How to Set (and Stick to!) Your Wedding Budget

Meg Keene, the brains behind A Practical Wedding, shares her stay-sane spending tips.

bride and groom cake topper with money
Photo Credit: iStock

Bridal Guide: What inspired you to launch your site — and later, write a book? 
Meg Keene: It sounds like a myth now, but I really did come home crying in the early days of my own wedding planning. I just wasn’t sure we could pull off a wedding that matched our values and budget. My now-husband had started a political blog he called “Practical Progress,” so he suggested I start a blog and call it “A Practical Wedding.” And the rest, as they say, is history.

BG: Determining a realistic budget: where should you start? 
MK: You have to figure out what you can afford to spend and who you need to invite, and then figure out what it would cost to feed them. You should start with exactly as much as you can afford, and make it work. Many lovely weddings have been had at a courthouse with cake! There is no reason to go into debt.

BG: What are some of your go-to cost-cutting strategies? 
MK: Get back to basics. If you keep in mind that a wedding is just the day you say vows to the person you love, and have a party afterwards, then everything becomes much simpler. Different cost-cutting strategies work for different people, but non-traditional venues and receptions where you don’t serve dinner are a great place to start.

BG: How do you advise a couple to stay on track?
MK: Keep asking yourself, “If I were not throwing a wedding, would this seem reasonable?” If you don’t wear $500 shoes in your day-to-day life, maybe you should take a pass on those pricey peep-toe pumps.

BG: Your thoughts on wedding planners?
MK: Whether you have a planner or not, you shouldn't be the person in charge on your wedding day. Give that responsibility to a friend or someone you hire. A wedding planner can, in theory, make the planning process easier and save you tons of money. So if you can throw money at a problem (here, the stress of wedding planning), and make it go away, I say do it.

BG: What do your readers stress over?
MK: The stress over having a wedding that’s indie and different, which can be just as consuming as the pressures to have a more traditional wedding. You have to have a moment where you step back and put it all in perspective: The wedding is one day, and the start of something great. If the way to make it happen is to ditch the idea of having every detail hand-crafted, ditch it. 

BG: Favorite budget-friendly wedding trends?
MK: The biggest: food trucks in lieu of traditional catering.

BG: DIY wedding projects — budget friend or foe?
MK: They can be great if you genuinely want to make things and have time to manage the projects. Often, however, they add stress and may not save money. So if you’re not into crafting, consider just not having an item at your wedding instead of DIY-ing it.

BG: Are there particular weddings that have informed your thinking?
MK: Growing up, I went to a lot of cake-and-punch-on-the- church-lawn weddings. I didn’t attend what we would now consider a “traditional” wedding until high school. Over the years I’ve realized that what I remember most is the emotion behind the wedding, and I honestly can’t remember a single centerpiece — other than the one that caught fire!

The Practical Bride Remembers...

1. Research average wedding prices in your area and then think about what you want to spend. These numbers do not have to be the same. But if the average catering cost in your area is $10,000 and you have $5,000 to spend, it’s good to know you will probably need to get creative and make some compromises.

2. If you have a limited budget, you’re going to hear a lot of “can’t” and “won’t be able to.” But so much more is possible than you imagine. Once you’ve said yes to having a wedding it’s your job to say yes to the people around you who want to help. Your best friend wants to make you a wedding cake? Yes!

3. Prioritize your spending: What do you want to put money toward? Amazing food and drink? Feel empowered to ruthlessly cut other budget items. (Flowers, for example. You can still have them — but you won’t go overboard.)

Adapted from A Practical Wedding: Creative Ideas for Planning a Beautiful, Affordable, and Meaningful Celebration, by Meg Keene (2012, Da Capo Lifelong Books).