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Real Detroit wedding horror story: Learning a valuable lesson about budgeting

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Weddings are expensive. That shouldn't be news to anybody planning one, but the expense of a wedding is usually overwhelming, especially once a bride and groom begin getting estimates on their needed services.

But what most brides don't realize, is that it is always much more costly in the long-run if you try to hire the "cheapest" without doing your homework beforehand. There is an inherent "shopping gene" that kicks in with brides, but when you are hiring a wedding vendor, it is not like finding a dress in a bargain bin, or finding a sale on bread at Wal-Mart.

Wedding vendors vary in quality, experience and price, and it is incredibly simple to make a mistake when hiring your vendors. Sadly, there is so much bad information out there coming from bridal magazines and websites, many brides are misinformed with which questions to ask and what is important to know.

The following story really happened. Not only is it true, but it occurred locally here in the Detroit-area. To protect those involved, no names are named. Let this be a cautionary tale as to what you should expect when you pay a too-good-to-be-true price for a vendor...you guessed it, it's usually too good to be true.

Real Detroit Horror Story. On a Friday, a videography company (yes mine) gets a call from a person claiming to be a friend of the bride. This bride, he says, is getting married on Saturday - yes the next day! - and their videographer pulled out of the event at the last minute. Desperate, he was calling to see if our company was available. We happened to be, and we worked out a deal to come provide video service for the couple.

When the videographer arrived at the church the next day, we discovered that this "friend" of the bride was actually the photographer who had contacted us, who had been hired by the couple and was not a friend at all. He actually had contracted with the couple to provide both video and photography, and his videographer cancelled on him at the last minute because he had "camera problems." He had contacted us to bail him out, not the bride and groom necessarily.

He wanted us to pretend that we were a part of his company, so that the bride and groom wouldn't find out what had happened. Needless to say it put us in a bit of a pickle.

Not only was this photographer trying to pull a fast one on the couple, he was also not dressed for the occasion. At a nice wedding in a nice church, this person was dressed in jeans and a plaid, long-sleeve jacket. Many family members complained at his appearance, but he didn't change. Sometimes you can spot a professional or an amateur by sight.

Just when we began to feel bad for the couple, we discovered that they had in fact booked both services - photography and videography - for a grand total of $1200 for both. Anybody who does research on either service can tell you that this is way too low and incredibly far-off from the norm (average video and photo combos are often above $3000). It would be equivalent to finding a brand-new 2012 car being sold for $1,000...we all know that a new car costs more than $1,000, so red flags should go off if we find one for this low a price.

Morale of the Story. Unfortunately in the wedding industry, too few brides have the knowledge of how much things are supposed to cost. We all know a new car isn't $1,000, or that a gallon of milk shouldn't cost $50. So how knowledgeable are you about how much your wedding vendors should cost?

Many bridal magazines and websites inform brides to set their budget up based on percentages - such as the videography should be 5% of the overall budget and the Reception should be 40%. But this is bad information. Why? Because everybody has a different budget, and if you base things off of percentages, you will end up with different amounts...even though the price of the service always stays the same. For example, if a magazine tells you to use 5% of your budget on videography, if your overall budget is $20,000 then it says you should spend $1000 on video and if your budget is $10,000 you should spend $500. Have you stopped to realize that professional videography may cost $1500?

Remember the car example: Let's say a new 2012 Ford Fusion costs $20,000. According to ConsumerReports.org and pretty much everybody else, you wouldn't use a percentage of your salary to calculate how much you should spend on a new car...that would be ludicrous because different people make different amounts. Good luck calling the car dealer and telling them, well I only have $1,000 to buy a new car! Why then, do countless wedding magazines/books/websites give this poor advice, to use percentages when figuring out cost?

What To Do. There is only one great way to budget your wedding, and it doesn't require reading a magazine or using a chart...but it does require a bit of time and effort. This article isn't anti-bridal magazine, but it is anti-use-the-magazine-for-budget-advice. Here is the best-kept secret on how to properly plan your wedding budget, and how to properly use websites and magazines in your planning:

  • Start off by determining how much money you have to spend on the entire wedding, from your own capital to credit you plan on using, to monetary help from parents/friends
  • List out all of the vendors/costs associated with your wedding, from reception/ceremony sites to photography, cake, tux, dress, videography, etc.
  • Use magazines or website searches to try to locate 2-5 vendors in each category, and request price quotes from them based on your needs and hopes for your wedding
  • Gather price and package information to get a price range in each category, making note of vendors that stick out due to high-quality and/or customer service/response time
  • Add up the average cost per category to arrive at the overall wedding budget, and compare this to how much you planned to spend
  • Is that way too much than you can afford? Then go through and adjust by pulling back in certain areas, or cutting out certain services completely (for my wedding, we decided that we didn't need a popcorn buffet after all)

This is called "responsible budgeting." You now know how much things will cost and how much you have to spend. Anything less than this will put you in hot water, as you will try to find vendors that fit your imaginary hopeful budget.

Still too expensive? It's like buying a car...it costs what it costs. Maybe you need to re-think the scope of the entire event, get a second job to pay for what you really want, or put off the wedding for a bit more time so that you can save more.

Remember, this is your dream wedding, but that doesn't mean that it should be planned outside of reality.

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