The cost of today’s average wedding has gotten so high, you might
think that the application of the word “budget” doesn’t apply.

Of course you’d be wrong.

Whether you’re spending $3,000 (far below average, even in the
least expensive areas of the U.S., but I know several people
who’ve done it quite successfully) or you’re spending $30,000
(only a bit about the average cost of a wedding today, so average
means plenty of people spend more), you still need a budget.

A budget isn’t necessarily an attempt to spend less. It’s a plan
for where you’ll spend the money you do spend, regardless of the

I hope you’re among the lucky few who can afford to spare no
expense when planning the wedding of your dreams. On the other
hand, I know some fairly wealthy people, and I don’t know anyone
who didn’t angst to a certain extent over the cost of their

Most people simply can’t afford or just would rather not to empty
their savings and run up their credit for their wedding.
Weddings have this somewhat scary habit of being rapidly followed
by even MORE expensive things to spend your hard-earned money on,
more permanent things, like buying a house and having a baby (or

Trickier still is the fact that many brides (the traditional
planners of weddings) are marrying a bit later in life, when
they’re well ensconced in a career and don’t have their weekdays
free for interviewing wedding vendors and sampling cake.

Do Wedding Planners Cost or Save?

Of course professional wedding planners have to be paid, so in
that way they obviously cost you. However an argument can be
made (and is made, both by wedding planners themselves and by
brides who’ve been happy with their professional planners) that
having a professional wedding planner can save you money in other
areas. An experienced wedding planner is involved in several
weddings each year. This means that they’ll have ongoing
relationships with certain wedding vendors, and it behooves those
vendors to cut the wedding planner a break on prices, so that
she’ll continue to use their services at all of the weddings
she’s involved with.

-Aside –

Not that it affects your budget, but it also behooves wedding
vendors to keep wedding planners happy with the service the
vendor provides. As an individual, you’re not likely to see
these vendors again after you finish your wedding (at least not
for a good long while, preferably not ever). A wedding planner,
on the other hand, will see these vendors again and again; she’s
a repeat customer for them.

Vendors will, of course, value a repeat customer more than a one
-time customer. They will convey this value with financial breaks
and extra-good service. If push comes to shove, they may convey
it by giving a wedding planner something (such as service on a
popular date or that includes a hand-to-find item) that they have
to take away from an individual bride. I know a bride who was
promised a wedding venue for a specific date and then a week
later the venue canceled on her, because they had a “repeat
customer” who wanted that date and was willing to pay extra. My
friend was not given the opportunity to pay extra or to outbid
the repeat customer. She just lost the date.

-Aside –

If you find a wedding planner with a great reputation (with both
brides and local vendors), you may get the best of everything: A
wedding planner who can easily get you top-notch vendors and
negotiate powerful bargains.

Even with a terrific wedding planner in your employ, you should
still do your own research and talk to your planner with a strict
budget in mind. If the planner can’t control costs
adequately, it’s always your responsibility to offer cost-saving
ideas of your own. If your wedding planner doesn’t stick to your
budget, then she’s the one who did a poor job, but it’s still you
who are out the money. The extra cost doesn’t come out of the
planner’s pocket!

Still, no wedding planner is likely to save you more than she
charges you. Hiring a wedding planner will result in higher
financial wedding costs for you. The area in which an excellent
planner will certainly save you, however, is in time. You’ll
need to invest far fewer hours toward organizing and ensuring the
details of your wedding if you hire a wedding planner than if you

The question for you to answer is whether you have more time or
more money to invest in your wedding. Only you can answer that.

What’s The Cost

Wedding planners can charge you in any of three ways:

o A percentage of the total cost of your wedding

o An hourly charge

o A flat fee per specific services

Although it’s the least common, I recommend looking for vendors
who use the last of those options. The problem with the
percentage charge is that it creates an incredible conflict of
interest for the planner. In essence, the more your wedding
costs you, the more the planner gets paid. That’s the opposite
of how it should work, in my opinion! Most planners are ethical,
and they live and die by recommendations, so they’re unlikely to
triple your expenses just to increase their cut, but at some
level of consciousness, it’s just not encouraging them to watch
every penny in the way that I, personally, would like. If you’re
working with a planner who charges a percentage (15% is typical),
talk about paying them a percentage of your budgeted wedding
costs (rather than actual costs), plus a percentage of any amount
they can come in under budget. Essentially offer them a bonus
for coming in under budget. This will somewhat offset the innate
conflict of interest in the percentage-based payment structure.

An hourly fee at least solves the problem that the percentage fee
causes, but it causes an analogous problem with time. When a
wedding planner (or any vendor) charges you by the hour, they
lose their incentive to move fast, and you have very little
control over this. Since you’re not doing the work, it’s tough
for you to say exactly how long it should take. If you’re
working with a wedding planner who charges by the hour, set a
maximum number (or range) of hours you’ll pay for, while making
sure that the planner agrees that the maximum you set is an
adequate amount of time to plan your entire wedding.

Planners who charge a flat fee for each specific service they
provide give you great flexibility. You don’t have to hire them
to plan every part of your wedding. If you want them to handle
the venue and catering, while you hire your cousin’s band and
have your mom make your dress, you have lots of flexibility in
paying for just the services you need, but no others. Also, by
charging a flat fee per service, the planner maintains all normal
(and desirable) goals to get the work done quickly and
inexpensively. They don’t get paid more for failing at one of
those goals, as they do with the other payment methods.

Unfortunately, planners dislike this payment structure because
they fear that there will be something unusually difficult about
your wedding, and they’ll have to eat the cost of dealing with
it. Particularly wedding planners who are new to the field feel
uncomfortable trying to predict ahead of time how much time and
effort it will take to provide the services you require. If you
propose the use of this payment structure to a wedding planner
who normally charges differently, make it clear that you’re aware
of this concern and find it reasonable. Discuss the fact that
you’re willing to accept add-on charges (probably by the hour) if
an unusual situation, beyond the planner’s control, occurs. As
with all types of wedding planners, be sure to ask to speak to
references, and talk to these brides-who-have-gone-before-you
about exactly what the wedding planner did and didn’t do for each
service she provided.

Keep in mind that just because a particular wedding planner
usually charges clients a certain way, doesn’t mean they can’t
get paid by another method. Most wedding planners are freelance
agents, who can define their own rules for how they get paid.
Perhaps they’ve always charged percentages in the past, but that
doesn’t mean they couldn’t agree to get paid a flat fee for
specific services for your wedding, if that’s the only way you’re
willing to pay. Of course you must be aware that this also means
that they can walk away and not take you as a client, if they
really don’t want to accept the payment structure you’re
interested in.

Negotiate with a wedding planner just as you would with any other
vendor. Remember that you’re hiring them. They are your hired
help. If you don’t like their terms, you can find a different
wedding planner to contract with. You’re the one holding all the
cards. Play them.