Rachael English became seriously ill about two months before her June 2012 wedding was scheduled to occur. The Toronto resident spent three weeks in hospital as doctors and specialists tried to diagnose and treat her worsening symptoms. During this time she and her fiancé wrestled constantly with whether or not to postpone their wedding and honeymoon.

"I was asked everyday about cancelling or delaying the wedding and I kept saying that I needed it to happen," says English.

In the end English and her fiancé went ahead with the wedding, but made the difficult and costly decision to cancel their honeymoon.

Months and sometimes years of saving and planning can go into a wedding. As couples pay deposits for flowers, banquet halls and honeymoons, they rarely plan for the possibility that the celebration may need to be cancelled or postponed.

Read on for how to navigate the costs of a last-minute cancellation or postponement for one of life's major celebrations.

Planning for the unexpected

English didn't have insurance coverage in place to cover a last-minute cancellation and it is something she now suggests other people consider "for peace of mind."

Wedding insurance, such as WEDensure is relatively new to the insurance market in Canada but it is becoming more popular, says Geneve McNally, principal planner with Vancouver-based DreamGroup Productions, an event planning company.

With the average cost of weddings steadily rising in Canada (urban Vancouver weddings now cost an average of $35,000 of $70,000), people are looking to protect their investments, says McNally.
Wedding insurance can be broad in coverage and come with large premiums, so another option is to purchase item-specific cancellation insurance.

"Virtually all travel providers, including Expedia.ca, offer [trip cancellation] insurance, which is an inexpensive and effective way to protect you and your family," says Sean Shannon, vice president and managing director of
Expedia.ca. "Often, people book their trips as early in advance as possible to secure the best price. Knowing that a lot can happen between the time of booking and when you depart, it is always best to be safe rather than sorry and as such cancellation insurance is always recommended."

If insurance feels like overkill, be sure to read the fine print in your contracts before signing them because each vendor, airline and hotel will have different rules when it comes to cancellations.

"Read your contracts and know the cancellation clauses and penalties long before you ever need to put them into use," says Crystal Adair-Benning, wedding planner, designer and stylist and owner of Toronto-based Distinct Occasions.

The cost of cancelling

"No matter what, if you cancel it will end up costing you money," says English, adding, "I think people should look at their finances and figure out what it would cost if they needed to cancel last minute and figure out if they can afford to pay that."

In general, expect to lose your deposits and any payments made to date if you cancel or postpone your wedding. Deposits tend to range from 10 per cent to 50 per cent of the total cost, says McNally. So if the flowers, food and venue cost a total of $15,000 you would likely lose a minimum of $1,500 to $7,500 for cancelling.

McNally says that penalties often depend on how far in advance the wedding is being cancelled. You may only lose deposits if you cancel six months ahead of time, but you may be on the hook for the full amount, and even owe vendors money if you cancel closer to the date.

Telling the guests

Last-minute cancellations or postponements can have a big financial impact on guests who may have already booked hotels, flights and purchased dresses and gifts. Taking the time to consider the financial impact on others, and doing what you can to either recognize or mitigate those costs can preserve important relationships.

Tricia Post, writer for the Emily Post Institute and member of the Post family, says that the first thing people should do is "get the word out." Let your guests, vendors, church, etc., know as soon as possible if there is a cancellation or postponement. It is best to let guests know by mail but if there isn't enough time for that "you've got to get on the phone or email, and put a team together to help," says Post.

The host or couple are not typically responsible for costs that guests may have incurred, such as hotels or flights as they can hopefully work out refunds. When it comes to paying back expenses that guests have incurred, such as the purchase of bridesmaids dresses, "It honestly depends on circumstances and on what the couple can handle. Hosts may already be socked with fees that they're going to have to cover even though the wedding didn't take place. They really need to look at their own budgets and see what they can honestly do," says Post.