If you’ve just begun planning and budgeting for your wedding and are experiencing sticker shock at the fees and deposits vendors are quoting, you’re not alone. The average cost of a wedding for the Seattle area is estimated at $45,000 [gulp]. Let’s look at those costs strategically and break them down in a way that prioritizes how you want to experience your wedding– before, during, and long after the big day.

To start, think of your total wedding budget as an investment in the experiences you want for yourself and your guests. Investing in experiences is something we do all the time. Examples include rewarding ourselves with a vacation in Thailand or when we spring for the Vespa moped (spring is coming–that’s reason enough.) Those are all worthwhile investments and the real value of the purchase is considered over time, including the cherished memories of the experience, not just in the moment the service is delivered.

“My wedding was very DIY. We spent $10,000 and that was 10 years ago. We did flowers ourselves, my family cooked for the buffet, my aunt let us use her backyard. While it was fun and I loved it. I regret how hard we worked including my whole family: aunts, uncles, cousins… just so we could save money. I also look back at my pictures and you can TELL it was DIY. If I did it again I would spend $15,000 more to do it the way I really wanted to do it. “

Corrine C.

Consider Corrine’s experience. Even after 10 years, she is still experiencing her wedding, through memories and pictures. And that ongoing experience, 10 years later, is best described with a single word: ‘regret.’

If you approach your investment with ‘experience over time’ in mind, you’ll be glad you spent the money the way you did.

Let’s learn from Corrine’s unfortunate experience and reshape your wedding budget so you feel great about how you dedicate your budget toward the experiences you value most. To help visualize this Value-of-Experience concept, Lori Losee of Elegant Affairs and I have created a Wedding Budget Calculator that reflects a typical local wedding. It includes a number of helpful features including a suggested average investment couples are putting down for the big ticket items.

Before continuing, click on the Google spreadsheet below and make a copy for your own drive:

Included in each category is the average amount paid, AND (here’s the important part) the duration of that experience over time.

Confusing? Let’s take a look at Apparel 1 as an example.

The total estimated, or budgeted, for the dress comes to $3,505. We’re estimating the dress will be worn (or experienced) for 10 hours on the wedding day. Averaged out over the 10 hours, you are paying about $350 an hour to experience that dress. For the right dress, the one that makes you FEEL like $10,000, it will be totally worth it.
It will also be worth it because, in this example, wearing that dress will be about $200 cheaper PER HOUR than the average of all the categories combined ($568 per hour.)

Now, it’s your turn. If you haven’t saved YOUR OWN COPY to Google Drive, do it now and start filling yours out with the dollar amounts and duration of experience for each category.

  • Don’t write in any of the dark blue boxes. Those are for calculations
  • Empty white cells have been left for you to add custom items
  • YOU get to choose how long that experience will last

After you’ve reviewed the suggested amounts on the document, let’s look at another category.

[ I hear you BEGGING for a deep dive into photography. Your pleas will not be ignored]

The average wedding photography package most couples are investing in is around $4,500.
The 30 hours of experience time suggested in the calculator breaks down like this:

  • 1 hour pre-wedding consultation
  • 10 hours on the wedding day
  • 20 hours (estimated) you will interact with your wedding images and slideshow over time. This includes time sharing on social media, privately remembering your wedding through your wedding album, sharing your album with family members on important occasions decades into the future…

Fortunately, photography is one of the least expensive experiences you can invest in at $150/ hour. And, even if you revise your ‘experience time’ to 20 hours, your photography investment is still HALF the average of your investment in all other categories.

Notice also another really smart money move is the wedding planner/coordinator in the miscellaneous section. Lori suggests $2500 for your design and coordination team. When you factor in the pre-wedding consultations, the set up before the day begins, take down…. it’s one of THE best investments available. And, from personal experience, I can tell you that investment in a coordinator will allow you, the bride or groom, to enjoy ALL the other investments you’ve made because you are not the one making the magic happen.

One of the most difficult conversations to have during the planning process  is the wedding budget and who all will be contributing to the day. What we tell couples is to set-up a separate account to set aside wedding funds or to use a credit card that provides perks like cash back or airline miles.

Lori Losee, Elegant Affairs

This helpful wedding budget organizer will be a great tool in helping you balance your wedding budget among all the competing priorities in a way that reflects the experience you will value most.