Perhaps I shouldn't care about this, but I don't want to be an ass. How do I politely tell vendors that I got quotes from that they are way off base on price?
I feel like if I didn't want to pay that, perhaps I shouldn't gone these vendors. Like perhaps I should have started with the reception hall next to the guns and ammo store instead of venue with a wild flower garden overlooking the river with filet mingon and lobster on the menu. But I didn't. And now I am suffering from sticker shock. And quite frankly, I really don't want to have my reception next door to a hunting store.
Is there really room for negotiation like stupid bride magazines and blogs suggests there is? Or will I look like and ass and cheap skate if I tell these vendors I don't want to pay that much?
I don't feel qualified to answer this one, so I forwarded your question to Noa of Feather Love Photography because I knew she'd give us an honest answer.
(I didn't know she'd give us such a loooong answer, but it's so good I couldn't bring myself to cut anything.)
Anyhoo. Here's Noa:
Thanks for asking me to answer this question ESB, because I have lots to say about lots of things, and I shoot weddings for a living. (To start I would like to say that I can’t stand the word “vendors” but for lack of a better one, I will use it way too much in this post- can we come up with a better word please?)
Everyone is surprised when they start researching the costs of having a wedding: It’s pricey. Firstly: there are low, medium, and high-priced vendors in the wedding industry. Stick to what you can afford. I was a bride too a few years ago and my photography budget was $500. I worked in partial-trade for some vendors, saved money, and with the help of our parents, did whatever else I could innovatively think of in order to afford the wedding that I wanted. Which in this industry’s standards was a “low-budget” wedding, totaling at around $14,000 for 130 people.
Some vendors will offer small discounts if your wedding is off-season, or on a Sunday/Friday, or if you choose enough items off their list of services. But in general, it doesn’t make sense to go to a medium-range-priced vendor and ask them to lower their prices to match a low-end-priced vendor. Think of it like you have Valentino taste, but can only afford the thrift store.
There are ways to see if there is any room to move the price around. Let the vendor know right off the bat what your budget is and ask what is possible within that budget. That is the polite, respectful way to approach it. And this will also give you a clear and quick answer and save you & the vendor the time of going back and forth. They understand people have budgets, and they also always have a limit of what they can & cannot do.
However, the least favorable way to approach it is the following (this is a real email btw):
Bride: How much would it cost for 8-9 hours of photography and the negatives? Is there a discount for Friday weddings?
Me: Please see my price list attached. Rates start at $5,500 for 5 hours of coverage. Additional hours can be added per hourly rate. The limit is 7 hours. Otherwise the additional 8th hour after that is charged at 1.5 times the regular hourly rate. Depending on which package or items you choose, I might be able to offer a Friday discount, so please let me know what you are interested in from the price list, which also includes my Associate Photographer’s rates starting at $3,800 for 5 hours of coverage.
Bride: We would really like to stay around 2000-2400 for 8 hours of photography and the edited digital files. Can we possibly make something work?”
Yea. No. We can’t. The hourly limit was clearly stated & the price list was sent. She seemed to ignore all that information and still ask for my rate to be cut by more than half, then work some crazy over-time, and then she totally blew off the option of selecting the more affordable Associate Photographer choice.
That email kind of surprised me since I haven’t gotten any hagglers for a long time. In fact, I found that 5 years ago, when I was priced low, I got tons of hagglers who always mentioned how they could get more from another photographer for a lower price in order to try and get me to reduce my rate. Hey I’ve done that too as a bride so, I get it. As soon as I was priced medium-high, I stopped getting hagglers… Interesting… (Except for that rare email response above which ironically arrived in my inbox 5 minutes after ESB’s email asking me to guest post on this subject.)
Something I would strongly recommend would be to try and find talented newbie vendors who want to build their portfolio. People say that a lot, I know, and it’s more work to find them, but that IS one option.
Then of course there’s using your resources. Ask family and friends who have specific talents to help out, as a wedding gift to you. This cuts the costs down & and also gives you a more personalized, intimate DIY feel for your wedding. I once shot a wedding which was one of the most beautiful & fun weddings I have ever been to- almost everything was done by the couple and their family and friends. It was on a friend's property; beer was brewed by the groom; bbq was grilled by friends for dinner; the bride’s brother was the officiant; mom, grandma & aunties made the cakes; friends & bride made all the decorations & invites; the groom created the ipod playlist for all the music that day…
All images by Feather Love Photography. You can view all the pretty details from Emily & Royal’s DIY wedding here…. also featured on ESB! :)
Put down those bridal magazines, and utilize the plethora of fresh, innovative wedding blogs out there more (it’s free!) to come up with unique locations and ideas. My personal favorite: backyard weddings… do your parents or friends or parents-of-friends have a cool backyard? Can you drive 30 minutes out of town to some quiet areas and see if there is a Bed & Breakfast or a restaurant with a pretty view? Have you been somewhere that you really love that might work as a good location? Emilia of Sweet Emilia Jane had one of my favorite backyard weddings: her own. We were guests at their wedding which took place at her parents’ home in Massachusetts. All DIY, budget-conscious, and absolutely beautiful.
All images by Davina & Daniel Photography. You can see the entire gallery on Style Me Pretty.
And one of my biggest recommendations is: cut down your guest list. Nobody likes to do that but I can promise you that 5 years after my wedding I can look back and cut my guest list of 130 down by at least half, easily. And if anything, I would much prefer to have a 20-guest wedding if I could do it all over again today, for a million different reasons. And btw, most brides say that, and I really wish I would have listened back then.
I shot a wedding in Carmel where instead of having a sit-down reception, they had really tasty food stations that went on all evening where guests could balance out their blood-alcohol levels by having something to munch on consistently throughout the night. It felt more like a party or a really long cocktail reception where people went from dancing, to eating and chatting, to dancing, to drinking, to eating, and it moved smoothly & was super fun. No rush. No millions-of-things-to-get-done-before-the-cake-cutting. The bride & groom got to hang out with everyone and have a good time. More importantly, the catering cost a LOT less than a sit down reception, and it tasted better. The whole thing was less… stiff. [Editor's note: YAY HEATHER!]
There are so many ways to cut costs and stay innovative but it’s hard to come up with ideas like that if you are reading traditional bridal magazines who tell you what a wedding SHOULD be comprised of, instead of coming up with what an ultimately fun party would look like if you could decide on it all by yourself. Imagine there was never a wedding before yours, start from there, and come up with ideas that would make you and your fiancé happy. Personalize it. Those are the best weddings I have ever been to or shot, and they are by far the most fun for everyone.
Here is one idea for example, depending on what your personality is like: Consider having a ‘picnic wedding.’ It’s easier to gather up & borrow 20 colorful blankets, rugs, & a bunch of floor pillows than it is to pay to rent 100 chairs & 15 tables. Have it catered by your local middle-eastern deli, buffet-style (I’ve always wanted to do that! In fact it was my initial idea and it would have been a lot better than the catering we had) at $10-$15 per head. Borrow all tableware & serveware from friends and family, mismatched looks great! Decorate by throwing decoration parties where your girlfriends come over & drink wine with you whilst watching Project Runway or Jersey Shore or whatever is entertaining that you can talk over, & make cool stuff that you can hang everywhere at your wedding. Hire a pro photographer for just two hours to cover the main event, and then provide all your guests with those cheapo table film cameras to capture the rest of the day with. Personally, the table camera shots from my wedding are my favorites.
When you prioritize what is most important and what is least important to you, you can spend more money on your higher-priorities like location, food, photography, alcohol, dress etc. Also browse for more “contests” on blogs to get some potential freebies that will free up your budget for other priorities. Broke-Ass Bride is great with posting contests & stuff like that and she has tons of other great ideas too.
To summarize, I would focus on creative ways to make your wedding fit your budget more, and focus less on the vendor-haggle: Have an off-season, Friday/Sunday/weekday wedding. Let vendors know your budget & ask what can be done with it. Use the lovely, fresh ideas & resources available on blogs to inspire you. Find a cool backyard. Have an ongoing cocktail reception with food stations instead of dinner. Cut that guest list down- way down. Get your friends and family to help make decorations & invites etc. Get grandma, mom and the aunts to make the cakes/desserts. Look on etsy or ebay for a pretty, vintage, non-traditional, non-wedding dress for under $200. Find talented new vendors that are just starting out and get their rates… You will end up with a more affordable, personalized, intimate wedding plan that will look rad, feel rad, taste rad, and might spark the interest of some creative vendors enough for them to offer you some discounts, because they love being able to show off their unique work in the blog world.
Or alternatively, apply for a new credit card to pay for everything you really want. But please don’t haggle.
(Top photo of Noa herself by Chloe Aftel. See the whole amazeballs shoot here. Almost makes me want to do my own photo shot before I get... you know. Old.)