This week we continue to explore budgeting and the average wedding cost with interviews with three of the best wedding planners in the Austin area.
I reached out to some of my favorite wedding planners — the ones who consistently show up for their clients and share my value of education online — to find out how they navigate budgets with their couples.
Cillia Marion of Marion Events: Cillia is the Creative Director and heart of Marion Events. Her pronouns are she/her. You will see her often as you prepare for your best day ever. She is a mother to five children, a wife, an Army veteran, and a hopeless romantic. Her personal style is earthy, romantic, and free. You will see this reflected in the brand and her personality as she works to bring your day to life.
Cassie Crudo of Bride’s Best Friend: Cassie is the owner and lead planner at Bride’s Best Friend. She has worked in the wedding and events industry for over 10 years. Cassie established Bride’s Best Friend in early 2010 and went full time in 2017 and never looked back. She has planned or coordinated over 100 weddings and has learned something at each and every one of them.
Bianca Trevino of Bianca Nichole Events: Bianca is a Certified Wedding Planner in Austin, Texas, and newlywed. In 2018, she pursued her passion for wedding planning. She has collected a rich portfolio of experiences in the industry, including an internship with one of San Antonio’s most respected wedding planners, assisting with wedding day coordination, and diving into the bridal industry as a Bridal Dress Stylist. In October 2019, she moved to Austin where she launched Bianca Nichole Events full time.
Cillia: Our lowest wedding budget has been $20k. With the standard cost of venues and photographers in Texas, this is a good minimum. Things can vary greatly when you change up your guest list or go for non-traditional elements, venues, and vendors. I recommend no less than $200 per guest in any budget.
Cassie: This varies based on the package they book with us. For our coordination clients, we can see anything from $15K – $70K and for our full service, we generally work with clients that have $300 – $500 per person for full weddings (not a micro wedding or elopement).
Bianca: Anything over 100 people is going to be at the very least $20K. The average price for guest counts 150-250 is about $28K to $40K depending on what area you’re getting married and what day of the week your wedding is on.
Cillia: I ask them their guest count! This affects the budget more than anything else. It impacts the size of the venue and the price of most vendor contracts. It is the cornerstone of any wedding budget!
Cassie: Before we start a budget conversation, we’ve already talked to them about the estimated guest count, overall vision, and a few things they’re excited about so we can learn a bit more about what they have in mind for their wedding.
Then we start with “do you have a number in mind that you would like to spend ‘all in’? Our answer a lot of times is “we don’t really” but once we start talking about who is contributing or where the money is coming from or how they’re saving for it, we typically find that they have a number in their mind of what is appropriate for their wedding. Once we can get them to realize they have a number, we can work backward from there to either set expectations with that number or revisit what things cost for the vision (and guest count) they have in their head.
Bianca: We start with the non negotiable and must have items. Every couple will have different priorities so this helps me know where they will value allocating their budget or what areas they may be comfortable cutting back on. For example some couples will highly prioritize decor and florals so based on their wants I may need to allocate $5000 towards florals. If they’re happy with minimal florals and simpler decor statements, I can allocate less.
Cillia: I have a wedding budget calculator that is a great place for them to start to see a realistic budget. I have them use this and then talk about what they have on hand first. Are there any savings between the two of them? Then we talk about how much additional they have per month that they can contribute. I take their monthly surplus and multiply it by the number of months left until they are 90 days out. Then I add their savings. This is their actual wedding budget. We compare this to their ideal wedding budget from the calculator.
Cassie: Most of our couples are pretty honest about where they are, what has (or hasn’t) been saved. We talk to them about finances and if they need payment plans with their vendors that are more “pay as you go” or if they have a lump sum already saved or if they have assistance from somewhere else and are able to manage down payments with their vendors. This is part of our workflow to make sure that our vendor selection process matches what is realistic both with their budget and cash flow.
Bianca: I first ask what number their target budget is/what they’re comfortable spending. Depending on their guest count I will immediately let them know if that budget is doable or if it won’t be possible. I encourage them to have conversations with their parents to establish who is contributing to the budget.
Cillia: This is different for every couple! Some couples have dreamed about their wedding flowers forever and some couples want to dance the night away! We always default to focusing the budget on photography, food, and venue, in that order.
Cassie: Guest count. Hands down. Your guest count touches so many parts of your wedding and has the biggest impact on your bottom line. While there are some vendors (photographer, etc) that don’t generally adjust too much for the guest count, most vendors have some scaling effect with your guest count and there are a limited number of venues that can hold a large guest count (think of a space for 300+ people). Beyond that, your two biggest investments are generally your venue, and your catering (which can include your food, service, dishware, linens, etc).
Bianca: This will vary per couple as every couple will have different wants and needs. However some basic costs are a venue – need to have a place to hold your ceremony and party. You will need to pay for your marriage licenses to make your union official! Food is expected at a wedding so you will need to account for a meal or at the very least heavy appetizers. A photographer to capture it all, after wedding day all you have are the pictures to hold your memories and remember the day.
Cillia: People. That sounds harsh, but it is the fastest way to downsize the budget. The next thing we trim is anything I consider “fluff.” It is awesome but no one will really notice it. Custom champagne walls, deluxe invitations, party buses for the bridal party, etc. From there we discuss what is most important to them and go from there with our recommendations.
Cassie: One of our pillars is to be intentional. So we talk about their intentions and what’s the most important to them. We ask our clients to put ratings on the importance of different elements of the wedding from culture to vendor categories and then when those are evaluated, we can talk about where their budget will follow. In the end, we have honest talks about how things are directly competing for the same funds, so that extra 20 guests could prevent you from having that awesome flower arrangement, so which is more important to you?
Bianca: If their target budget is less than $30K I let them know the average wedding in the Austin area is $30K to $40K. If that average is really uncomfortable for them then I give a few recommendations on where to cut costs such as having their wedding on a Friday or Sunday and lowering the guest count. Those are the two easiest ways to quickly save a few thousand. Some other cost savers are having a buffet meal instead of a plated served dinner. In general, if their dream wedding is more than they can afford, we go back to their priorities and remind them of what they felt was most important.
Cillia: Cutting corners in places that force other prices up. A good example is hiring a wedding venue that you don’t like because it costs $1k and trying to use the decor budget to cover it up. Hidden fees that are tied into vendor contracts that are not reviewed well before signing. And, as always, over inviting.
Cassie: Wanting everything to be the most important thing can make things add up quickly. There is no way to keep that up throughout the whole wedding without seriously pushing past your budget. Beyond that, I would say “not having a budget” will make everything more expensive.
I understand that some clients have a perspective of “it’ll cost what it costs.” But in each category, there are ranges based on your values and what you want from that vendor. Without a whole number to make decisions and priorities with, each of them is the most important. When you walk into a vendor meeting, what they sell will be the most important thing. This is NOT a bad thing! Don’t you want a cake vendor that is excited about your cake and wants to give you the best? It’s up to the client to make decisions based on their priorities and look at what’s important to them and get the best for their budget (hey… we help with this).
Cillia: Identically getting ready outfits, luxury experiences, anything involving stationary because guests will throw it away, favors, etc.
Cassie: Favors are generally the first thing to get cut. I will say that guest count may not be the easiest thing to cut, but it’ll have the biggest impact in the long term. Make sure that you do this before sending out save the dates, so it needs to be an early decision!
Bianca: Ordering more than you need. I always see the cake, late-night snacks, send off items, and favors go to waste. Not every single guest will take/participate. As a general guide, I tell couples to plan for 75% of the guest count for cake, late-night snacks, and favors. For send off items, I say 50-75% of your guest count.