Happy Valentine's day! Today, on the day that celebrates all things love, I was reading a 2019 UK wedding report. It’s based on the responses of over 2000 couples and covers loads of aspects of wedding planning. There were a few things there that made me smile – like the fact that the South is still the most popular place to get married in the UK (this makes me happy as I am based in the South of England) and that more couples are choosing to celebrate their weddings across a weekend and not confine everything to one day. Then I came to the section around wedding spend and budgets and the statistic that only 28% of couples come in on their budget or under it. Now you could look at this and think that it doesn’t feel like good budget management. If you work in the wedding industry, you’ll more likely think it’s linked to the fact that often couples can be unrealistic about the cost of their dream wedding (sorry folks but it is true).
Now I know that talking money and budgets is a subject that can be a little sticky (especially on February 14th) but it's a topic that I think deserves to be covered (or uncovered). It's also a topic that I feel really rather passionate about (you'll get that coming across...) If you are interested to hear more, read on – oh and I’m aware that the budget side of things is far from the glamorous part of the planning – so I’ve tried to at least keep the images pretty!
START WITH THE BUDGET (ABOVE ALL ELSE)
With all my clients, the first thing that I ensure we do is align on the budget. Everything flows from it and, without it, you really cannot make a decision on anything else – how do you know how many guests you think you'll invite if you don’t know the cost per guest attending (for example)? Now, if you are embarking on this daunting task, deciding on a budget doesn’t just mean arriving at a number you think feels reasonable. It means working out what the wedding you ideally want looks like and costing out what you will need to spend to achieve it – line item by line item. Only then can you add up the bill and see where you are at and be able to make some informed decisions about what you can and cannot or what you are or are not willing to spend. Unless money literally is no object you'll need to start here.
The reason why most weddings go over budget (in my opinion) is because the budget that was set was unrealistic in the first place. I often find that couples really don’t have a handle on the costs and, I don’t blame them! I wouldn’t have a clue how to budget for a side return kitchen extension. I’ve never done one. Equally I wouldn’t have a clue about how to budget the annual training spend for a law firm or the advertising budget for Guinness. I’ve never done any of these things before and, it is quite likely that my assumptions of how much things should cost will be wrong. I’ve no point of reference; I don’t know the level of work, material costs, skill or time that goes into any of them. Chances are, if you are planning your wedding, you’ll not have done this before and, although your parents may have, they will have done it a few decades prior and things really do change.
If you are putting together your budget and don’t have a planner on board who knows the costs, do some lengthy research. I would avoid this research including looking at what the press state as “average or typical” spends. They are more often than not inaccurate. And what is “average” anyhow? What you want to know is how much it will cost to have the wedding that you imagine – average is kind of irrelevant - it’s the actual cost of the one you want that matters. If you want to know how much something costs you need to start by looking at actual, professional suppliers that offer the level of work or service or product that you are looking for and get some quotes. Then add all those quotes up for every supplier and line item and look at the total cost. Then you can start working out what you are truly looking at spending.
YOU GET BACK WHAT YOU PUT IN
Now I am going to cover that touchy topic you hear about (typically in the press) of “say the word ‘wedding’ and suppliers hike the prices – or something along those lines. First up, being myself a passionate and professional supplier within this industry I have to say I have never ever found a grain of truth in this. I guess, like with any industry, you’ll get the unscrupulous types but I don’t come across or work with these. In fact I am surrounded, on a daily basis, by passionate suppliers who are utterly skilled and care a damn lot about what they do. We are working really hard, with years of learnt skill and expertise behind us to deliver you the best possible experience for your most important day. I’ll take an example of hair and make up. Why is it the cost of having your hair and make up done for your wedding (from the same supplier) is more than for a night out? Well, for a night out you would unlikely start speaking with that supplier months out. You may share a couple of images of what you are after but unlikely you’ll invest too much time sharing and working various options. It’s also unlikely that you’ll have a lengthy trial where the artist spends a considerable time putting together different looks until you are completely happy. Your make up for a night out also doesn’t need to last for 12 hours. In short – for make up for a night out you will care a lot less than for your dream wedding day. You are paying for the time and skill and expertise that this artist will put into making you feel amazing.
Without exception, in my experience of the wedding planning industry (and in fact, many others), you get what you pay for. If you get two quotes from two suppliers and one is considerably cheaper than the other there will be a reason. Typically, that reason will be found in the detail behind the quality of the product or service offering that you are getting.
I’m going to take stationery as a real life example that I’ve worked with recent clients. For ease let’s assume we get a quote for 100 invitations with RSVP cards and information sheets included and the couple want a white card with gold lettering. One quote was double the other. I could assume that the higher was simply charging too much. Of course in this case they weren’t, it’s just I know the detail. The material makes a difference to start – the card stock. You can get premium card stocks with a weight to them that feels “good quality” in your hand and you can get less quality card stock that feels less weighty, looks less premium. Then there is the printing method. To print in gold you need to foil print. Hot foil is where the foil is almost pressed into the card stock. It looks super luxury and is more involved and costly process so it costs more. Or you can digital foil – this is where the foil is on the surface of the card. The looks are entirely different. In fact I know stationery designers who won’t offer the latter because they don’t believe that it looks nice enough to them to reflect the essence of their work and brand. It does, however, cost a lot less. Then there is the finishing. In one quote it included printing of guest addresses on the envelopes in keeping with the font type and theme of the invite. The other assumes you write 100 addresses on yourself. In one quote the stationery designer will compile all your invites (put 100 invites, RSVP cards and information sheets together for you and insert them into the envelope, placing on the stamp and then post them for you ). The other didn’t. You get my point…
Now you may be reading this and thinking “I don’t care about the look of hot versus digital foil, digital foil is good enough”… But THAT is my point. You need to know what you do and don’t care about – where your priorities are and what it takes to deliver what is important to you. I often explain this point around getting what you pay for and priorities using the example of going out for dinner. It’s Valentine’s Day today so let’s imagine you want to go for dinner. It’s a Thursday night, you don’t want to spend anything too crazy, you have a big work meeting tomorrow anyhow, you really just want to spend time together. You choose somewhere local, perhaps a nice chain like Cote. You have a lovely time, the food is lovely and you pay a price for it you feel is reasonable. Now imagine, the scenario where you plan to propose to your loved one. You decide that you are going to go all out - this is after all really important and you'll look back on it as significant. You decide you'll go into town, you book a restaurant, it's Michelin starred (you really want to impress here). You'll spend maybe more than double than the first experience but you'll also have had an entirely different level of expectation and experience.
PREP YOUR PRIORITIES AND PLAN A CONTINGENCY
When I put together a couple’s budget I’ll ensure that it is a realistic refection of the wedding that they have described to me. I will also have asked them to put in priority order the top 4 things most important to them. Then, if we have to make adjustments to reduce a budget, we have a reference point of priority calls to come back to. If I am working with a couple that have an absolute ceiling of “cannot go over” then I always advise we plan to 90% of that budget. This isn’t because I’m poor at budget management. It is because things will often crop up. Typically these will be things aren’t easy to foresee at the outset. Another real life example… for a wedding this year my clients decided to host the wedding ceremony and the wedding breakfast in the same room of this particular venue. This means that the guests (because of the layout of the house) will see the breakdown of the ceremony and set up for the dinner – which isn’t ideal. We’ve decided to have a fabric curtain made to screen off the area (in a visually pretty way). This is a Georgian mansion and the ceilings are high – the fabric will need to be large in size and this costs.
I am fortunate to work within what I would call the luxury end of the wedding budget market but, just because I may have a client who is not budget restricted, doesn't mean to say that they are not budget conscious, everyone has a price they are willing to spend and a maximum ceiling - it's about working out what is yours and balancing that with a dose of reality in terms of what you can expect to get back from what you are willing or able to pay. I remember someone once saying to me - it actually doesn't cost much to get married. The legal part is relatively small. It's all the pieces that we choose to build around it. The time, the celebration with family and friends, the sharing of food, drink, music, dance, the capturing of the memories, that's where you are investing your money - in creating and sharing the most wonderful of experiences.