Event Budgeting + Prioritizing

Updated: Oct 24, 2020

Finances: no one likes to talk about them. Most of my clients start to squirm and deflect when we first start to dig into questions about budget and what they're comfortable with spending. It can be uncomfortable to talk money, and that's OK! Know that you're not alone. However, having that big money talk at the very beginning can alleviate a lot of stress down the line for anyone planning a wedding or event.

One of the biggest (and little known) benefits to working with a planner is that they will help you with mapping out your budget from the very beginning. If going the full service route isn't in the cards for you, then we recommend springing for a consultation session with a planner just to talk about budget. It will more than pay for itself in the long run. Most celebrants underestimate expenses by at least 20%, if not more. That's huge!

I've yet to work with a client where I haven't saved them the cost of my fee, if not more, by helping them manage expenses. While not guaranteed, you can most certainly anticipate that an event planner should be saving you some money in other places by helping you properly manage your budget, identify "hidden" costs, negotiate with vendors on your behalf (who actually enjoys negotiating?) and by offering choices and creative, budget-friendly solutions you may not have thought of.

Here are a few tips and insights into the budgeting process to help get you started:


Sounds so obvious, right? You have to start somewhere, and that somewhere should be mutually agreeable for all of those who are contributing to the expenses of your wedding or event. Even if that number evolves, it'll give you a framework to begin making some decisions about how to prioritize your expenses. If you don't set a desired number to cap expenses, it's hard to know what to say yes and no to. Do a little research and start shopping around for vendors to get an idea of estimates, start to piece together how your dream event will fit into your agreed upon number, and adjust from there. t's a lot easier to go back to your budget and say, "Switching from a DJ to a band will put us over, but we all agree that it's worth the extra expense." Much easier to wrap your mind around than just adding up expenses as they roll in and then feverishly trying to pump the breaks later on.


Once you've put together a draft budget, be sure to discuss and highlight the areas of priority. Unless your dream celebration matches your real-life budget (that would be nice, right?!), inevitably you will have to have to give a little in some areas in order to get what you really want in others. Whether it's jaw-dropping floral designs, a killer band, or an over-the-top menu: take the time to really think about what elements speak most to you and what you find most memorable. I've found that the end result is much better when you allocate a little more money to the areas that are most important to you rather than trying to stretch it equally across all facets of the event.


Unplanned costs come up - always. Setting the expectation for a contingency line item helps you mentally and financially prepare for when that does happen. And if the contingency line goes unused or less than planned? Extra icing on the cake! Plan for about 3-5% contingency of your total budget.


Don't forget to look at the fine print of the proposals you're receiving from potential vendors and factor in taxes, service fees, and delivery fees into your overall estimates. Taxes, service fees, delivery fees, overtime charges, etc. etc. will all add up quickly if you don't factor them in from the start.

Pro tip: ask every vendor what is not included. What are possible add-on's, additional costs that could be incurred, scenarios where you might have to adjust the scope of their work.

Be sure to factor in gratuities for your vendors. Gratuities are discretionary, but there are a few key vendors that expect a gratuity. To name a few: catering personnel (be sure to check your contract to see if gratuity is included), officiant, hair and makeup artists, and transportation. Click here to see our favorite tipping cheat sheet from The Knot.


When I reflect on what I personally value most about my event experience, I've narrowed it down to the following three - photography, live music, and venue. I would be willing to cut back on my dream catering menu (honestly, I'd be fine with pizza and tacos) or dream flowers in order to make my dream photographer, band, and venue happen. These elements are so important to me, and I wouldn't want to sacrifice any of them for other things that I personally don't value as much. For others, it may be florals, venue, and food. Or wedding planner, DJ, and attire. Identifying these priorities early on can help bring you back home when you're feeling inundated with decision making. Remind yourself of your values and what's most important to you.

If you are totally lost on budget and don't know where to start, schedule a consultation with us to help kick start the process and set you on the right path!