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  • Writer's pictureMelissa

Planning a Realistic Wedding Budget: Pt 1

Updated: Mar 5, 2021

The 1st engagement wave has commenced - Congrats to all the couples that popped the question and said, 'Yes!' Starting to plan a wedding during a pandemic isn't easy. As a planner and consultant, I get it. I'll just say it for the both of us, "Can we be done with this whole Covid thing?!"

There will definitely be ups and downs while planning your wedding, especially if you're getting married in 2021. Where will this Covid virus and vaccine be over in the next few months or later on this year? Who knows 🤷‍♀️ But let's be honest, there ALWAYS are ups and downs even if we're NOT in a pandemic, that's just planning for ya. However, there is 1 thing that you can get ahead of in the meantime - Your budget!

As you know, I'm a Consultant for event clients and venues, but I do still plan events. Before I rebranded, my main service was event planning from weddings, to corporate events, to nonprofit events right down to art shows and fashion shows. Weddings are obviously a big part of my business and when I was a 100% an event planner, I would receive inquiries who would want me for 12 hours at $500. One inquiry after another, after another. So this series of blog posts are here to give you insight on what things actually cost. Of course if you're someone doing a micro-wedding or an elopement, your costs won't be as high. However, you're still going to need a few of the required vendors listed below. So with that, I'll jump right in with wedding planners and day of coordinating:

1 - Planners / Coordinators do not cost $500 - $1000

There are some planners and coordinators out there that do, and can, accommodate this price range, but not all. There was a survey taken and recorded by some of my fellow colleagues in the MN Planners Unite group (a group consisting of Twin Cities wedding planners). On average, they found out that planners begin at $1200 - $1400 for Day of Coordinating, $2400+ for Partial Planning and $3500+ for Full Planning. Based on these stats, it really came down to a planners experience. Obviously there are a lot more factors, but experience is the main one. I know you have all heard of, "You pay for what you get" and that's exactly what this pertains to. Planners all have to start somewhere OF COURSE, but if you're looking for all the bells and whistles, then you need to evaluate what's important and what's not; Is it having someone that will be able to handle all the obstacles the day of? Or is it someone that may forget a few things? That's up to you.

Now, I'll just come out and say it, I do charge more because not only do I have 17+ years of experience, but my packages come with at least 2 people, I have a production background and you can tell that I do come the day of. In addition to, I'm a one-stop-shop where I can do almost everything from wardrobe styling to floral design right down to planning your honeymoon and all the events leading up to (and after) your wedding. The only thing I don't do is catering, bar service or offer in-house decor items. However, I do offer event design. Someone that doesn't offer all these a la carte, one-stop-shop services like myself will, of course, charge less. Someone that doesn't offer all of that, but has a lot of experience in weddings, they will charge more compared to a wedding planner that's just starting out. It literally all comes down to the experience you want on your big day.

Source: Click here for the MN stats; courtesy of Woodland Events

Side note, pricing for a coordinator/planner depends on your location as each market is different. For example, New York and Miami planners will be more expensive than Minneapolis or Wisconsin planners.

2 - Don't expect to pay under $1000 for a good DJ

This is one vendor that sometimes gets overlooked AND DEFINTIELY SHOULD NOT. Think about it; this is the person that is going to create the mood for your wedding. They are the ones that read and recognize your guests on their taste of music, energy level, etc. If you have someone that comes in that doesn't know how to do that or can't execute a seamless ceremony, that can really affect the mood of your wedding. More often than not, I hear from brides, "My friend is a DJ, I'm just going to have them do it." Unless they are a professional DJ, I would not recommend this. Even if they are a professional DJ, if they screw up something, are you going to be mad at them even if it's "your friend"?! So my point to this is that obviously, just like the coordinator part of this post, if you hire someone for super cheap you're going to pay for what you get.

So, what's that "cheap" amount? Anything under $1000. This is a common number that couples expect DJ's to be, but if you are taking any of the above into account you will definitely need to spend more. Joe, Owner and DJ of Day One DJ mentions that if you are tedious and specific when it comes to your playlist, you will definitely want to spend more money. You can't expect to spend less and then have high demands for the flow/music for your wedding. You also have to take into account if you want them to play your ceremony music. Not only is it another "event" on top of the reception so there's an additional fee, but as Joe puts it, "It’s one of the most stressful parts of our job and people think it’s easy." As a planner, I completely agree with that. I produce fashion shows which is basically the same thing; everything has to be timed out perfectly and is super stressful when executing it. So when it comes to your budget for a DJ, I would expect to pay a little under $2000, if not over.

Dabbling into musicians for a hot minute, live bands will typically cost more. Why? Because you're paying multiple people compared to 1 person like a DJ. Most bands also have a booking manager so that person has to get paid too. I personally had a live band AND a DJ because we had 2 sets of people there: family and older people + our friends who are huge partiers. Don't regret it one bit 😉 Best. Party. Ever!

3 - Your food and bar service will be more than you expect

I'm sure you can all do math and run a calculator, but just to put it out there - If you have a 150 person wedding at $30 per person for food that's $4500. Some caterers are about $50 per person which takes you up to about $7500. Carlos, the Catering Manager at Marna's Catering (also my caterer at my wedding) mentioned that although they personally can accommodate someone with a lower budget like $20 per person (i.e a food service simple as a taco bar), there will be fees on top of it that some couples don't take into account; "There's taxes, catering fees, and service charges which then ends up being about $25-$28 per person."

Then don't forget about the apps during cocktail hour; You may want to order more if it's during dinner hour because people will start getting hungry + on average, people eat about 3-4 apps depending on what the app is. It's like going out to a restaurant; you see the price of a burger for about $15, but then you add on the tip, tax, and some restaurants even have extra fees on top of that! That puts the burger around $20. Then what about that app or dessert you ordered?! Tack on more money for that. Then there's the bar.

Not only do you have to pay for the bartenders, but you have to pay for the garnishes, the mixers along with the non-alcoholic drinks such as soda or lemonade for people that don't drink. Then there's an up-charge for the actual booze, champagne pour for toasting (which costs more than you think), service fees, tips, etc. etc. etc. That's why when you go to weddings, most of the time they host the beer and wine (all night or only through cocktail hour) and then cash bar for hard liquor. Keep in mind that some venues have bar restrictions such as 'wine and beer only', they don't allow kegs so you have to serve bottled beer which means more $$$, 'BYOB only' which means you're hosting ALL night, etc. If you're seriously on a low budget, make sure that you understand and calculate the bar before signing any contracts because this can sneak up on you.

4 - Do not go the cheap route with the photographer

Does the photographer include a 2nd shooter so one person can be with the bride tribe and the other person can be with the groomsmen? Does your "getting ready photos" up through your 1st dances fit into the timeframe you reserved the photographer for? One other thing to think about is your shot list; how extensive is it? And, how many family members do you want photos with? All photographers shoot differently meaning, one photographer could shoot family photos of 20 total people in 30 minutes while another can shoot them in 45 minutes. You also have to think about how the photographer has to not only take the photos, but they have to give direction to these people (including your bridal party). Wrangling people up can be a job by itself. When you get a big group together who are all in a good mood (especially if they've had a few drinks already), that can eat up time when it comes to gathering them up for the photo and then actually taking the photos. So do you have a bridal party of 3 on either side or do you have a party of 9 on either side? Lastly, how experienced is your photographer? If they're brand new, are they going to get all the shots that you're supposed to get?

In my experience, a lot of people hire a day of coordinator or a planner too late which means that some of the "damage" is already done. We catch that sort of thing when we're creating the production schedule. Sometimes, more than not, you may have to spend extra money to add on hours for the photographer when you already thought that your wedding budget was set.

Now when it comes to budget, you probably won't find a photographer for under $1000 (do you see the common number used in this blog? The magical number of $1000 😂). On average, from the photographers I know and work with, their packages start around $3000 for a full day. Some photographers I know even start at $3500. Now of course, per the beginning of this post, if you're having an elopement you won't pay as much because the ceremony is a shorter timeframe. Either way, make sure to budget at least $3000 for an experienced photographer.

Now this is 'Part 1' of "Planning a Realistic Wedding Budget". Each vendor has it's own tidbits so make sure to follow me on my social media or subscribe to my newsletter to stay up to date on my latest blog posts:



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Read Part 2 of Planning a Realistic Wedding Budget

Til next time,


Photo credit: @hannah_ampe

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