Braving the budget


April 25, 2023

by Jennings Cool Roddey

dining table at wedding reception
Photo by Caroline Lima Photography

The love of your life drops to one knee and asks arguably the best question you have ever heard. You say, “Yes!” and the excitement begins. Engagement parties, celebrations and congratulations are in full swing. But while you are soaring on cloud nine, the thoughts of wedding planning loom in the background.

What venue should you book? How many people should you invite? Should you opt for a sit-down dinner or food stations? Should bridesmaids and groomsmen wear blush or light green?

And then the inevitable question: How much will everything cost?

The Knot, a leading wedding marketplace, surveyed nearly 12,000 couples that wedded in 2022. It revealed that participants spent an average of $30,000 on their ceremony and reception — a $2,000 increase from 2021’s national average. (The cost depended on various factors, such as guest count, location, season, number of vendors, etc.) In 2023, 61% of couples getting married within the year indicate the economy has already affected their wedding plans or decisions, according to the report.

Advice from Charlotte experts

That left us wondering: Is the average in The Knot’s report accurate for the Charlotte market? Sarah Cook, luxury wedding planner and owner and artistic director of boutique planning and design company SoHo Event Design & Planning, begs to differ.

“Sites like [Wedding Wire and The Knot] are throwing out flat numbers — and alarmingly low numbers — for total wedding cost,” she says. Prices vary considerably, she adds, and no two budgets are the same. Factors like city, venue, guest count and choice of vendors can all influence price.

One of the most significant factors determining your budget is guest count. “The more people, the more money you spend and vice versa,” Cook says. Depending on what the client prioritizes, she adds, food and beverages, along with venue, often account for the biggest expenses.

Keeping in mind that pricing fluctuates, Lauren Pressley of Southern Savvy Events, a wedding planning and event design firm, recommends setting aside money for any incidentals. “If you get engaged in ’23 and aren’t getting married until late ’24, it’s possible that your food and beverage cost will not be locked in until mid-’24,” she says.

Even when you think you have your budget nailed down, sometimes sneaky or higher-than-expected costs surface. “I find that many people underestimate the categories that require labor on the event weekend,” says Catherine Dooley, director of sales and brand experience at North Corner Haven, an event venue in Lancaster, S.C. “Floral installations, specialty lighting, tent drapery or even transportation are examples; and don’t forget gratuities where appropriate.”

To help brides and grooms gain perspective on the costs associated with large-scale hospitality, Dooley recommends imagining what it would cost to host a group for dinner at a nice restaurant or a catered dinner party at home. “Then think about taking that off-site to professional locations and all that comes with that — setup, breakdown, coordination and professional fees, etc.,” she says. “Hiring proven professionals is not inexpensive, but it pays off in experience and, many times, ends up saving you dollars in the long run.”

“Food and beverage is usually the largest piece of the puzzle,” says Dina Blazek, founder of Dina Berg Blazek Events. It is common for couples to neglect considering tax and gratuity on food and beverages when composing a budget, she adds. “Many contracts read ‘x’ amount of dollars for food and beverage minimum. That minimum does not include tax and gratuity, which will add another 30-35% to your cost.”

When taking on a new client, the first thing Blazek and her team prepare is a budget. “This helps make vendor/design decisions from the start instead of getting too far in and not being able to go back.” She typically asks clients to give her the top three most important things they envision for their big day, and Blazek and her team build from there.

“The best advice I received from my wedding planner when I was getting married was to budget 30% more than what I thought,” says Marysue Boyle, owner and creative director of Beau Monde Venues, a full-service event hospitality firm. “This was a hard concept for me to understand, considering I thought my budget was healthy. This additional 25-30% was helpful when final bills came in, gratuities were dispersed, taxes and fees, etc.,” she says. “I try to share this guidance to any clients who are beginning the planning phase.”

Slashing costs

With every event and celebration, there are always ways to cut costs, the biggest being inviting fewer guests. Pressley says guest count impacts everything — food and beverage, rental needs, florals, etc. “If you find that your budget is going to be tight, the best remedy is to reevaluate your guest list before sending Save the Dates,” she says.

Boyle agrees, noting typically every additional eight guests triggers increased costs for rentals and labor. “If you want to bring the overall price down of your event, keep the guest list small.”

Adjusting the style of services can also save money. Boyle suggests considering a family-style meal to help with costs. “You can reduce the amount of service staff with this style and often can find great, but budget-friendly meal options.”

Couples can also come up with different ways to save. Emily Gaskin Walls, a bride featured in the Fall 2022 issue of Weddings by SouthPark, pictured her big day filled with florals. But she knew she had to be creative to incorporate her vision into the budget. “I knew what I wanted was going to be out of our budget, so we utilized silk florals in our centerpieces and large arrangements. It helped reduce the cost so much,” she says. “They looked stunning and could be reused or re-sold after the wedding, too.” —W

Budget breakdown

We asked Sarah Cook, luxury wedding planner and owner of SoHo Event Design & Planning, for some guidance on setting a Charlotte wedding budget. Expenses will differ depending on each couple’s priorities and choices, she cautions. Listed below are some general recommendations.

  • Food & Beverages: 25%
  • Venue: 15%
  • Florals: 10%
  • Full-service planner: 10%
  • Rentals*: 10%
  • Photos/video: 9%
  • Entertainment: 7%
  • Attire: 5%
  • Transportation: 2%
  • Beauty: 2%
  • Stationery: 2%
  • Miscellaneous/buffer: 2%
  • Cake: 1%

*Bar fronts, chargers, upgraded flatware/glassware, specialty lighting, draping, lounge furniture, tables, specialty chairs, etc.

For more wedding tips and inspiration, visit Weddings by SouthPark and follow on Instagram.


SouthPark Mall giveaway

Win a $500 shopping spree at SouthPark Mall,
a one-night stay at Hampton Inn & Suites SouthPark
& a $100 Bulla Gastrobar gift card!

Enter here by July 23!