Planning a Wedding with a Budget: Where do I prioritize my Money?

Hey! We're Josh & Alisha Croghan, a husband and wife wedding photography team based in the Carolinas. We love camping, nerding out, and telling your love story.

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Sam and Daniel | Whiteville, NC Wedding Photographer

The Spillway January 2021

Winston-Salem Wedding Photographer

After your honey pops the question, the next most important question that you need to ask is: What is our budget? 

Planning a wedding with a budget is the most important step that you will need to do during the wedding planning phase. Everyone’s wedding budget is different and there is no specific amount you have to spend. Rarely does a bride have an unlimited budget, and even those few have their limits. Most of us have to work within the confines of our resources and that is a good thing! Having those limitations helps us get creative and prioritize what is most important.

So here are a few important questions to help get you started: 

Who is contributing to the wedding budget? 

When planning a wedding with a budget, we need to know who is paying! According to wedding tradition, the bride’s parents are the ones who typically pay for the engagement party and for the wedding celebration – including the ceremony and reception. The groom’s family is expected to execute the rehearsal dinner and contribute to the honeymoon fund. But again, this is just tradition. Most couples find themselves paying for most, if not all of their wedding these days. Whether your family is footing the entire bill, just making a contribution, or not helping at all, it is important to know who is paying and how much they are willing to put toward the wedding cost.

Winston-Salem Wedding Photographer

What are your wedding must-haves? 

Prioritizing the elements of your wedding experience is a key second step. Every couple has their non-negotiables and those need to be determined before you start shopping around for vendors. Knowing what is most important to you and your partner will help make the decision-making process much easier when planning a wedding with a budget. 

For some brides, they have had their dream venue/dress/photographer/etc. picked out for years! Those would be the key elements that you need to include in your budget. Some brides want a quiet, reserved event, while others want a huge party, and even more are wanting to skip the event altogether and elope!  These are questions you and your partner need to answer before you start structuring your wedding budget and allotting money into different categories. 

The top category for most brides is the venue. This can be one of the most expensive investments for your wedding day, but it doesn’t have to be. When determining a date, know that some venues offer reduced rates for weekday weddings or during the “off” season. The size of your guest list is also a huge determining factor for both choosing your venue and crafting your budget. How many people can your venue comfortably accommodate? A smaller guest list will open up many more venue options and save money. If you are looking to elope or just host a few important guests, state parks (with the proper permits), Air BnBs, and resorts can all be budget-friendly options. 

I have a word of caution about all-inclusive venues. While they are typically more budget-friendly – couples tend to have only a limited number of vendors to choose from, or you may have no choice at all. The venue may be gorgeous, but you could end up with an amateur photographer and terrible food! Always read the fine print before signing any contract.

Winston-Salem Wedding Photographer

Speaking of the guest list, the next largest budget item is typically the food. Catering and bartending costs can be one of the biggest pain points when planning a wedding with a budget. The best way to reduce this cost is to reduce the guest list. The more guests you have, the more food you will need. Nobody wants hungry, frustrated guests on their wedding day. Depending on your wedding day timeline, you may need to serve both appetizers and a meal. Consider as well what your alcohol options may be. Many couples are opting for dry weddings for a variety of reasons and some are limiting their options to wine and beer. If you opt for an open bar, be prepared to pay for bartending and possibly extra security for your event. 

I know I may be partial, but another important must-have is your photography and videography. Other than your spouse – this is the big takeaway from your wedding day! The cake will get eaten and the flowers will die, but your photos will get passed on for generations. When planning a wedding on a budget, this is the one place not to skimp, as tempting as it may be! I have written other posts about choosing a photographer, so I will keep it brief: you get what you pay for. I am very suspicious of low-cost photographers and videographers. Legitimate photographers are expensive because they pay taxes, are insured, and typically must be licensed with their state. They have spent lots of time and money on education to get better at their craft and have enough experience to handle different lighting and locations throughout your wedding day. They are not “upcharging” because it is a wedding, they are charging more because they know what their cost of doing business is, and what they are worth. Investing in quality wedding photography and videography is something you will not regret! I have spoken with so many people who tell me they wish they had just spent the money on a better photographer. Don’t be that person with regrets down the road! 

Winston-Salem Wedding Photographer

What are you willing to compromise (or DIY)? 

So what are other costs you need to think about for your wedding budget? Here is a short list:

  • Decorations and rentals (tables, chairs, candles, tablecloths, etc.)
  • Florals
  • Attire 
  • Hair and Make-up
  • DJ and entertainment
  • Wedding Planning or Day-of Coordination (I HIGHLY recommend!)
  • Officiant
  • Cake
  • Transportation
  • Favors
  • Invitations and Save-the-dates
  • Marriage license
  • Rings

There are also other costs to consider like the honeymoon, rehearsal dinner, engagement party, and bachelor/bachelorette party.

The question to ask here is, what are you willing to DIY and what do you need to delegate? These are typically lower-ticket items that you can shop around and even negotiate for the best price, DIY is an option if you have the time and talent. But beware the DIY – sometimes it can come out as even more expensive than hiring a professional once you purchase everything you need for the project. Ultimately, if it saves your sanity to delegate it – it is worth the investment.

Winston-Salem Wedding Photographer

More from Sam and Daniel: a Real Couple with a Tight Budget

Sam and Daniel had booked us for their 2021 wedding that was supposed to take place in June, but due to some unforeseen circumstances, needed to move their wedding up to January. We were able to reschedule, but it left Sam and Daniel scrambling to put together all of the elements for their wedding in a much shorter amount of time and some big changes to their budget. 

Winston-Salem Wedding Photography
Winston-Salem Wedding Photography
Winston-Salem Wedding Photography
Winston-Salem Wedding Photography
Winston-Salem Wedding Photography
Winston-Salem Wedding Photography
Winston-Salem Wedding Photography

After scaling their guest list down, they found a new venue with an opening for their new date. Sam said they chose The Spillway because “it is the perfect size for our smaller wedding.” It was a cozy venue with the most amazing view of the water and golden winter sunset. 

Winston-Salem Wedding Photography
Winston-Salem Wedding Photography
Winston-Salem Wedding Photography
Winston-Salem Wedding Photography
Winston-Salem Wedding Photography

Sam and Daniel’s decor was complete DIY. They stuck with simple, but stylish pampas grass to stay with neighbors! Sam’s aunt also hand-wove the beautiful macrame backdrops used during their ceremony and reception. Her mother assisted with the planning and coordinating. 

Winston-Salem Wedding Photography
Winston-Salem Wedding Photographer
Winston-Salem Wedding Photography
Winston-Salem Wedding Photography
Winston-Salem Wedding Photography
Winston-Salem Wedding Photography
Winston-Salem Wedding Photography
Winston-Salem Wedding Photography

I have to say that for food, it was some of the best North Carolina barbeque I had ever eaten. Sam and Daniel were able to save money on catering by having friends and family cook for the event. Their long-time family friend took care of the barbecued pork and chicken, while her brother and father made the sides. 

Winston-Salem Wedding Photography
Winston-Salem Wedding Photography
Winston-Salem Wedding Photography
Winston-Salem Wedding Photography
Winston-Salem Wedding Photography
Winston-Salem Wedding Photography
Winston-Salem Wedding Photography
Winston-Salem Wedding Photography
Winston-Salem Wedding Photography
Winston-Salem Wedding Photography
Winston-Salem Wedding Photography
Winston-Salem Wedding Photography

Thankfully Sam, Daniel, and their wedding party had already purchased their wedding attire. Samantha purchased her dress from Inlet Bridal in Murrels Inlet, SC. Her beautiful boho gown by Wtoo Watters was her favorite choice because she said it made her feel so good when she was wearing it! She carried her neutral color scheme into the rest of the wedding party with Navy for the men and shades of tan and champagne for the ladies. For her bridesmaids, she spent months collecting dresses from thrift stores that were just the right shade. 

Winston-Salem Wedding Photography
Winston-Salem Wedding Photography
Winston-Salem Wedding Photography
Winston-Salem Wedding Photography
Winston-Salem Wedding Photography
Winston-Salem Wedding Photography
Winston-Salem Wedding Photography

Using the resources available to them (friends and family willing to help) and prioritizing where they wanted to spend the most for their budget (photography, her gown, the venue, and  DJ), they were able to create a beautiful, intimate wedding. They celebrated with their closest friends and family and walked away with a night of amazing memories to cherish for the rest of their lives. 

Winston-Salem Wedding Photography
Winston-Salem Wedding Photography
Winston-Salem Wedding Photography

If you are looking to DIY much of your wedding, I will encourage you to make sure you include one important vendor into your budget: the day-of coordinator. Take much of the stress off of yourself and your loved ones by hiring someone to carry out your carefully-laid plans. 

Winston-Salem Wedding Photography

We're Josh & Alisha

Just two lovebirds, enjoying everyday life.

Photographers. Artists. Creatives. Parents to two. Nerds. Foodies. Lovers. Friends.

We have been friends since 2006, married since 2008, and capturing memories through photography since 2010. The years of experience in all three make us uniquely qualified to tell your budding love story. If the years have taught us anything, its that fulfilling, long-lasting marriages have a foundation of friendship, and are built with joy - and perhaps quite a few carbs! 

We strive to help you feel confident during your big day, and not awkward or stressed - so you can look back on joyful memories that tell your love story.

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Hi! I'm Alisha!

I'm so excited you're here! 

In addition to being a lady-boss photographer, I am a wife, a mom, a teacher and a follower of Jesus. Those things are the center of everything about who I am, what I do, and how I do it. That means I believe in how important family is, whether you are just starting your own, or are celebrating all of those special milestones. Josh and I have been married for over 12 years and photographing weddings and families for over 10 of those years. Our style has evolved over time, but we love capturing images that are bright, colorful, and tell the most important story - yours!

When we are not shooting, I love going on adventures with our two beautiful girls, trying new recipes, or catching up on my favorite shows with my hubby.

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Hi! I'm Josh!

I want to capture your day!

Having the opportunity to live in a town as beautiful as Kernersville, NC is great. Being able to be here with Alisha is even better. I've been married over twelve years to the love of my life and for most of that time we have worked closely as wedding photographers. Because of this, we have a unique outlook on the wedding experience. Having the opportunity to find the joy and love in that special day and share it with you and your family and friends is the best thing about what I do. That's why I never miss getting a photo of the groom's face when he sees his bride for the first time.

When I don't have a camera in my hands, I enjoy coffee dates and car-sushi with my bride, board games before bed, and binge watching Netflix.

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capturing Authentic Love Stories

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