7 stressful wedding-budget surprises (and how to avoid them)

Even the savviest bride can fall prey to these sneaky wedding bills. Stay ahead of any unexpected expenses with this expert advice.

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Courtney Myers thought she knew a thing or two about wedding planning. After all, as a former wedding-paper designer, she’s an industry veteran, so she was pretty sure she knew what to expect when it came to the cost breakdown of planning her own wedding to Michael Myers. But when they returned from their honeymoon, Courtney and Michael sat down and took a hard look at exactly how much they had spent.

“We were definitely surprised by a few things that added up quickly and not included in our initial budget,” Courtney said.

They’re not the first couple to be, ahem, startled when reviewing their bank statements after the last champagne cork pops. While most engaged couples approach wedding planning armed with an idea of projected costs and a target budget, there are often secret “budget bombs” along the way—unpleasant surprises that you only know about after the fact. Who knew that the rockin’ five person zydeco band would require dinner and two drinks each?

But never fear, we’ve identified the seven worst wedding-budget busters—traps that, with a little careful planning, you can dodge entirely.

Table set for party or wedding

Susan Findlay | Stocksy United

1. Vendor extras

To create your dream wedding, you’re going to need to hire a team of professionals: the photographer, musicians, limo drivers, caterers, florists, and maybe a wedding planner. As you book each service provider, make sure to read through the contract carefully and account for budget expenses in addition to the contracted fee.

“We didn’t realize that all of our vendors would require dinner,” Michael said, “And many of them asked for the same meal as the guests in their contracts. That added up very quickly.”

Andie Cuttiford, director of parties at Wrap It Up, explains that often the total, “all-in” price of a vendor is not as it seems in the contract.

“When we build budgets we include the vendor contract price, in addition to suggested gratuity, parking fees and on-site meals,” Cuttiford said. The bride and groom planning a wedding on their own might not know about these add-ons.

Pro tip: Ask each vendor to break down every single cost, and be sure to ask about dinners, tips, travel expenses, and parking. Be upfront with your vendors that you’re trying to budget to the dollar and want to account for everything in advance.

2. Venue extras and rentals

Selecting a reception venue can be overwhelming: you can choose from hotel ballrooms, art galleries, civic buildings, restaurants, lofts, country clubs, private homes—even farms offer event services. Things can get tricky when comparing different types of venues: some require a rental fee, but don’t offer anything more than the actual space, whereas others require a food and beverage minimum, but include tables, chairs, tabletop and a kitchen. Navigating what fits with your budget can be tricky; however, approaching the search with full knowledge of the possibilities is half the battle.

Lauren Corte, who will walk down the aisle this September, knew that an off-premise venue (as opposed to a hotel or private club), would be the best fit for her brunch-style wedding reception. What she didn’t expect was how little was included with most of the venues.

“We looked at venues for $4,000 or $5,000 and quickly realized that in addition to the rental fee we would also be paying to bring in tables, chairs, table appointments and kitchen equipment,” Corte said. “There were also the little things, like the additional fee to bring in cookies made by my grandmother.”

Pro tip: Start an Excel worksheet so you can compare the “bare bones” venues to the “full service” venues with a clear idea of the total costs. Take note of what is all included and which services will need to be contracted out—for example, most off-premise venues require a caterer to be brought in, in addition to a coat check, valet and sometimes security. Hotels, restaurants, and clubs offer these services as part of the contract, but you might need to add a mandatory service fee to your Excel sheet. If it’s an outdoor wedding, is a tent provided or do you need to book that yourself, separately? Don’t be afraid to ask the bare-bones venues what other couples have brought in, which may give you some idea of potential extras.

“Clients are often shocked when they learn that their catering contract includes more than food, beverage and staffing,” wedding planner Cuttiford said. “Tables, linens, china, glassware, barware, and chairs add up!”

Woman writing letter

Milles Studio | Stocksy United

3. Gratuities

Tips are often an afterthought, but they can really add up—especially when you’re blinded by the bliss of your happy day, and begin tossing bills around like they’re confetti. Experts advise wedding planners to note the vendors who would expect tips and include that in budget development. Do you need to tip the priest? The parking valets? Every waiter or just the captain? The limo driver? Make your list now in an effort to expect the unexpected.

Pro tip: Task your wedding planner or a likely-sober and slightly removed person to handle the tips at the end of the night. Put each budgeted tip in an envelope and label them D.J., caterer, etc. Include a little extra (but still budgeted!) just in case you forget someone.

4. Pinterest traps

Perhaps the biggest unexpected costs can be the “must-haves” from Internet research. Ten years ago, brides found inspiration on the pages of magazines that came out quarterly. Today’s bride has access to hundreds of dedicated wedding blogs that are updated every minute. This Pinterest-happy society allows for endless inspiration, sure—but also unlimited new “must-haves.”

“A client found [pictures of] a previous wedding hosted at her venue, with just a couple of months to go to until her own wedding … [She then] wanted to abandon her entire initial look and mimic the published wedding, from lighting and flowers to printables and food,” Cuttiford said. “She nearly doubled her décor budget in doing so.”

Diana and Vince Bicicchi were married on New Year’s Eve and found tons of online inspiration for the holiday theme—but all the extras added up.

“I went into it planning to have photos with sparklers and a champagne toast at midnight,” Diana said. “But once I started finding things online, I had to have them.”

Guests ended up with party poppers as escort cards, a photo booth with dry erase quote boards and blow-up guitars to jam along with the band. Guests said that it was epic; the Bicicchis said that it was expensive.

Pro-tip: The new “must haves” are the old “never would have occurred to me.” Your guests will not notice or remember if you have old-fashioned Polaroids or Mason jars filled with dune grass. Ask yourself: if you had heard of this without the Internet, would you still want to do it?

Wedding bouquet

Milles Studio | Stocksy United

5. Flowers

Dressing the church and reception is one of the really fun parts of wedding planning, but it comes at a price. First of all, there are so many places one could put flowers, from bridal bouquets and boutonnieres to the altar to the escort table to each guest table. And the Internet inspiration, as mentioned above, can be plentiful.

“Brides will often come to us with a picture from the Internet as their must-have for the day,” planner Cuttiford said. “It’s our job to help educate them on what the real costs, or even the reality of the photo would be. There’s a big difference between a staged photoshoot picture and a physical wedding in terms of what is available and what is even real!”

To break it down, the cost of each centerpiece includes a vase rental price, the physical flowers, the arranging, and the delivery.

Pro tip: Have a frank talk with your florist about costs. You’re not the first bride she’s met who’s on a budget, and she’ll be able to suggest ways to trim costs without sacrificing beauty. For example, the Myerses included seasonal (and therefore budget-friendly) blooms in their bouquets. The careful bride can also find other ways to save—using existing church décor at the altar, for example, or repurposing church door wreaths at the reception.

6. The guest list

In an ideal world, we’d invite everyone, from our third-grade teacher to that random guy at the gym, to a blowout extravaganza. In the real world, celebrating with just the people you truly love can be a wonderful way to launch your married life.

“Keeping our guest count below 120 guests was very important,” Courtney Myers said. “It allowed us to spend money on the things that were really important to us while keeping [the total budget] in check.” Fewer guests mean fewer tables, fewer centerpieces, fewer favors, fewer meals, and less alcohol.

Pro-tip: Prioritize. What’s most important to you? The full dinner, the photographer, the videographer, the engraved invitations, or the 12-piece band? Figure out what you can live without. The Bicicchis picked their top two priorities—a killer band and the best photographer they knew—and splurged on those while finding ways to eliminate or DIY the rest.

Bride preparing for wedding

Milles Studio | Stocksy United

7. Big day beauty

Now of course every bride wants to look gorgeous, and professional hair and makeup artists for the wedding day definitely make the primping process stress-free. They absolutely should be part of any bride’s budget. It’s the extras, like pre-wedding hair and makeup trials, spa facials, specialty waxing, and a revved-up fitness plan that can add surprise line items.

“I went in for a pre-wedding facial about six months before our wedding,” Diana said. “Before I left I had been talked into six months of wedding prep facials by the amazing esthetician. Originally I was planning on just one!”

For other brides, it was unexpected beauty trials that took them by surprise. Makeup and hair trials cost $50$75 and can quickly add up if a bride is trying out several artists.

Pro tip: Cuttiford suggests getting recommendations from your planner and friends as to the best fit for the look you’re trying to achieve on the wedding day. The quicker you can settle on a makeup artist and hair stylist, the less money you’ll spend. And to the six months of wedding-prep facials, well, just say no. Everyone recognizes that a wedding is a once-in-a-lifetime event that’s worth splurging on. But even the most carefree of brides doesn’t want any nasty surprises when she’s doing their final accounting. After all, it’s your day, and you’re in charge. Now, how much was that zydeco band?

Budget Breakdown
Cuttiford advises using percentages to determine how much should be allocated for the different expenses.

Ceremony 3%

Reception 48%

Attire & Beauty 7%

Wedding Bands 1.5%

Flowers/Décor 10%

Music (Church and Reception) 8%

Photography 7%

Transportation 2%

Printables 3%

Gifts/Donations 1.5%

Wedding Planner 9%


Katie Kozlowski
Katie Kozlowski

A senior events planner at Bliss Weddings and Events, Katie knows how to throw a beautiful wedding on a budget. Her idea of the perfect day? One with family, dearest friends, no phones, babies everywhere, lots of pasta, good champagne, and amazing music. And dancing, lots of dancing.

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