How to Book Vendors When You Have an Embarassingly Small budget

You Decide For You and They Decide for Them

wedding cake made of moneyImage from Once Wed

Whether you're on a tight budget or not, the issue of money will come up. And it seems that if a wedding budget is anything shy of 30 or 40 grand, brides often become concerned about “being able to afford their wedding.”

A common comment I hear is, “Oh, I can't afford the photographer I want,” or “I can't afford that venue.” All this worrying and hand-wringing may be happening before the bride has even called the vendor! She's just decided that the vendor or venue she LOVES is out of her $20 thousand dollar budget. Say what!?

Now let's set aside for a moment that many vendors don't post their prices on their websites because they think they can manipulate you into spending more than you have on this “one-in-a-lifetime” day. Oh, this drives me nuts. And each time I see a wedding vendor hiding their prices I want to email them and tell them to read this about pricing wedding photography and this about justifying wedding photography prices.

Now Todd, the writer and wedding photographer behind those two articles has a nuanced approach to publishing prices, and I think any bride reading his blog can gain insight into what makes a wedding photographer tick, but I don't want to derail this discussion by careening into a diatribe about how I HATE IT when vendors don't post their prices because then I have to call or email them and do a big song and dance with them trying to determine fit without being so crass as to be upfront about my actual budget. GRRRRR.

Well, let me tell you something (and as I tell you, I'm also reminding me):

GET OVER IT!!!

We're all adults here. You get to decide for yourself what you like and what you want. Then, in turn, the vendors get to decide for themselves whether or not they can work within your budget. A gentler way comes from the non-profit world, where, “It never hurts to ask…”

By way of explanation let me tell you something else: I have some BIG news! BIG, BIG, BIG news

I have been shopping around for a graphic designer lately. And graphic designers, like wedding vendors (and wedding photographers in particular,) don't like to publish their prices. To further complicate matters, I, per usual, have a tiny, tiny budget. I have around $1,000 to invest in this new surprise project, which means my design budget is around $500-$600. This is NOT a lot of money in the design world. Not at all.

I put out some feelers to friends for recommendations and surfed the web and couldn't find one single price list. Because of my background in web development, knew how much designers generally cost and my budget was tiny.

I was embarrassed to have to call or email people and reveal my tiny, embarrassing budget. Did I mention I was embarrassed?

Then it hit me, I did this with my own wedding photography and ended up disappointed. I convinced myself that I couldn't get a professional photographer on my tiny budget. I didn't call or email anyone; I didn't rework my budget. I didn't save longer, or more, or stop buying random craft supplies that I'd never use. I didn't register for wedding photography on one of these new-fangled wedding registries. Nope, none of that. Instead, I hired a student for $150 and got exactly what I paid for: amateurish wedding pictures. (Check out the story here) This, even though photography was a priority.

So, with that lesson learned, I hitched up my big-girl panties and started emailing people. I started by simply emailing and saying how I found them (referral, website, etc) and that I needed their services. Two sentences, that's all. When I was asked about my budget, I was up-front about my budget and respectful about the possibility that it may be too low. Here's an example:

I'm trying to keep this project under $1,000. I'm not sure what to expect with pricing, but $500-$600 for the design would be ideal. I hope that doesn't offend you! I have a pretty tough skin, so if I'm waaaay off base, let me know ;-)

Some could work within my budget and some couldn't. For those who couldn't, I said, “Thanks so much for your time,” and I moved on! And you know what? Nobody took away my birthday or started a smear campaign on Twitter decrying my audacity and mocking my ridiculously small budget. Nope. You know why? Because it's all just business at this point. Nothing personal here.

Was it embarrassing to have to reveal my budget before they revealed their prices? Sure. Did I ultimately lose anything by being “rejected” because my budget is so small? Nope. Instead I found the perfect fit for me.

I found a woman who is super talented. Who could work within my budget. Who stepped out three payments to make it more affordable. And who, even before money changed hands, talked to me on the phone, just so I could “touch base about the project” (read: babble,) just so I could feel more secure about letting a stranger guide the artistic vision of my BIG NEWS.

She was within my budget, yes, but above all she made me feel like I was in good hands long before any money was exchanged.

This was true of Two Ring Studios when I called for an anniversary shoot. I had a small amount of money to re-do our wedding pictures (about half of what they charged for an engagement shoot). I called them up, totally embarrassed about my budget once again, but was up-front and honest. They were so cool and accommodating and were able to make some adjustments to their services provided I was flexible with times and locations. They taught me that negotiations don't always have to be about price.

So this is my wedding planning for you this week:

When choosing wedding vendors:

  1. Find someone's style that you love.
  2. Contact them because you love their work.
  3. Be up front about your budget.
  4. Understand that negotiations don't have to be about price alone.
  5. Accept that you may not be able to afford them and respect their business decisions regarding pricing.
  6. Book them because you like the person, not just because they fall within your budget.

Originally posted