When I first started working in the wedding industry, I was shocked by the amount of money people spent on their big day.
I watched many brides take on unnecessary financial burdens or make money mistakes that cost them thousands of dollars. And while tying the knot is arguably one of the most important days in a couple’s life, starting off a marriage in debt is far from ideal.
Here are the four biggest financial mistakes I’ve seen brides make and some tips to avoid making the same errors:
1. When brides go into debt for the wedding
While it’s easy to get caught up in a to-do list of expensive decisions (like what kind of floral arrangements you want or which caterer to pick) it’s very important to make sure that the wedding of your dreams doesn’t leave you with a mountain of debt after saying “I do.”
Merida Alexander, a corporate and wedding event planner based in Philadelphia, says that she’s seen many brides open new lines of credit to pay for wedding related expenses.
“Unless you already have the money and you just want the airline miles, this is a fast way to end up in debt,” Alexander says. “Part of this is because when you put it on a card (or cards) you’re not as concerned about the total cost, and you’ll get extra things you don’t need.”
Instead of planning a wedding and then finding the way to pay for it, Alexander recommends taking a realistic look at what you can afford and sticking to a budget.
2. When brides think they need everything
I’ve been working with brides for the past four years and during that time I’ve watched the wedding industry grow bigger and bigger.
Rather than just having a wedding cake, some couples now consider having a cake plus a donut wall, cake pop stand or an ice cream sundae bar. Instead of just playing music at their wedding, some brides will opt for a live guitarist to play music during their ceremony, a jazz band to play during cocktail hour and a 10-person band to entertain guests during the reception.
“Like any other industry, the wedding industry tells you that you need a lot of things,” Alexander says. “The problem is that since it’s usually your first time [getting married], it’s easy to be convinced that your bridal party needs cute boxes with personalized glasses to ask if they’ll be a part of your wedding. If it’s in your budget or you have disposable income, it’s cute. If you don’t, it can wind up adding up to stress and a credit card bill.”
When you feel an urge to compare your wedding to the Jones’ wedding, Alexander recommends jotting down a list of your own personal wedding must-haves, traditions that matter to you and your top three unique items you want to buy. If you stick with one list of priorities, it’s easier to avoid overspending on wedding extras you don’t actually need.
3. When brides fail to get organized
One of the biggest must-do’s when wedding planning is to make sure that you stay organized, well-documented in terms of conversations with vendors and to have the most updated and recent contracts on hand. As you do that, you’ll be able to make sure that you have a dense to-do list, a well thought out budget and a game plan against any unexpected fees.
I’ve seen many brides panic when they see fees associated with taxes, service charges or even gratuities appear on their bill. Some couples I’ve worked with have even spent the last penny of their budget without realizing that they are still responsible for tips and day of fees.
Deborah McCoy, the president of American Academy of Wedding Professionals, says some venues don’t mention services charges, taxes or gratuities ahead of time — but these additional costs can add several thousand dollars to a wedding’s bottom line.
Before signing any contracts, McCoy recommends asking your vendor or wedding hall for a final dollar amount that includes taxes and service charges. Then, budget out how much you’d like to give for gratuity before you put the pen to paper and sign off that you’re working with them.
4. When brides throw their budget out the window
At the very start of wedding planning, before setting a date, finding a dress or even putting together a guest list, it’s important to put together a budget and stick to it.
When I start working with couples, I often ask them to share their budget with me. Most of the time, I’ve found that the couple will tell me that they don’t have a budget, just an overall number of what they’d like to cap their spending at.
The problem with this method is that costs easily creep up as you plan a wedding — and when they do, it can be hard to keep track of spending.
If you’re unsure where to start with your budget, Alexander recommends researching the range of prices that vendors in your area charge for different services. Knowing how much each part of your wedding will cost can help you decide what your main and secondary priorities are.
This article originally appeared on Bankrate.com.