Under the veil: 13 unexpected expenses contributing to the average cost of a wedding

A smiling bride and groom stand outside on a deck under an umbrella on a rainy day.Image: A smiling bride and groom stand outside on a deck under an umbrella on a rainy day.

In a Nutshell

The average total cost of a wedding in 2021 was about $34,000, according to The Knot. Sound high? Make sure you’re considering more than the dress, venue and food. We spoke to some experts who broke down 13 unexpected wedding costs to consider.
Editorial Note: Intuit Credit Karma receives compensation from third-party advertisers, but that doesn’t affect our editors’ opinions. Our third-party advertisers don’t review, approve or endorse our editorial content. Information about financial products not offered on Credit Karma is collected independently. Our content is accurate to the best of our knowledge when posted.

Summer kicks off the most popular time of year for couples to tie the knot — which means it’s also the season when couples may be shelling out a lot of cash on their weddings.

The average cost of a wedding in 2021 was $28,000 for the ceremony and reception ($34,000 if you include the engagement ring), according to The Knot’s 2021 Real Weddings Study. The average cost per guest was $266.

Once you start planning for your wedding, you might get hit with sticker shock and find yourself paying for a number of items you weren’t quite prepared for. Wedding Wire found that more than half of the couples who had set a wedding budget ended up increasing their initial budget — in some cases because of unexpected costs or having underestimated costs.

We asked wedding experts to share some common unexpected wedding costs, and we’ve also included how much you might expect to pay for them (though these can vary considerably depending on factors such as your location, the vendor and venue).

Average wedding costs by expense

In 2021, The Knot’s data showed that couples hired an average of 14 wedding vendors. Here’s a breakdown of average vendor costs.

Expense Average cost
Reception venue $10,700
Wedding photographer $2,500
Wedding/event planner $1,700
Live band $4,300
DJ $1,400
Florist $2,300
Videographer $1,900
Wedding dress $1,800
Wedding cake $500
Catering (per person) $75
Transportation $900
Favors $450
Rehearsal dinner $2,300
Engagement ring $6,000
Invitations $530
Hairstylist $130
Makeup artist $115

Source: The Knot Real Weddings Study, 2021

Average wedding costs by state

The Knot’s 2021 Real Weddings Study revealed that couples in New Jersey pay the most on average for weddings, shelling out $47,000 (not including the cost of an engagement ring). In second and third place are Washington, D.C., at $44,000 and Rhode Island at $43,000.

Couples in Wyoming pay the least ($15,800), followed by Oklahoma and Idaho (both at $16,000) and Kansas ($17,000).

State Average cost of a wedding
Alabama $20,000
Arkansas* $17,200
Arizona $20,500
California $33,000
Colorado $24,500
Connecticut $38,500
Delaware* $29,900
District of Columbia $44,000
Florida $27,000
Georgia $27,000
Hawaii* $26,800
Idaho* $16,000
Illinois $32,000
Indiana $19,500
Iowa $19,000
Kentucky $20,000
Kansas $17,000
Louisiana $27,000
Maine* $29,100
Maryland $31,000
Massachusetts $36,000
Michigan $25,000
Minnesota $22,500
Mississippi* $19,100
Missouri $24,500
Montana* $18,500
Nebraska* $18,900
Nevada $20,500
New Hampshire $30,000
New Jersey $47,000
New Mexico* $21,100
New York $42,000
North Carolina $23,000
North Dakota* $24,200
Ohio $25,000
Oklahoma $16,000
Oregon $19,500
Pennsylvania $32,000
Rhode Island* $43,000
South Carolina $26,000
South Dakota $24,200
Tennessee $22,000
Texas $26,000
Utah $17,500
Vermont* $32,700
Virginia $32,000
Washington $23,000
West Virginia* $21,900
Wisconsin $23,000
Wyoming* $15,800

Source: The Knot Real Weddings Study, 2021 (*2019 data)

Unexpected wedding costs

1. Cake-cutting fees

“As an event planner, I know firsthand that there is one unforeseen expense that usually blindsides the wedding party — cake cutting! Most vendors charge a fee per slice. If you have 150 guests and there’s a $1.00 fee per cut slice, you can owe an additional $150 solely for cake cutting. This is a key service to factor into the budget.”

— Nicole Marie Harris, owner and creative director at event planning and design firm Dreams in Detail

Potential extra cost — $1.50 or more per guest

2. Postage

“Avoid sticker (or stamp) shock by researching as much as possible when budgeting for wedding invitations and postage.

“You know you’ll need stamps for your outer envelope, but don’t assume you can get by with a standard stamp. An invitation with more pieces, such as a direction card or map and separate RSVP envelope, which you may also want to pre-stamp, will be heavier.

“Your cost per invite can quickly jump from the standard 40 cents [for a postcard] to as much as a couple dollars. If you have a guest list of 150 people, the additional postage quickly adds up.

“Also, invites that are oddly shaped [may be] more expensive to mail.”

— Kristen Ley Green, co-owner of Something New for I Do

Potential extra cost — Up to around $2 per invitation

3. More time at your venue

“In order for a couple to have their wedding at some sites, they may need to buy additional time from the venue — if the site will sell the extra time. Be prepared for extra costs for securing more time.”

— Joyce Scardina Becker, designer-in-chief and president, Events of Distinction

Potential extra cost — $500 per hour isn’t unusual, depending on the venue, but can even be up to $1,000 to $2,000 per extra hour if you don’t negotiate beforehand

4. Additional power

“At a hotel, having a band perform or utilizing lots of specialty lighting could require additional power, called a ‘power drop.’ This is something many couples don’t foresee.”

— Dezhda Gaubert, former owner, No Worries Event Planning

Potential extra cost — $300 to $500

5. Event liability insurance

“The venue may require event insurance. This ensures that the venue will be able to repair or replace anything that the wedding guests or vendors break.”

— Amy Nolan and Carolyn Johnson, owners and wedding consultants, An Event Less Ordinary

Potential extra cost — Depends on the amount of coverage, but budget for $150 to $550

6. Gratuities

“It’s both greatly advised and appreciated to tip your planners, musicians, rental crew, officiant and transport drivers or valets. Your gratuity for food service should be included in your quote from the venue or caterer — but if not, make sure you plan for this as well.”

— Anastasia Stevenson, Coastal Creative Weddings

Potential extra cost — Can vary depending on your vendors, but here’s a helpful wedding vendor tipping cheat sheet that can guide you

7. Alterations

“Whether you buy off the rack or have your attire custom-made, this is a cost that most couples forget to add to the budget. If you purchase your dress or suit early in the planning process, there’s a good chance you can lose or gain a couple of pounds, which may require you to have the outfit altered.”

— Cat Feliciano, certified wedding and event planner

Potential extra cost — Around $500 for a wedding dress or $150 for a suit

8. Additional staffing fees

“Many catering proposals are written with ‘minimal staffing.’ For a seated, plated fine-dining experience, you may want one wait staff person per table of eight and one bartender per 75 guests. Be prepared for extra labor charges if excellent service is important to you.”

— Joyce Scardina Becker, designer-in-chief and president, Events of Distinction

Potential extra cost — Typically $20 to $30 per hour for each additional wait staff, depending on the vendor

9. Childcare services

“[Couples] may have strict rules about children at their weddings. But a lot of parents feel they shouldn’t have to be responsible for finding childcare, especially if they’re traveling to the wedding. Some parents also don’t want to be far away from their children.

“What couples may not know is that they may be left paying for childcare [at or near the venue] if they don’t want children [attending the] wedding.”

— Rachel Charlupski, founder, The Babysitting Company

Potential extra cost — Upward of $100 per hour, not including agency fees, parking for sitters and a meal

10. Guest transportation

“It’s become more and more popular to transport guests to and from the venue, even if that venue is easily reached by car. Transportation for guests is often in the several thousands [of dollars], depending on the amount of guests the couple would like to transport.”

— Dezhda Gaubert, former owner, No Worries Event Planning

Potential extra cost — A 45- to 55-passenger coach generally runs around $1,000 (from pick-up before the wedding ceremony to end of the wedding)

“Typically, wedding photography packages are based on consecutive hours. If there’s a break slot within your wedding day, a photographer will most likely charge you for this time anyway.

“[Another fee you may encounter is] for the limo driver to wait while the couple and wedding party take portraits. Most limo companies request that the driver leave and return after the portraits are complete. However, if the couple requests that the driver stays, the couple may be charged an additional fee.”

— Alice Bil-Szot, owner/photographer, studioEPIC (Canada)

Potential extra cost — A photographer may charge $250 or more per hour for overtime, while a limo driver may charge between $50 and $150 per hour (plus tip) of wait time

12. Trial hair and makeup

“Brides usually budget for the cost of hair and makeup services day-of, but often forget how important it is to have a trial done to ensure the look you’re going for can be achieved.”

— Cat Feliciano, certified wedding and event planner

Potential extra cost — Anywhere between $50 and $150

13. Vendor meals

“When you’re planning an event that will have your vendors working long hours, you should prepare to include your photographers, planners and musicians in your count to the caterers.”

— Anastasia Stevenson, Coastal Creative Weddings

Potential extra cost — Around $75 per vendor staff member (assuming the cost is similar to feeding your guests), according to the The Knot’s 2021 Real Weddings Study

Next steps

As you create your wedding budget, be sure to consider all potential costs. You might even leave a little wiggle room in your budget for expenses that pop up.

If you’re struggling to pay for your big day, a wedding loan may be a solution — but you’ll need to weigh taking on debt versus having your dream wedding. Also, be sure to pay attention to the loan’s interest rate, which can significantly increase the cost of borrowing money.

If you prefer to avoid a loan, check out our tips for saving money for your wedding.

About the author: Mika Bhatia is an Editorial Content Strategist for Credit Karma. She's worked in financial services and tech, and has now found the perfect union of the two at Credit Karma. When she's not busy strategizing about cred… Read more.