Your Guide to Unexpected Wedding Costs

You’ve already budgeted the money so you can have a harpist play as you walk down the aisle, a photographer and videographer to capture your expression as you say your vows, a rented canopy to shade your guests during the ceremony, and shuttles to take your guests to the reception, where caterers will feed them and a lovely location will set the scene.

However, for many couples, that budget doesn’t cover the actual expense of hosting a wedding. Learn where the most common unexpected expenses lurk so you can avoid the pitfalls of going over-budget on your special day.

Sales Tax

For many wedding vendors, the quoted price does not include sales tax. Depending on the state and county where your wedding takes place, sales tax can be anywhere from nonexistent to over 20 percent once all of the state and local taxes are totaled.

By the time the excess expense is multiplied by your number of wedding vendors, that’s a few thousand dollars easily. In some states, the tax is calculated from the entire price–even including the gratuity you pay your vendors–which escalates the total even more.

Ask each vendor how much the overall price will be once all the taxes and fees are included. Ask if your vendors are willing to reduce their rates slightly if you can pay with cash or a check, since they won’t have to pay credit card fees. This discount can soften or even cancel out the additional taxes. You also may be able to avoid hefty taxes by hiring vendors from other nearby states.

Overtime Charges

Look carefully at the contracts you sign. Many wedding vendors don’t include overtime charges in your overall price agreement. If your wedding runs an hour late, you could end up paying hundreds of dollars to keep the band, DJ, photographer, party rentals, and even the venue itself going as long as your guests do. Make sure your vendors state up front what their overtime charges are, if any. Some vendors refuse to stay late even at an increased price.

Tipping Vendors

Although it’s a boggy etiquette area for some couples, in reality there are firm rules for tipping wedding vendors. If the vendor owns the business, you can safely assume that the tip is already figured into the estimate you were given.

If the staff who serves your wedding works for a higher-up, however, they do deserve tips. (This includes performers hired through an agency and aestheticians who work for a salon.) Always check your contract first, since sometimes gratuities are already included in the price you paid.

If the vendor is not allowed to accept tips (as in the case of some officiants), a donation to their organization is the socially-correct alternative. If the “vendor” is really a friend, a thank-you gift is in order.

As with tipping restaurant servers, a 15 to 20 percent tip is usually appropriate for most wedding vendors including florists, photographers, and catering staff. Wedding coordinators generally deserve a $50 to $100 gratuity, depending on the size of the wedding.

Take into account factors like whether your vendors had to drive a long way to reach your wedding location and whether they came early or stayed late to accommodate you. Weathering family drama with a smile also earns a larger tip. Don’t forget valets, coat checkers, restroom attendants, and other service staff who generally earn a dollar or two per guest. If your guests don’t tip the bartender, that expense also falls to you.

Vendor expenses are usually worth every penny. After all, it’s not every couple who can dash off stunning DIY versions of everything from the formal wear to the dessert. Thank the people who made your wedding day possible by paying them their full worth–just don’t forget to budget an appropriate amount so you’re not taken by surprise.

Pre-wedding Expenses

Even before the wedding date arrives, the costs start piling up. If you’re working within a budget, it helps to know exactly what expenses will arise. While it’s impossible to predict every penny of your wedding costs ahead of time, there are a few standout situations that often catch unsuspecting couples by surprise.

“Free” Cake and Menu Tastings

When you’re hosting a party for your nearest and dearest, you want to make sure the food tastes good. That’s why cake and menu tastings are the norm for couples in the months leading up to the wedding.

Many caterers and bakeries advertise free tastings so couples can experience their delicacies firsthand. However, even free tastings sometimes have hidden costs. Bringing your parents or friends to the complimentary menu tasting may seem like it won’t hurt your budget, but check first to make sure that every aspect of the meal is free. Otherwise, you may end up paying for everybody’s beverages out of your own pocket.

The number of tasters is usually limited by necessity, not by a desire to cheat you. Ask your caterer exactly how many people are allowed to accompany you to the tastings and how much each extra head costs.

Bringing just a few girlfriends from your bridal party may result in $100 or more for a supposedly free event. Tips are also rarely included in free menu tastings. Don’t get caught off guard by the bill at the end of the “free” meal.

Many free tastings are also limited in range. For example, you may be allowed to try the German chocolate cake and the French vanilla cake in order to get a feel for a bakery’s competence, but if you have your heart set on red velvet you’ll need to hand over some money. This goes without saying if you want the bakery to prepare specialty flavor and icing combinations just for you.

More Stationery Than You’d Expect

Traditional weddings involve a lot of paper. First come the announcements and Save the Dates. Then the rehearsal dinner invitations, wedding invitations, RSVP envelopes, and thank-you cards. Not even counting the postage to send all of the papers on their way, the stationery itself accumulates cost quickly.

Don’t forget to budget for paper items like invitation inserts, wedding programs, photos, menu cards and food labels, place cards, favor cards, and all of the personal binders you need to keep track of your own expenses, wedding inspiration ideas, calendars and timelines, and vendor communications.

The more elegant the invitations, the more you can expect to spend on them. Wedding invitations vary widely by type and style. If you’re trying to save money, don’t get carried away with options to increase the thickness and texture of the paper, ink, and printing style. From embossed and raised type to added embellishments like ribbons, invitations add expense very quickly.

DIY invitations can be a cost-saving approach, but be careful since they can also add extra expense if done improperly. Take into account the cost of printer cartridges and glossy or heavy duty paper, as well as any extra embellishments you’d like to add.

Gifters Who Back Out

It’s like a dream come true when your new mother-in-law offers to treat you to a true princess wedding. You go ahead and book the photographer, videographer, live band, mansion venue, catering, and cake on her blessing. But once the deposits are down, what do you do when she claims you misunderstood?

Whether due to true miscommunications or last-minute changes of heart, gifter back-outs are common sob stories. Don’t let it happen to you. If a friend or relative wants to help out with your wedding, get them to book the services in their own name. You’ll find out very quickly whether the offer was sincere, and you’ll avoid painful, wedding-ruining arguments down the road.

Practice Smart Planning

By looking ahead and anticipating potential expenses before they arrive, you put yourself in a position of control over your finances. Weddings shouldn’t be a time of stress and penny-pinching. Instead, gather your financial information ahead of time and decide what type of celebration best suits your needs. That way, you won’t be caught by unwelcome monetary distractions on your way to the altar.

Personal Expenses

With officiants, caterers, bakers, photographers, and crowds of other wedding vendors, it’s sometimes hard to remember to set aside room in your wedding budget for the things that are important to you. Some of the least-expected wedding expenses spring up around personal items–things that are no less essential to your enjoyment of your wedding, but things that don’t make most wedding budget checklists. Don’t forget your personal expenses!

Pet Expenses

If your household has furry members, one unexpected expense is figuring out what to do with them during the wedding madness. For many couples, the days before the nuptials are filled with family and friends coming into town, last-minute errands and trips to the venue, and house visitors crowding in anticipation of the big day. If your preparations don’t mesh well with your pets’ daily routines, it’s best to find a pet sitter for the days immediately surrounding the wedding.

If your pet is included in your ceremony, don’t forget to take care of the extra member of your wedding party. Budget for treats, new leashes and accessories, and even special outfits for the big day. Other possible budget items include a handler to make sure the pet’s needs are met while all the humans are distracted. Keeping animals calm and happy around large, loud crowds is a full-time job.

What are you doing with your pet during your honeymoon? Remember to budget for pet sitters, dog walkers, boarding facilities, or thank-you gifts for friends who help out. In all the wedding fuss, it’s important to leave room in the budget for everyone big and small.

Wedding-Related Activities

If you’re the type of bride who’s looking forward to the bridal shower, the bachelorette party, the wedding ceremony, and the reception as opportunities to show up in new outfits, it helps to make a list of every wedding-related occasion beforehand. It may sound obvious, but one of the sneakiest budget-busters is the creeping accumulation of special outfits for a calendar stretch that’s unusually rich in special days.

Fixing DIY Mistakes

You may have intended to save a bunch of money by making your own flower arrangements, but what happens when you put them together and realize there’s hot glue dripping down the sides and all of the dyed carnations came out muddy brown? You’ve just lost the cost of the flowers, ribbons, and other craft materials, and now you have to pay for a professional job, too. 

The moral of the story is to never undertake a DIY wedding project unless you’re absolutely certain you could do it in your sleep. Practice on a few trial runs first and leave yourself plenty of time to budget for a pro.


Even though it’s technically not part of the wedding, it helps to include the honeymoon in the budget. Otherwise, you risk coming away from the best day of your life only to find you’ve entered the worst month of your life–financially. Keep enough in your budget to cover a blissful first week of married life, even if it means compromising on an hors d’oeuvre or two. You’ll thank yourselves later.

If you’re enjoying a honeymoon in an exotic location, don’t forget to budget for passports, visas, and other mandatory travel expenses.

The plane tickets are easy to remember, but what about rental cars, hotels, meals, and entertainment once you’re there? Leave yourselves plenty of wiggle room so you’re not worried about penny-pinching during your blissfully-newlywed vacation.

Even if you’re staying close to home for your honeymoon, the cost of hotels before and after the wedding, as well as fancy restaurants, can still add up quickly. Don’t forget all of the costs of wedding-related activities, such as picking up bar tabs for the wedding party, either. Celebratory expenses stack up when you’re not paying attention.

By setting aside enough money to cover all of the activities and arrangements that are important to you personally, you ensure that you won’t feel extra stress on your wedding day. Knowing that your needs are met and being cared for provides a feeling of calm and strength even through the fluster and bustle of preparing for a wedding. Stay organized, keep calm, and enjoy marrying the person you love.

Looking Beautiful

Every bride dreams of a flawless wedding look. However, perfection comes at a cost. Not the cost of the perfect dress and shoes–of course you remembered to budget for that. The unexpected costs, however, can sneak up on even the most organized bride. Keep the most common budget-busters in mind as you plan for your wedding and you’ll be assured of looking beautiful and staying calm–even when additional costs spring up.

Hair, Makeup, and Beauty

It’s easy to forget the little niceties that make your wedding day special. Leave room in your budget for hair and makeup trials for you and your wedding party. It’s a good idea to try out several looks before the big day so you can choose your favorites (and test how they come out in the photos).

Some vendors offer free makeup trials, but always ask ahead of time whether you can bring friends–and if so, how many. DIY brides should budget for new makeup, nail polish, and other cosmetics they buy to try out for the wedding. If you’re treating your bridesmaids to matching mani-pedis, put that in the budget too.

If you’re hiring makeup professionals, remember to budget for extra costs, such as travel time, if you want them to make house calls before the wedding. Having a professional on hand right before the ceremony and wedding photos is also a good idea for last-minute touch-ups. Discuss your plans with the vendor in detail ahead of time to avoid incurring overtime charges.


It’s not enough to find the perfect wedding gown and bridesmaid dresses. You have to accessorize them perfectly, too. Whether you go all-out with a diamond tiara or you opt for sentimental value with an antique brooch instead, wedding jewelry still incurs unexpected costs.

Are you inheriting a family ring? While not buying a new ring saves a lot of money, passed-down rings aren’t necessarily free. Remember to budget for alterations (unless you just happen to have the same finger size as your great-grandmother) as well as cleaning for pieces that have been sitting in dusty drawers for a long time.

Antique jewelry also often comes with other expenses, such as replacing clasps, earring backs, and other small details that have been lost over the years. Especially fragile jewelry often needs to be reinforced for everyday wear.

If you want to change a ring’s setting, that’s an additional expense that can be anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending on the type of ring.

Clothing Alterations

Formal wear is never quite as easy as it seems. While some wedding dress and tuxedo shops offer in-house alterations services, the alterations are usually not included in the price of the formal wear. Check with the store’s price list before committing to an outfit that needs a lot of work. Hidden alterations costs strike hardest with couples who assume that buying a secondhand gown will be cheaper.

The more complicated the gown, the more you can expect to pay for alterations. Simple hemline work is usually in the $50 to $100 range, depending on the type and amount of material. Delicate embroidery, lace, or beading work can shoot the price tag up to $800 or more.

If you need the gown’s straps, waist, bust, or fasteners adjusted, the price increases even more. Don’t forget to allot money for the dress fitting and for pressing the finished dress. It is sometimes possible to find a shop that includes these for free.

When you keep these often-overlooked wedding expenses in mind, you’re giving yourself a huge advantage over brides who don’t do their research. You won’t be caught off-guard by little, extra expenses here and there–and there’s nothing more beautiful on your wedding day than a calm, genuine, and stress-free smile.

Little Things Add Up

They say, “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” and you shouldn’t. You should, however, budget for it. Putting on a major event like a wedding requires a mountain of seemingly insignificant materials and supplies. Don’t forget to include the little things in your wedding’s financial plan in order to keep your big day surprise- and stress-free.

Marriage License Fee

In all of the details of wedding planning, it’s easy to overlook the one, most essential cost: the marriage license! Even if you save money by eloping, it’s impossible to avoid paying for the license that makes your union legal. The fee varies by state and county, with some affordable states offering licenses for under $20 while others charge over $100.

If the difference in price makes a big impact on your wedding budget and you’re near county lines, you can cross for the occasion. Keep in mind that some states make couples undergo blood tests and medical exams before issuing licenses, and these can add cost as well.

If you’re having your wedding ceremony in California, it is possible to get a confidential marriage license. The cost for these varies by county but is generally under $120 for both the license and the certified copy of your marriage certificate. A confidential marriage license allows you and your sweetheart to have a wedding that is legal in the eyes of the government, but does not go on public record for prying eyes to see.


A stamp here and there doesn’t seem like a huge expense, but once you’re multiplying postage costs by hundreds of guests it becomes a substantial investment. Consider the price of a postage stamp multiplied by your number of invitees–then multiply that number by the number of announcements, Save the Dates, wedding shower invites, wedding invitations, and thank-you cards you’re sending. It’s not hard to spend hundreds of dollars on postage alone.

If you’re using specialty stationery or a heavy grade of paper, the postage cost increases. Even light extra items such as confetti add up in bulk. Options like pre-printed address labels, pre-stamped envelopes for RSVPs, and specialty decorative stamps all cause cost to skyrocket.

Wondering how to save money? Electronic wedding communications are becoming popular with the younger and eco-conscious crowd, but handwritten thank-you notes are still the etiquette norm. You can decide who will appreciate a full set of paper communications on a guest-by-guest basis, but be warned; if you misjudge, you could be labeled rude.


It’s all too easy to forget to mention the unmentionables. With wedding-day apparel comes the pressing question of what to wear under there. After planning the perfect gown, heels, makeup, and accessories for months, somehow it just doesn’t seem right to skimp on the underpinnings.

If you don’t want to walk down the aisle in the same old unmentionables you’ve been wearing all year, it’s time to budget a nice lingerie set (or two) into the wedding expenses. Don’t forget to put extra pairs of hosiery in your wedding day emergency kit in case one springs a run.

Gowns in need of some extra “poof” need additional petticoats worn underneath, and sheer gowns fare well with silky slips to keep everything flowing smoothly. Form-fitting gowns often look best when paired with figure-enhancing undergarments that ensure good posture and a smooth silhouette. You may also need new undergarments to fit your wedding dress. Backless and strapless dresses need special types of bras that don’t show through the exposed areas. If you don’t own it already, make some room in the apparel budget.

Remember the Little Things

By budgeting for everything–even the little things–you’ll ensure that your wedding day doesn’t spring any nasty surprises on an otherwise blissful occasion. Whether it’s as small as a postage stamp or as sheer as a pair of pantyhose, if you don’t skim over the details you’ll rest assured of being in control of your whole, perfect day.