Being Honest About Your Budget AND Your Priorities

October 21, 2014

When it comes to wedding planning the first thing that is on most couples' minds is money.  Plain and simple, weddings cost money and no matter how much DIY you can bribe your nimble fingered friends into, checks will be written, credit cards will be charged and price tags will be gawked at, debated over and eventually compromised with.  That is where the issue of priorities comes into play with your budget and if I could give couples one piece of advice when meeting with vendors it is the following:  Be honest about BOTH.

It's not easy talking to a stranger about money, heck, it's not easy talking to people you love about money.  But if while planning a wedding you find yourself parsing together numbers to try and fit your Vera Wang and Wedgewood dreams into your off-the-rack budget, the temptation strikes to fudge the numbers just a little so that those two worlds come closer together, don't do it.  Instead, take a sincere look at the things you see as a priority for your big day and be completely and brutally honest, even if it means that something that "should" be a priority really isn't.  Oh, and by the way, there is nothing wrong with an "off-the-rack" budget, most brides have them.

I can't tell you how many couples I've talked to who have started the conversation with "I'm so sorry but our photography budget is only $____."  First things first, when you throw out a number with four digits in it, that is not a small amount of money so don't apologize for it.  It's really hard to save up that much money for anything and I do not assume to know your current financial state nor your history.  So, thank you for coming to me and for being honest.  My honesty comes in two parts, sometimes my reply is an unfortunate one and I can't work with that budget.  But sometimes, when I meet a couple whose style I like and whose love is evident and whose vision for the days has not only been successfully pitched but I truly believe you'll make your day into something spectacular like that, I'm in.

Just this summer I did a wedding for a couple whose budget didn't match my price.  But, I liked them, their style, their story and we made some adjustments and made it work.  I was so glad when I arrived that the day really did look and feel like they put their hearts into every detail and the photos I walked away with are central to the kind of images I want to put forward as a photographer.

It all happened because they were honest about their budget and honest about photography being a priority.  Some photographers say "Well, if you love my work you'll find the money."  That's heartbreaking to me because the truth is, most of the time there is no more money to be found because this is real life and real life has it's limitations, not to mention a real shortage of fairy godmothers.  There is, however, a very real and very frustrating flip side to the stories of the amazing couple's whose weddings people simply want to be a part of so they cut them a deal.

Every photographer, florist, baker, planner, etc... I have talked to has come across at least one wedding where they cut the couple some slack on the price because they seemed really genuine in making that vendor the priority.  Imagine their surprise, then, when upon showing up they see hand-lettered linen placecards or a really expensive DJ set up with a custom monogrammed light display on the dance floor, or my personal hide-chapper, a fully stocked, top shelf, open bar.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not against alcohol at weddings and I'm all for fun things like a bottle of the couple's favorite wine at each table, shipping in kegs from microbreweries or having a custom libation during cocktail hour.  But there are few things more expensive than five hours of an open bar.

If having a great open bar is your priority, then do it up!  If hand-lettered and monogrammed dinnerware is of greatest importance then make sure to keep a few and frame them because they will be super cute in a shadow box in your dining room.  If having an off the hook dance party is the one thing you're looking forward to most, mazel tov!  But just be honest about it.

The truth is, they way your budget is spent reflects your actual priorities for your wedding day.  Those priorities are allowed to be whatever you want them to be.  But, when you try and squeeze a deal out of your photographer or baker or florist by playing the "it's not in my budget but you're a priority" card, it will quickly become evident that they were duped.  That's not to say that, once they realize they were duped that they will automatically exact their revenge by forgetting the cake topper or putting poison ivy in your bouquet or missing the photo of your first kiss, we're all professionals here.  This is simply hope of ethical treatment on everyone's side.

So, even if (and especially if) your budget isn't the size of a down payment on a house, let's talk.  Let's talk budgets and priorities and figure out what you're really hoping for.  Let's be brutally honest and do so over good lattes or great cocktails.  Let's make your day the best day it could be so when the day is over, you've got rings on your fingers and great photos on your walls.  Let's make it awesome, truly, honestly awesome.

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