Today, I'm hoping this advice is delivered at the appropriate time in the planning process. November through March is what we call "booking season" because all you lovely guys and gals put a ring on it when you're carving a turkey, sitting by a fire opening presents or lighting the Menorah, when you're poppin' bottles with the countdown or buying 2 dozen roses for that "other" holiday. There are so many occasions and so much love this time of year, that he can't help but get on bended knee... and then the booking of vendors begins.
If you're sporting a new shiny rock and are getting ready to embark on the most exciting planning process of your life, first of all congratulations! And second--STOP! Put down the checkbook and back away from the contracts... we need to talk.
No matter who you are or how much money you have, the budget is the least romantic part of the wedding planning process, but--dare I say it--the most important part. All too often, I see brides go through what I call "the dreaming phase" and then straight into booking. There's nothing wrong with the dreaming phase, in fact, I encourage it. Flip through magazines, scroll through Pinterest (sparingly...) and see what you love and what you hate. Let your mind wander and dream, but after that, you HAVE to evaluate your budget. You cannot go from dreaming to booking, you have to take moment (or 100) and breakdown your budget.
I know you've heard it before, but I'm going to go ahead and beat that dead horse, and here's why... I get a lot of potential clients who emphasize their budget to me and the importance of sticking to that, "We can NOT, under any circumstances, go over this number."
Ok, perfect! I'm so glad you have a budget! Then I ask what vendors they've already booked... and I find that they fell in love with a venue with a site fee that accounts for 20% of their budget and a photographer who they just had to have who accounts for another 15%. Well, great. The budget that we have to work with, the amount that we'll use to secure tables, chairs, linens, napkins, flatware, glassware, china, chargers, a dance floor, DJ, ceremony musicians, apps and a 3 course meal, cocktails, beer, wine, flowers, lighting, officiant, guest transportation, hair and makeup services, a dress... that amount is actually only 65% of the total number in their head because 35% was gone before they broke down the rest of the expenses.
I hear it all the time: "we fell in love with (enter out-of-budget but incredibly beautiful/talented vendor here)." And trust me, I toooooooootally get it; I really really do. But what I also get is how heart broken you're going to be when you realize that you just can't afford that peony bouquet you really wanted, that amazing live band, or that gorgeous draping because you fell in love early on and put the budget cart before the horse. So what's the right approach?
1) Get an overall budget number... talk to parents, contributing family, your fiancé (yes, it can be awkward/uncomfortable) and determine how much money you have to work with.
2) Determine if there's anything that's going to be paid for outside of the budget. Maybe you're going to pay for your dress on your own, but your parents are footing the bill for the overall wedding.
3) Break your budget up into categories and assign an amount to each category. Using percentages of your overall budget is a great way to do this. Just be sure you understand everything you're responsible for. An incomplete budget is almost as worthless as not having one at all.
4) With budget in-hand, begin to request quotes and proposals from vendors that you like, starting with venues.
5) Here comes the big one, and I say it with love... Manage your expectations.
Take those quotes and proposals you've received and compare them with your outlined budget. Did you hit the nail on the head? Did you budget $3,500 for a photographer and that's exactly how much your dream photog quoted you?? Awesome! If you didn't quite nail it, this is where your priorities come in. If that photographer is a non-negotiable, but you only budgeted $2,500, then look for $1,000 in other areas. This doesn't mean arbitrarily changing the numbers on your spreadsheet to get the total number you want to see; it means holding off until you research the cost of some other items and see if you'd be satisfied with the product of a lower budget amount in those other categories. ****Hint hint, this is where a wedding planner really comes in handy because we have a pretty good idea how much these things cost off the tops of our heads. Maybe you budgeted for fruitwood chiavari chairs at $8 each x 150 guests, but you think, "that photographer is so much more important than chiavari chairs."
Since your wedding is outside at a private estate and not in a ballroom anyway, you look into dark wood folding chairs instead at $3 each x 150. You just went from $1,200 for chairs to $450 and the photographer of your dreams is now within reach. But the key is that you had to do the research to find what the chairs cost before you made your decision. The brides who write the checks and ask questions later are those who end up in a sticky budget situation at the end.
Go ahead, dream away! Get excited about your fantasy wedding and relish in the bliss of that new bling on your finger. Just remember to stop, take a breath and do some math before you start makin' it rain, wedding style.
Have a topic you want me to talk about for next Freebie Friday??? Ask a question in the comments below!