Advice: Money-Saving Tips, Debunked (Part One)

I read a lot of blogs about weddings and events, particularly the ones that give helpful tips.  I’m curious to know what other advice is out there, besides the insight I am sharing.  Some of it is great, and I add it to my own catalogue of advice.  And then there’s the stuff that I think is just plain bad advice.  We’ve scoured blogs and articles that give money saving tips, and we’ve picked out the thirteen worst ones to share with you, and explain why it’s not so great advice.  We have so much to say about these tips that we’ve broken this up into two parts.  Here are the first 6 Money Saving Tips, Debunked:

Okay, let’s go ahead and start off with the one that any planner would be the first to combat:

1: Not hiring a wedding coordinator. I could write a whole series of blogs about why wedding planners are valuable, and why you shouldn’t necessarily rely on venue representatives or friends to do the coordinating for you.  Hey, maybe I will write a series about that!  But, for now, I’ll just give you the Reader’s Digest version of why, in most cases, it isn’t necessarily a great idea to cut a coordinator or planner out of your wedding budget.

  • We can help you stick to your budget. We know the tricks of the trade for getting something really great at the best possible price.  Even more importantly, we know the hidden costs that most couples don’t anticipate.  Postage, dress fittings and cleaning, travel fees, you name it!  We can also easily recognize scope overlaps.  Is your florist charging for votives?  Your planner just noticed that your caterer provides votives for free!  Insta-savings!
  • We help to keep you sane. I always say “hiring a planner is the best wedding gift you can get yourself.”  It’s an investment, sure.  But the amount of peace of mind that we can bring can be invaluable.  Having some tension between family members throughout the planning process?  A planner is a neutral party who can help to sort through all those difficulties with ease.
  • Is your venue coordinator going to help you figure out what time the photographer should arrive? No, because they have nothing to do with anything that happens prior your arrival on-site the day of your wedding.  If you are relying on your venue coordinator to be your Wedding Planner or hour Wedding Day Coordinator, you are going to be disappointed with the gaps in services you experience.  A dedicated planner or coordinator who works for you can provide more in-depth services, far beyond the ones that directly relate to the venue and food/beverage service.
  • Is your friend going to sacrifice being a guest at your wedding in order to run around the entire day taking care of you and your needs? Sure, helping with set-up is fine.  And if they stay sober, helping to take your items home at the end of the event might work out great, too.  But is your guest going to miss out on dinner to help line up the wedding party for introductions, give the DJ a heads up when it’s time to do the father/daughter dance, or discuss the cake cutting with your photographer to make sure you and your new spouse are positioned just right around the cake for the perfect lighting during your special moment?  Will that friend make sure the father isn’t in the restroom right before the band announces that it’s time for him to give his speech?  Bottom line is: please don’t put this burden on a friend or family member.  Let them be a guest.

I could go on.  And I will.  So keep an eye out for another blog about this later!

2. Cash Bar or don’t offer alcohol. Alcohol is a big expenditure for any social event.  But the amount that you spend is totally up to you. It doesn’t have to be eliminated altogether.  Unless you’re not serving alcohol for religious or cultural reasons, I can’t think of a good reason to deprive your guests of the beverages they expect.  Rather than not serving alcohol or, worse, telling your guests to pay for their own, try one of these simple cost-saving solutions:
Limit the bar to the alcohol you can afford.  Even if it’s just a signature cocktail, your guests will appreciate the opportunity to enjoy a beverage that goes along with their celebratory mood.  Or, if you can afford it, beer and wine is certainly sufficient for any wedding.
Alternatively, you can have a more extensive bar if you are able to provide your own alcohol.  Many caterers will utilize their liquor license for alcohol that has been provided by the client.  This is usually allowed in any venue that permits off-premise caterers.  This is not a solution that would work at a hotel or other facility with in-house catering, due to the fact that their liquor license requires them to provide all alcohol on the premise through their distributor.

3. Play hard to get. We found a blog that advises brides and grooms not to fawn over their vendors.  Why? Because playing it cool puts the client in a better negotiating position if the vendor doesn’t think they’re the first choice.  The blog even claimed “They’ll meet you half way.”  Poppycock!  From my perspective, there are two major issues with this:  (1) Why would a vendor want to bend over backwards to work with a client who doesn’t really love the idea of working with them?  I’m more likely to walk away from an opportunity if I don’t think the client is really feeling it.  (2) It makes more sense to me that the vendor will be more flexible with someone they want to work with, and who wants to work with them.  Sure, there’s the logic that says, “If they want you badly enough, they’ll pay your fee.”  I get that.  But the truth of the matter is that some people just can’t afford certain fees.  And if that vendor wants to work with the client badly enough, and feels that the client is truly going to value their work, and this could lead to more opportunities that are lucrative, the vendor might be willing to negotiate.  In  my opinion, honesty is the best policy.  Let your vendors know where they stand, and be truthful to them throughout the entire process, including after you hire them.  (Also, be truthful to them if you don’t hire them.  That’s a topic for another blog coming soon!)

4. Hiring a student/novice photographer. There are so many things wrong with this advice.  When it comes down to it, your photos (and video, if you opt to get one) are the only things that remain after your wedding day is over.  Skimping on photography services can result in disastrous consequences, including costly solutions, such as hiring a more capable photographer last-minute, if you’re lucky enough to realize your mistake before the wedding happens.
Pros know how to deal with bad weather, cranky moods, large groups, and family dynamics.  They know how to navigate (diplomatically) people who want to take their own photos.  But perhaps the biggest skill that an experienced professional photographer has developed is TIMING.  Wedding and Lifestyle photographer, Daniel McGarrity of Daniel McGarrity Photography and Because Kisses Matter elaborates: “Timing is the most important.  Everything else hinges upon that.  That newbie: they’re just trying to be nice and say yes to everything.  They won’t be able to adequately adjust based upon experience when they need to say no, [if something won’t work, timing-wise.]  A newbie also doesn’t have the emotional experience with someone who might be stressed out.  And it’s my experience that the client who is trying to save some money is the one who is also the most stressed out.  The clients trying to save money also claim to be very laid back.  A newbie might not have a contract in place that tells clients what to expect.  Especially if it’s a friend.  If something goes wrong, they are probably not going to be a friend for much longer.”  So much can go wrong when working with a novice who also happens to be a friend!  Daniel continues, “Take a large group.  The biggest problem with a large group for a new photographer is you’re not only dealing with a lot of people, but someone who views you as their social equal, and therefore someone they don’t need to pay attention to, especially if they’ve been drinking. Someone who is new may not know how to assert themselves into an authoritative position.  Let’s say it’s a large family that is very boisterous, or better yet who doesn’t speak English as a first language.  The photographer will not have the experience to come up with solutions off the top of their head to take control of that group and still be polite and respectful to the group.”
In addition to all these reasons for needing a true professional with real job experience, Daniel says, “The biggest risk is someone caving under pressure.  Someone who ‘has a nice camera,’ [but isn’t experienced as an event photographer] might just quit on the spot.  They have no skin in the game.  They have no professional reputation to maintain.”  They may walk out on the job or just give up and not do the quality of work for the remainder of the day.
Buyer beware of any photographer charging less than $1800 for engagement session, full day (8-10 hours) of coverage, a second shooter & an album.
A better way to save money on photography at your wedding, is to hire someone who is professional, but offers great package deals.  Bundle several shoots into one package, including engagement session, rehearsal dinner, and wedding day.  Also, see if your photographer will credit you for the Album, and add something else into the package for you, such as additional hours on the wedding day.  You can always purchase an album later, using the money that was gifted to you from your wedding guests.  That album may come at a slightly higher price, if it’s not part of the bundle package, but you’d be in a better position to pay for it later, if you decide that you want and album at all!
Another great way to save on a wedding photographer is to make the most out of the time on your wedding day.  Large gaps between your ceremony and reception can result in a lot of extra hours for your photographer.

5. Hiring a Club DJ or use a playlist. We have such strong feelings about this, we didn’t know where to begin, so we sought out the advice of our friends Carl and Leni at Classic Collective DJ’s.  Here are some of our collective thoughts:

Do you have a friend who DJ’s at a club, or plays at bars every weekend?  Someone who has great equipment, but hasn’t done a lot of weddings?  Oy! A lot of DJ’s (and bands) are great in clubs and other venues where they can just play music.  But when it comes to handling ceremonial activities during the reception and being the evening’s Master of Ceremonies, it’s so worth it to hire a wedding professional.  Just like the photographer, who needs to be astute at working out timing details, the DJ or Band must be able to create a great flow for the event.  From introductions and first dance, to cake cutting and bouquet toss — these are the things that club DJ’s know nothing about.

And the playlist.  OH the PLAYLIST!  Let’s go back to those ceremonial things that happen during a wedding reception.  How does this fit into your playlist?  Who mans the playlist during these things that are happening?  How do you ensure, when you’re making that playlist ahead of time, that the music being played before and after these activities fit the mood?  And, most importantly, how is a predetermined playlist supposed to read the crowd and adjust accordingly?  The answers are: No one, you can’t, and it can’t!

One good way to actually save money on music at your wedding with no backlash:  Avoid multiple set-ups for your DJ.  If your ceremony or cocktail hour are in a different location than your reception, your DJ will most likely charge additional set-up fees, and possibly for extra labor.  Save money by keeping your DJ in one spot.  If you want to have a cocktail hour in a different location, consider having a friend who is a musician play a solo act during cocktail hour.  I would not suggest having a non-professional play during your ceremony, because of the special skill that is required to do so.  But a solo guitarist or pianist during the cocktail hour is an idea option for utilizing a friend’s talent.

Another way to save money on music at your event is to stick with a DJ instead of a band.  You can hire a GREAT DJ for $1500-$2500.  Meanwhile, a GREAT band will start at $4500.

Keep an eye out for another blog coming soon, specifically about this topic, because there’s just so much more that we need to share with you from our conversation with Carl and Leni at Classic Collective DJ’s.

6. Family Style Dinner: Several blogs claim that this style of meal service saves you money. Perhaps it requires a bit less service staff, but perhaps not.  Here’s what we’ve found in our experience: It requires more food than a plates meal, because you must account for waste when people serve themselves.  For most caterers, it requires rentals of serving dishes, tongs, spoons, etc, which the caterer doesn’t normally carry in their inventory, unless they do family style service on a regular basis.  It also requires larger tables, larger linens, or seating fewer guests at each table. With all those bowls and platters on the table, you need the additional real estate.  Lastly, centerpieces get in the way, which is an inconvenience all-around, and typically results in centerpieces getting moved aside and gone to waste.

A few additional thoughts:
In general, a lot of money saving tips have to do with having non-event-professionals help with your wedding or spending less money on a “professional.”  Here are some things to think about when hiring extremely low-cost vendors:
How can they possibly be making a profit on the job?  Do you want to work with someone who isn’t making enough money to have some skin in the game?
How much are they paying their second person?  Good help is hard to find.  A vendor needs to be able to pay their assistant a fair wage in order to keep them motivated to do a good job for you, the client.  If someone isn’t charging enough to cover the costs of a helper, buyer beware!
Are they paying taxes, and do they have insurance?  Maybe this doesn’t affect you directly, but do you really want to do business with someone who isn’t charging enough to cover the costs of doing business?