As a bride on a budget, I eventually grew to dread the words—“What’s your budget?”
Generally speaking, I don’t have a problem talking about my budget. It’s a harmless question and a good starting point for determining your options, but it’s also a loaded question, particularly when talking to vendors. There’s a good chance that the number you offer will affect the price you’re quoted, or even how you’re treated in the process.
I’m not saying don’t discuss your budget or be super secretive about your budget when talking to vendors. However, you should be aware that snap judgments will be made about what you can afford once it’s all out there. After hearing your budget, some vendors will tell you upfront that you can’t afford them and that’s fine. But some other vendors may not be willing to negotiate upon hearing your budget because they may think you should pay them more based on your bottom line.
However, we know very well that the expenses of a budget bride widely vary. Budget brides tend to be creative, out-the-box thinkers and are much more likely to ditch formulas that dictate how much money should be allocated to different line items based on the overall budget. Some budget weddings are had for less than $1K, while others reach amounts over $20K or $30K. The price you pay vendors has less to do with your overall budget, and more to do with your wedding plan and priorities. For some budget brides, it’s the dress or the food. For some, it’s photography. Then there are special cases for destination weddings. These weddings take on different considerations that could put future couples out of a ton of money in travel expenses and lodging.
When/If you offer up a general wedding budget figure, vendors likely won’t consider that your budget includes money for a VIP special guest with special needs. They may only see where they fit. They may even attempt to sell you on other services that would max out or go over your budget. I can’t say these experiences are typical of vendors. I can only share some of these things because I encountered it all and other vendor practices that left a lot to be desired. And after dealing with enough people who believed that ALL wedding budgets are to be busted, I learned how to identify vendors who would respect my wishes to stick to a budget and how to talk to them. To that end, I attribute a huge part of my success in that respect to thinking outside of the box and respecting the vendor’s priorities as a business. I did research and asked myself questions like, “Is the vendor’s priority to pay rent, build a portfolio, or a little bit of both? How much am I willing to pay for _______ service? Is $____ a fair offer?”
The wedding industry is a soft market. There are lots of vendors for the picking. Finding the talent is where it gets hard; it’s where things can get pricey. A lot of work goes into honing gifts of photography, paper making, event planning, etc. And you must pay the costs associated with employing the gifts of others on your special day. The same fairness principle you expect from your vendors is the same standard you should use in negotiations. It is not okay to low ball vendors. You could forgo the custom clay figurine topping your cake, but the claymaker cannot afford to not pay his/her rent. While it’s nice to think that vendors are only in the business to make you feel special on your wedding day, it’s not realistic to think that your joy is fuel enough to support their livelihood—it’s business. Even if a vendor is only looking to build a portfolio and will do work for little to no money, think about what you can give them to get the most out of the arrangement. In all cases, let fairness guide you.
So, how do you know what’s fair? There isn’t a simple answer to that question; it depends. At a minimum, your offer should cover the costs of the vendor’s supplies and a reasonable amount for the labor involved in the services rendered. When you’re asked, “What’s your budget?” Think about what is realistic overall for your budget and also what’s realistic for the services under consideration. Don’t feel pressed to answer the question unless you feel comfortable. Ask questions in response. Try something like, “I’m not sure how much money I have to spend on ______. What’s your minimum/base price for ______?” If you don’t need certain aspects of the service being offered for the price, ask about service substitutions or reductions based on the value of the unwanted service. Do what you can to figure out ways to make it work for all parties involved.
A good negotiator never lays all of her cards on the table. She’s patient, crafty and fair. Don't let vendor negotiations get the best of you. As a budget bride, you are the driver of negotiations. So, man the wheel and take it away…