More than 2.1 million Americans tie the knot every year, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While some of those weddings are simple courthouse affairs, many are far more elaborate – and expensive. The average wedding in 2014 cost $31,213 according to a survey by wedding website The Knot. With so much money on the line, having a budget is essential to keeping wedding costs under control.
When estimating the cost of their big day, however, many brides and grooms neglect a few items. “Unanticipated costs can add 30% or more to a client’s budget,” Maggie Daniels, the author of the textbook Wedding Planning and Management: Consultancy for Diverse Clients and an associate professor at George Mason University, told U.S. News and World Report. For a couple with a $15,000 budget, that’s an extra $4,500.
Don’t forget about these often-overlooked wedding expenses that can wreak havoc on your budget.
1. The marriage license and other fees
You can skip the designer dress, gourmet meal and lavish open bar, but there’s one wedding-related expense that you can’t avoid. If you want to make it legal, you’ll need a marriage license, the cost of which varies considerably depending on where you get hitched. In Miami-Dade County, Fla., a marriage license will run you $93.50; in Cook County, Ill., a license costs $60, and in Douglas County, Neb., it’s just $15. There is one surprising way to save money on these costs. Some states, including Florida, Texas, Tennessee, and Minnesota, offer discounts on marriage licenses to couples who complete a premarital preparation course.
The marriage license fee isn’t the only one you’ll have to pay, especially if one of you plans on changing your name. Anticipate forking over cash for multiple copies of your marriage certificate, which you’ll need not only for your own records, but also when opening a joint bank account, updating your driver’s license or passport with your new name, applying for a change in your immigration status, or making changes to life or health insurance policies. These costs can add up – in San Diego County, Calif., you’ll pay $15 for each copy of your marriage certificate, for example. Also, while changing your name with the Social Security Administration is free, you will need to pay a fee to update your driver’s license, and changing the name on your passport costs $140.
2. Gratuities and taxes
Gratuities and taxes can add as much as 30% to your total bill for your reception and other wedding-related services. Plan on budgeting an extra 15% or 20% on top of the catering bill for tips, just as you would when dining out, plus any local tax, which could be as much as 8% or 9% in some areas. The additional costs can be steep when your tab is already in the thousands of dollars. The average couple spends $68 per person on catering and has 136 guests at their wedding, according to The Knot, for a total of $9,248. With a gratuity of 20% and local tax of 8%, the catering bill balloons to $11,985.
Catering staff aren’t the only people working at your wedding who may expect or deserve a tip. You may also want to provide a little extra to your hair stylist, makeup artist, wedding band or DJ, parking valets, delivery people, and anyone else who helps the day go smoothly. There are no hard-and-fast rules about tipping these other vendors, however, so you’ll have to use your best judgment. When in doubt, tip as you would for any other service. Hair stylists and makeup artists typically receive a tip of 15% or 20%, for example, while valets receive $2 to $5 per car.
3. Meals for vendors
Your invited guests aren’t the only people attending your wedding. When estimating catering costs, it’s easy to overlook the vendors, but they need to eat, too – receiving a meal may even be in their contract. As a general rule, you should plan on feeding any vendor who will be at your reception when food is being served, including the waitstaff, bartenders, DJ or band members, photographer, and your wedding coordinator. But you’re not responsible for feeding people who will only be at your wedding for a brief time, such as the florist or your makeup artist.
Depending on the size of your wedding, you could need to buy another dozen meals for staff. At an average cost of $68 per plate, that’s an extra $680 to feed 10 vendors (and that doesn’t include tax and tip). The good news? Some caterers provide vendor meals at half price or offer cheaper options, like sandwiches, which could end up saving you hundreds of dollars.
4. Alterations, cleaning and gown preservation
Brides surveyed by The Knot spent an average of $1,357 on their dress, but the costs of wedding attire don’t stop there. Wedding gowns rarely fit off-the-rack, and yours will likely need to be tailored to fit you. These alterations can cost from $100 to $500, according to retailer David’s Bridal, depending on how elaborate the dress is and the extent of alterations needed (a good rule of thumb: the simpler the dress, the less expensive it is to alter). Cleaning and preserving a dress is another expense. At J. Scheer, a clothing and textile preservation specialist with locations in New York, Los Angeles and Dallas, wedding dress cleaning and preservation averages between $495 and $895, while The Knot estimates that gown cleaning and preservation typically costs between $250 and $700.
Thorough planning and having a clear budget in place for your big day is the best way to avoid getting hit with unexpected wedding costs. But unanticipated costs have a way of sneaking up on even the most prepared couples. To avoid an unexpected bill throwing your finances or your planning into disarray, build a little wiggle room into your wedding budget.