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The Simple 3 Step Plan for Creating an Upscale Wedding Budget

Wedding Planning

September 16, 2016

As a wedding planner here in Alabama, I’ve had the opportunity to plan and witness some truly stunning luxury weddings.  These events are carefully crafted and meticulously organized to represent the couple, as they begin their marriage.

Photo Credit: Eric and Jamie Photography

But what makes a luxury wedding? And how do you budget differently for it?

When you shift from planning an average wedding to coordinating an upscale one, expectations and priorities often change. To help you navigate through all that, I’m revealing some of my top tips for how to create a wedding budget for a slightly higher end event.

Photo Credit: Eric and Jamie Photography


When you’re beginning to plan your wedding budget from scratch, it’s always helpful to have a general idea on the real numbers you may be dealing with.

With the help of the XO group, The Knot conducted a Real Weddings Study in 2015 to see, on average, how much couples spent on their big day and where they allocated that budget.

The research found that, on average, U.S. couples spent about $32,641 on their wedding.

Location Matters

Photo Credit: Spark Photography

However, this number can vary significantly depending on the location. Whereas an average wedding in Alaska may only run couples $17,000, this same level of event could cost upwards of $61,000 in Chicago and $82,000 in New York City.

Depending on where you are looking to have your nuptials, the costs can vary quite a bit.

Luxury Budgets vs. Average Budgets

For an upscale wedding budget, this the final number can look quite different. Splendid Insights has found in their research that a luxury wedding budget typically begins at around $96,000 on average.

Photo Credit: Eric and Jamie Photography

 Once again, this is a national average. 

A $100,000 Alabama wedding might cost $200k – $300k to produce in larger markets like Chicago or New York.

Although every couple may have a final figure in mind, whether hosting a standard wedding or an extravagant one, budgeting for a higher end wedding doesn’t just come down to setting a solid number.

Upscale wedding budgets are primarily determined by priorities.

 In my experience planning high end weddings in Alabama, the most important part of budgeting comes down to assessing which elements of a wedding matter most to you and your family, the hosts of this special event.


Upscale weddings are often held to a slightly different standard, making it critical for couples to establish very early on how they plan to distribute their funds. Without a clear sense of priorities from day one, any wedding budget…large or small…can get off track.

Decide What Matters

Every couple values various aspects of their wedding more than others and, for the most part, we can break these standards down into three categories:

  1. The “WOW” Factor
  2. Personal Expression
  3. Guest Experience


Extravagant weddings are often distinguished by exhibiting that quintessential “wow” factor.

Photo Credit: Eric and Jamie Photography

It’s that remarkable first impression or indescribable feeling guests experience when they come face to face with various aspects of the wedding.

Sometimes this effect is created through the venue with expansive private estates or lush botanical gardens, where beautiful architecture and stunning natural elements can blow guests away. In other cases, this “wow” factor comes through more intricate awe-inspiring details, such as ornate stationery, lavish flowers or grand décor and furniture.

However a couple chooses to produce this extraordinary impression with their guests, their preferred approach should be factored into the wedding budget right from the start to ensure they have enough funds to achieve the impact they’re going for. 

Personal Expression

Whether it’s honoring long-held family traditions, integrating deeply held religious beliefs and customs or expressing one’s personal style and taste, many couples have sentimental priorities that deserve special attention when creating the budget.

Photo Credit: Todd Helzer Photography

Here are a few tips for determining whether your priorities fall into this category:

  • Each of you should make a list of any personal features you want to incorporate into your wedding day, such as individual interests, memories or style.
  • Catalog any spiritual or religious customs that need to be factored into the planning of your day, including items that require an investment, such as jewelry, attire, décor, ceremonial officiants etc.
  • If appropriate, discuss any family traditions or considerations that are important to those involved in the planning of your day, which might impact your budget.
  • Finally, take private time to discuss all of these lists with your fiancé. Create a master list of your top personal priorities and place them in order of importance so that decisions about where to allocate the most funds become easier.

Guest Experience

In recent years, improving guest experience has been a huge priority for all weddings, regardless of budget, but especially for luxury weddings.

In The Knot’s 2015 Real Weddings Study mentioned earlier, it was found that couples are decreasing in overall guest counts, but increasing in the investment of the experience of each individual guest.

Couples are incorporating fun new activities, lively entertainers, and delicious eats to make sure that guests have a fantastic time while enjoying the couple’s big day.  

For a higher end wedding, couples will raise the bar in this category to really set the experience apart from other average events. Luxury weddings are frequently associated with extended multi-day events, such as pre-wedding dinners, farewell brunches or even full wedding weekends. Likewise, they usually feature a thrilling reception, filled with exotic foods, exciting performances, and explosive visuals.

If you envision a spectacular experience for your guests, consider what that might entail. Craft a list of the areas of your wedding where you feel you’ll need to invest a bit more to fabricate this experience and consider how that will impact where you allocate your funds. 

To assist, I offer some specific ideas and tips on this wedding category a bit later in this article.

Brainstorm Ideas to Elevate Your Event

Crafting a one of a kind, high-end wedding isn’t about throwing out the largest number, but rather, making the event as personal and stunning as possible. Working with your event planner, you can string together a series of authentic experiences to create a truly remarkable day for you and your guests; a sparkling entrance, a world-class meal, legendary entertainment.

To get a sense of the components your special day might include and how they will impact your budget, simply start brainstorming various ideas of how you’ll turn typical wedding elements into extraordinary details.

To help you begin, I’ve rounded up a few of my favorite areas for elevating an average event to a luxurious one, including some ballpark numbers to guide you in the right direction. 

Invitations & Stationery

Stationery sets the tone for what guests are to expect from your nuptials. They are the first impression of the overall design and aesthetic that your wedding will bring.

Typically, budgeting brides purchase invitation sets to assemble themselves or stock invitations. However, upscale events call for a more customized approach that can translate into an investment of $5 -$100 per invite, depending on a myriad of factors.  

Here are a few ideas to consider for making your invitations more personalized:


Photo Credit: Todd Helzer Photography

Whether you utilize it for the entire invitation or simply for the envelope addressing, professional, traditional handwritten calligraphy can add a highly personal and elegant touch to your invitations that will surely make them stand out.


Photo Credit: Eric and Jamie Photography

There’s no question that the quality of the materials used for upscale weddings meets an entirely higher standard. Finding quality papers that embody your aesthetic is the best way to communicate your theme and color scheme to your guests, such as linen, textured or iridescent paper stock.


Photo Credit: Be Light Photography

To achieve a luxe look in your invitations, consider investing in metallic lettering or foiling to give your matte materials a reflective effect that adds shimmer and interest.  


Photo Credit: Be Light Photography

With stock invitations, the wording and presentation can often seem repetitive and expected. To change up your invitations and bring something new, communicate to your calligrapher or custom stationer precisely what you’d like to say. If you’re a couple of few words, hire a professional copywriter to think up a clever way to tie your wedding theme or love story into your announcement.


Arguably the most personal component of the entire wedding, the ceremony is truly where it all begins. On your actual wedding day, it will likely be your first opportunity to wow your guests and give them a preview of what is to come with the rest of the day’s festivities.

Photo Credit: Todd Helzer Photography

More importantly, it is also the beginning of your marriage and your life together, making it the segment into which you’ll likely want to incorporate traditional and sentimental elements. Here are a couple ideas for how to accomplish that.


Oftentimes, your average wedding programs are rather simple, and may come on the end of a popsicle stick to act as a fan for hot, outdoor ceremonies. But couples seeking a more polished presentation can focus on creating a quality program that reflects the two of you as a couple or your wedding theme.

Photo Credit: Ann Wade Photography

For example, if the two of you come from a theatrical background or simply enjoy live performance, your program could be formatted like a playbill. If you’re both avid readers, consolidate the ceremony details into a beautiful keepsake bookmark for guests to reuse after the nuptials. 

Like invitations, the investment for this piece could vary greatly based on ink and material choices and level of customization, starting around $2 each.


Instill a sense of awe at the onset of your wedding day with oversized aisle arrangements that tower well above the seating and bring guests eyes upwards.

Photo Credit: Mat Bevill

Place them strategically at the opening of the aisle to form a grand entrance as guests are escorted to their seats. To complete the look, compliment with a tall, expansive wedding arch or pagoda, ceiling drapery and, for outdoor ceremonies, tree-hung décor.

Depending on your floral choices, season and location, oversized arrangements such as these could run anywhere from $500 on up, each.


Photo Credit: Mat Bevill

According to The Knot, for Channing Tatum’s marriage to Jenna Dewan celebrity wedding planner Mindy Weiss collected 80 different vintage handkerchiefs to hand out to female guests before the couple’s ceremony at Jenna’s request. How sweet!


What you wear on your wedding day is a personal expression of you. For upscale weddings, it can also represent of your refined sense of style and quality. 

Photo Credit: Be Light Photography


Some brides and grooms dream of landing that perfect gown or tux from a specific designer, while others simply want attire that’s never been seen before. If you fall into the latter camp, then skip the boutiques and hunt down a local custom wedding gown designer or suit tailor. Although he or she may not have the national name brand recognition, they can provide you with a one-of-a-kind wedding outfit that’s exclusively your own.

Photo Credit: Photos by Heart

Custom gowns and suits typically start in the low 4 figures and can increase in cost from there depending on materials and intricacy of the design.


Much like celebrities showcasing their favorite jewelry designer on the red carpet, upscale couples may want to splurge on designer accessories they might not regularly indulge in. Couples may be able to keep their budget in check while still enjoying the opulence of real diamonds and designer accessories by renting their wedding day jewels. Brides can rent a diamond necklace for as little as $89 at Adorn and grooms can find rentable diamond cuff links for under $250 at Haute Vault.

Photo Credit: Eric and Jamie Photography

Alternatively, brides and grooms might finally get their hands on a coveted designer watch or earrings by using their wedding day as a worthy excuse and continuing to enjoy those pieces in everyday life thereafter.

Reception & Venue

A wedding reception is the area in every wedding where you can truly let your creative side run wide.  There are so many ideas out there to bring your venue up to the next level.  

Photo Credit: Todd Helzer Photography

Here in Birmingham, we love recommending some of Alabama’s most stunning estates, such as Sterling Castle and The American Village.  These large manors are perfect for a large guest list with plenty of room indoors or out. Venues like these and many others can cost a pretty penny, and often represent a significant portion of an upscale reception budget.  

Typically, an upscale reception can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000 dollars.  This being said, that number does not account for florals and dining costs, which can significantly expand this budget.  However, seeing all of these elements come together is well worth the initial investment.  


One of the most understated, yet effortlessly stunning ways to change up a reception, is to put things in a different perspective.  Most ballrooms are flat surfaces, with very few changes in position.  But creating levels is an easy way to elevate the entire room and bring attention where it is due.

A growing trend has been to create elevated dance floors. However this idea can be expanded upon in order to cater to a more high-end design. Instead of elevating just the dance floor, consider also elevating spaces like the bride and groom’s table.   


Celebrity event planners like Preston Bailey love to utilize specialty lighting to create a color wash effect throughout a reception space. For a rich and regal effect, saturate your entire ballroom in your signature wedding colors using a combination of lighting, linens, florals and décor.

Photo Credit: Be Light Photography

Depending on the size of the space and the specific lighting effects you incorporate (pin-spot lighting, pipe and draping lighting etc.), color wash and other lighting effects could be roughly $5000-$10,000.


There are few things more crucial to guest experience than the food.  A savory meal can be the difference between a good wedding and a great one.

Photo Credit: Photos by Heart

This is why so many couples make the catering one of the largest portions of the overall wedding budget. Depending on your region and food choices, upscale entrees can start at roughly $150 per plate and increase from there.


While individually plated entrees with multiple courses is the most suitable format for formal, high end weddings, some couples worry that this makes guests feel strapped to their seats without the freedom to move around and mingle with the guests at other tables.

Photo Credit: Be Light Photography

To combat this, while still maintaining the classic elegance of a sit down meal, couples have started to create a mix and match approach to the menu.  While the main course or entree will still be served to each guest, special treats, from sides, to desserts and midnight snacks can be set up at smaller tables, where guests are free to select the treats that spark their fancy.

This simple modification allows couples to enhance the overall guest experience, which is a top goal for most upscale hosts.


While a signature cocktail to welcome guests is not exclusive to upscale weddings, couples can take this concept up a notch for their high-end wedding.

Photo Credit: Be Light Photography

One idea is to embellish the signature cocktail with unique keepsakes, such as genuine hand-blown glass stirrers. Another tip is to consider expanding the signature drink to an entire menu of personal creations. The couple can select their recommendations for exotic beers and ciders, rare wines and, yes, a few signature cocktails as well.


There is no question that entertainment is an area where most average weddings fall short. To stand out and create a spectacular guest experience, couples can invest a little extra in bringing in special acts and artists. 


There’s no question that skimping on your DJ and Master of Ceremonies could be disastrous for your reception experience.

We’ve all heard (or experienced) the horror stories of MC’s mispronouncing names, cracking jokes that are offensive or hitting on the wedding party.

The behavior and performance of your DJ and MC reflect on you and your family, so there is no room for error in this department. Take the time to fully vet your entertainers, including watching any performance videos they’ve provided you and speaking with past clients.

And don’t be afraid to invest a little extra to book a higher quality, more reputable entertainer. Your future self may thank you.


Today’s “big band” is no longer limited to classic jazz and old skill standards; they bring the house down with top 40 hits and the latest singles in every genre from country to R&B.

Photo Credit: Be Light Photography

The larger the band, the bigger the performance. Couples who want every guest out of their seats should consider a minimum band size of 10 pieces or more with multiple vocalists to cover the widest range of music styles that will appeal to every attendee.

The investment for a big band will be heavily influenced by the geographical region and popularity of the band. Couples should expect to invest at least $8,000 – $20,000 or more for a decent sized, in-demand group.


Entertainment doesn’t end with the band.  On the contrary, hiring talented performers with breathtaking skills can take your wedding reception to the next level.  Aerialists, ribbon dancers, plate spinners and other performers can engage, and sometimes even teach, guests. For an affordable investment of typically under $1000, you can watch in wonder at how these talents captivate your audience and drive up guest experience.


In the 80s, Tom Cruz stole the hearts of young ladies everywhere in the movie “Cocktail” as a hot shot bartender who tipped, tossed and twirled around shakers and shot glasses while crafting popular concoctions. Today you can recreate this effect at your own wedding by hiring specialty bar talent to serve your guests all night.

Extras & Add-Ons

If nothing has sparked your creative side so far, this last category may be the one for you. For some couples, the traditional elements may not fit the bill, which is why funds can be moved around to accommodate a more unique setup or specific element.  

Photo Credit: Eric and Jamie Photography


If the two of you are really enthusiastic over getting married in the great outdoors, bring your guests with you.  

Photo Credit: Todd Helzer Photography

While the glamping trend may be growing with budgeting brides, this concept can also become extremely luxurious. Instead of simply setting up tents, outfit them with swanky furniture pieces and creative accommodations so that your guests can be outside in style and comfort. Costs will vary based on size of space and other add-ons, such as flooring, lighting, walls etc., and may range around $2500 – 10,000+


Dreaming of arriving in a horse drawn carriage? Looking to hold your reception on a river boat? There are so many creative ideas other than the traditional limo or party bus for your transportation needs.

Photo Credit: Be Light Photography

Bring your bridal party and guests along for the ride by hiring unexpected transportation, such as a double decker bus or riverboat, as a fun way to get where you’re going. Transportation costs for specialty vehicles will be significantly higher than the average $800 spend quoted by The Knot’s 2015 survey.


Once your priorities are established, one of the simplest steps you can take to develop your overall wedding budget is to decide where to allocate your budget.


First, work with your local wedding consultant. As wedding planners, your budget is our first order of business and it is our job is to help you simplify the decision-making process by keeping finances top of mind.

Photo Credit: Mat Bevill

Sitting down with your event planner and discussing what experiences and elements matter the most to each of you is the first step to creating your own budget breakdown.


Next, play around with how you might distribute your wedding funds so you can get a birds eye view of where your investments are going.

A fun way to visualize how you’ll disperse your funds is to create a simple pie chart that represents all the areas needed to execute an event. It might look something like this:

Wedding Budget Breakdown - data via The Knot 2015 Survey

The above chart is an example of how a typical wedding budget might break down, based on The Knot’s 2015 survey of the average amount couples spent on the categories showing.

You could create a similar chart for your own wedding, keeping in mind that the categories may look a bit different for a more upscale wedding. If you can nail down your wedding components and assign a percentage of the total wedding funds to each one, you’ll be well on your way to creating your own upscale wedding budget.


As you probably noticed, the categories represented in The Knot’s survey may not cover every aspect of a true luxury wedding, so you’ll likely want to customize the components of your budget in order to create the event experience you’re envisioning.  

Photo Credit: Photos by Heart

For instance, whereas an average wedding may forgo additional guest activities outside of the actual wedding day, a luxury wedding might have pre and post wedding events that span an entire weekend.

Similarly, a standard wedding might utilize a DJ or musicians, but a luxury event commonly showcases additional entertainment such as dancers, aerialists and other artists.

Go through some of the ideas I provided earlier and see which categories you may want to add to your overall wedding budget.


As you can see, creating an upscale wedding budget is as simple as 1-2-3.

  • First, get a sense of what to expect for various wedding expenses by consulting with your wedding planner and even researching rates and surveys online.
  • Next, prioritize what’s most important to you as a couple based on the experience you want to create at your event and any personal touches you’d like to incorporate. Leverage the ideas I provided to kickstart the brainstorming process as well.
  • Finally, after you’ve made some firm decisions about your must-haves and priorities, divide your overall wedding budget into the various expense categories that will need funds to create the wedding you’ve imagined.

Follow the 3 steps I provided with the help of your local wedding consultant and you’ll be well on your way to crafting a wedding budget that supports both your vision and your financial capabilities.


The Simple 3 Step Plan for Creating an Upscale Wedding Budget | Wedding Planners Birmingham Alabama

Christina Sloan Events is a Wedding and Event Planning and Design Studio, offering Full Service Planning, Design, Production, Management, and Month Of Coordination | Serving Birmingham and Montgomery, Alabama and the surrounding Southeast region | Destination Services Available Worldwide

  1. JASS

    September 20th, 2016 at 6:10 am

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