Are you really too busy for your own wedding? Part II – The Budget

In Part I of my series, "Are you really too busy for your own wedding?", I discussed the issues involved in finding the right venue and the very-short-comings of so-called wedding planning services and their feeble attempts to 'help' you find a venue. Now I want to talk about The Budget; perhaps two of the most frightening and daunting words in the whole wedding process.

Don't start with budget!

You may think I want to tackle the budget issue from the very obvious angle that you must have some kind of budget or idea of a budget in order to plan any event, whether it is as massive as a wedding or as simple as a dinner party. This is a given. What I want to discuss is why revealing or providing budget information to a wedding planning company too early in the planning process, may interfere with your getting the wedding of your dreams (that's good dreams, not nightmares).

Don't get me wrong, I believe that you need to know your budget, but your wedding planner does not; at least not at the initial meeting. Once this information is in his grubby little hands - his attitude towards you, your intended and your whole wedding project may change drastically. His enthusiasm towards your wedding may cool substantially, once he realizes that he will not get the big cut (or percentage) he envisioned when you entered his office.

Check out the fine print

There are several caveats here:

1) If you can't afford an extra 'planning/managing' fee, then it goes that you can’t afford a planner and are, therefore you are not too busy to arrange your own wedding. So get this whole wedding planner idea out of your heads and start working.

2) If intend to pay your planner a fee (percentage of the total wedding or flat fee), then this amount should be calculated into the budget from the onset.

3) Wedding planning companies commonly advertise that they do not 'charge' a fee. This is a misconception (I would call it an outright lie), these companies like to perpetuate. I saw the contract for one of these companies. They do charge a fee; it is 'merely hidden' in clauses. According to the business model of the wedding planning company I know, the couple pays the company all the wedding fees for all the services it has engaged through the company and – get this – once the wedding is OVER - the company then pays the service providers minus its own service charge.

This is very worrying as you pay the wedding planning company before the event and they pay the providers after the event. You sign the contracts with all the providers. It was a worrying thought that this company can get all your money and then abscond without paying the service providers.

The caveat here: always see a contract or draft of the contract agreement before you get into any working relationship with this company (or anyone for that matter).

By the way, the company I dealt with did not want to provide me with a contract, or a sample contract before I formally hired them. I told them that I wouldn't hire them without seeing a contract in advance. Needless to say, I saw the contract and did not hire them.

Now back to discussing the Budget.

The Budget should and does comes up in the initial meeting, when discussing the parameters of your wedding: venues, budget (many times 'budget' is number one on the list), number of guests, geographical area of venue and other needed wedding vendors (makeup and hair, invitations, band, photographer and the like).

Full disclosure is for lawyers, not brides and grooms

Let's discuss budget for a moment. This has to be one of the most fundamental and significant elements of wedding planning. However, when you begin with money, you have nowhere to go and no place to move. If a planning company asks about budget do not answer this question, you will be pigeon-holed into a certain framework that most salespeople will not have the experience or ability to work their way out of.

Rather tell them that you will build the budget around your needs, rather than your needs around the budget. You will also get a better idea about the company's contacts and 'deals' they can offer you.

Work this backwards (even if you know your budget to the shekel, pound, dollar or yen!); discuss your wish list/needs: time of year (see my article on Winter Weddings), number of guests, venue type (garden, hall, etc and see my article on Venues) and geographical area. Then you can work out a nearly realistic budget based on these four parameters that will either get you to rethink your budget, your wish list or both.

Remember you are under no obligation to give them full disclosure at this initial meeting. The wedding planning company we met provided us with a (not very comprehensive) list of venues based on the parameters above and my willingness to say that I would not pay an excessive amount for per dinner plate.

Remember service providers (wedding or otherwise) are supposed to have your best interests at heart – because as I see it – your best interest can then be translated into the best interests (fees and call backs/referrals) of the service providers.

Are you really too busy for your own wedding? Part I – The Venue

Here is the first in a series of articles on planning your own wedding and preventing yourself from falling into the trap of thinking you don’t have the time to do so.

I have a bone to pick with the so-called wedding planning companies that have sprung up both in cyber space and in office space. I make a very clear distinction between these wedding planning companies (let's call them wpcs) and wedding planners (I count myself as part of this latter group). Peeling back all the hype, wpcs provide lists of services and wedding planners provide real services.

I had a short and not very satisfying experience with two such companies: one in an office space and one in cyber space. Each was tasked with helping us find a venue for my son's wedding. Each asked basic questions but in the end both provided a list of choices. Nothing more.

When we visited the venue choices it was obvious that neither company:

1) investigated the sites: one site was too small for our small wedding of 200 guests. After visiting the venue, I called the company immediately and told them that the venue was too small. The answer I received was that that 200 people could indeed fit into this venue. When I retorted that 200 people could also fit into my living room, the company rep just laughed and reluctantly admitted he never actually saw the place himself.

2) in some cases the company never contacted the sites before I had ( to arrange a meeting/tour of the venue). This became evident when I called the venue to arrange the meeting or when I mentioned that we were supposed to get a 'special company price' and the venue knew anything about a special price. Again once I told the company about the discrepancy, they told me they would 'look into it'.

These companies also claimed that they knew all the venues that would be suited for us in a certain geographical area. Again this was false. Once again, when I told the companies that I found many other venues (not on their list); their answers were at best an attempt to say that they did not have connections with ALL the venues in our area (not what the company claimed at our first and only meeting).

No one has the luxury of 'not having the time to plan your own wedding'. Do not let a wedding planning company try to convince you that your wedding deserves less of your time and effort than would a dinner date.

Want to find a venue?

A. Use the following parameters to begin to narrow your search, without ever leaving your home or your slippers.

Parameters to help you narrow your search:

1) Time of year: Season/month(Some venues are summer only garden venues)

2) Geographical location: Area/city

3) Venue type: garden venue, garden+hall venue, hall venue

4) Number of guests: (Some venues are designed for very large or small weddings. Most venues have minimum guest attendance rules for certain seasons and certain days of the week)

5) Basic wedding style: (Religious, mixed, formal, informal and the like)

B. Now just key in venue names  in for your desired cities in your geographical area.

Now make sure your venue has a license to run a venue. Check out:

Most of your search response list will include links to the venue's sites. Check out the sites and make a list of the most likely venues.

C. With the information from your parameter list above, call each venue and discuss your needs. Begin to arrange meetings for your close wedding party. When arranging a meeting, get the name of the person you will meet, as well as a direct mobile number.

Try to visit each venue during an event, preferably a wedding. So you can see much more than just the physical layout of the venye, but also how responsive the venue is to the event and the guests.

I warmly recommend that the bride, groom and someone who has arranged a wedding in the past visit each venue.

If you can, try to visit two venues in an evening.

All venues look the same

After you have visited your third venue, all the venues begin to look and smell the same. With this in mind I attach a venue assessing form (in both English and Hebrew) to help you assess each venue as you visit it and then help you compare the venues at the end of the process.
Venue Comparison Form English

Venue Comparison Form Hebrew

Having problems downloading my forms?  Email me.

Use these forms as an inspection list of items to examine while you are in the venue and then complete the form as soon as you are in the parking lot. Once you have seen about as many venues as you can stand, you can review them with the help of these forms and come to an informed decision.

Stay tuned for other installments of "Are you really too busy for your own wedding?"

Is Winter the new Summer ? Winter Weddings: What you should know before you plan a winter wedding

Time was that weddings took place in the summer, somewhere between Lag B'Omer and Rosh Ha'Shanah – taking a break for the Three Weeks. We never had to worry about rain or snow ruining an event. We just wondered how hot and dry or hot and sticky the chuppah would be – depending on where the wedding took place.

Time was that winter weddings were for those who needed to save a lot of money or simply could not wait for the summer wedding season. Today winter has become the new summer and winter weddings abound. As summer weddings bring their own brand of problems, especially if you have a Friday mid-morning-afternoon wedding, which I discussed in an earlier article; winter brings its own brand of surprises, usually thanks to the vagaries of mother-nature.

First of all, it's time to realize that winter weddings are no longer unbelievably cheap. The price difference may be 5% to 10% less, and while every shekel is important for your overall budget, the per-person cost is no longer half of the summer rate.

Most venues however have remained flexible with many other issues, such as minimum number of guests on certain nights (for instance, the all-popular Thursday night), menu selection and the like.

Next let's look at venues. Most couples and I might add, most guests, prefer an outdoor or outdoor-indoor venue – better known as the 'Gan Eruim" – garden event venue. In general, these garden venues have more breathing room for the guests to move around and mingle during the pre-chuppah reception, space for the chuppah, as well as, in general, a reasonably large area for the dinner/dancing part of the evening. These garden venues are multi-seasonal and are equipped to handle just about all Israeli weather situations. During the last rain storm, one of the venues (in the center of the country) did cancel a wedding some four-five hours before it was scheduled to be held (story reported in the news with an interview with the not-very-happy bride and groom), but this was extreme case. I know that others venues held their simchas as planned on that day.

In general the garden venue will have an open or semi open (with an awning or tent structure) area for the reception, an open chuppah and then an enclosed structure, usually a glass and wood structure for the dinner and dancing.

Let's take a look at the tented reception area. In the winter, the overhead covering obviously is a precaution against rain, but in general this area maybe only heated by free-standing kerosene lamps. Rarely are these areas heated or temperature controlled as the dinner/dancing areas. This means that as the first guests arrive the area is a bit (or very) chilled, but as people begin to mill around and to attack the Hors d'Oeuvres, they in general warm themselves. Keep in mind that older guests should have an indoor place where they can sit comfortably and warmly, usually in the enclosed dinner/dancing area. Always have in hand a shawl and or coat for yourselves and your older guests. A shawl should also be available for the kallah – especially if she is fasting. I have seen some kallahs go for the white, faux-fur lined wraps/shawls that more or less 'match' their dresses.

Keep in mind however, that a tented reception area is just as important, or in some cases, maybe even more important for a simcha held during a very hot summer evening. And our summer is a lot longer and hotter than our short rainy season.

I have also noticed a trend of using artificial grass on outdoor areas, especially in indoor/outdoor venues. This grass is not only 'water-friendly' in our rain starved environment, it also ensures a year-round clean look and feel to a venue.

The chuppah in the winter. That sentence still strikes dread in the hearts of many a bride and groom. Will it rain or won't it? Will it be too cold for guests to stand around outside for the duration of the ceremony. Many venues have a stand-by, just-in-case, indoor chuppah ready and waiting or an area where a chuppah can be setup some two-to-three hours before the chuppah is set to start. Most venues are very flexible about where the chuppah will take place. And as with many other wedding details, guests are blissfully unaware of these last minute changes, as the transfer from outdoor to indoor chuppah is usually smooth. I have heard of Rabbis who insist on outdoor chuppahs. I have also seen outdoor chuppahs that can be viewed on close-circuit TV for those of the guests who choose to stay indoors. This is a long-standing style, especially in chasedeche weddings where the throng is just too big for the venue and has been going on for many, many years.

So while winter may be the 'new' summer and most venues are able to handle last-minute weather changes, you need to make sure that YOUR venue manager is open about how the hall will deal with these changes and what your options are.

Talk to your venue manager and get the details in writing.