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Why most wedding budget tools are incorrect | Wedding MBA

It really bothers me when I see all these sites that present your budget using a percentage-based calculation system. For example, the WeddingWire wedding budget has you enter your entire wedding budget and then tells you how much you should be spending in every category, based on the belief that your venue should be 50% of your budget, or that your photographer should be 10%.

Some of these things are not accurate because it doesn’t account that some wedding items don’t depend on how big or small your wedding is. Speaking personally as a photographer, I don’t change my pricing just because you have a 40-person wedding versus a 150-person wedding, it’s about the same amount of work. A wedding planner isn’t necessarily going to discount for planning a small wedding versus a large one, they still have to meet with you, go with you to venue visits, and be there on the day of. However, other things DO depend on how big your wedding is. Your venue/catering is a huge cost, as it’s driven by the number of people you plan on inviting. This is why the #1 way to cut down wedding costs is to invite fewer people (but I know for a lot of people this probably isn’t the option). This is why I love the blog Intimate Weddings. It’s one of the most practical blogs out there when it comes to not breaking the bank on a wedding.

If you are using a percentage-based budget calculation system, you can easily underbudget or overbudget for some items. The number one money-related regret I hear (again, I know I’m biased) is that people did not spend enough on photography, followed by not hiring a videographer.

I’m kicking off a series of posts in wedding finances, called the Wedding MBA. The intent is to give you a smart, practical viewpoint on wedding planning and wedding financing. My first suggestion is to create a budget that has fixed and variable inputs. I’ve taken some of the most common wedding items and laid it out in fixed or variable terms. See the screenshot of my Excel sheet below:

I’m going to go through this line by line. What do I mean by fixed vs. variable? Fixed means – this is a cost that isn’t calculated as % of your budget, because this item typically comes at a market cost irrespective of your guest count. Variable means that this is a guest count-dependent item.

Reception  – Most items in your reception budget will be variable based on the # of guests you have. More guests = more food, more plates and cups to wash, bigger room, more bartenders and servers, a bigger cake, and more tables which translates to more linen and chair and rental pieces. People typically experience wedding price sticker shock when they go venue shopping, and granted, there are some venues that I think charge more unnecessary fees than others, but cold hard truth, this is where most of your money is going to go.

Attire and beauty  – Attire is one great place where I think people don’t need to overspend if they don’t have to. Set a budget for how much you’d like to spend on attire and stick to it. If you don’t find a dress you love, try buying something used on something like PreOwnedWeddingDresses.com. You can also sell your dress afterwards. Or you can choose have your dress made in China. Hair and makeup is variable – if you decide to have your bridesmaids + moms included in hair and makeup, then the cost will depend on how many people you tack on

Ceremony rental – Ceremony rental prices are typically set by the venue

Flower & decor  – The more people in your bridal party, the more flowers will cost. The more tables you need to have centerpieces for, the more you want to decorate your ceremony aisle, that’s more floral and decor costs. I love flowers / decor and they make a huge difference in photography, I disagree when people say that a venue will look lovely with no dressing up, it’s not entirely true. Flowers add that crucial POP of color to a lot of my photography. Flower and decor costs are variable based on materials, so you can try to use more in-season items or even, non-floral pieces. The service markeup on florals + decor will be more fixed – your florist/designer’s time is worth the same whether they’re making a bouquet out of peonies or a bouquet out of weeds (ok, I kid a little on weeds part). That being said, there are some practical non-floral decor ideas that can make your wedding look like a million dollars. Fruit. Paper garlands. Balloons. Check out my “Modern Wedding” board on Pinterest for more ideas

Photography, music, videography, planner/coordinator – These costs are mainly fixed. For some photographers you can negotiate for less time especially if you’re not on a Saturday (not with me – the Shang Chen Photography experience comes with standard full coverage on the wedding day), for DJs you can have them for fewer hours, you can hire smaller bands. However, at the end of the day, as I’ve explained before, most of the costs for these vendors are fixed – they very much fall under the “you get what you pay for” category

Wedding rings  – I’ve never shopped for rings in my life, but again, your wedding ring won’t depend on guest count. Let’s move on

Transportation and lodging – This item is a bit mixed. If we’re talking about providing lodging or transportation for people other than the bride & groom, it’ll add up

Gifts – Gifts are hugely variable, and my clients have found very creative ways to keep this practical. Many people are opting for candy buffets or photobooths in lieu of traditional favors placed on the table.

Taxes – You can’t avoid taxes, sorry, and if your vendors aren’t charging tax for certain items, you should be suspicious especially in the state of MA (there are exceptions, but know that wedding photography in MA is taxed for SURE). Take your ENTIRE wedding budget and either slap your local tax rate on top, OR divide it by 1 + tax rate. A $60,000 budget in MA assuming a 6.025% tax rate will actually be $63,750 after tax, or you should be looking at $56,470 before tax

Tips – Leave a little room for tips, especially for service professionals such as your hair&makeup, bartenders, delivery people, photog/videography assistants

Other items and overflow – Don’t fully lay out your budget so tightly that you don’t have overflow. Overflow and budget-busting items and emergencies will happen.

As a rule of thumb, take your expectations for how much something should cost, and multiply it by two. I’m not saying this to give you a heart attack, but it is what I’ve heard from many of the people who I chat with when they go through wedding planning. Part of the reason is because you’re expecting a high-touch, highly personalized service where you demand perfection – florists often have to chuck half the flowers they order to create the perfect bridal bouquet. However, what you’ve seen most of your life as a proxy (bouquet prices from supermarkets, food costs at a restaurant, a drink from a bar) come from businesses that count on high turnover and last minute inventory to have lower prices. They’re not the same.

There are going to be two pieces of advice I will be repeating often through Wedding MBA. 1) Hire a wedding planner. 2) Don’t regret your photographer choice. A smart wedding MBA invests their money where there is the greatest return, and these two things provide you with a return whereas a lot of other things do not. You’ll hear this from me often. I’ll explain why in later posts.

Did you enjoy this post? Next up on the blog will be how to use this Excel tool to set your budget and expectations.

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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 9, 2012 - 1:49 am

Sunire Great!

February 9, 2012 - 12:53 pm

Kelly Dillon Great Post Shang! It’s so true!

February 9, 2012 - 7:35 pm

Margaret Anderson I love how you break down the wedding costs line by line in an Excel sheet and classify them as fixed or variable. So many people go totally insane planning weddings and it just doesn’t need to be that way. Good of you to provide such a sensible perspective.

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