Whether you are in the wedding industry or you are engaged, there is a question that if you haven’t heard it already, you will hear it thousands of times in the near future:

“What is your budget?”

This is a question that every vendor either wants to ask prospective clients, or simply does ask. In fact, many vendors will not entertain a consultation without knowing what the couple has decided to spend on the big day. On the flip side, couples can react negatively to this question seeing it as a trap. There are plenty of brides and grooms that think the reason this question is even being asked, is so that the vendor can come in right around that number as opposed to giving a lower number.

While it doesn’t surprise me that couples think vendors are simply trying to take advantage of them, that is not (usually) the reason we’re asking for this information. Of course, there are so many “helpful” articles out there on wedding websites advising couples how to save money by being vague when speaking with vendors (or sending a mass app request to every vendor in their area asking simply “what do you charge?”) . Thus, many couples assume that vendors are the devil looking to shake them down. Shout out to all of the blogs, articles and talk shows for painting vendors in an negative light and making it impossible for couples to trust anyone with the biggest day of their lives. My favorite of these, of course, are the sites where vendors pay thousands of dollars to advertise each year on, only to basically be “wedding-blocked” by the same site. But I digress…

Frankly, I ask what the budget is from every prospective client that is looking to hire me for full or partial planning, as well as design and decor. This isn’t because I’m looking to just take 10% off their entire budget for my fee, but rather, it’s to figure out if that number and what they want is realistic and a good match for my company. When I’m not given a number, I hear one of these two responses:

1. “I don’t know.”

What do you mean you don’t know? How do you manage your finances for anything? I have gotten this answer from parents of couples, couples themselves and even couples planning their second marriage. When you buy a home, are you jumping onto Zillow and not putting in a range of pricing that you can afford? Nope. You are typing that you can a. either spend from “x” to “y” or b. that your maximum to spend is “y”.

When you’re asked what your budget is, a flat number isn’t necessary, and a range is perfectly acceptable. It is impossible to be respectful of your finances if no one knows what they are. I do not have a crystal ball in my office, but what I do know is “I don’t know” really means, “I don’t want to tell you.”

As I stated earlier, I understand (and many vendors do) why couples are on the defense. However, couples need to understand that complete transparency is necessary to not only secure the right vendors, but to have a solid relationship with these people throughout the process. If you’re shady about your numbers, we are going to wonder if you’ll be dishonest down the road, right up to the point where we have to worry if the review you write will be positive, or if you’ll write what bothered you even though you never brought it up to the vendor at any time.

I have been contacted many times as just a designer to handle things including florals, rentals, linens and decor. When I’ve been told by someone that they didn’t know what their budget was, I’ve asked to see pictures of what they want and hear about their ideas. From there I put a proposal together along with a quote, and believe me when I say that designing a proposal like that isn’t a two minute job. Many times, I’ve then gotten back comments along the lines of “that is more than I wanted to spend!”

Oh. So you DO have a budget. I mean, obviously you do if the number I am quoting is too high. What’s ridiculous about that situation is the amount of time and energy I took and my staff took getting inspired and putting something together for you. For free. The better way to handle this situation is for the couple to know their budget, know what they want and approach vendors with “this is what I want and this is what I can spend, and I need you to tell me what you can do for me.”

Now, if you truly don’t know what your budget is, then you are putting the cart so far in front of the horse that it’s in a different country. You simply cannot start planning a major (yes, major regardless of guest count and details) event like a wedding without knowing what you can afford. As a planner, once I know what the total budget is, we can then figure out what to spend and where. But before that, nothing can be done.

And for the other answer I receive…

2. “I don’t know what anything costs”

You don’t need to. What does what something costs have to do with what you can afford? Think of it this way: you’re going car shopping and you know what you want down to color, how many doors, and how much you can afford to put down and spend per month for payments. What you don’t know is the make or model that you are interested in, so you shop around. While you’re shopping around, you don’t know how much a Mercedes E Class car is…or who knows, maybe you do, but I drive an Outlander and know nothing about luxury cars mostly because every car I’ve ever owned has had to carry flowers, design pieces, my dogs, children and I don’t really care about cars but whatever…Anyway, the point is, it doesn’t matter how much any car is, it only matters what you can afford. If you start realizing that you can’t afford a Benz, then understand that there are other cars out there.

While shopping around for vendors, odds are that you will get quotes that are all over the place. This can be extremely confusing since you really don’t know what anything costs, and you feel you are getting quotes from A-Z for the same exact service or product. At the end of the day, if the price seems to good to be true, then it probably (aka absolutely) is. I have seen vendors undercut others just to get the job, full knowing that the job would be less than perfect for the client. It’s sad and pathetic, but some vendors in the industry don’t really care about anything other than the money, and it’s those vendors that you are being warned about that are out to get you, and your checkbook.

The other situation is when you are receiving a lower quote from someone newer in the business that might work very hard for you, but won’t have the experience that could prove to be necessary on your wedding day. This is why it’s especially important while “price shopping” to not go back to vendors and let them know that you received a quote for the same thing but for less. Experience costs more, as it should and thus, you may think you are getting the same thing, but you’re really not. Buyer beware.

In any event, what things cost is going to vary for reasons like location, experience, quality of service and product and so forth. The only number that matters is what you can afford and that is the number that you need to communicate to your vendors in the beginning. It’s only a game if you make it one, so ignore those basic articles you’re reading about vendors who only want a number so that they can take the entire thing. Most of us are looking to work with you and let you know what can and can’t be done. But it’s disrespectful to expect any vendor to jump through hoops and design any type of proposal for free based on the budget you said you knew nothing about, but actually did.

Step 1: Know your numbers Step 2: Start planning

Everyone has a budget for a wedding, no matter what the number is. If you don’t take care of that boring but very significant detail before starting the process, the honeymoon will be over before it starts…if you can even afford one by then.

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