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The Lurking Hidden Costs of a Modern Wedding

  • Bridal Basics • Last updated Jan. 22, 2018
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Have you ever heard of requirements creep? It’s a term used in business to describe how projects get bigger and bigger and bigger. The project starts out as a simple set of requirements, but before you know it, the requirements list has turned into a gargantuan affair. If you think about it, weddings are projects too—really big projects. They’re affected by requirements creep as well.

Weddings just cost a lot. In fact, every ten years, the cost of a wedding increases by about $7,000, just from inflation and other cost factors. But one of the things that will really cause your wedding finances to spiral out of control are the hidden costs. You budget for the cake, the dress, the band and the venue, but there are so many costs related to the bigger costs that are forgotten and not budgeted for.

Let’s explore, shall we?

Wedding Dress and Tuxedos

You found the perfect dress! It’s every girl’s dream. Even better, you’re within budget (or just a little over). Just know that most bridal shops charge extra for any steaming or alterations that are needed to the dress. Bridal shops say it can take their seamstresses three hours to alter the bustier on certain dress styles, so they’re definitely not going to do this for free. Alterations can sometimes be as much as $500 if they’re extensive. Most brides need to have at least one alteration done, so be sure to ask their fees for both alterations as well as dress prep like steaming.

The same goes for tuxedos. If you’re renting or buying, either way, ask about all hidden fees for tailoring, dry cleaning and other possible charges.

The Band

If you have a band for your reception, make sure you get a cost breakdown on paper. When most bands quote their costs, they are quoting how much they charge for the time musicians spend at the event. This fee usually includes the minimum equipment they need, but depending on the venue, extra equipment might be needed. For example, if you have a very large room or an outdoor venue, they might need extra speakers. Be sure the band visits the venue or that they know the venue well if they’ve performed there before, and ask them about all equipment charges. Some wedding planners ask the band to draw up a floor plan of where they’ll need extra equipment. Just know that some new couples have received bills for thousands of dollars of extra equipment, so plan well up front.

Another thing to beware of is overtime charges from the band. They’re booked for a certain amount of time—let’s say three hours. If they run longer, most bands charge by the extra hour, even though they might only run 15 minutes over. Ask about their overtime fee structure during your planning. The same goes for any other professional at your wedding—caterers, photographers and hotel staff.

The Photographer

Speaking of overtime, lots of couples lose money when hiring photographers. Why? Because the photographer is standing around a lot waiting for you. For example, many people take some photos before the wedding ceremony. Rather than the photographer twiddling his or her thumbs, factor in the time it will take your wedding party to dress and do hair and makeup. Have the photographer show up when you’re completely done and ready for photos.


Most people budget in the type of invitations and Save the Date cards they want to have printed, but they forget to budget for the postage needed to send them. If you are sending a large quantity, or sending to other countries, the cost can get really high. Also think about the size of invitation you choose. Really heavy invitations, or those that are multilayered, oversized or uniquely shaped can cost as much as two dollars each when it comes to postage.

Another mistake couples make is spending all their invitation money on Save The Date cards and invitations, and forgetting about the printed material you will need the day of your wedding, like programs, menu cards and table place cards for dinner.

Hotels / Venue

Hotels and other wedding venues can really bust your budget with hidden costs. These venues are in this business for a reason—they make a lot of money hosting weddings and receptions.

For example, most venues will charge you a cake cutting fee and a wine corkage fee. Yes, it’s true! Most venues have their own caterers. If you choose for the venue to provide your cake, there is no extra fee. But if you go with an outside rogue baker, the venue will charge you a cake-cutting fee that covers slicing, serving, clearing the tables and washing all those cake plates. The same goes for any alcohol you serve. Know that some venues charge as much as five dollars per guest, and as much as three dollars for every cork they pop or bottle they open.

Other venues have a preferred list of wedding professionals like caterers, photographers and florists. If you don’t use someone from their list, the venue will most likely deem that business a non-approved professional and charge you an extra fee of 20 percent or more. If you have certain businesses you really want to use, try to choose a venue that doesn’t adhere to a pro list. If you’re not that picky, try to use someone from their list to avoid the extra fees.

Venues will also get you for the cleanup costs when it is all over. Most couples focus on the actual event and forget about the “after” part. Full-service venues usually charge a flat fee for everything, so you don’t have to worry about additional charges in that scenario. If you are renting the space only, then you will likely be charged additional breakdown and cleanup fees for things like garbage haul away, cleaning the venue space and breakdown of chairs and tables. The venue might also charge you overtime for labor. For example, if you marry on a Saturday night, they’ll charge overtime to pay their workers to do Sunday cleanup, because the staff may not normally work on a Sunday. Most of this should be in the venue contract you sign, but if it isn’t, be sure to ask before signing on the dotted line.

Transportation of rented items is another big hidden cost. Let’s say you rent the venue for the space only, and you rent tables, chairs and other equipment from other companies. That company will charge you a truck fee to bring those items to and from the venue. It can cost more than $500 sometimes, so be careful. Ask about these fees up front. Get several bids. A company that has a more expensive cost per chair but free delivery might end up being the cheaper option.

If you have your wedding at a hotel, there are some unique costs associated with a hotel venue. For example, if the entire wedding party is staying at the hotel, the hotel will automatically give every guest a welcome bag. The thing is, that you made the welcome bags, but the hotel will charge you to deliver them. It’s not free and it is a hidden cost because when you reserve the block of rooms, they don’t mention it. Only after you get the final hotel bill do you see the line item for welcome bag delivery—the cost they charge you to hold and drop off the bags. Be sure to ask about all hotel hidden fees of this nature.

Other General Costs

Taxes and gratuities can really bust your bank. They’re not exactly hidden costs, but most people don’t factor them in when budgeting. Just remember that almost any service you have for your wedding will have tax and a gratuity fee. Sometimes the gratuity amount is your choice, but many have as much as a 20 percent or higher gratuity built in. You can get a general ballpark by using the total amount you are spending on the wedding. Factor in your state’s tax rate (let’s say 8 percent, for example) and then factor in a built-in 20 percent gratuity on all services to give you an idea of the true total cost. Amazingly, many professional wedding planners advise adding on an extra one-third of your total cost just to handle taxes, gratuities and tips. It can really add up.

Wedding day meals often get forgotten. Let’s say you’re getting married Saturday evening. Don’t forget to feed your wedding party and yourself breakfast and lunch that day. You can keep each meal simple, but don’t forget to factor that meal cost into your overall budget.

Make It Official

Last but not least, don’t forget about your marriage license! Once you file, you will then have to pay to receive a copy. The cost varies by state but will generally be less than $100. If you get married in another country, like for a destination wedding, you must get your license there, so be sure to factor in the extra travel expenses to fly in early to handle that before your big day.