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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Nelson

10 Hidden Wedding Fees and How to Handle Them

Updated: Sep 3, 2019

In all the excitement of wedding planning, some of these smaller fees might get forgotten until last minute and then you might find yourself scrambling to find those extra pennies tucked away in the couch cushions.

When you are setting up your wedding budget, usually the high ticket items will come to mind first, such as the venue, catering, the wedding attire and wedding day capture. It is a good idea to get a sense of how much that will all cost and then go through everything with a fine toothed comb.

Wedding Attire

A wedding day wouldn't be quite the same without a fancy dress and some suits and ties. We also know that a wedding dress can cost quite a pretty penny and with that comes some hidden fees.

Alterations and steaming are hardly every included in the list price of a wedding dress. Typically the most needed alterations are hemming, taking it in and bustling and those are not cheap. A hem can be as cheap at $8 all the way up into the hundreds of dollars and similarly with your bustle points. I personally have 12 bustle points on my wedding dress and with Davids Bridal, 3 are included and the rest cost $5 a piece. Ouch.

To avoid these costs, it starts with communication. Make sure you understand the stores policies before falling in love with that dress that is right around your budget because guaranteed, alterations will take you above that number. Another way to avoid the fee is to shop at a "bargain bridal" type shop where you might find that perfect dress with the perfect price tag.

The Marriage License

Before getting engaged and starting the process of my own wedding planning, I hadn't put too much thought into the marriage license. My job as a photographer is to take a photo of the couple signing it and smiling because it's now official!

Little did I know, that there is a cost associated with that little piece of paper and the saying of your "I do's".

It will range from state to state, and even potentially from county to county. For example, in Maricopa County, a marriage license will cost you $83. On top of that, if you would like a certified copy, there is an additional price to obtain that.

Unfortunately, in this case, you can not really avoid this cost because it is a required legal document and with that comes a dollar amount. However, to avoid the surprise of the cost, research the cost of a marriage license, depending on the state in which you are to marry, and budget that in from the get go.

Presents for parents

It goes without saying that your parents do a lot for you through out the wedding planning process. Come wedding day, it is a custom to have a small gift to present them with as a thank you of sorts. Typically something personalized like a handkerchief for mom, or a watch for your father. Something that will mean something to the both of you.

To avoid spending a lot, think outside of the box and present them with something that will mean the most to the both of you. Don't jump to the standard piece of diamond jewelry for mom just because it looks nice and is shinny. You can even combine your parent gifts and consider a hand written note, or a photo album of your most favorite family memories.

Bridesmaid proposals

This is a widely growing phenomenon in the wedding industry. Once you have been proposed to, now it is time to ask those of who you want in your bridal party, to be there. This is now most often done with some kind of bridesmaid proposal.

They are all over Pinterest and growing in popularity every year. They can range from very simple to overly extravagant. Don't get me wrong, I love me a good proposal, but if you are a budget conscious couple, there are ways to ask your friends and family to be in your bridal party without spending a lot.

To avoid this is to simply fair on the simpler side of things. I personally asked my bridesmaids to stand up with me by writing handwritten cards to each of my girls. I found some cute templets on google and then traced! Volay! They were all personalized differently to make their personalities and our relationship with each other. If you want to go a little more out, seek the DIY route to save a couple pennies!

Food and food and food

There are a surprising amount of hidden fees when it comes to wedding's and food. As a photographer, I want to mention the vendor meals first and foremost. Yes they will add a plate count, or two, but let me start out by saying these meals are very appreciated. Getting to sit down with a hot meal for a brief amount of time before getting back to work, makes all the difference in the world. So as a favor to all of us vendors, please consider a hot plate meal for us. It will bring us back to life for the reception when everyone is at their craziest!

Your meals can also easily be forgotten. When tallying up the guest count, don't forget to add two plates for you and your new spouse!

Now, there are a couple of places where you can avoid spending some money, or at the very least be educated about the cost. Cake cutting is typically not free. I know! I didn't know that either until I started planning. Typically there is any where from a $2-$7 fee per person. This will vary based on the catering company you choose, and may be negotiable. Communication and education is key for keeping your costs low.

Another hidden fee is corking leftover alcohol at the end of the party. There is already a lot of waste in the wedding industry, but a lot of bar tenders do not want to be a part of that trend. You can expect a $1.50-$3 fee per open bottle. To avoid those fees, factor in as much alcohol is needed to satisfy your guests, and aim to not open bottles that aren't needed.

Service Fees

It is right there in the name, but can go unnoticed if you aren't paying attention. And no, this isn't the tips. That is a whole other expense that you have to budget in.

The service fees are what the venues will charge so that they are able to hire the necessary staff to get your wedding up and running smoothly, as well as torn down once the party has ended. Usually this will be wrapped up in the price of the venue, depending on it inclusivity, but be aware of such service fees with any outside vendors as well.

To avoid these fees, be upfront with you questions and communication right away. Getting those hidden numbers at the beginning of planning will really help when it comes time to crunch numbers and compare prices.

Gratuity, or tips

This is less of a hidden fee, and more of a common practice that some don't abide by, or are just unaware of and then caught blindsided when it comes to the bill.

Typically with the higher ticket items, such as the venue, this will either be included or added on to the final cost. You can expect anywhere from 8% to 15% depending on the location of the venue. The rule is to communicate from day one about what sort of tips and gratuity are expected.

As far as the other vendors that are a part of your wedding day,

  • Catering- if you are hiring an outside catering company, the common practice is to tip between 15%-20% of the final amount. Another option is to pay $50-$100 to each head chef and $20 to your servers.

  • Capture Team- There are differing opinions across the board on this one on whether or not to tip your photographers and videographers. Some say, if you have hired a company, there is no need to tip extra. Others say that if you hire an individual or small business, it is a nice gesture to tip anywhere from $50-$200 at the end of the night. As a photographer myself, I find that it is an extremely kind and generous surprise, but by no means expected.

  • DJ or Musician- If you are having a DJ at your wedding, they will most likely also be the "MC's" for the evening. They will announce you as a new couple, release tables for dinner and keep people up and dancing through out the night. It is accustom to tip between 15% and 20% for their services.

  • Wedding Planner or Coordinator- In regards to your planner, typically a tip isn't given. The time to tip is when they go above and beyond and then, 10%-15% is considered generous.

The rule of thumb here, to avoid a large sticker price, is to communicate with every vendor directly to get a sense of what tips will be expected and where they could be considered a nice to have depending on the level of work completed.


As you begin the wedding planning process, your vision will start to develop. Themes will be decided on and venues will be booked. Some venues will provide rentals, but some wont and depending on your guest count, rentals could easily push up through your budget.

Tables and chairs can range from $3-$10 per person depending on the quality and style you are going for. Table linens are another costly expense ranging from $6 to $10 for a round or square tablecloth that reaches just past the edge of the table. Floor-length tablecloths for rectangular banquet tables can cost up to $18 each. Dinnerware can be very cheap because there are low end styles, costing as little as 35 cents per item, per person and then working up into your finer china which will set you back about $4-$8 per item, per person.

To avoid these costly expenses, do the research with your venue to see what is considered inclusive when it comes to the rentals provided. The more the venue has to contribute, the better for your wallet.


As a photographer, I know of this all too well. The party is raging and everyone is having a blast and the time is flying by. Before you know it, you may have passed into overtime territory with your vendors. Some will be vocal about this and bring it to your attention to be address, and some might not and bill you later.

To avoid those overtime fees, check your contracts for possible fees, and if they’re not included, make sure to get them in writing. $100-$250/hour is common, and that adds up quickly!

Post-Wedding Day

Now that the party has ended and your guests have all returned home, you and your new spouse can relax. Well, not so fast. There are things that now need to be handled post wedding day and you'll want your wedding budget to extend to cover these costs.

Thank you notes are something that should not be skipped out on! Having a party to celebrate is not enough of a thank you for all that your guests have done for the two of you. A lot of guests will be your close family and a thank you card will mean the world to them because it speaks to how much it meant to you, that they were able to share in your wedding day.

To avoid some cost, save a little money and send out a post card style thank you card. You can do this by having a wedding photo taken that you use as your thank you image. Because it will be lightweight, you will save on postage!

At the end of the day, weddings cost a pretty penny. Start saving up those coins at the bottom of your purse, or between the couch cushions. Be very clear with every vendor you work with about all their fees and don't be shy about asking a lot of questions until you get all the fine details worked out. A budget wedding can be accomplished, if you are aware and educated about hidden fees. You got this!!

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