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The budget buster: the wedding guest | Wedding MBA

I’ve tried to make this post non-technical, but we’re talking numbers, so it is going to get technical. If you ever get lost, the best thing to do is to try to reproduce my Excel from scratch and you’ll see how it came about.

(photo of me shooting a wedding, by Amie Fedora Photography)

Let’s create a wedding budget for a $60K wedding for 100 people and 4 bridesmaids and 4 groomsmen. I pulled $60K as an assumption because you can have a wedding of that size with that budget in downtown Boston, at a pretty nice venue, with your pick of some of the better high-end vendors, but don’t get tied to this number! Don’t have a heart attack, don’t bite my head off, most people in Boston do with a lot less, but weddings are expensive especially in an expensive city like Boston, and I just picked a big number to show the power of variable pricing. (Those people who brag about $5K weddings for 100 people? Check to see if any of them were held in downtown Boston – most likely it was in some barn in the middle of nowhere – which is nice, but again, most of my audience lives in cities, and a city budget unfortunately will have to be in the tens of thousands). And some of my numbers are likely wrong, so, think about the principle of how I’m doing things. Remember, unless you’re a wedding planner or unless you work in the wedding industry, when you first put together a wedding budget, you don’t know these prices either! A lot of your wedding planning time will be spent in researching your options

1. Put down your fixed costs FIRST. This is because couples often overspend on the venue and then leave too little room for the other stuff that was supposed to be important but don’t depend on guest count. Fixed costs are harder to negotiate, that’s why you have to know what they are. These will be different based on where you’re located and how much things typically go for.

I’ve plugged in fixed costs based on the following assumptions:

– You’re going to hire me or someone like me as your photographer in the year 2012. (There are plenty of awesome photogs for a little less, I’m just saying, you want me, right? :D)
– All of the major vendors you are hiring are full-time professionals with great reputations, backup and insurance (we’ll talk about using part-time and friendors in a future post)
– You are hiring a full-service wedding planner. Most couples who are working median full-time jobs should be getting a wedding planner and I’ll explain again in a future post as to why it economically works out and gives you more bang for your buck
– Though venue rental is a fixed item, let’s leave that out for now because I want to include that into the venue item

2. Add in variable costs and multiply by the guest count or wedding party count, depending on the item. Again, I’m simply plugging in numbers that I think are representative of a $60K wedding in Boston, MA

– Catering costs are a lot more complicated than the way I’m displaying them. Often, venues can and will slap on 15% service fees and 7% admin fees, so again, I’m just assuming an all-in cost at this point, but when you actually do your venue research, read carefully for all those extra costs, they are annoying and add up (which is why I think venue pricing can get pretty absurd after a certain point). Some venues include rentals, others don’t, so I threw in another $15 on top just as a start (chiavari chairs alone often cost $6 – $7 to rent)
– I assumed that the couple would pay for hair and makeup for the 4 bridesmaids. (This doesn’t always happen, it’s a nice gift)
– My venue rental might be low. I’m assuming you’re using the same room for ceremony and reception
– For florals, I assumed a $115 bridesmaid bouquet and a $10 bout, and multiplied by a wedding party of 8. I assumed a couple of altar arrangements totaling $500. I assumed that you’ll add about 10 more bouts for other familiy members. I assumed that your tables will seat 10 each with $200 centerpieces
– For stationery and paper, I went on WeddingPaperDivas and priced out some midrange options
– I’m not as clear on costs like favors, gifts, or transportation and lodging costs, so I put in wild estimates, don’t take them at face value
– I plugged in a $6,000 overflow item. You could set it to $0 if you’d like, but you need breathing room in your budget

Now we’re at around a ~$60,000 budget. Keep breathing

The Excel works in that if you change the guest count on the top cell, it will feed through the model and you can see how your total budget will change.

3. Now it’s time to prioritize. Ask yourself, your spouse-to-be, and people who are paying for the wedding how much you can afford for the wedding (a function of your existing savings rate, your willingness to save going forward, and amount of time you have for wedding planning). Count up the people you definitely want at the wedding (don’t forget about +1s – those add up!) and ask yourself how big you want the wedding to be. Then each of you – pick your top 2 or 3 considerations. For many people at this stage, after they’ve priced out their dream venues, unless they’re made of money, they’ll realize that there are things they cannot afford.

People usually start by cutting the small stuff that don’t fall on the top priority list. For example, let’s take out the ceremony decor, decrease emergency bump to $3000, move rings down to $1000, change favors to $4 per person. Okay, that’s $5,000 back in your pocket.

$5,000 is no chump change, and these will be little changes you have to do down the road to adjust your budget, but remember how many variables there are in your costs? You will have the most power by changing your variable costs.

4. Make big changes. Let’s say you plan a wedding outside of the city of Boston – there are SO many beautiful outdoor venues, in fact, these are probably some of my favorite places to photograph. You can probably expect your food and service costs to come down by $50. Maybe your venue is made for weddings and table and chair rentals are included. Then let’s invite 80 people (10 fewer couples). Boom, that’s $10K saved. Combine that with cutting back on some non-priority things that I mentioned above, and you just saved yourself $15K and now, you’re a $45K wedding.

There is no right or wrong wedding budget. Your budget is how much you’re willing to spend. The point of this post was to show you the power of how much wedding guests and venue/food/drink costs control your wedding budget. You should plan a wedding keeping in mind your own affordability and preferences. The bottom line is, you will have to adjust your tastes accordingly. If you can’t cut the number of guests due to certain expectations, then you should either save and wait another year to have your wedding, or maybe understand that there are a lot of things you will need to cut back on. Having an Excel sheet like this with you will help you easily visualize what the relative impact items have on your budget.

The next post: How to prioritize and justify fixed budget vendors.



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Shang Chen Photography has rebranded to Saavedra Photography
she takes photographs of celebrations of love and life
Based in NYC | Open for select photography commissions on Sundays only

February 10, 2012 - 1:29 pm

Mikhail Glabets Wonderfully said, Shang! Great article!

February 10, 2012 - 3:58 pm

Kendra Gosh I love you, Shang Chen.

February 13, 2012 - 4:00 am

los angeles wedding photographer Great info once again. I am looking forward for your next post!

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