- 5 years ago
For better or worse, for richer or poorer, for nickels and dimes.
1. “We could go out of business before your big day.”
Wedding spending tumbled 32% during the recession, from an average of $28,730 per event in 2007 to $19,581 in 2009, according to market research firm The Wedding Report. After recovering somewhat, spending now seems to be flattening out — in 2012, the average wedding cost $25,656, an increase of just $25, or less than one-tenth of 1%, over 2011. And the continuing tough economy, experts say, has some vendors languishing in the red. Or worse. Toronto police last month charged a bridal shop owner with fraud for closing without notice earlier this year, taking brides’ dresses and deposits with her. Travelers, an insurance company, reports that of wedding insurance claims filed last year due to “vendor problems,” 21% involved caterers going out of business and an additional 11% were related to deejays going out of business or not showing up. “We do attribute that to the recession,” says Chantal Cyr, vice president of personal insurance at Travelers.
Businesses aren’t apt to announce they’re having financial trouble, so it’s on couples to protect themselves, says Anja Winnika, site director for TheKnot.com. When possible, she says, put deposits on a credit card: The Fair Credit Billing Act offers some recourse for a refund if services or items paid for aren’t delivered. (Just pay off the bill in full to avoid interest charges.) “Smaller vendors may charge a credit-card processing fee,” she says. “But I think it’s worth it for peace of mind.” A wedding insurance policy can also be beneficial, Winnika says. Depending on the coverage and when the problem crops up, an out-of-business vendor might be replaced, your money refunded or the wedding party reconvened for replacement photos.
2. “Inspiration boards? More like unrealistic-expectation boards.”
Couples say the growing abundance of planning websites and online inspiration boards have piled on more pressure for a standout Big Day.
Such sites have become a big draw for brides: On traffic leader Pinterest.com, which received more than 30 million unique visitors in March, two of the 10 most popular boards are wedding-related, with Wedding Gifts (No. 9) and DIY Your Wedding (No. 10) each garnering 2.4 million followers, according to analysis site Repinly. Weddings also represent 4.9% of popular pins, many of them featuring photos that set the fashion and décor bars very high for the soon-to-wed.
Part of the problem: “handmade” favors and decorations that show up on inspiration boards are in many cases crafted by a team of wedding stylists — not the bride, says Meg Keene, author of “A Practical Wedding” and editor of a planning site by the same name. “But the language and the way it’s presented makes you think, ‘I can do this myself,’” she says. A week before her October 2012 wedding, Colleen McKenna was in her parents’ garage in Chicago, “covered in paint and freezing” as she prepared frames to hold reception menus. “Pinterest is the best, but the worst, too,” McKenna says. “You see what other brides have done and you think, ‘Why can’t I get my s*** together?’” The often caption-less images also don’t disclose that a beautiful bouquet or enticing cake were part of a six-figure budget, says Elizabeth Robinson of Denver, who as part of her Edwardian-themed July wedding commissioned double-breasted vests on craft marketplace Etsy.com and designed period labels for bottles of lavender water as a save-the-date. “We’re $10,000 over budget — we’ve lost it here,” she says. But, she adds, “You only get married once.”
Inspiration boards can help kickstart ideas, says Winnika of TheKnot.com, which itself has features that let users save “loved” details and create inspiration boards. But she suggests brides and grooms focus on a few big elements — like picking a talented photographer, or finding a gorgeous venue that doesn’t need much decoration — and avoid getting bogged down in little details for every part of the celebration. “Step away from the inspiration boards when it comes down to knocking things off your checklist,” she says. Couples who want to do DIY projects should also stick to ones that can be completed well in advance. “Anything fresh or floral or baking, leave it up to the pros,” Winnika says. “You don’t want to be doing that on your wedding day.”
3. “We’ll punish you for those heightened expectations.”
Even as the industry pushes couples to obsess over details, more vendors are charging for those heightened expectations. Prices often have a 20% to 25% “marriage markup” compared with the cost to, say, rent the same space for a Sweet 16 or to buy floral centerpieces for an anniversary party, says Alan Fields, co-author of “Bridal Bargains.” “It’s lose-lose,” he says. “The industry creates this bridezilla character and encourages that behavior, and then says they have to charge you for it.” In some cases, the fee is more explicit. Loring Pasta Bar in Minneapolis has a “bridezilla clause” in its contract, charging overly detail-oriented brides and grooms $5 per email or $12 per 15-minute increment of time required to respond, whichever is less.
The restaurant did not respond to requests for comment, but in 2011 Loring told MarketWatch the clause, which had yet to be enforced, was a safeguard against couples taking up too much of employees’ time. “A bride once called my cell phone with an emergency: To ask what potatoes go with pork loin,” Jamie Radich, Loring’s sales and events manager, said at the time. “She wasn’t getting married for another year.” Florists, venues and other vendors have expressed similar observations about the frequency of communications from betrothed clients compared with others, Fields says. Fair or not, the markups and fees make it all the more important for couples to compare costs at several vendors.
4. “Tax and tip not included.”
At a venue tasting earlier this year, Wayne Gurnick, owner of Los Angeles-based event planning service Moments by Wayne Gurnick, had to give his client — who was considering a $12 per person menu upgrade — a spoonful of bitter budgeting reality. “I said, ‘You know that’s plus-plus, right?’” Gurnick recalls. As in plus sales tax and plus service charge, making it, in that client’s case, a $15.72 per person charge. The combo can raise total cost by as much as a third, depending on the state and vendor, but it may not enter the conversation until it’s time to sign a contract. “When you start adding all these little components together and you’re thinking only about the base price, that plus-plus adds up to thousands of dollars,” he says. Service charges can also be confusing. Although they are automatically added to many vendors’ contracts, only sometimes are they a gratuity, Gurnick says. It’s on the couple to ask, or risk a last-minute scramble for cash to tip the banquet manager, servers and bartenders.
5. “The ballroom you chose only permits ‘approved vendors’ — that cost more.”
Searching for an Indianapolis wedding location in 2010, Holly Little and her fiancé noticed a trend: “All of them had some sort of approved vendor list or exclusive vendor list.” But Little says they didn’t see it as a problem until, after paying a $500 venue deposit, the exclusive caterer refused to budge on its price. “The location also had an exclusive deejay, an exclusive baker and an approved florist,” says Little. “We had no negotiating leverage.” After assessing the numbers, the couple decided to forgo their deposit and plan a more budget-friendly destination wedding in Savannah, Ga., instead.
As Little found, arrangements between wedding vendors can push costs higher, by reducing couples’ ability to negotiate or by adding fees that one pro might charge another for the referral. “Sometimes it’s because somebody is getting a kickback, unfortunately,” says Danielle Bobish, founder of Curtain Up Events in New York. Bobish says she doesn’t pay or receive commissions, referral fees or other such charges — and suggests couples be blunt in asking planners and venues if they do, and how they source the vendors they work with. “We refer our vendors because we love to work with them, they’re team players, and we stand behind the quality of their work,” she says. Sometimes, there are logistical reasons, too. For example, a venue that has unusual acoustics may make an exclusive deejay arrangement to ensure the right equipment is used and avoid client complaints, she says.
6. “Hope you’re running on schedule. We’ve overbooked.”
Brides and grooms may like to think theirs is the only wedding that matters on a given day, but that may not be the case — particularly during the peak summer wedding season. Couples filing insurance claims over no-show vendors (see No. 1) don’t specify what led to the problem, but overbooking is one contributing factor, says Cyr of Travelers. Among the other problems that can cause: You might not get the quality expected, if a florist throws together the centerpieces, say, or a cake baker hands off decorating to an assistant, Winnika says. With venues, schedules can also be surprisingly tight, Gurnick says. For example, if a hotel has other events, your vendors may not be allowed to arrive well beforehand to set up. And if there’s another wedding at that church or ceremony location afterward, there may not be much wiggle room to delay the ceremony if guests are delayed by a traffic jam, say, or the wedding party has a fashion emergency. Failure to hold to the schedule could result in overtime fees or simply less time spent actually celebrating, he says.
To keep such small snafus from becoming big budget problems, ask how many weddings a vendor takes on per day or weekend, says Kim Forest, the editor of review site WeddingWire.com. “Vendors know their own workload,” she says, and some can legitimately do several weddings a day, with serious organization and help from assistants. Read reviews or ask for references to ensure that such wedding jugglers haven’t dropped the ball in the past.
7. “This award isn’t exactly an Oscar.”
Couples searching for a great venue, stationer or cake baker may be pleasantly surprised to find they have a number of award-winning candidates to choose from. WeddingWire.com has “Bride’s Choice Awards,” The Knot.com has “Best of Weddings,” and local chambers of commerce and bridal vendor guides also often bestow awards. But winners aren’t necessarily the best. “What the industry doesn’t tell you is that vendors can in some cases buy those awards,” says “Bridal Bargains” author Fields. The pool of entrants may be explicitly limited to advertising vendors, or cultivated that way through the use of “editor’s picks” rather than votes from brides and grooms. Even if the vote is based solely on wedded couples’ votes and reviews, as with other fields, fake ratings abound, he says.
At TheKnot.com, awards go to vendors that have regularly received positive reviews from real brides on sister site WeddingChannel.com, says Winnika — which can result in a lot of award-winners. “That’s not to say that just because someone has an award, that they’re the perfect vendor for you,” she says. Keep looking, she advises. “You haven’t hit the holy grail of wedding vendors yet.” WeddingWire.com says its awards are limited to the top 5% of vendors, based on recent reviews from couples that have signed contracts with those businesses. “It’s good for engaged couples to see those badges,” says a spokeswoman – but the site encourages couples to delve into individual reviews as well.
8. “Do sweat the small stuff — or at least the price tag on the small stuff.”
Weddings have become increasingly stylized, with magazines and planning sites pushing small details like monogrammed petits four, elaborate place settings and letterpress invitations. Too much attention to detail can quickly become a budget buster, though, says Keene. Couples spend an average of $322 on table centerpieces, $294 on reception decorations, $206 on favors and $70 on escort place cards, according to The Wedding Report. On resale site Tradesy Weddings, former brides and grooms try to unload past purchases, recently including a window-pane seating chart ($500), a birdcage to hold well-wishers’ cards ($125) and decorative twine balls ($400). “There are lots of layers of tradition, fake tradition and wedding-industry-sell-job,” Keene says. The way “weddings are presented is in a lot of these little details, because that’s what you can sell.”
Just as with couples who are overwhelmed by inspiration boards, the best approach may be to simplify and focus on the big picture. “Let the rest go,” Keene says. If family members are helping foot the bill, it’s worth having a conversation about their expectations and the resultant costs for including “traditional” must-haves like a designated “toss bouquet,” a unity candle or favors.
9. “We’re eying your bling.”
A flashy engagement ring can lead to a bigger wedding bill. “Sometimes there aren’t price tags, and vendors craft the proposal based on what they think you need,” says Fields. “They judge you by your ability to pay, and perhaps steer you toward more expensive things.” Or they decline to work with you, if they see richer prospects. Marissa Palin of Davis, Calif., thought a $10,000 budget for her September 2013 nuptials was “a huge amount of money to spend on one day.” But although she and her fiancé want a family-reunion vibe — with beer floats in recycled mason jars and home-sewn napkins —Palin had a hard time finding vendors willing to work within her low-key expectations. “They sort of snubbed me because my budget was so low,” she says.
Even if you aren’t driving up in a beater or wearing designer clothes, says Fields, vendors can get a sense of your finances from the church or reception site you’ve picked. Plus, many buy data on your finances from companies you’ve done business with or bridal shows you’ve attended, where welcome forms often include questions about income, wedding budget and who’s paying. Fields advises couples to keep their personal finances out of the conversation, and be firm about what they are expecting to spend.
10. “Every artist was first an amateur, and many still are.”
Just about anyone can hang out a shingle as a planner, photographer, florist or other wedding pro. That means there’s a good chance that some of the vendors couples will come across in their hunt haven’t worked many weddings or have little or no professional experience, period. Review each vendor’s resume, looking for details about years in the field, training completed and professional associations joined, insiders suggest. Ask for recently married couples to speak with as references and meet the vendors face to face before you sign any contracts, Gurnick says. “It’s too easy these days to put up a beautiful website that looks professional,” he says. “It’s always best to meet in person.” On the other hand, even relative newbies can be a great option, if they know their stuff, says Winnika. “Oftentimes the price reflects that [lack of experience], and that’s fine.”