March 10, 2015


When I am contacted by newly engaged couples, one of the first questions I get asked most often is:

How much is my wedding going to cost?

To be honest, that's like asking how much a house will cost in the United States. There is such a huge range in pricing! I get it though, because if I'm not a professional Wedding Planner and I am newly engaged, I would likely ask that very same question as well. 

The truth is, there are so many variables to a wedding that I can't even provide a range without gathering a lot more information. We've planned weddings for 120 guests for $100K, and we've planned weddings for 120 guests for $1.5 million dollars. That's a pretty wide spectrum, so you see, without spending more time getting to know your vision, your priorities, and your style, the number I throw out at you will not be a useful reference point.

When we start the planning process with our clients, one of the first things we do is to put together a realistic budget. Budgets are important, because almost everyone has some number in mind in terms of how much they'd like to spend on their wedding. Even a million dollar is a million dollar budget, and clients always want to know where and how their money is spent. Prior to creating the budget, we ask our clients an abundance of questions to get to know their vision on a macro and micro level. Gathering such information will help us to assess the type of venue that's suitable for them, the quality of vendors, and the amount of decor there will be.

Within each vendor category for a San Francisco wedding, there is a really big range in pricing. A full-time, experienced and professional photographer can cost between $5000-$20K. Venue rentals can range from $2500-$30K. A solo guitarist for your ceremony can cost $600 whereas a string quartet can be between $1000-$1800. For non-design vendors, the variation in pricing could have to do with the vendor's level of experience. A photographer that's relatively new and trying to build a good portfolio would likely charge less than a photographer who has hundreds of weddings under their belt and is well sought after. It may also have to do with the different ways the vendors structure their businesses. A volume-based company who has the manpower and capacity to take on several weddings a weekend would likely charge less than a boutique company that takes on a limited number of weddings.

Design vendors create proposals based on the products they are providing and the staffing required to execute each design idea. There are huge variables here too.

A more simple escort card display like the picture below can cost around $500 for the table and linen rentals, and the silver trays.

Photo by Jennifer Skog

A more elaborate escort card display like the picture below can cost around $3500 for the tree rental, installation, break down, and the labor to hang each card.

Photo by Lisa Lefkowitz
An event with 100 chiavari chairs can cost $1000 to rent, deliver, and pick up.

An event with 100 ghost chairs is double that, costing $2000 to rent, deliver, and pick up.

Photo by Augie Chang Photography
Even the exact same design concept can be more costly to install at some venues versus others, depending on the timing and logistics. For example, at a venue like the Bently Reserve in San Francisco, we have the luxury of an all day set up. Vendors can arrive early in the morning for their installation, and have plenty of time to do what they need to do while working around other vendors. At a venue like the De Young museum, we can only access the event spaces after closing hours, giving vendors a much tighter window of time to load in and set up, equating to more labor involved.

If you don't have a Wedding Planner to help you establish a realistic budget, I would suggest the following steps to do it on your own:

1. Discuss your vision and priorities. Do you envision your ceremony being outdoors? View or no view? What type of venue would you want your wedding to be held? A hotel? Museum? Winery? Think about the experience as a whole that you want to create for your guests. What would you want your guests to say or feel when they leave your wedding?

2. Do your homework. Research on the rental rates of the type of venues you like. Go through vendors' online portfolio to hone in on the quality of work that appeals to you, and then find out the price ranges of those vendors.

3. Do a low and a high column for your budget. You'll likely come in somewhere in between. When creating your budget, account for the following categories:

Venue rentals
Officiant fees
Ceremony musicians
DJ or Live Musicians/Band
Floral Designer
Lighting Tech
Cake Designer
Hotel Room Blocks
Furniture and/or specialty rentals
Makeup/Hair Artist
Attire and Accessories

4. Always add a contingency amount of at least 15-20% of the entire budget. Things come up that you did not account for, which could increase costs for you as you get closer to the wedding. For example, when you finalize your timeline, you may realize your need your photographer and videographer for 2 extra hours for a more complete coverage.

Remember that a budget is dynamic. Having one in place helps you to understand costs in the beginning of the planning, but numbers will shift around as you progress. If you come across a photographer that you absolutely love and want to hire, you may decide to splurge on his/her fees by going over budget in that category. This may entail reducing the budget for another category, or an increase to the overall budget. The important thing is to know what you feel comfortable with, and to be realistic. You can't ask for ghost chairs if you absolutely do not want to spend more than $10 on a chair.

Lastly, my advice is to always respect vendors' pricing. Sure, it's okay to ask if they can work with your budget, but ask nicely. Don't demand or threaten them to lower their prices for you. Many wedding vendors are small business owners, and are talented artists who try to make a living by doing what they are passionate about. This means they need to make money too! Respecting each vendor's pricing and talents will only make them want to go above and beyond for you on your wedding day.

As always, feel free to ask us questions in the comment section or the inquiry form on the right column of this blog!

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1 comment:

  1. Incredible experience. From their top class manager along with all the servers, bartenders etc. we could not have asked for more. The food at San Diego Wedding venues was delicious and everything was served so promptly. We had Potato & Leek soup for our appetizer and it was the best soup I have ever tasted!