A Budget CheatSheet for Newbie Brides


May I be the 30th person to congratulate you on your engagement. Welcome to Wedding World! Many of us have to stick to the bottom line when it comes to planning our weddings. So, here are some very short answers to your burning budget bridal questions:

1. How much is my wedding and reception going to be?

Set aside half your budget. It’s one reason why you should find your venue and caterer before you find anything else.

2. Can I shop for my dress even though I haven’t found my wedding venue, yet?

Like I could stop you. Remember that half of your budget is already gone, please. And then grab your friends and a strapless bra and have fun.

3. What’s the best way to save money on my reception?

In order: A.) Lower your guest count B.) choose a less expensive venue/caterer  C.) Limit the bar, either by type of alcohol or by length of time. You don’t have to do all of them, but any of these will help.

4. What’s the #1 thing that might bite me in the butt when I’m booking my reception site?

Tax and service. Tax here in L.A. is 10% + service is 20% =30%. 100 guests @ $50/pp = $5,000, tax & service = $1500 extra. What is it where you are? Have your potential site write a proposal so you can see the full cost in print.

5. Is DIY’ing my wedding going to save more money?

Yup. But the trade-off is the time it’s going to take to do it. And don’t let the learning curve frustrate you. The pay-off is going to make you feel like a rock star, though.

6. Invitations?

Save yourself some paper and twice the stamps and have your guests RSVP online. Or go with e-vites, if you’re feeling bold.

7. Flowers?

Stick with flowers that are in season. If you have your heart set on something that’s not, ask how you can make any arrangement less expensive.

8. Cake?

There is always leftover cake. Always. You can get a smaller cake, and then back it up with a sheet cake. But there will still be leftover cake.

9. DJ vs. iPod?

The iPod is less expensive, obviously, but needs a lot of  monitoring. The DJ can play the music and direct the party, which makes them worth the cost. My recommendation is to get a DJ you can afford.

10. Photography?

One of the only things, aside from your spouse, that you’re taking away from your wedding. You don’t have to splurge, but you will regret skimping. Go for quality, whatever your price point is. After looking around, you’ll recognize it when you see it.

11. What’s your best advice on sticking to my budget?

Simple: Stick to your budget. It’s just that easy, and just that hard. If you can’t afford it, walk away. Something you can afford and will love is out there. Don’t give up until you find it or find out how to do it. Giving up is stupid. Ask as many questions as you can until you get the answers you need. Don’t give yourself too hard a time if you splurge on something, you can figure out how to save someplace else. Just don’t make it a habit. :-)

Do you have anything to add to my advice, or more budget questions? And, seriously, what is tax and service coming out to where you live? Let me know in the comments below.

See you at the end of the aisle,





Liz Coopersmith is the owner of Silver Charm Events, a wedding planning service in Los Angeles. She's also a regular contributor to the Huffington Post and the author of "DIY Your DOC: Do-it Yourself Wedding Day Coordination." Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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  • Danielle

    Ugh. Online RSVPs and Evites for weddings are so tacky! That makes your website lose credibility. Go to Michaels or Target and get a cheap invitation set you can print yourself. Use postcards for RSVP cards instead of envelopes to save money on stamps.

    • lizcharm

      I know, but it's still more money that you're spending on stamps, and another piece of paper that you're going to have to keep track of. if you don't mind, it doesn't matter, but it's good to have options. I've also had trouble with postcards getting lost in the mail and arriving AFTER the wedding. No lie.

    • http://halfpintwords.wordpress.com halfpint1011

      We did online RSVPs and people appreciated not having to go to the mail box and being able to respond right when they got the invitation. Plus it's greener.

    • http://www.figuringoutlifeblog.blogspot.com Hannah

      We did online RSVPs and no one seemed to mind. The only problem we ran into is the "older crowd" not understanding the instructions. I also have some family in pretty remote areas who aren't as "wired" so to say. So, in our invite we also included a phone number that people could call. Since I never use my home phone for anything but telemarketers, I changed the message on my answering machine and told people to leave the wedding information as a message.

      However, I do agree that the postcard idea is create for saving on postage – we did them for our save-the-dates (you can see them here if anyone likes: http://www.figuringoutlifeblog.blogspot.com/2011/…. The only issue we ran into is that the post office in our town made us purchase 100 postcard stamps rather than the amount we needed because they sold them by the roll. So our bills for a while had 2 postcard stamps on them just so we could get rid of them. Seemed like a waste of money at that point to put 56 cents worth of stamps on something that only required 44 cents. But it was cheaper in the long run :)

  • prettymindy

    The tax and service charges is the one thing that is murdering me slowly about this wedding. We set our goal budget at 30% under what we actually could pay, to allow a cushion for all those hidden charges. (BTW, you have 2 #3s on your list.) :-)

    • lizcharm

      Thanks for the catch. Typos will one day be the death of me.
      Smart move via tax and service. Setting your expectations is at least 70% of the game.

  • Beckster

    #10 addition. Keep reading Broke Ass Bride.com! Chock full O tips and reality checks.

  • chicago

    In most medium to large sized cities the in-season-ness of flowers is not really important. Sure there are varities that are harder to grown during some times of the year, or not as big and beautiful as others, but for the most part everything is grown all around the wold and nothing is grown in your florist's back lot.

  • http://twitter.com/angelashelton @angelashelton

    We are sending a Save the Date email on Pingg and then an old school Farmer's Almanac we are designing to match our country wedding, complete with all kinds of "farmer" aka wedding info. Many family members and local businesses are placing ads in it to contribute to costs too.

  • http://www.figuringoutlifeblog.blogspot.com Hannah

    Another tip would be to try and find a venue that doesn't restrict who you use for catering. When we were searching we had found many venues that were well within our price range (we were trying to stay under $2000 and as close to $1000 as possible) but they insisted that we HAD to use their contracted caterers. The cheapest caterer/plate was $28 a pop and when you have a wedding with 120 guests and a budget of only $10,000 (for both the wedding & honeymoon) that's nearly 1/3 of the budget just on food.

    Also, search around for people willing to cater. Some of your favorite restaurants cater for much less than the standard wedding caterer. We ended up going the cheap route and ordering a bunch of pasta/breadsticks from Pizza Hut and our families made the salads to go along with it. But you could also go with places like Boston Market or any of the Darden restaurants. Just look around :)

  • Lis

    It’s second time around for both of us and we’ve realised the pomp and ceremony aren’t us. It’s a celebration of love not a performance!

    So with our family and friends scattered across the world we’re meeting in the middle and having our beach wedding in Asia. It’s far cheaper than an Australian wedding and we’ll already be in our honeymoon location. We ran the cacls and out of town guests are saving stacks on not paying for Sydney accommodation and having cheaper flights.

    We used a ‘wedsite’ to communicate info about the wedding and it’s got stacks of island and accommodation info. There’s just too much info needed for overseas weddings to work in hard copy. Once we had that it seemed pointless to send invitations. Everyone has the info and I’d rather spend money on my guests experience when they’re there than a redundant piece of paper.

    Massive bridal parties aren’t us either, a maid of honour and best man who can wear whatever they want instead thanks.

    Reception venue that lets you bring your own alcohol and take home what’s left? And beer only costs 50 cents. Yes please!

    So far an Asian wedding is saving a lot of money and we gave 2.5 years notice for guests to plan a holiday around it and pick up cheap fares. Can’t wait!

  • Jessica

    Chicago tax is 10.25% for everything except food. Food is 11 effing percent. And almost none of these places are going to let us order Chicago deep dish pizza (all of our guests are out-of-towners we want to introduce to the delicious trend). Some of them say that their caterer can make deep dish pizza, but still at $103pp. No spank you.

  • http://www.brilliance.com Steph

    You miss the wedding ring.. any tips on that? though i know there are lots of online sites offering cheap yet elegant rings like http://www.brilliance.com …. but still hesitant to purchase online. You can also check their marriage proposal guide for engagement. http://www.brilliance.com/engagement-rings/marria

    • Jessica

      We can't afford the ones we really want, so we're leaving out the rings all together, and getting them on our 10 year anniversary. (I got him an engagement ring too, so he's got something to wear)

    • lizcharm

      We got a vintage ring set from a jeweler for me, and I had Zane's ring made for like, $200. In Los Angeles. Google "vintage jewelry" in your city.

    • http://www.figuringoutlifeblog.blogspot.com Hannah

      Another option is to check out your local department stores to see if they offer a cheaper version of what you're looking for. For example, my husband wanted a tungsten carbide ring. But at the big name jewelry, it cost a minimum of $300. And once we found out that those particular rings can never be resized and if they fall on certain types of tile floors it could shatter, we didn't want to spend that kind of money on that sort of risk. So we looked around and found an identical ring at JC Penneys for only $60 on sale. Granted, it didn't come with a service plan or anything, but those types of rings don't come with service plans at the big name stores either.

  • sandy

    Has anyone ordered a wedding dress from weddingdressesebay.com?…is it for real?

  • http://iwantweddingchampagne.blogspot.com/ iwantweddinchampgne

    Great advice! Short and sweet and to the point :) The tax and services fees are killer here in NY too 😛

  • http://Www.allbridalstore.com Cris

    I agree about the photography, don't skimp on it, those are your memories.

    • Ashley

      Look at colleges in the area because those people will be out in the workforce soon. Look at what they have done for school. You may be able to get off with experience and references to future employers/customers or very cheap.

  • lizcharm

    @Ashely, a caveat I would add is that you should also compare their work to other professional photographers, who are already in the industry. Get a good grasp on the type of style you like, before you go looking for a "cheaper" photographer.

  • Bonnie

    Cut your guest list!!! We found a caterer for $25.50 a head, but with the 20% tip, the 2,500 labor charge, and 10.5% tax, it pretty much doubled. We're having 225, and our bill is about $10K. YIKES.

    We got a cheap venue, reasonable photographer, my Mom is making my dress, we're doing cheap linens, cheap chairs, our own flowers, our own stationary, our own cake….and we're still over $20K. I don't know what else we could possibly do to save money, so all I can say is cut down that guest list!!!

  • Anna

    The venue I'm looking at has 6% tax and 22% gratuity so 28% total on top of all food and alcohol. I'm looking into offering my video services to create a commercial or video tour for their site in exchange for a discount on my bill. Hopefully they'll be open to the idea *fingers crossed*

  • Mallory D

    Great list! I think there is a lot of stigma around the Evite/online invites, but in today's super connected society you can get away with online and still be creative/sentimental. For example, I just came across a really cute Save the Date video a couple posted on Vimeo, fun Facebook themed cookies for an engagement party (so why not have a Facebook event or group page for a portion of the event?). Plus in all honesty, as much as we all spend time finding the perfect Save the Dates and Invites, most of our friends and family will likely be throwing them away shortly after the wedding if not before. Maybe try going traditional on the invites, but be creative with your other announcements!

  • http://wedding-resort.com/ Elena

    Wow! Getting married is really expensive. I guess no matter how simple you plan your wedding to be, it will still cost you. I think the biggest factor truly is the guest list. Of course this is some thing you don't want to skimp since you both want your loved ones with you on this special day. The best solution, save up more for your wedding or get some sponsors who can help shoulder some of the bills.

  • http://www.mens-wedding-rings.com/ Carrie Maciel

    So to really save on your wedding, focus on getting the best deals when it comes to the venue and reception. That's why it's better to prepare ahead so you don't do hasty decisions, thus expensive choices.

  • http://www.crawfordjewellers.ca/ Jona Dela Vera

    One of the best thing to do to save money, list down all the important guest for your wedding,if you can borrow a gown … do it 😀 then use some good quality paper for invitations but still work on a cheap price.