How Much Should You Spend on a Wedding Relative to Your Income?

There’s a wedding in your family's future. Thankfully, you can find many online wedding cost estimators and calculators around cyberspace, each ready to crunch numbers on your behalf. It would be nice to have a formula that spells out a recommended ratio of annual income-to-wedding expense, but since none exists, you will need to use the available tools to make your big day one to remember for the memories, not the tab.

Use an Online Cost Estimator to Determine Expenses

CostofWedding.com claims the wedding cost estimator on it’s website is better than other wedding budget calculators, but they don’t say why. Therefore, you may want to try more than one to be safe. RealSimple.com can help you plan your wedding beverage needs down to the last glass of champagne. The Knot.com offers a template into which you can plug every cost associated with your wedding, spitting out a budget once the last entry is made. ProjectWedding.com can show you how your expenditures stack up against other weddings in your geographic area so you have a basis for comparison. It’s your wedding. Use the site that works best for your needs.

Use Software to Determine Expenses

Your income is the best way to begin the process of figuring out how much to spend on your wedding. Project a percentage that you’re comfortable expending based on your salary minus savings, loans and gifts set aside for the wedding. Use Excel or other spreadsheet software to record expenses each time you whip out your checkbook, tracking balances so you can keep a running estimate. This will help you keep pace with your aforementioned percentage goal.

Use Averages to Determine Expenses

Everything is relative, so if you read that the average traditional wedding costs $30,000 and that happens to represent half of your annual salary, you may be in for a long slog. But suppose you can comfortably afford $15,000. If so, then just cut these projected figures in half: wedding dress $2,000; photographer $2,300; DJ $800; and cake, $550. Don't forget a standard tip of 15 percent for all services. “No matter your budget, expect to spend a minimum of 50 percent of your total on the reception,” add the folks at Bride’s Magazine.

Use Martha to Determine Your Expenses

Count on Martha Stewart, the doyenne of wedding planning, for a formula that helps you figure out how much you should realistically spend on your wedding. If she’s your go-to etiquette authority, read no further. Her wedding website uses this formula: 50 percent of your budget for the reception, and then allocate 10 percent each to these five categories — flowers, photography, attire, music and miscellaneous — to reach 100 percent. Modify reception expenses to take up 40 percent of your budget and you can build in a safety net for the unexpected costs that are bound to come along.

Use a Contemporary Calculation Model to Determine Expenses

Sure, the bride’s family traditionally gets stuck with the big bills, but you can ignore Emily Post and agree to mange wedding expenses by dividing up the expense pie. “I’m seeing the bride’s family and groom’s family each kicking in 25 percent … and the couple [paying] the rest,” says Alison J. Dix, a professional wedding planner. Assuming the aforementioned $30,000 wedding, four $7,500 contributions may be all it takes to produce a lavish affair. Since the reception is the biggest expense of all, reduce contributions by cutting the guest list or food and bar menus. Chicken, wine and beer taste can taste delicious if your income can’t take a filet and open bar hit.

Call in the British to Determine Expenses

“Even Will and Kate had to settle for just one RAF fly-by on their wedding day,” say the editors of MoneySavingChallenge.com. Folks managing the U.K. site know whereof they speak. They invite you to use their free budget template to tackle your wedding budget if you don’t mind using a dollars-to-pounds conversion table to help with your calculations. Input your combined salaries, expenditures, assets and debt load to find out what you should spend relative to your income. Have some fun with it. Heaven knows, you may need a good laugh if you’re like most couples knee deep in wedding planning.

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About the Author

Based in Chicago, Gail Cohen has been a professional writer for more than 30 years. She has authored and co-authored 14 books and penned hundreds of articles in consumer and trade publications, including the Illinois-based "Daily Herald" newspaper. Her newest book, "The Christmas Quilt," was published in December 2011.

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