If you’re in the midst of planning your wedding, you’re likely feeling the stress that comes with making and sticking to a wedding budget. Creating your wedding budget is a difficult task, as your financial situation and wedding day dreams may not always be aligned, and many couples may be shocked to find that the average cost of a wedding in the U.S. in 2018 rose to $44,000 according to Brides.
We encourage couples to spend a good bit of time talking through their priorities before drafting their wedding budget. The size of your guest list can have the largest impact on your budget, as an increase in the number of guests you invite has a way of exponentially increasing costs for food, beverages, venues, and vendors across the board. But still, we often hear couples struggling to stay in budget when they are met with a slew of unexpected costs for their wedding day, and this is often because there are a number of expenses that may not be apparent when you first start making your guest list and investigating vendors and venues.
“While there certainly may be emergencies,” says St. Louis wedding planner Cindy Savage of Aisle Less Traveled, ” where I see most couples overspending is either on things that were overlooked in their original budget, things they did not budget enough for, or for things they decided to upgrade to a pricier option.” Unexpected and emergency expenses crop up in almost every wedding, and that’s why the experienced wedding pros in our vendor directory encourage all couples to have a wedding contingency fund for their wedding.
“I usually suggest a 5–10% ‘slush fund’ for couples to have in reserve for emergencies (or more commonly, forgotten expenses),” share New York City wedding planner Meg Hotchkiss of LVR Events. It’s important to note that this is 5-10% of your total estimated wedding expenses, so if you expect to spend about $30,000 on your wedding day, plan to set aside or have available between $1,500–$3,000 for unplanned expenses. If this number is overwhelming to your and your bank account, you may want to go back to your budget and adjust accordingly.
“If this contingency fund is included in the budget couples tend to stick to their budget rather than going over by a ton,” notes Richmond, Virginia wedding planning Jonelle McLeod of Bryck and Lace Events. “It sounds like a lot, but taxes and gratuity especially can add up.”
That leads us to our main point of discussion — what causes all of these surprise expenses? Here are 16 reasons you may need to dip into your wedding contingency fund.
1. Hair & Makeup Trials
When looking for hair and makeup artists to help you look like your best self on your wedding day, many couples may already know to factor in the cost of at least one hair and makeup trial into your budget, but what if that initial trial doesn’t go as planned? The point of a trial is to ensure that you and your stylists are on the same page and that you are confident with the services you’ll be receiving on your wedding day, and it’s possible you might not find your perfect stylist match right away. Having a contingency fund allows you to pay for more than one trial if needed.
I am a huge fan of snail mail, but WOW does postage add up! With save the dates, invitations, and return postage for RSVPs, you’re looking at at least $1.50 per person (assuming your invitations don’t require extra postage and you have no international postage to consider). At 100 guests, that’s an additional $150 you may not have originally considered when budgeting for your wedding invitations. Add in invites for wedding showers or thank you notes, and this cost can easily balloon to $300–400.
Taxes are always hard to gauge until you know the exact final amount for a vendors services, and if you have an open bar or any expenses that are unknown until the day of the wedding, then taxes can really feel like they are a surprise expense. Look into the tax rates for your wedding location, and be prepared to see those taxes on the final bill.
Gratuity is also a major expense that many couples overlook when creating their budget. Since gratuity is based on the quality of the service provided, so it is not required, but for many vendors it is expected. The Knot provides a breakdown of which vendors may expect gratuity and in what amount.
5. Vendor Meals
In addition to the cost of feeding your guests, you should also plan to provide meals for the wedding vendors who are working for you on the day of your wedding. Wedding coordinators, photographers, DJs, and other vendors will all need to eat, so talk to your caterer about vendor meal rates and consider how that will expect your budget. Having a contingency fund means that you can add a vendor meal for that second photographer you added to your wedding day package without breaking the bank.
6. Cake Cutting & Corkage Fees
Cake cutting fees and corkage fees are two expenses that couples rarely plan for when they start budgeting. Many venues or caterers will charge a cake cutting fee if you purchase a wedding cake from a different vendor, and these expenses can be up to $3 per person. With 100 guests, that fee can add up real fast. Corkage fees also typically apply if you plan to bring in alcoholic beverages that were not supplied by the caterer or venue. Supplying your own alcohol can seem like a way to save money, but be sure to look at the corkage fee before going this route, as it may negate your savings.
7. Ceremony Sound System
At my own wedding, we made the mistake of thinking that no microphone would be needed for our wedding ceremony, but WOW were we wrong. We asked our DJ to add on a speaker for the ceremony at the last minute, but a small speaker and mic still weren’t sufficient to amplify our voices in the large venue. We were so far over budget at this point we didn’t have the wiggle room needed to add in an adequate speaker system. If we had created a contingency fund, we would have been able to afford better speakers and our guests would have actually been able to hear us exchange our vows!
8. Marriage License Fees
The cost to get a marriage license is often seen as such a small expense that couples may not actually include it in their budget, but it’s important to note that the cost of a marriage license varies from state to state, and you can end up paying upwards of $120 for a license depending on your state.
9. Delivery & Pickup Fees
“Another often overlooked budget line item is rental item delivery and pickup,” notes Meg. “A lot of raw venues require outside rentals to be picked up at the end of the event. It makes sense that they don't want dirty dishes sitting around overnight, but that also means that the rental company has to send a crew out after hours to do the pickup, which there's an extra fee for.” Ask about these fees ahead of time, and plan to pull these expenses out of your contingency fund.
10. Rain & Weather Plan Expenses
“If you have an outdoor venue you need to account for rain plan expenses, such as tents and additional rentals if needed,” reminds North Carolina wedding planner Erica Greenwold Reisen of Folie à Deux Events. “Tents can range from $750–$3,000 for basic no-frills options in my area, and even if it's for a rain plan, you usually have to place a deposit in advance to reserve it just in case you need it!”
“We flaked on booking transportation for my own wedding until the end,” shares Norfolk, Virginia wedding photographer Tyler Adams of The Girl Tyler. “We realized we hadn't figured out how our wedding party was getting to the venue. We didn't want them to drive so they could party. Fortunately, our hotel had a shuttle we could arrange.” The average couple spends about $750 on wedding transportation, according to WeddingWire, so adding this expense to your budget at the last minute could have a serious impact.
12. Welcome Bags
Providing welcome bags for out of town guests is a nice way to make your guests feel at home while in town for your wedding, but the cost of creating these welcome bags can add up quickly. You can expect to spend anywhere from $10-$100 per welcome bag depending on the items you plan to include. We encourage couples to think critically about whether or not your guests will actually utilize the items in the welcome bag before deciding on what to include. Sadly, many items may end up left behind if your guests don’t have room for them in their luggage.
13. Programs, Signs, & Other Paper Goods
“Miscellaneous extras can sneak up on you and add up quickly, like ‘day of’ paper goods, such as programs, place cards, and signage,” says Tyler. “And don’t forget thank you notes!” In addition to your wedding invitations, you may choose to include a number of paper goods for your wedding day, and the cost of these items can vary greatly. Your contingency fund will help you get the look you want, even if it’s a last minute addition.
14. Extra Hours with Your Photographer or Videographer
“I find that a lot of couples book their photographer or cinematographer before having a solid event timeline in place and end up having to add time to their contracts closer to the wedding date,” notes Meg. Talk to your photographer or videographer about the cost of adding hours before you sign your initial contract so you won’t be too surprised by the expense.
15. Hotel Room(s) for You & Your Partner
Many couples choose to stay in a hotel room after their wedding, and some may also choose to stay in a hotel the night before the wedding as well. If you and your partner want to get ready separately, you may be looking at expenses for multiple rooms for multiple nights, and these expenses add up quickly.
16. Rehearsal Dinners or Morning After Brunch
“A few things that are frequently forgotten are costs for auxiliary events like rehearsal dinners and morning after brunches,” says Cindy. As your RSVPs roll in, you may find yourself wanting to enjoy more time with your out of town guests, and coordinating a morning after brunch can be a significant added expense.
If you can keep all of these extra expenses in mind while planning and account for a 10% contingency fund in your overall budget, you should be able to enjoy your wedding day without the extra stress of last minute costs.
Jen Siomacco is the CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Catalyst Wedding Co. She works to mesh together her love of feminism, love stories, accessibility, equality, and design into the Catalyst brand. When she’s not traveling the country working to make the wedding industry a more inclusive place, she’s writing on her couch and snuggled up with her husband and SUPER lazy cats.
Photo by Tiffany Josephs Photography