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Wedding Packages Aren't Always the Best Decision for Budget Conscious Brides and Grooms

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I think a lot of brides and grooms fall for the word "PACKAGE" when they're planning their weddings because we've all been conditioned to think we're getting some great deal when we hear that word used. Unfortunately, in weddings, as in most of life, just because things are bundled together in a "package" doesn't always make them the best deal. And once you've signed up for a package, you might be stuck with it.

Let me put it in perspective for you. Have you ever been ready to purchase an audio system or a suite of kitchen appliances or even a vacation "package" when you added up all the numbers and suddenly realized that you're actually paying MORE for the items in the package than you would have paid had you bought each of them separately? I know it's happened to me.

The worst is when you realize it AFTER you've made the deal. Because that wasn't a deal. It was a trap. Marketers realize the attraction of getting a discount and they leverage the terminology however they can to make you feel like you're getting more than you paid for -- and that's fine, but only if it's true.

On the flip side, when you grab a package deal for anything, you're agreeing to honor what they've offered in the package. If the package says "delivery not included," you don't expect your items to magically appear on your doorstep. If your vacation deal didn't include a rental car, you don't expect to have wheels waiting when you land. The same principle needs to be applied when you're considering wedding packages.

Wedding packages come in all shapes and sizes and can be tricky to understand and navigate for the rookie planning his or her first wedding. Most hotels and resorts have some sort of "wedding package" that allows you to pick and choose some of the things for your wedding from a limited selection of what is actually available. This keeps the cost of your wedding within a certain margin for the vendors but it doesn't give you as many options as you might like to have.

The good news for those brides and grooms with bigger budgets is that almost all packages can be upgraded -- you can add more tiers to the cake, more flowers to the aisle, bigger centerpieces to the tables and larger lobsters to the reception dinner -- but everything you change costs you a little bit more than the package price upon which you've been estimating your wedding budget. And it adds up more quickly than you realize.

With all-inclusive resort packages, the "deal" you're getting is that your guests are carrying the burden of your wedding costs (their food and drinks were already paid for because you made them come to a resort where they'd prepaid for all of it anyway) so when they throw in a "free" welcome party or "farewell brunch" they're not actually giving you back one single dime. What you're doing is limiting your guests' menu selections. If you hadn't chosen to have that extra event, they could have picked any restaurant in the resort to eat in and chosen their own food versus you deciding that everybody is going to have either waffles or Eggs Benedict on your private buffet.

Sure, you can still upgrade some things that matter to you at an all-inclusive resort -- if you want a different cake than what is included, or more flowers than the package allows, you can pay more money to upgrade these things. Again, none of it will be in the original budget estimate you were working with when you started.

My company offers a "keep It simple" package for clients who are having more intimate weddings -- meaning they have few enough guests that we can actually have the wedding reception dinner at a restaurant or other public venue rather than a catered affair involving a ton of different vendors at a private villa or venue. It's priced in different levels based on how many guests you're bringing, but what's included is basically the same. It's the very bare bones that you need to have in order to have a beautiful destination wedding on a Caribbean island.

While the package has worked successfully for hundreds of couples, literally, it's also been a problem with a number of clients over the years who haven't exactly understood that what is outlined in the contract is EXACTLY what you get, and nothing extra will be thrown in. Not for free, at least. You can add everything under the sun on an a la carte basis. But those things will cost you more money and they add up quickly.

Sometimes brides and grooms underestimate their own popularity and send out far more invitations than their package actually accommodates -- not many restaurants on our tiny island can accommodate large groups unless it's actually a private party with the venue closed to the public. And to do that, you have to spend a minimum amount of money and put down a deposit.

That's exactly what many clients were trying to avoid when they chose the simple package in the beginning. But just because your wedding evolved and changed doesn't mean the package will change along with it. There will always be additional costs. And sometimes we have to change the whole structure of the wedding planning contract if the package no longer suits the size of the group.

Nothing is more frustrating as a wedding planner than to be the ultimate buzzkill during a conference call as I explain the facts of life. Some examples:

"Yes, it's a lovely venue. No, you can't get married there unless you take over the entire hotel for three days and spend a minimum of X dollars there."

"Certainly a wedding reception on the beach would be lovely, but we'll have to build an entire venue with tents, generators and water supply because there are no electrical outlets or sinks on a tropical beach."

"We're going to have to rewrite our contract if your guest list has really grown from 15 guests to 45 guests because the wedding package you hired me to execute doesn't permit that many people."

"No, you can't have your ceremony on that beach because it's not legal and we can't get a permit for there... no, I won't break the law."

Truth? I hate telling my clients "no" about anything. I'd rather say that I can make anything happen - including magic. But I can't. I'm only human and venues have their policies and restaurants have their minimums and beaches have their laws and restrictions. My contract says exactly what comes with your "package" and you don't get to rewrite it and expect me to go along with it just because your plans have changed.

If you decide to choose a wedding package wherever you're getting married, choose a package that you like and that suits the size of your group - don't choose the only thing you could afford with the full intention of goosing it up until you've added all the bells and whistles you'd originally envisioned. Doing so will only make you frustrated when you're either told "no" or you get a bill for double what you'd expected to spend when you first signed the agreement.

I assure you that wedding planners, hotels and resorts have all dealt with champagne-taste brides on beer budgets and we've all learned to say no. In the case of a little company like mine, you're taking away the very small profit we make on these packages when you try to squeeze out more than we agreed to provide. With large hotels and resorts, they only have a little bit of wiggle room to help you out, especially if you've chosen the least expensive option on everything. Their profit margins aren't that high for the weddings either because they're making their money on the hotel rooms you've promised your guests' will book. And the anticipation of what your guests will spend in bars, restaurants and shops on their property.

Sometimes your wedding dreams and your wedding budget aren't in line with each other. There are a number of solutions to that:

1) You can scale back your wedding expectations and guest list to something you can afford,
2) You can choose a different venue and/or destination that's within your budget, or
3) You can cough up more money and pay for the things that you really wanted in the first place but weren't willing to commit to when you signed.

What you cannot do is expect anybody to be responsive to the "Help me, I'm poor" whining that some brides think will bring down the costs after you've upgraded and over-invited and can't pay your tab when the money is due. Yelling, tears and having the groom call to "bring down the hammer" aren't terribly effective either. We've heard it all. End of day, you have to be able to pay for it all. If you couldn't afford to have the wedding of your dreams, you shouldn't have invited all those people to come attend it.

So are wedding packages a good thing or a bad thing for brides and grooms on a budget? It depends on what's included and how those things meet your expectations. If you know that you're going to want to change pretty much everything in the package, then the package probably isn't right for you. If you've taken the highest package option and still want more, it can always be arranged if you can afford to pay for it. But just like when you book a vacation package or spa day, you have to look at all the parts and pieces separately and then together before you make that final decision. Sometimes paying for what you wanted specifically on the front end will save you a lot of money in upgrades for the actual events.

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

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