the morning of the wedding — to give gifts to the people who supported them every step of the way. These may be personalized handkerchiefs for parents, a framed photo for grandparents, or special accessories for the wedding party to wear. Your out-of-pocket costs will vary depending on what you buy, but Carlson says it’s in your best interest to shop early.

You may want to budget for:

  • Custom memorabilia, tasty treats, etc. for guests
  • Personalized gifts for the wedding party

Back to top


When it comes to transportation, one of the biggest cost-saving measures you can take is holding the reception at the same location as your ceremony — or at least on the same property, according to Jones. This cuts out the need for transportation and also eliminates unnecessary confusion among guests, creating a seamless experience from “I do” to bottoms-up.

If you end up having your reception at a different location, Chang says the best way to maximize your budget is to have fewer shuttles doing multiple runs. Be clear about when the provided transportation is coming and leaving — or, in other words, let your guests know that they’re on their own if they miss the bus.

“Shuttle vans or limos all have a minimum number of hours required, so instead of just using them for a one-way or two-way trip, use them for multiple groups or trips,” Chang says. “You can have one shuttle that takes your parents, then your wedding party, while another shuttle makes multiple trips for guests. The number of trips and shuttles will depend on the distance and guest count, but this can help save money.”

You may want to budget for:

  • Transportation to the ceremony
  • Transportation between the ceremony and reception
  • Parking fees
  • Valet services
  • Shuttle service for guests
  • Tips for the drivers and parking attendants

Back to top


While some couples want to send paper save-the-dates and wedding invitations, others choose to go digital for everything. As you can imagine, sending emails is far less expensive than purchasing cardstock, envelopes, and stamps.

Your stationery spend will be determined by factors like the design, cost of printing, and price of stamps, according to Chang. You also typically pay by the size of your order, so having a more extensive guest list will mean dedicating more dollars toward stationery. There are ways to save money on wedding invitations, however — like cutting back on the number of pieces involved.

“The fewer pieces or inserts needed, the lower the costs, which is particularly helpful with invites,” Chang says. “Simplifying the information or putting only the necessary items on your invites and then having the rest of the information and RSVPs on your website is a good way to reduce costs.”

You can also save money by bundling your announcements, according to Kelley Nudo, client manager for Momental Designs, a custom wedding stationery studio in Wyoming, Pennsylvania. She says you’ll likely receive a package deal if you agree to use the same company for save-the-dates, wedding invites, programs, and more.

You may want to budget for:

  • Postage
  • Save-the-date cards
  • Wedding invitations
  • RSVP cards and envelopes
  • Ceremony programs
  • Reception programs
  • Table numbers
  • Place cards
  • Menu cards
  • Guest book
  • Thank-you cards

Back to top


From a legal standpoint, your ceremony is the most essential part of your wedding.

However, beyond paying for your marriage license, you probably won’t spend too much to exchange vows. One big reason for this is the length of your ceremony, which will typically last anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, according to Chang. Additionally, whatever you use to decorate or set the overall theme for your reception can be used first for the ceremony.

“One way to help with costs is by reusing as much as you can,” Chang says. “If you can reuse the flowers and decor and chairs even, that means the money you spend for your ceremony will be doing double duty and can work for both your ceremony and reception.”

Another cost-effective tip is to pick a naturally beautiful spot, which means you won’t need much in terms of decorations and flowers.

You may want to budget for:

  • Site rental
  • Marriage license
  • Church donation or officiant fee, plus tip
  • Ring pillow

Back to top

The Bottom Line

Your wedding should be about joining lives with your forever person — not worrying about cutting corners with your budget at the last minute. By following our ultimate wedding budget checklist, you can make sure you’re covering almost every aspect of planning for your big day. These wedding planning tips will help you stay sane, on track, and excited for this special moment with your soon-to-be spouse.

Back to top