A discussion on Wedding Budgets with Nancy Liu Chin

A few days ago, a prospective client sent me an email asking me to create a wedding floral proposal for a 200 guest sit down dinner reception and ceremony in the Northern California area at a 4 star hotel(*according to Tripadvisor) based on some images that he/she was inspired by.

The wedding was described as the following(to hide the anonymity of the client, I have paraphrased from her email and have changed the rounded the budget to the narrowest thousand).

Different shades of pinks and white hues for 200 guests equaling 20 tables in total. 3 different kinds of centerpieces from low to medium to tall with the tallest arrangement being not too full of flowers to keep the cost down. Incorporating crystals and possibly feathers as it was part of the theme.
For the wedding party will need a bridal bouquet, a toss bouquet, 5 bridemaids’ bouquets, 1 groom’s boutonniere, 10 ceremony aisle decoration with
2 additional floral arrangements for the ceremony to be repurposed for the sweetheart table.

With regards to the flowers, the client said that he/she was not picky about flowers and could even use baby’s breath if needed. In conclusion, the wedding budget for flowers would need to be under $2000.

I am including two visuals of the images that he/she sent so that we as vendors and as potential clients can learn a bit about budgeting.

glamorous centerpieces

glamourous centerpie

crystal vases with white flowers

Even before I address this specific question, I thought I would play “bride” and find an online resource to see what I should expect to budget for an average wedding.

I used a wedding calculator called Cost of Wedding.com.

After inputting the information the result concluded that the average wedding in Northern California for 200 guests would be $46,900 with an estimated cost per guest of $235 not including any travel.
See below for the breakdown.

wedding planning

wedding budgets

wedding budgets

wedding budget

I want to highlight the floral information which shows that even the internet calculated the average flowers for this 200 guest to be $2800. The take away from this exercise is the following.

1) Is your wedding at average, above, or below the average in your area?
2) Are your wedding inspirations minimal, fair, or designer?
3) Does your budget also include delivery, taxes, and other rental fees associated with flowers.

As you can see in the budget, the calculator does not factor in deliver, installation, setup, breakdown, prop rental, taxes, or any design shop fees that might incur. A more realistic budget should account for these non related items.
If the calculator offers you a $2800 average cost for flowers, keep that in mind when you are asking for a proposal. The non floral should be on top of the budget. Note: Tell your vendor that the budget you have does not include for non floral expenses so that they can write a proposal that is fair. Or tell your vendor that your budget needs to include all incidentals which means, you will get much less flowers.

When a client says they want the following for less than $2000, that means it is below the average and on the low end. If we were choosing a dinner spot, we would understand that to mean that the restaurant might be off the beaten track, possibly new, or lacking in décor or food quality. If the range for dinner restaurants in SF were $15 to $50 then everyone knows that the $15 dinner place might be hamburgers and fries versus the higher is Wagyu beef.

If your design concept is not your average flowers, more tailored, more designer,it’s almost impossible to expect that any decent floral designer could create your dream inspired wedding at the lowest end of the average for flowers.

Picture 34

This clients’ $2000 floral budget is just not achievable when you break things down.

Here’s my low end breakdown taking the budget below and reducing it by 15% roughly per item.
1 Bridal bouquet $149 each – $148( I took $174 and reduced it by 15%)
5 Bridedsmaid $38 each – $190 ( I took $226, reduced it by 15% and divided it by 5 bouquets)
1 Toss Bouquet $38 each – $38 ( I took the price of 1 bridesmaid and assumed the toss would be at the bridesmaid bouquet price)
1 Boutonniere $24.50 each – $24.50 ( I took the boutonniere/corsage and divided it by 6 pieces(1 for groom, 5 for groomsmen. I took 15% off to get to $24.50)
10 Aisle Pew Flowers $29.50 each = $295 ( I took the $347 for ceremony décor and took 15% and divided by 10)
2 Ceremony flowers $165 each = $330( I took $389 for ceremony flower arrangements, took 15% and divided by 2)
20 Centerpieces – all same style = $65 each = $1300(I took All reception flowers plus the amount for the flowers girl since the client did not request a flower girl and added it together to get to $1531, took 15% off and divided by 20)

Total if I took 15% off the average = $2326.50. The client’s request is still $326.50 below this “below average request”. There simply is no way for any designer to do this unless the centerpiece is below average.

It also assumes that there is a designer who could do a bridesmaid bouquet for $38.00(*it would have to be very very small, perhaps all baby’s breath). Even if I could locate someone to do the flowers, it doesn’t account for any crystals, any vases, any embellishment. It assumes that someone is willing to do 3 varied arrangements so that it averages $65.00. That’s going to be hard to find.

For brides, please just take a quick look at what a $120.00 average centerpieces on 1800 flowers looks like.

flower budgets

I’ll even show you my $120.00 centerpiece.

Nancy Liu Chin pink and white centerpiece

The reason why I think this client’s budget isn’t realistic is because it assumes that a business is willing to take profit loses. Unfortunately, most thriving businesses can’t just give every wedding away. If so, the floral designer would eventually be out of business. To invest in 1) tall and grand vases is a huge undertaking that involves knowing future client preferences. If a vendor is willing to invest in these props, then there is more of a likelihood that they could sell this wedding at a potential loss. Please note invest for 9 vases is $990(If I were to buy 2 for the sweet heart table + 7(1/3 for the centerpieces) = 9 x $110 each not including shippings/taxes).

vase full of gems

Secondly, it also assumes that a business owner is willing to forego the cost of delivery, installation, breakdown and possibly design labor costs. This is also very unrealistic. The cost of fuel is rising. Labor in the SF area is now $10.55 at the minimum wage. Venues are requiring more rental and floral businesses to acquire worker’s compensation. Delivery vehicles rent for approximate $125 for a cargo or mini van a day. Skilled designers to create arrangements as well as delivery is on a rise. All in all, the cost for labor is increasing and unless the business owner can do it all, this is probably not responsible to ask a business to take a major hit to make this one wedding budget.

Lastly, it assumes that one’s flowers are on the below average side. And that is the great folly. When your inspiration images are obviously from a luxury wedding inspiration table, it’s really hard and difficult to do quality work and have quality products and quality props and the low end. Something has got to give. It’s the old champagne taste, beer budget. And in this reality, when your inspiration is on the over the top side, it really is hard to make it fit. It’s like two things are fighting each other.

So to review, ask yourself is your flower style minimal, average or designer. Ask yourself did you account for non floral costs? Do some research and find out what your props might actually costs? Be more realistic when you collect your inspiration images. Do some homework and figure out what average cost is in your area before realizing if your over the top dreams can fit into a below average budget? Find a floral internet website like a 1800flowers or ftd.com. Look and examine what a middle of the road flowers service charges. This will give you insight into what real average design and costs are.

Thank you, Nancy, for this insightful and helpful article!

Nancy’s beautiful floral designs can be viewed on her website:

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  1. Thanks for featuring one of my favorite designers! She always has wise words for us. I have read her blog for several years and find her to be brutally honest but always spot-on.

  2. I greatly appreciate the time you have up into this post. I believe many brides today want a designer for the minimal budget so this is really helpful to steer my brides in the correct direction.

  3. This happens all the time. Brides come in with inspiration from celebrity/million dollar weddings and want it on a small budget. They just don’t know. It is great that Nancy has taken the time to break it down in a caring and respectful way.

    Kudos to you for curating such a great post.

  4. Great thorough insight for brides on a budget and breakdown on what occurs on the vendor end to make their floral “designer” grade. It’s great to have resources like this!

  5. Excellent post Nancy! This is a great resource for brides when working on their floral & decor budget so they can hopefully set realistic budget.

  6. Great post Alicia, Chuck, and Nancy. It’s so hard to explain pricing to clients for several reasons….you don’t want to disappoint them, you don’t want to make them feel bad about their budget, and you really want to respectfully explain what they can afford. With all of the web content that is available, it almost makes it seem as if everyone is throwing over the top, lavish weddings. The plentitude of pictures of beautiful bouquets and centerpieces on the web, makes it seem as if it is almost commonplace to have a healthy floral budget. And in reality, I think most designer’s are putting their best and more expensive work out there; and because of it’s beauty it becomes very popular. In an ideal world, the multitiude of web pics available to brides would have a price tag at the bottom right hand corner of the picture. Of course, this is not the case. So this breakdown is very helpful!

  7. That’s a great post, mind if I repost it? I’ve been telling my clients about that all the time too. Most of them want extravagant flowers, over the top cake, luxurious decor, excellent food, dream venue, top notch planner and services, but only willing to fish out a minimal budget. I hate to turn clients away, but it is simply unrealistic. I love wedding planning because this is my passion, my calling; but it is still a business after all. I cannot afford to make a profit loss, just as how nobody is willing to take a pay cut and work for the same number of hours. If the couples want a budget beautiful wedding, sure! I’d give them three words — “DIY”.

  8. This is EXCELLENT info!!!!

  9. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    I actually had a bride tell me that her centerpieces ‘should cost no more than $5’ last week! Needless to say, I was, ahem, annoyed by this statement. I have had a couple of brides try and low-ball me lately, and even when I’ve broken down the costs, and explained the amount of time and materials needed for a specific arrangement, I have still run into resistance. I know not every client is for me, and that sometimes you have to let them go, but it makes me sad to think that they may feel that I am taking advantage of them. I try to work with every budget, but I think that couples need to remember that a floral compromise may be in order!
    This post came at a time when I really needed it. I wish every bride would read this!

  10. I literally have tears in my eyes(ask my assistant Lily)….I am so heartbroken for all those brides who get their dreams crushed. I am heartbroken for all the hardworking floral designers out there trying to make it. I am crushed by the false expectations that we set forth and I blame myself for making things look so simple when the costs are fair from. I wish that I could make it easy and give it all away but like everyone else, in the real world, we have mouths to feed, assistants to pay, invoices stacking up high, and on and on. There is never a good answer but I appreciate so very very very much the outpouring of kind words today. I too need it.
    We are all together. There is no EGO in this business. It doesn’t matter whether you have done 10 weddings or 510 weddings, some clients will have a very different monetary budget from the reality.

    Stay strong everyone.
    And don’t give it away.
    You are not in the business of losing profits.

    xoxo Nance

  11. This is an excellent article, except for two things: There is no budget allotment for ceremony musicians, and the only music vendor option is a DJ. Why not include a budget for a professional live wedding band?

    No bride should walk down the aisle to dead air – or canned music! It’s her most shining moment – she should be surrounded by beautiful music – the song of HER choice, played in a way that compliments her personality and the ambiance of her wedding!

    And secondly, many brides enjoy the class, personality, fun and great entertainment value of a live band. Only listing a DJ is unfair to both the bride, and to a large group of wedding vendors who work very hard to provide the perfect music for their bride’s big day.

    Our band can provide both ceremony music, cocktail reception/dinner music, and dance music. Yes, we’re more expensive than a DJ, but the flexibility and service a professional wedding band provides is well worth it.

    Thank you.

  12. Hi
    This is really interesting to read! I’m a florist over in the UK and this last week has been made up of really unrealistic expections in terms of what I can and can’t do for a Brides wish list regarding her wedding flowers. Two now have turned down my quotes saying that they have a friend “who does them” – and they wanted a cheaper quote. Now I know I’m not expensive, but there are more and more who have unrealistic expections!
    The like I’m using is – “Champagne ideas, for beer budgets” – they get one shot at their wedding day, and so does the person doing their wedding flowers – that’s why they should leave it to the professional and be prepared to pay a reasonable cost.
    We are not a charity – I am in this business to make an honest living, I do not do it for the good of my health and I’m not prepared to do work at a loss…….. its a sad state of affairs at the moment
    Helen x

  13. * sorry, wrong spot. Thank you Nancy!

  14. Such a fabulous breakdown of costs vs. expectations for brides-to-be. Thank you for taking the time to write this Nancy. As a florist I am constantly struggling with making everything fit into a budget that doesn’t fit the ideal look and feel of my clients. This is a great source to have.

  15. Dear Laurie, this post is wonderful…what every bride needs to read! All of us put our hearts and souls into weddings, an event, so special, that we as florists, take on all of the stress, so it can be an unforgettable experience for our clients….why are we made to feel unworthy of the price? Unrealistic expectations, for the price, are something many of us deal with constantly…thank you for clarifying the costs and services for everyone to see. I would love to post this on my blog in the future, with your permission of course. N.xo

  16. Hey! I’m so glad your client sent you pictures of my work (the first image is from a custom wedding proposal we did for a client). The florist is actually Rachel A Clingen from Toronto and I know that NONE of those designs would’ve fit into the pricepoint the client requested. Infact, the centrepieces alone wouldn’t have fit.

    It’s a constant challenge, whether a Planner, like myself or a florist like Nancy or Rachel to justify your costs and show a bride where the money goes. They always think they can simply wholesale the items but they forget the labour… the LOVE… behind what each of us does in creating and designing these pieces. It’s our job, as an Industry, to educate our brides – constantly. This is very much a step in the right direction.

  17. Excellent article! I just got engaged and we’re planing to get married in 8 months. This is very timely. Thanks for giving me an idea how a wedding would costs. Love it!

  18. Great post! I have shared it with hopes that all of our customers will share it with their clients.

  19. Thank You so very much for putting into words what so many of us designers have a hard time saying to our clients…afraid to scare them away. Websites like Pinterest, I fear, are only making matters worse. If the client could know…”YES! We can’t wait to do something like this!” is quickly or sometimes after several proposal edits…taken down to “Oh, I only wish we could do this!” by their completely bummed out designer. It’s heartbreaking for us, too! Who wants to make $40 wedding centerpieces? Not me! Perhaps someone should make a better budget calculator that factors all of the extra things not accounted for in typical ones, and “we” could plaster it all over the internet so they would be much more informed. How about a new website, like Pinterest, that slaps a price tag on the designs in the image? Now that would get their attention!

  20. This is tremendous information, straightforward and intelligent.

    With your permission, I plan to bookmark it and pass it on for those consultations where the gap between budget and expectation is unable to be reconciled.

    There are limited pictures of “average” weddings out there on blogs, in magazines and on TV. The large majority of the pictures that brides put on Pinterest and tear from the pages of Grace Ormonde are not from weddings that suffer from an average budget.

    It’s no fun to be in a consultation where you get to be the one to put the price tag on the dream. I always say “Don’t kill the messenger” with a smile and a sense of humor.

    “They don’t know how much things cost”…I tell myself….”they have sticker shock”. Most of the time people are reasonable and understanding.

    When they say “Oh, but you’re so creative! You can make it work!” I say “Thank You, but there is no amount of creativity that can bridge the gap between your budget and your expectation. Disappointment is sure to follow on both of our parts, and I am not interested in disappointing myself or my brides”

    This article is a great tool. Thank you so much for your commitment to excellence.

  21. Tracy Park says:

    I stopped the price shopping bride 4 yeas ago. I am in a smaller area with not a of of competition. I did some research and with a little hesitation at first, put am minimum on my weddings. I post it on my website, blog etc. Weeds out all lower end brides. I also show my price points. it WORKS!! my brides have realistic budgets when they get to me. IF they don’t thy see my prices and don’t call or email. PROBLEM gone. for me..I rather do 1 wedding a weekend for a thousand dollars then 2 ~500.00 weddings..IMO..great reading..

  22. Based on the encouragement and the comments, I decided today to add some “pricepoints” on my pinterest board of actual bridal and bridesmaid bouquets we offer. http://pinterest.com/nancyliuchin/real-brides-real-bouquets/
    I encourage all of you to be more transparent so that our clients and customers have a better understanding. Please email me with any more comments. I’m here for all of you —- brides, vendors, floral designers, the curious!

  23. Nancy thanks so much! I have the same situation with a bride today. What are you going to tell the bride?

  24. Lois Martin says:

    Oh dear! Thank you so much for this article. This comes at the perfect time where I was feeling really terrible about a job that I will have to decline after much consideration. When a bride will spend more on their dress and makeup than they do on decor and flowers it really makes me wonder. Thanks so much for taking the time to create awareness.

  25. Nancy! You put together so much meaty flower goodness here. I’m sure a lot of designers are saying Amen to all your words. I’m sure many have done similar calculations…and I can tell you that I, too, have checked in on the pricing for sites like 1-800-flowers to check what their pricing is like just to make sure I’m not the crazy one! We really do all share the same struggles in this industry. Great post! Service is where we stand out! Thanks.