Where do you need to start with your wedding planning? Based on my experience working with thousands of couples, the two most important things to know – two things you have to know before you spend a dime – are how many people you plan to invite, and how much money you have available to spend. Every aspect of your wedding planning is related to those two things: your budget and your anticipated guest count.
Your budget – Your budget represents the total amount of money you have to spend for absolutely everything. That includes your venue, catering, photography, entertainment, decorating, officiant, ceremony music, and cake. Other things you might choose to include are transportation, videography, wedding planning, favors, and invitations. Costs that are related but are usually not included in the wedding budget per se include clothing, gifts, the rehearsal dinner, rings, and other jewelry.
Honeymoons are generally not included in the wedding budget. Keeping the two separate will keep you from trading off the honeymoon money for the wedding money and vice versa.
Couples’ total wedding spending varies widely. For example, a wedding ceremony and reception for 100 guests might cost a couple thousand dollars for a simple backyard affair. That same size of wedding at Chase Court, the venue I own in Baltimore, commonly costs between $15,000 and $25,000. The average wedding in Baltimore, taking into account all sizes and shapes, costs about $37,000. Your guest count has a lot to do with that final number, as we’ll see shortly.
You absolutely need to know from the start how much you can spend, within a range of a couple of thousand dollars. That’s close enough at this point.
Your guest list – The size and composition of your guest list has significant impact on your wedding. Your guest list affects the choice of size, style, and location of your venue. The number of guests also determines the cost of food, drink, and catering staff, which is charged per person if you’re using a professional caterer.
Your guest list decisions affect the time and effort involved in everything related to your guests, from sending invitations to the length of the reception. In a less tangible but equally important way, your guest list affects the energy or, if you prefer, the feel of your ceremony and, to an even greater extent, your reception. In general, more guests mean more of everything! It’s a major driver of your budget.
Your guest list is the number of people you plan to invite to your wedding. It’s not the number that actually attend. You won’t know how many people accept your invitation until 30 days before your wedding and, until your wedding day, how many actually attend. All of your major decisions will have been made by then.
You may have heard that 20% of guests decline. That average, over some unknown thousands of weddings, can be misleading – and may not even be correct. I’m going to give you very different advice! Expect that everyone you invite will say yes. If you create your guest list with care, your acceptance rate should be much higher than that large sample suggests.
Who will you invite? That’s a big question! My best advice and the advice that I most frequently offer comes from Judith Martin, aka “Miss Manners”: Invite the people you love and who love you. It’s really that simple!
Once you have your guest list complete, give or take ten or so people, you have an expected guest count. Do your very best to make it as real as possible.
As you might guess, these two parameters, your budget and your guest list, are interconnected. My counsel is to decide who you want at your wedding and then see what that buys with the budget you’ve set.
- David L. Egan is the proprietor and steward of Chase Court, a wedding and event venue in downtown Baltimore. Visit Chasecourt.com, and follow ChaseCourtWeddingVenue on Instagram and Facebook.