How to Make a Wedding Budget as A Broke Millennial

Making a wedding budget was the very first thing Sierra did after she and Steve got engaged in January 2015. Initially, they talked about traveling to an island and getting married with a handful of family and friends in attendance. As her mother, I REALLY wanted to her to have a wedding but also wanted to respect their wishes. In this post, she describes her process for making the wedding budget.

How did you establish your wedding budget?

HA! I made the mistake every bride makes, and assumed it was way cheaper than it actually is. I am practical and didn’t want lace and beading or swans and ice sculptures. Somehow, I thought I was going to solve the problem that all low budget, buried-in-student-debt, newly engaged gals think they can solve. Saving $10,000 in 18 months seemed a reasonable goal.  I wanted to figure out if I could even afford to have a wedding and reception before getting attached to the idea. I am that typical millennial who doesn’t need a traditional wedding and really thought that a backyard BBQ or a more casual reception would solve all of my problems. Unfortunately, I don’t have a backyard, so I figured I would rent one.

After crunching numbers for renting a house in the country, catering, tables, chairs, linens, booze, and decorations, I realized that a simple backyard BBQ was way too expensive. I also considered the cost of my time for set up and clean up because I always put a price on my time. It also felt like we were settling. We considered the cost of eloping, which was actually pretty low if you don’t love to party with your friends and family as much as we do. Regardless of ceremony location, Steve wanted to have a party when we returned. That brought us back to that initial number crunch PLUS the cost of travel and ceremony somewhere else. We realized that weddings don’t cost a dime unless you want them to; it’s the celebrating that is pricey.

How does a broke Millennial afford a wedding reception? 

Finally, I researched the cost per person at restaurants/venues in our area for an event, which was roughly $80 average per person. Don’t rely on estimated costs online because they are a farce. I estimated 150 people, multiplied it by $80 and added $3,000. Viola – $15,000! Thanks to my-oh-so-generous and fabulous mother who agreed to give us $5,000, I could now afford a reception. Mind you, I say reception because remember, the ceremony can be free. It had also become clear that I couldn’t afford a rehearsal dinner, engagement party, or any of that extra stuff that have become the norm.

What wedding budget tools did you use? 

I soon realized that $3,000 was not enough for the items that were beyond the cost of the reception. I created an account at WeddingWire, so I could use their planning tools. WeddingWire was my rock through this whole process. The wedding budget feature allows you to enter some basic details including estimated budget and location, and it automatically generates a budget for you. It lays out ALL of the items that will cost money, from the obvious items, like the dress, to the minutiae, like stamps on the Save-the-Date cards and the groom’s shoes. Plus, everything can be edited and changed to meet your particular needs! That is when I got more realistic with my budget. I allowed it to jump up to a more manageable $17,000 (thanks, Dad), and I started removing anything I didn’t need. I also prioritized where I was spending money.

How did you prioritize your spending?

Music and alcohol were really important to us, so we budgeted more for those items than the suggested amount. Then, we changed our entrees from steak to chicken, and we got real about our guest list and decorations. The funny thing about weddings is that everything has a base price, and is completely customizable! It sounds great, but customization essentially translates to expense. For example, the woman who helped me with dresses put me in a blank slate of a gown. She then told me I can add sleeves, sashes, details, and a veil. Each of those additions would have cost at least $100. Don’t even get me started on alterations.

How did you finally choose a venue? 

Some venues are similar money pits. A buffet costs $85 a person. Oh, did you want passed hor’deurves? That’s another $500. How about a champagne toast? That will be $8 per guest. You want your ceremony here? That will be $500 for the ceremony and $5 per person for chairs. It goes on and on and on. Many venues have basic banquet rooms that need a ton of decorations, lighting, and rentals  to make your day look just like your dream, so there is another giant expense.

The  venue we ultimately chose was actually a HUGE savings for us. In addition to yummy food (if we were going to have chicken, it was going to be delicious chicken), the venue we chose was beautiful, warm and inviting without any of the extras. It also didn’t offer extras in general. There was no charge for doing the ceremony there, and rather than a total per person cost, everything would be billed separately. On our wedding day, we will essentially be taking 130 people out for dinner, which is cheaper than the per person cost offered by many venues. While the numbers and the unknown costs were a little daunting at first, I budgeted more than I think it will cost.

Photo Credit: Eyedesignstudios