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Getting Nasty With Your Planner Won't Solve Wedding Budget Woes

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The next paragraph is directly quoted from the Weddings in Vieques "Official Guidebook" and I thought about it when I got off the phone with a particularly difficult client the other day. It got me thinking about how some brides really do play the groom against their wedding planner to get what they want with the budget. I've run into this problem several times recently and what I'm writing about doesn't apply to any bride or groom in particular.

"Please don't play 'good cop, bad cop' with me. I cannot tell you how much I hate it when I have a conversation with a bride and then get a phone call or an email a few hours later from the groom who thinks he is calling to straighten me out and get what the bride wants out of me. Again, please remember I'm on your side from beginning to end on this. We can always discuss alternative ways to achieve your goal, but sending in your fiancé to bring down the hammer doesn't accomplish anything except to build a wall between us. Especially in the cases where the bride is planning the entire wedding and I only hear from the groom when he's calling to 'fix' things. I find myself listening to a groom tell me what I need to do when he only knows half of what is going on. I've already taken the time to explain things to the bride, but she's left out the little details when complaining to the groom about how unfair or unreasonable I am. It puts me in a very difficult position when I have to lay out the actual facts and numbers for him."

Let me explain what I think happens in these cases and why this section had to go into the client handbook.

Many grooms aren't THAT involved in the planning details. They either don't participate in the conference calls or do it with the football/basketball/baseball game on mute and absolutely not paying any attention to the call I'm suffering through on speaker phone just so he can NOT listen to it. But it makes his fiancé feel good to think he cares about the wedding planning.

Some grooms are on the ball, but even more don't participate in anything more than the initial and final conference calls, so they REALLY don't know what's been going on. They listen with half an ear when the bride babbles about whether they should do placecards and sparklers, and only mentally tune in when she's talking about bar options and dinero. I'm sorry, but it's the truth. It's the money that really gets their attention and usually results in the "bringing down the hammer" phone calls of which I'm not so fond.

You see, they weren't listening when I sat there explaining that the bride could spend X amount on chairs, or she could spend three times that amount. I advised her to choose the less expensive option, she ignored me. Cha-ching. The groom didn't hear me telling the bride that doing giant floral centerpieces at a beautiful waterfront venue was unnecessary. Her heart is set on it and she's going to have them. Cha-ching again.

And while the groom saw the Pinterest links she bombarded him with of lanterns and elaborate lighting, it never occurred to him that he would have to pay a crew of people to put up all the stuff. No, it's not included in the wedding planning fee. That's what you pay us to consult, plan and execute the event. Vendors or crew do all that physical labor (we direct) and you have to pay for their time.

It's when all the final numbers come together -- and that doesn't really happen until you have a FINAL guest count 30-60 days out -- that grooms I've never heard from before come in to take a verbal swing at me. Unfortunately, it's not a good time to remind them of the above section in the handbook. I doubt some of the grooms have read it anyway.

Are they reading all these vendor contracts that they're signing? Why isn't he yelling at the bride?

Here's the thing -- unless your guest count has jumped totally out of control, I can help you get back within your budget almost every time if you listen to my suggestions. I will tell you what to cut and what to keep, and when I ask you to wait to freak about your budget until I've revised the numbers, you have to trust me. The problems happen when brides and grooms aren't willing to cut anything or let me work the numbers.

Yes, you have to feed some of your vendors -- especially the ones you've imported for the weekend. There's no McDonald's or Domino's on this tiny island. In fact, the restaurant kitchens are all closed by 10 pm, long before we get out of your event. It's in our contracts and handbooks and it's something I tell you from the beginning. Cracks me up when the first thing the groom suggests to save money is not feeding vendors and staff who are on-site for hours and hours. That's definitely the best way to get the most out of your photographers and wedding planners. Get real!

Let me be very clear -- you are not going to get out of paying my contracted fee or paying gratuities to ALL of your vendors just so you can get your over-spending selves back under budget. That just ain't going to happen. There's a reason our company policy requires clients to prepay standard and customary gratuities, which btw run about half as much as they would in any major city back up in the states.

We initiated the pre-paying your tips policy after our first year in business when we realized that brides and grooms are too crazed, happy, distracted and/or drunk to remember to tip the DJ, cake lady, cleaning staff and kitchen staff. What about the all the other vendors they never see or meet? Something had to be done.

I'm all for withholding gratuity from photography/videography vendors until you receive the finished product and judge your satisfaction for yourself, but everybody else needs to get tipped when services are rendered. That's how it would work if you were getting married at a hotel up north or a resort on any other island. Those gratuities and "service charges" are all built in.

I will be damned if I will lose the best vendors on this island for my other brides and grooms because other clients fail to tip them. I hate it when a client is unhappy and asks me to tip less because I have to do what the client wants regardless of my opinion on the matter. We've been known to make up the difference out of my company's pocket so the vendor doesn't get screwed by a client who is just wrong. I'm not taking a tip for me or the wedding planning staff and clients rarely think to give one. That's fine, but my vendors are another story. I have other brides I need them to work for so I have to protect everybody involved.

The reason this all even becomes an issue is because the bride, who has known these policies all along, hasn't shared the info with her fiancé. And the fiancé is pissed at me because the bride is upset and it's his job to be the knight in shining armor. The thing is that it's a good idea to understand what exactly you're fighting for before you start attacking your target.

One or both of you has made all of these choices from the beginning. You have signed every contract. You've had occasional budget updates but you knew all along that the final headcount would change the numbers. I have been warning you that you do not need certain things but you are positive you do. There is only so much I can do to protect you from yourselves.

Moral of the Story: Make sure that you're both aware of all the policies and how you are spending your money as you go along. Blaming the wedding planner a month out because she knew the bride "has expensive taste" and saying it's my responsibility to keep her under budget becomes laughable if you were listening in on some of these conference calls.

Maybe it's easier for them to scream and rant at me than it is to yell at their own fiancé who created the mess. I guess that's okay because most of them arrive on the island and act like perfect gentlemen, past conflicts forgiven and forgotten as they enjoy their fantastic wedding festivities. But really, is it fair? At the end of the day, I mean it when I say I can help any client get back to their budget (or damned close to it) as long as their headcount is where it's supposed to be. But the brides and grooms have to give up things in order to spend less money. Nothing is free.

Until next time, happy wedding planning from Weddings in Vieques and Weddings in Culebra!

Sandy