The average cost of a wedding in the United States in 2010 was $24,000. While most of these costs are fixed, wedding contracts often include a number of variable “hidden” costs that can catch unwary couples off guard. These include:
- for caterers, a per person charge for not inviting enough guest
- for caterers, a per person charge for not serving alcohol
- for venues, a service charge to set up and break down chairs, tables, and music equipment
- for venues or caterers, an extra cost for renting linens
- for venues, vendors and transport, an extra cost for exceeding your allotted time
- for venues or caterers, a cake cutting and plating charge (especially if you don’t use the venue’s preferred baker)
- for venues, liability insurance (often the venue will ask you to sign a Release of Liability, which means you have to buy liability insurance on your own)
- for musicians, photographers and other vendors, a charge for travel time
- for all services, the cost of tips and taxes (you no doubt already anticipate this cost, just be sure to include them in your budget)
With all of these hidden costs, how can you keep sticker shock out of your special day? Ask your vendors to itemize the quoted price for you, so that you know exactly what you are getting for the per head cost. If the package includes unwanted bells and whistles, ask to veto certain inclusions until it meets your satisfaction.
Remember the golden rule: she who has the gold makes the rules. Because you’ll be paying a lot for the wedding, you do have negotiating power, just be sure to ask for what you want and get it in writing. For example, you can head off potential hidden costs by proposing them as fixed costs: an all inclusive flat fee may be a bit higher, but it will allow you more leeway without breaking the bank. Some wedding vendors won’t negotiate, but it never hurts to ask, and shop around.
Whatever terms you agree to, be sure to read and understand everything you sign. A wedding contract is a legally binding document, and you are agreeing to the terms when you sign. Take the time to walk through the contract with the venue representative or vendor before signing so that you can ask questions and they can point out anything that’s particularly important.
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