The Wedding Budget: Expectations vs Reality by Vendor

wedding budget by vendor blog header

When it comes to creating a wedding budget for your clients, or even an example wedding budget to give them an idea, there are certain questions to ask. “How much money do you have?”

It may seem tacky to ask outright, but it’s the first in a long list of steps to take when getting everything they need for their big day.

On average, weddings in 2021 are costing $20,300. While that sounds like a lot of money to most people, as a wedding planner you know it really matters what couples spend it on.

Managing expectations can be hard, but by breaking down a wedding budget by category, you can alleviate worries and give reality checks at the same time.

Wedding budget statistics by Statista
Just like with your clients, wedding budget statistics truly depend on who you ask. Here are the numbers from pre-pandemic weddings in the USA, gathered by Statista.

Wedding Budget Big 3: Venue, Catering, and Photos

While there can be a number of big ticket items when it comes to a wedding, there are always three particular things that always top the list. The venue, what people are eating, and all those Kodak moments don’t come cheap.

Even with smaller weddings, these are still the largest expenses. So when it comes to setting a wedding budget for your client, make sure these have the largest allocation of funds. No one wants to be told they can’t get married at that perfect gazebo by the river because they spent too much money on a trendy balloon centerpiece.

The Venue

Depending on the type of wedding your clients are having, this could cost nothing or an enormous sum. It really boils down to what the couple wants and how important where they are getting married is.

Destination weddings, while traditionally cheaper, can cost big in this category if you have to include things like airfare and hotel room blocks. A small micro wedding may be in someone’s backyard and cost absolutely nothing, while a glamorous ballroom at the Ritz is going to stretch anyone’s wallet.

Tell your clients they can expect to spend anywhere from 5 to 10 percent of their budget on their venue. If you know they are prone to extravagance, they should know that number will be higher.

Food and Drink

On average costing a whopping 38 percent of a client’s budget, booking the food and drink for guests is easily the biggest budget buster when it comes to weddings. 

There are, generally speaking, two avenues to take when it comes to catering: Clients can choose a by-the-plate option for a traditional sit-down dinner, or they can go with a buffet. The latter tends to be a little cheaper but will still be focused on exactly how many people are coming.

Open bars are much more expensive than having a bar that only has wine and beer. Bars where guests are expected to pay for everything can save a lot of money for the couple but may cause some discontent amongst their friends and family. However, this may be a priority for some couples. Make sure they know of their options. 

Some venues allow BYOB, or bring your own booze. It could be a huge budget saver to have a venue with this, as the cost of alcohol will purely be what the clients buy rather than having to meet a minimum or an inflated bottle price.


There are lots of hacks and unsavory tricks out there now about low-balling wedding photographers. Obviously this isn’t something you should condone as a wedding planner. You should be frank with your clients about the actual cost of having your wedding memories recorded.

Photography will cost between five and 12 percent of the total budget. The price disparity depends on how long they will want the photographer there. Also, if video is included, and whether they want both candid and posed pictures.

Make sure your couples don’t skimp on the photographer—after all, they will be the one preserving important memories.

Average Wedding Budget for Decoration and Entertainment

When it comes to wedding budgets, a lot of things can be in flux. Some clients may be much more into flowers than others. Some may be in desperate need of a live band rather than a DJ. 

This is why making multiple example wedding budgets is a great idea. It’ll not only make your life easier but also give your clients peace of mind that you know what you’re talking about. 

Now let’s talk about florals.

Flowers and Bouquets

Roughly four to seven percent of a client’s budget will go toward the perfect bouquet, centerpieces, and flower petals for the Flower Girl.

A lot of different flowers are en vogue right now, so if a couple wants popular flowers, that may boost the price a touch.

Flower arrangements can be pricey depending on the complexity, height, and type of flowers used. When clients are deciding, give them a few options of florals to choose from with a wide range of costs.

A DJ or a Live Band?

Photobooth sign, in a cup of candy at a wedding
While not required, if your clients want a photobooth and other entertainment, you’ll need to budget for you.

Couples tend to argue about this one a lot, but there is a difference when it comes to cost. A DJ is going to cost less overall, with around five percent of the total budget going to pay for music and dancing all night long.

Live bands can add class, atmosphere, and a whole new dynamic to weddings. They also leave a large dent in one’s wallet. If your clients want a jazz quartet or a rock band at their reception, make sure they budget more money for it.

Party Favors, Photo Booths, and Games 

Not every guest goes to a wedding and expects a party bag to take home filled with favors, keepsakes, and who knows what else. If you couple seems like the type who will want a photo booth with tons of hats and fake mustaches, make sure they budget around three percent to secure that desire.

DIY photo booths with a blank sheet, an iPad, and some bright lights with cardboard cutouts is a great way to save money on this expense. Board games could be a popular reception activity for friend groups who aren’t so much into dancing, and don’t have to cost an arm and a leg either.

The Dress, the Rings, and the Honeymoon: What Costs More?

Depending on a couple’s taste, the accoutrement and post-wedding adventures can differ widely. However, when speaking in averages, what the couple is wearing, what they’re using to symbolize their marriage, and where they’re going afterwards will tally up to 12-17% of the total wedding budget.

Here Comes the Bride

The average cost of a wedding dress in 2021 is $1,631. It will likely be the most expensive piece of clothing in a bride’s lifetime.

Some brides are going to want their dream dress no matter the price tag, while others may use a hand-me-down from their grandmother. On average, a bride should expect five percent of the wedding budget to go toward the purchase of the dress.

Hair and make-up also falls into this category. Based on how many people the artists will be attending, make sure at least two percent is allocated for making everyone look their best.

Do You Have the Rings?

Silver wedding bands laying on a large pink flower
The old rules around a budget for rings are out the window.

Like most speciality items related to weddings, the rings don’t come cheap. Your clients should expect to spend three to five percent of their budget on the rings alone. Remember, the more elaborate or higher quality they are, the more it is going to cost.

Many couples are opting for simpler rings or additions to the engagement ring, which can come in a bit less. Some are even getting crafty with DIY wedding rings, which can really make this cost negligible in the grand scheme of wedding budget planning.

Honeymoon Time

Overall, more money will be spent on the wedding than the honeymoon. But even at five to ten percent of the budget, the honeymoon is a pretty hefty bill in itself. Mostly it will depend on where the couple is going, what they are doing, what kind of accommodations they want, and how long they are escaping the world.

Weddings are a celebration of love, but they are a party for other people, too. The honeymoon is just for the couple, so if your clients want to put more money there, we really can’t blame them.

Don’t Forget the Wedding Planner

When it comes to helping your clients with their budget, don’t forget to include yourself in the mix. On average, wedding planner’s take up four percent of the budget. Based on where you are located, how many services you are providing, and the overall budget, this could change one way or the other.

The important thing to remember is to not short change yourself. After all, they came to you for a reason. Your expertise on planning all things wedding-related is an important service in itself, and you want to be fairly compensated for your skill set and time.

This also goes for staff and vendors. Tips are still expected on top of what has already been paid, so at least 1% of the budget should be saved for that.

One Rule for the Wedding Budget… There Will Always Be Something Else

When you are putting together a wedding budget with clients, make sure they have a buffer for other things. Transportation perhaps? Or a last-minute idea for an officiant. A good buffer of two percent will put your clients in a safe space when it comes to their wedding.

Example wedding budgets are a very helpful tool, and you might find yourself saving some real ones to use as future examples to clients on the best way to use their money.

Annette Corrie

Annette Corrie

Our ‘Certificate of Professional Wedding Planning Course’ is here to help you through the process, by providing a step-by-step guide to getting started and becoming successful in your new career. This course will help you gain the skills, knowledge, and confidence you need to oversee all the details of a wedding. This course will help you prepare a successful and magnificent event!

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Annette Corrie

Course Director

Our ‘Certificate of Professional Wedding Planning Course’ is here to help you through the process, by providing a step-by-step guide to getting started and becoming successful in your new career. This course will help you gain the skills, knowledge, and confidence you need to oversee all the details of a wedding. This course will help you prepare a successful and magnificent event!

Annette Corrie

Get Started



Certificate of Professional Wedding Planning Course’

This course will help you gain the skills, knowledge, and confidence you need to oversee all the details of a wedding. This course will help you prepare for a successful and magnificent event!