wedding details

How to Avoid Running Out of Money for your Wedding


Cover photo by Lindsay Jane Photography @lindsayjanephotography

Imagine: You’ve just hit your max budget, only to realize that you haven’t paid for catering. Will your guests starve to death? Probably not, but they’ll certainly be grumpy during your first dance. How can you best avoid this type of budget disaster?

Pay for essentials first. Don’t spend on non-essentials until the basics are paid for, and don’t get off track. If your photographer requires two payments, be sure to budget for two. Keep a second savings account for all your second and third payments, and be sure to tuck away enough to meet them well in advance.

What are the essentials? Here’s the list, more or less in order.

1. Venue

There is no wedding without a venue, and your choice of venue will determine what else you need. So choose this first, and pay for it first. And be sure you have any balance payments safely tucked away in a savings account, so you’ll know they are there when you need them.

2. Food

You can technically have a wedding without it, but no one will enjoy it. If you run out of money before the caterer is paid, you’ll risk starving your guests. If these are all your family and friends, don’t risk your wedding being remembered for how hungry everyone was. And trust us, if you short the amount of food or try to skip dinner, that is exactly how they will remember you.

3. Rentals of tables, chairs, linens, tableware and other necessities

Hopefully your venue supplies some of this, but what they don’t supply you’ll need to rent. Stick to the most basic necessities here, until you are sure your budget will cover extras.

4. Alcohol

You can probably have your wedding without any, but for many this doesn’t seem like an acceptable option. If you’re one of those many, then be sure to prioritize this. It is often forgotten, and if we’re being honest, the answer is yes, a cash bar is super tacky. Remember not to overspend, though – you really, really don’t need a full bar. Wine and beer are perfectly acceptable offerings.

5. Photographer

Some people would put this vendor first, but realistically, you can have a better wedding with an amateur photographer than you can with no food. Still, this is pretty important to many couples, so if you are one of them, then make sure you find someone in your price range, and then be sure to pay them before you start buying extras.

7. Dress

Why so low on the list? Simple – as much as you’ll want to go dress shopping, the truth is that you can get a surprisingly nice, custom-sized dress from Hebeos if you need to. You can get a used dress if you need to. But if you choose and pay for this first, you’re very likely to go way over budget, and this is one of the most common ways that couples run out of money for the big stuff.

6. Decor and Florals

We put this toward the bottom, because in the end you can actually have a perfectly fine wedding without paying much for decor and florals. These might be the most fun things to buy, and certainly the ones you might spend the most time thinking about and planning, but ultimately they are easier to cheap out on or do without than anything higher on the list.

8. Beauty

We don’t want to devalue hair and makeup artists, because we think they are worth the money (and they are one of the least expensive vendors you’ll hire), but if it comes down to it you can do your own hair and makeup, and it won’t ruin your wedding.

9. DJ

If dancing all night is your idea of the perfect wedding, then you might want to move this vendor up the list. Fortunately, DJ’s are not usually among the biggest expenses when it comes to vendors.

10. Gifts, Favors, and Invitations

Don’t even think about these until everything is paid for. You don’t need favors at all, and your wedding party will forgive you for not giving them expensive gifts (but they won’t forgive you for making them go without dinner). Invitations are somewhat optional – you could, after all, just email everyone. But that could cause some drama among family members who feel the paper invitation is an etiquette must. However, invitations vary widely in price, meaning that you can find rather nice invites online for a pretty low price if you have to. But if you start down that road first, you’re liable to be swayed by all the shiny pretty paper things, and end up over budget on a non-essential.

11. Rings

It’s actually a fact that you can get legally married without rings. It’s even a thing for people to use inexpensive bands for the ceremony, and then take their time shopping for something special later.

Don’t Get Side-Tracked by Wedding Extras!

All the things you don’t really need should only be purchased or budgeted for after everything you really do need is paid for or saved for. That means things like invitations, arches, centerpieces, fancy linens, ceremony decor, smores bars and donut walls, vintage tea carts, shiny tiaras, Jimmy Choo sandals, a reception dress, disco balls, Barbie-pink roller skates for your bridesmaids, or whatever it is you think would be really cool and fun needs to wait until you are sure you have the cash for the essentials.