Here's the thing everyone needs to know about weddings: They almost always cost more than you think they will. Or as Jaclyn Fisher, owner of Philadelphia-based Two Little Birds Planning, puts it, "no matter how comprehensive their wedding budget, every couple will come across some unexpected or overlooked expenses." That's one very good reason to create wedding contingency fund. "It is better to allocate dollars into a contingency fund than to be overextended—and over your budget," Fisher points out. "A lot of these costs come up in the weeks leading up to the wedding—think taxes, gratuities, welcome-bag delivery, and vendor meals. Overestimating and giving yourself a cushion means no unpleasant surprises right before the big day." And, she adds, if you don't end up needing that money for wedding expenses, "you have extra cash for last-minute wedding upgrades, your honeymoon, or to keep in your bank account."
But how much should you put into that budget line? The answer will be different for every couple, but as a general rule, she suggests setting aside at least five percent—or as much as 15 percent—of your total budget for unexpected expenses and wedding emergencies. According to Fisher, "If you have a very comprehensive and realistic budget, then you can allocate less in the contingency fund." For example, if you've remembered to budget for oft forgotten items such as photo albums for your parents and extra postage for a larger-than-standard-size invitation suite, then Fisher says you can lean toward saving five percent. If you're still unsure of how much to save—and want to be safe, rather than sorry—here are a few additional considerations when planning your wedding contingency fund.
Check your contracts and invoices for service fees and taxes.
Something that can quickly add up—and often goes unaccounted for—are service fees and taxes, says Fisher, who advises you carefully read both contracts and invoices to make sure those expenses are included in your budget. "It's easy to forget about sales tax because it's only a few dollars added to your day-to-day purchases," she says. "But sales tax really adds up when you're taxing thousands of dollars." Think of it this way: If you're planning a menu that will cost $100 per guest, your actual cost per person could climb to $135—depending on your state and local taxes, and the service fee your caterer charges. As Fisher adds up, "If you have 100 guests, you would have originally budgeted $10,000 for catering, but with tax and service, it will cost $13,500, which is $3,500 more than you were expecting to spend."
And make sure you know exactly what's included in your purchases.
Don't assume all your needs (and wants) are accounted for in your contracts and packages. "For example," Fisher says, "when it comes to photography, some couples can forget about the additional cost of prints and albums." Rentals—such as tables, linens, and chairs—can also be an additional charge at your chosen venue, and assuming they're included can set you up for an unpleasant shock as you continue to plan. And you should also "review your catering contract for a gratuity clause," warns Fisher. "Sometimes gratuity is included in the service fee—and sometimes it's not." If it's not, it can add as much as 20 percent to the bill.
Track every expense.
To stay on track—and determine if you should increase your contingency fund—be sure to track every expense as you go, Fisher encourages. She suggests using a spreadsheet to keep expenses. "Be sure to track the original budgeted amount, as well as the actual amount you spend on each vendor and item," she instructs. Then "if you're under budget on anything, move the extra money to the contingency fund," Fisher says, to be safe rather than sorry.