It doesn’t matter if your wedding has 50 guests or 500 — the planning is a feat, and for about a year you’re swamped with an ever-growing to-do list. Costs can easily sneak up on you, especially if you've never been through a wedding before.
It’s easy to forget about small details or miss the fine-print on contracts, and paying for several unexpected expenses can quickly blow up your savings.
Wedding website The Knot surveyed several wedding experts about the most common forgotten expenses. Click to see the most surprising wedding costs and some budget hacks so your big day won't come with a big bill.
1. Cake cutting fees
Price: $1 to $2 per slice
Wait — hold up, really? Yes, really. Cake cutting fees.
The average cost of a wedding cake is $450, and if that’s not already making your head spin, the venue can tack on an additional charge just to cut and serve it.
Many vendors charge a fee per slice — usually $1 or $2. If you have 150 guests, that’s $300. Yikes.
How to avoid cake fees
Cake cutting fees are a way for venues to push you to use their in-house baking teams.
If you’re set on having a cake made by third-party bakers, consider setting up a self-serve station.
Or do cupcakes. They're a trendy alternative to big wedding cakes, and they don't require cutting.
Price: $1 or more per invitation
Invitations are already a huge wedding expense (costing $386, on average, according to The Knot) — but don’t forget, you actually have to send them, too.
You’ll need not only your own envelopes and stamps, but also return envelopes and stamps for your invitees.
Keep in mind that heavier card stock, oddly-shaped invitations, and additional items (like direction maps) are more expensive to mail, meaning that the standard 35-cents-per-stamp could quickly jump to a few dollars.
How to avoid postage costs
Two words: digital invitations. We live in the social media age, and the likelihood that your guests will even send your RSVPs back is slim to none.
More than likely, you’ll end up hounding people on the phone to confirm whether they’re coming, and your frilly, embossed ivory card stock will sit magnetized to a fridge until it’s unceremoniously thrown in the garbage.
Do you know what that spells? Wasted money and time.
Websites including Greenvelope and Wix offer customizable online wedding invitation and wedding website services for a fraction of the cost of paper invitations, and they will save you the headache of buying unnecessary stamps.
3. Power and utilities
Price: $300 to $500
Having a DJ or a band requires lots of speciality lighting and several pieces of heavy duty audio equipment. Since the tunes will be playing until the wee hours, a lot of electricity will be expended — and when the party's over, someone’s gotta foot the electricity bill.
Fun stuff, right?
What’s even more fun is that venues usually don’t even tell you until after your wedding is over. They just send you the bill — with a few extra zeros added to the tab.
How to avoid utilities charges
Be your own DJ.
A few speakers are all you need, and they can be very cheap to rent (if not already provided by the venue). From there, the two of you can make a Spotify playlist of your favorite songs.
You might want to get the premium subscription so your guests aren’t listening to ads all night. But that $10 is astronomically cheaper than the thousands of dollars spent on a DJ and a hefty power bill.
Price: $600 to $1,000, and up
Very rarely will a bride be able to buy an item off the rack and wear it down the aisle.
Since there are millions of brides every year of all shapes and sizes, wedding dress designers make gowns according to standardized sample sizes. That usually means 12 inches of extra hem, larger breast cups, and wider hip and shoulder proportions.
This is where alterations come in, and they can cost a jaw-dropping amount of money, depending on how much work is needed.
How to avoid paying for alterations
Sorry, but you'll have to make sure to factor alterations into your wedding dress budget.
Wedding dress alterations require specialized skills that you’ll want a professional to handle — not your cousin who’s a whiz with a sewing machine.
As such, if your dress budget is $5,000, your dress shouldn’t go over $4,000. Leave $1,000 for alterations, just in case.
5. Hair and makeup trial
Price: $150 per trial
Hiring a professional makeup artist and hairstylist is a staple in any bride’s wedding budget. What many people don’t realize, though, is that a hair and makeup trial run is built into most wedding packages.
The trial is there because you may not always know what you want, or you’ll change your mind a few times.
Keep in mind that while the first trial is built into the cost, additional trials will run you about $150.
How to avoid costly beauty trials
Make sure you have your dress before you go to your trial, so you’ll know whether an updo or a blowout goes with the neckline.
Look around on Pinterest for wedding hair and makeup inspo, and know what you’re comfortable with. Don't feel like you have to do something radically different just because it's your wedding day.
Choosing hair and makeup styles that work for you will save you the cost of having to go back.
Most of us have only ever purchased flowers for birthdays or graduations, so the thought of paying a florist two grand is enough to send you running for the courthouse.
So, why is it so expensive?
To put it simply, not every flower is created equal. While it may take 10 roses to make a bouquet or centerpiece, florists will typically order double that amount to make sure there are no limp petals or damaged stalks.
How to avoid flower expenses
DIY where you can.
While having a bouquet is a bridal staple, those orchid centerpieces add unnecessary bloat to your budget.
There are plenty of tutorials on Pinterest and YouTube about how to make your own centerpieces, and they’ll be much more affordable than real flowers.
7. Venue, catering and booze
Prices: $15,439, $2,564, and $70 per person, respectively
You’re throwing a big party, and naturally you want to wine and dine all of your guests.
However, what many people don’t expect is that the venue, catering and booze are all separate charges that can total into the tens of thousands of dollars if you don't discuss exactly what you're going to be paying for.
Keep in mind, not only are you renting the venue and paying for the food, but you’re also paying for a bartender and wait staff to serve your guests for the night. You're technically an employer running a mini-economy.
How to avoid high reception costs
Shop ahead of time. There’s a reason many people plan weddings two or three years in advance — and it’s not because they’re control freaks.
Looking at venues way ahead of your wedding date will give you a wider array of pricing options, so you can choose a place that sits more comfortably within your budget.
Ask to see catering brochures and wedding packages, and cross-compare everything. Also, if you live in a major city, look at venues an hour away — nonmetropolitan locales are usually more budget-friendly.
8. Officiant and marriage license
Price: $286 to $400 and $50-$100, respectively
Getting married involves a fair bit of paperwork — who knew?
Before you tie the knot, you need to apply for a marriage license. You also need a government-approved officiant or religious official to legally marry you. Marriage license costs vary from state to state, usually averaging around $50.
That’s not so bad, but it can get tricky when trying to find an affordable officiant. They can cost up to hundreds of dollars, especially in major cities.
How to avoid an expensive officiant
Sign up for a WeddingWire account.
Many officiants have public profiles and provide detailed price ranges and testimonials from previous clients.
As for the marriage license — sorry, but you’ll just have to put that one on a credit card.
9. More time at the venue
Price: $1,000 to $2,000 per extra hour
While receptions typically run four to six hours, some venues have extremely strict time restrictions.
This can be the result of noise laws, clean-up and tear-down times, or company policy. If you require more time to hold your reception, you may need to buy additional hours from the venue.
Or worse: You party the night away only to realize that the extra hour you spent at the venue ended up costing a couple grand, and you didn't realize until after you got the bill. Talk about a hangover.
How to avoid venue overtime charges
Read through your venue contracts very carefully.
See what time frames are stipulated for cocktail hour and reception. You want an ample amount of time to get down and party with your guests, so don’t sign anything that gives you less than what you’re looking for.
10. Photographer, videographer and associated fees
Prices: $2,679 and $ 2,021, respectively
It makes sense that you want to capture your special memories on film for all eternity, but most people are in for a surprise when they see just how much it costs to hire a photography and video service for the day.
On top of that, you also may be required to pay for extra time not used for taking photos.
Wedding photographers and videographers are sometimes booked in consecutive one-hour time slots, so if there's a one- or two-hour lunch or cocktail break on your wedding day, you could end up paying for the time anyway. Ouch.
How to avoid high wedding media costs
Again, shop around ahead of time. Check out photographers who vibe with your style and your vision, but be realistic about your budget and what you can afford.
Make sure to ask if they charge an hourly fee or a lump sum. If you know any photographers you like (maybe someone who did your friend's wedding), ask for a referral discount.
Or, you could search through the local arts colleges to see if there are any photography students just starting out. They’ll likely be a lot cheaper than a professional photog.
11. Wedding planner
If you’ve never planned so much as a party before, the idea of planning a wedding can send your anxiety into overdrive.
It’s tempting to call a professional and foist all of the phone calls, vendor tracking and seat planning off onto a wedding planner.
But be warned, the good ones aren’t cheap.
How to avoid a pricey planner
Ask for help.
Recruit friends and family members to help you with fine-tuning the little details and shoulder some of the to-do lists. (Be sure to thank them, too.)
12. Liability and event insurance
Price: $100 to $500
The wedding venue will likely be the single biggest expense of your wedding. This is because there are a myriad hidden costs associated with renting out a venue — specifically liability and event insurance.
If your wedding venue is located in a place that could flood or in a locale where wildfires are a risk, you may have to opt for insurance in order to recoup some of your losses should the venue close down. Cancellation coverage will be included.
Some venues may require you to purchase coverage in case any of its property is damaged during the event. Venues can even hold you responsible for issues that arise after your guests have left.
How to avoid costly coverage
While paying some event insurance may be unavoidable, look for the most affordable package. Check rates offered by firms such Wedsure and WedSafe, which specialize in wedding coverage.
Get a lawyer friend to review the contract for you (if you have one), and refuse to sign anything before you smooth it over with the venue.
Be sure to watch out for the phrase that says the venue is “indemnified and held harmless.” This clause means you’re 100% responsible for any damage incurred before, during or after the event, and it could be used to gouge you.
13. Wedding day transportation
If your ceremony and reception take place at two different venues, then you'll need viable transportation.
But watch out — there are plenty of hidden costs associated with renting a fancy set of wheels for the day.
For example, if the limousine driver has to wait around while you take portraits, you could be charged an additional fee for the time. On top of that, you may have to cover insurance for the limo, too.
How to avoid transportation charges
There are plenty of ways to make a grand entrance that won't hurt your wallet.
Consider a party bus instead: a refurbished school bus that you can use to transport your wedding party from A to B.
If your reception is close by, consider walking.
14. Bachelorette party
Bachelorette parties are now a huge part of the wedding process, and luxe vacations to places like Las Vegas or New York City are now the norm.
While traditionally the bridesmaids have picked up the tab, many brides now opt to pay their share of the hotel and plane tickets to help shoulder some of the costs.
Those can be hefty, especially if you're planning a honeymoon, too.
How to avoid a high-priced party
Discuss it with your bridesmaids beforehand. Duh.
Let them know — kindly, but firmly — that you want to keep your bachelorette party local.
15. Shoes and accessories
Price: $200 to $500
While the dress and the rings are usually the first things that couples pick out, many people forget to save room in their budget for additional fashion pieces.
Veil, earrings, shoes, shapewear, garters, pocket squares, cuff links and boutonnieres all add up.
How to avoid fees for finery
This is where the old adage "something borrowed" comes in. (And this includes the groom, too.)
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