Watch CBSN Live

Wedding Planning: 3 Financial Deal Breakers

For years I've been preaching to brides and grooms-to-be on the importance of staying within a reasonable wedding budget. Now, newly engaged, I feel some pressure to stick to my own advice and prove that it can be done.

As I type, my fiance and I are headed to the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia, to check out five potential event spaces in which to hold both our ceremony and reception. I've done some homework in advance of our trip and have a checklist of questions to ask each event manager, so that we can compare apples to apples. I've already made some interesting discoveries, which may become financial deal breakers ... unless, of course, there's room for negotiation.

Here are three specific questions you definitely want to ask as you research reception spaces.

1. Can We Choose Our Own Caterer?
Out of the 10 or so event spaces we've looked into - from museums to hotels and restaurants - all have told us that they work with an exclusive catering service. (The restaurants, I get - but the museums?) This isn't the end of the world, since many of the caterers had exceptional reviews, but it also means you can't comparison shop - or taste - for the best service, since not all of the caterers offer tastings before you sign your contract. Also, if you have special dietary needs, not being able to pick your own caterer may pose a problem. For example, a Jewish friend of mine who's getting married next winter, fell in love with one event space - but because the caterers didn't have a kosher menu, she and her fiance had to continue searching.
2. Does the Catering Include a Wedding Cake?
We found many catering services include the cost of a wedding cake - that you must choose from their bakery, at $10 to $12 per slice. What if you have a relative or friend who wants to make you a cake for your reception? Or what if you want to select your own bakery? We're not even sure we want a wedding cake, anyway - I would be happy with cupcakes. Why must we pay for something that, to us, is discretionary? Can it be deducted from the cost? We shall see.
3. What Are the Ceremony Fees?
Space fees tend to run the gamut, anywhere from $1,500 to $5,000 and up. But don't stop your research there. Ask what other fees apply. I discovered one place charges a ceremony space fee plus $25 per chair and an additional fee for using their sound system or speakers to play your ceremony music. That just seemed a wee bit predatory to me. Like, what is my alternative here? A standing-room-only ceremony with music playing from my iPod speaker?

Meanwhile: This story is to be continued. I look forward to posting more of my wedding planning discoveries in this blog. Please share your wedding financial successes (or disasters). We could all benefit!

More on MoneyWatch