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3 Unpleasant Realities to Cancelling a Wedding

If you plan your wedding before you're actually sure you're ready to get married, and you split up, you'll lose more than the "love of your life." You'll lose money -- and you might actually owe more!
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Fact: If you cancel or postpone your wedding, it will cost you money.

Make sure you're DEFINITELY ready to take the plunge before you start planning your wedding. Just because you've announced your engagement to the world doesn't necessarily mean you're ready to sign wedding vendor contracts. There's no rule that says you must get married on a certain timeline. While I don't personally advocate decades-long engagements, an extended engagement isn't a bad thing if either half of the couple has the slightest hesitancy about moving forward.

If you plan your wedding before you're actually sure you're ready to get married, and you split up, you'll lose more than the "love of your life." You'll lose money -- and you might actually owe more!

I'm not sure why so many couples are literally racing down the aisle these days. Perhaps it's because weddings are fun and a huge societal trend. No, really. Fifty years ago, people didn't make as big of a deal about their weddings. And an elopement meant going to the courthouse in the nearest state with no waiting period or blood test to get your marriage license on the sly. Today, wedding planning is an almost $90 billion industry.

There's a financial downside to rushing your wedding plans, especially if you haven't been together with your fiancé for all that long. Once you start the planning, there's no turning back without consequences. Even a postponement will cost you money, all though not as much as if you don't get married at all. That means if your relationship gets rocky and you don't say "I do," you'll suffer financially as well as emotionally.

Why are wedding vendors so strict about cancellations? Because the entire time you've had their calendar booked for your big day, they couldn't book any other clients. They held that date for you. Likely, they've turned away more than one potential bride for your date.

Here are three true, but unfortunate, facts about cancelling your wedding:

1) You will lose deposits. Some vendors will issue refunds, but most of the nonrefundable deposits attached to your wedding contracts are gone with the wind if you cancel. Some vendors offer partial refunds up to a specific date, so play close attention to that. Don't even bother trying to charge back on your credit card if you signed a contract with the vendor. Credit card companies are savvy to the wedding game, and they will support a vendor who has your signature on an authorization form.

2) You may still owe money. Some vendor contracts state that "if the wedding is cancelled within 60 days of the wedding date, the client is responsible for paying the balance of their outstanding fee." Why? Because at 60 days out, it's almost impossible for the vendor to find another client to make that day profitable. If you're waffling on whether to go through with main event, be sure you're aware of these balance payment deadlines. If you're going to get cold feet, do it before it costs you thousands of dollars more in goods and services you won't be using.

3) Your guests will lose money. Unless you cancel the wedding before invitations go out, some of your guests will have already purchased wedding gifts, and made travel arrangements to attend if they live out of town. Then, of course, there's the added bonus of having to call each and every person who RSVP'd "yes" or who hasn't yet responded to tell them the disappointing news. You can't do it via email, or with a big posting on the wedding website -- that's just tacky. You must split the list with your fiancé and call each and every guest personally. It's perfectly fine to leave an explanatory voicemail, but be sure to follow it with a text telling them to actually listen to your voicemail. Many people return calls without listening to messages and that, under these circumstances, can be painful and awkward.

If you make the difficult to decision to actually cancel a wedding, with no intention of rescheduling it at a later date, you'll have plenty of homework to do as soon as you're certain.

First, call or email all of your vendors to formally notify them
. Review the deposit and balance payment policies prior to contacting them so you know where you stand. Make sure you receive an acknowledgement of the cancellation from each vendor within 48 hours. Otherwise, you need to follow up with a phone call. Try to get a confirmation of the cancellation in writing.

Second, make sure that everybody who was planning to attend your wedding knows that it has been cancelled. Detailed instructions are included in #3 above. You don't have to get into the gory details with anybody. Your besties likely were expecting it. Just share the unfortunate news and say you'll talk to them soon, and appreciate their understanding.

Third, pack up and return any and all engagement, shower, and wedding gifts you have received thus far. If you don't get married, you don't get to keep them. Most gifts shouldn't be used prior to the wedding anyway -- and this is another good reason to keep them in their original packaging (although you should have written thank you notes when they arrived).

If the gift-giver lives nearby, you can return the gift in person. If you just can't stomach that, ask your ex-Maid of Honor to help you out. For registry gifts you received from the vendor, contact that store and find out the best way to handle the return. And shut down all of your wedding registries too. If you've collected any money in honeymoon registries, you'll need to contact them to find out how to go about returning it to your guests. In some cases, you'll have to pay the difference in the fee the fund kept when you refund your guests. The best way to return cash gifts is to simply write a check and enclose a note of thanks and explanation.

When you've opened and used a gift and it cannot be returned, you need to touch base with that guest and make a simple apology. "I loved it so much that I used it right away, and now that we're not getting married, I'm embarrassed to say it can't be returned." Assuming you wrote an enthusiastic note when the gift first arrived, nobody should get their nose out of joint. If it's somebody you don't know well or whom you know will be upset, go buy a new whatever it is and return it to the gift giver.

As a wedding planner, I have a checklist that I use for cancelled weddings, to make sure that all of the vendors get notified and nobody who doesn't require a deposit is keeping the date blocked for a wedding that isn't happening. I haven't had an inordinately large number of cancellations -- a few a year -- but I've been doing this for nine years, and I've planned more than 500 weddings.

Cancelling a wedding isn't as simple as just stamping your foot and declaring "It's off!" You can't immediately go into hibernation -- especially if the wedding date is near and guests need to cancel plans. I think it's safe to say you've got a week's work of unpleasant cancellation homework to get through. Just suck it up and handle everything, including the contracts, refunds, and gifts, immediately. Once it's all finished and done, you can move on to the healing that you'll clearly need for your own mental well-being.

Until next time, happy wedding planning from Sandy Malone Weddings & Events.