Creating a realistic wedding budget is one of the first challenges a newly engaged couple must face. No matter who is paying for the wedding, you will have to detail out all the expenses in order to have any chance of sticking to a budget and keeping control of your spending. Even if you have parents who have given you carte blanche to have a huge wedding of your dreams, they will need an accounting of expenses. If you are paying for the wedding yourselves, it is even more essential to plan and create a realistic budget.

One of the first things you need to do is create your vision and make a detailed list of everything that is involved in realizing that dream. You don’t need to start putting numbers next to anything yet. Talk to friends and family about what you have left out of the list. If using a wedding planner, he or she can also help with the list, but do not forget to include the cost of the wedding planner in your budget as well!

Once you have a complete list, you also need a good idea of what your total budget will be. First, get a rough total based on whoever is paying for each part of the wedding, such as your parents, your fiance’s parents, and yourself. While the bride’s family traditionally paid for a large portion of the wedding, these days it is often split up differently depending on each family’s ability. You need to talk through who is paying for what before agreeing on your total budget. You may have to revise your plans drastically depending on where the money is coming from.

Now that you know the maximum amount of funds you will have to spend, use these tips to make sure your wedding budget is realistic:

Using your list, set your priorities before putting amounts next to each item, since the items that are most important to you will likely be the biggest part of your budget.
Find out what things cost in your area. Talk to friends, family, colleagues and friends of friends who have run similar events. It doesn’t have to be weddings, since many vendors do more than just weddings. Get names of vendors, then get some approximate prices based on your number of people. Your wedding planner should have recommendations of vendors at different budget levels.
Check out different types of locations and formats for weddings to see which options cost more or less than others. For example, a buffet will not necessarily cost less than a sit-down dinner. However, a wedding on a Wednesday will certainly be less expensive than a Saturday night.
Find out approximate prices for the major parts of your wedding, based on what you envisioned. This includes invitations, location, food, cake, decorations and flowers, gown, and entertainment. There are many other expenses you will have to add, but all of these larger elements will form the foundation of your budget.
Plan on overspending, so set you budget lower than the maximum you determined earlier. In general, people spend anywhere from 5% to 20% over their budget.
Don’t assume you will do many things yourself just to cut the budget. You may change your mind, be overly stressed out and busy, or those things can end up more expensive than you thought

When you have your budget, you can start the serious search for vendors. If you find something you absolutely have to have, but which is out of your budget, you need to go back to the budget and determine if you are willing to change anything. Your choices are to find another vendor or item that is cheaper or reduce the budget for something else. Sorry, you can’t have absolutely everything at the most expensive prices unless you have unlimited funds. That would definitely not be a realistic budget!

For tips on how to set priorities and plan a realistic budget, read Planning a Wedding on a Tight Budget. We also highly recommend that you use the tips and tools talked about in The Best Wedding Budget Planner, which goes through five steps for a debt-free, dream wedding.

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