Real Brides Spill Their Biggest Budget Mistakes

Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
By Daniel P. Smith

Texas newlywed Ava knows what it’s like to be a budget-balancing bride. “Hands down, wedding expenses are the most stressful part of the planning picture,” Ava says. Stress often sparks mistakes, particularly on the financial front. Costs get overlooked or miscalculated, immediacy shoves aside diligence and patience, the swirl of wedding energy tramples logic — all leading to purchases that will only later be deemed superfluous. Fortunately, experience is a wise teacher, so we asked recent brides to share some of the key lessons they learned about budgeting a big event such as this.

Planning
“I tried to plan the wedding from start to finish over the course of four months. The more truncated your planning time is, the more money goes out in a few short months. I did not have much time between a down payment or deposit and the final payments. Over a more extended period of time, our wedding choices would have been much more affordable, [which would have] alleviated quite a bit of stress and allowed me to manage the budget much more efficiently.” — Christina, Lexington, KY

“I didn’t have a proper budget outline, mostly because I initially envisioned my wedding as a ‘simple’ affair. I had a checklist in my head, consisting of my major vendors, dress, and honeymoon, and I thought I was set. As the planning progressed, I realized I didn’t have a clear vision of all the singular costs. I should have written out a budget for everything, consulting other brides and wedding checklists to ensure I had everything covered. If I did that from the beginning, there would have been no surprises, no stressful, last-minute budget conversations with my groom, and I could have avoided some extra tears.” — Ava, Spring, TX

“I spent a lot of time drawing up a budget for big-ticket items, such as flowers and catering, but I forgot to factor in small items like bar napkins and cups, and those things really added up. I also waited until the last minute to purchase those items, so I was caught off guard when I realized how much I’d have to spend. As a result, the wedding total came out a lot higher than I anticipated. I wish that I had spent more time thinking through the details and trying to anticipate every possible expense, because it’s amazing how much of an impact small-dollar purchases can have on your overall budget.” — Kelly, Corpus Christi, TX

Related: Secret Ways To Save Money On Your Wedding Vendors

Big-Picture Items
“My biggest mistake was selecting a venue that was too expensive. I only visited five locations, and I fell in love with the last one we saw. In looking at the different venues, I noticed that they were either inexpensive, but I hated the location or décor, or they were really expensive. Since I knew I’d be devoting a lot of the budget to the venue, I thought, why not spend a little more for the place I love? Looking back, I’m certain I could have found a middle ground, getting a more reasonable price point at a venue I liked, if not loved.” — Katy, Montclair, NJ
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
“When budgeting for bridal apparel, I failed to account for everything. Bridal apparel is more than just the dress and alterations — it’s shoes, a bra, Spanx, jewelry, garter, and so on. I saw numerous wedding checklists that listed ‘bridal attire,’ but never saw something that listed everything in that category. My advice: Research everything, and you’ll be happy you did. The wedding industry can be a crazy business, and you want to make sure you’re aware of all the different costs up front, to avoid being nickel-and-dimed.” — Lindsey, Wheaton, IL

“I did not shop around enough for a photographer. I found one, and we liked her work, so we booked right away. Our pictures were beautiful, but after seeing other friends’ wedding photos, I realized we could have paid a few thousand less for the same quality.” — Katie, Joliet, IL

"Like a lot of women, I’d never had anything tailored before I bought my wedding dress, so it didn’t occur to me to price out alterations. As I bought my dress from a major retailer, it just made sense to have them alter it, and I scheduled my fitting the same day I ordered the dress. Ultimately, I ended up paying 25% of the cost of the dress just to have the hem taken up, as well as a ‘designer dress fee’ because of the brand I’d bought. I let the rush of the moment push me into making an [on-the-spot] decision.” — Lori, Frederick, MD

All Those Little Details
“My single biggest budgeting mistake was the florist. Though my flowers were gorgeous, looking back, I see they were overpriced. I wanted Calla lilies and found these beautiful, purple ones called Picasso lilies. There was a miscommunication somewhere along the line, and I thought we’d be getting a floral arrangement in a small basket for my flower girl. Instead, we got a bag of petals, which we couldn’t even use at the church, since it didn’t allow petals to be tossed.”— Melissa, Hanson, MA

“It is so easy to get caught up in all the details and spend a little extra here, and a little extra there...but all that spending adds up in the end. Looking back, we could have scaled back our budget. Though we loved some of those little details, they did not ultimately make or break our wedding.”— Caitlin, Lowell, MA

“We decided to make our invitations ourselves because we thought it would be a fun project that would save us money. Plus, we had a very specific idea of what we wanted our invites to look like, and the printing services we looked at didn’t really match our style. At the end of it all, we spent hours coming up with a design, trying it out, failing, coming up with a new design, and going back and forth to various stores for supplies. Don’t get me wrong; the invites turned out awesome, but considering the time it took to design, print, and assemble our handmade invitations, I would have spent a little more time researching stationery companies and comparing the prices of the printed invites versus all of the materials we bought separately.” — Sarah, Chicago, IL

“While we came in at or under budget on many wedding items, we did not budget enough money for gifts. We wanted to give worthwhile and meaningful gifts to our parents and bridal party and ended up spending way more than we originally wanted to for good-quality gifts. To avoid this, I would say shop early and shop often. Do not wait until the last minute. Take advantage of big sales and Black Friday deals.” — Kathryn, Columbus, OH
Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Related: How One Bride Cut Her Wedding Budget By $10,000

“Favors. We had picture frames for the photo booth, but our photo booth didn’t work for a good chunk of the reception, and half of our guests left the frames. Favors weren’t a huge cost when you look at the total, but it was probably unnecessary, and I don’t think it made a difference to guests’ enjoyment of the night.” — Anita, Chicago, IL

“To show appreciation for guests who took time out of their schedules to travel to our wedding, I spent two solid evenings packaging salt-water taffy into little, Tiffany-blue paper boxes that I assembled, complete with a Tiffany-blue ribbon. Many guests left them on the table at the end of the reception and I ended up taking 20 of them home!”— Kristine, Milwaukee, WI

“I ordered linens and charger plates, and we could have easily gone without both. The only person that really pays attention to the details when throwing a party is the person who is throwing it. I would have gone with the hotel’s linens and skipped the chargers.” — Cindy, Chicago, IL

Accounting For Extras
“We were on a budget, so we really only saved for the known expenses, and that almost proved disastrous. Since I’m not big on traditions, I didn’t realize it’s polite to invite out-of-town guests to the rehearsal dinner. Quickly, our rehearsal dinner went from 15 to 35 people. Fortunately, a generous couple — completely out of the blue — saved the day and offered to host the rehearsal dinner as their wedding gift to us. It would have been wise to have extra money set aside, since some new expense always comes up.” — Ashley, Alexandria, VA
“Our biggest mistake was that once we got to the finish line, we totally blew off our budget and let a flurry of incremental expenses trickle in. We tripled the amount we budgeted for our rehearsal dinner, because we wanted to get the celebration off to a great start. We should have anticipated about 10 to 15% in overages because there will always be some unexpected costs or financial decisions you’ll make when emotion, not logic, gets the better of you — which it often does.” — Angie, Lawrence, KS
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Related: 15 Money-Saving Tricks From Real Brides

6 Ways Real Brides Kept Their Budget In Line

Start early.
Kelly, a recently married Texan, recommends researching and writing down every possible expense several months before the wedding date. “That way, you can start clipping coupons and bargain-hunting well before your big day.”

Determine what's important.
Massachusetts bride Candace urges couples to have open conversations about needs and wants before aligning those details with the budget. "It is imperative to ask yourself what the most important part of your day will be,” she says.

Gain perspective through reflection.
Illinois bride Brittany determined what was most important to her — photos and food — and focused her budget there. When it came time to decide on other matters, she and her fiancé asked a simple question: “Will we remember this in five years?”

Leverage insider knowledge rather than going at it alone.
Texas newlywed Cali utilized hotel staff and other local vendors for recommendations. “They typically know what’s good and often what’s more cost-conscious as well,” she says.

Don't be afraid to negotiate.
Kentucky bride Christina requested that fees such as cake-cutting or delivery charges be waived. Illinois bride Cindy, who doubles as an employee of a large hotel chain, adds that many venues and vendors are willing to negotiate when brides pick off-season wedding dates or brunch and lunch events.

Employ others' talents.
Ohio bride Laura looked to her artistic brother for help; he snapped her engagement photos and designed the save-the-date cards and invitations before securing some favorable printing costs.

Next: How To Find the Best Wedding Venue For Your Budget
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