Wedding on a Budget: Interview with Sharon Naylor

Posted by Azure on March 2nd, 2009
Attention Savvy Brides! I was lucky enough to score an interview with>Sharon Naylor, author of 1,001 Ways To Save Money… and Still Have a Dazzling Wedding. Get ready to make your wallet happy and your budget a little roomier.

You have a ton of wedding books out – I stopped counting at 18. How did you get so interested in weddings?

Yeah - I have 35 books out. You know, I just started off as a magazine writer and was planning my own wedding. I loved seeing how the industry evolved.

There was so much need for real information out there – not just from people who were trying to sell you stuff.

I want brides to know that times are different and you can bend etiquette a little bit. It’s your day, and you’re more likely to be planning and paying for it now. I also want brides to know that planning your wedding is a happy, fun time – or at least it should be. One of my favorite parts of the book were the short life lessons from real brides. What’s the most surprising tip you got from a bride?

I think it’s the degree to which brides get to the end of their rope with trying to be nice to people. I’ve had a lot of brides write me and point out that when you have a close relationship, you can say things more bluntly. It’s tough, but you can get away with saying a lot more as a bride. There is a lot of brutal honesty going on out there. I’m not sure how these women are getting along with their in-laws now… But they did say what they needed to say.

Many decades ago, we had the little flower bride who followed along and did everything her mom said – now the mother is lucky to be there at all!

It’s a very different wedding world from just two decades ago. People used to get married to someone in their hometown. We’re more of a global society now, and there’s a mixing of customs: In some regions, having a cash bar is tacky, in other that’s just how we always do it. What would you say is the top hidden expense that surprises couples?

I think it’s the things they miss in their contracts – like an 18% tip already being included in their limo bill, and then on the wedding day they’re so happy they give the driver an extra $50.

People also miss things like corkage fees and cake cutting fees – some caterers charge $1 for every tableside serving. It’s a very elegant way of doing things, but that’s a dollar for every guest!

Look really carefully at your contracts. Take them home and read them. You have to be a good consumer – don’t let yourself feel rushed.

Sometimes a vendor will pressure you to sign the check right there and make you feel rude for wanting to read everything. Bring someone to engage the vendor while you’re looking at the contract so you can take the time to read it. If you have a friend who’s in the industry, even better.

If you don’t feel comfortable reading it there, take it home before you sign – you might even want to show it to a friend with legal experience.

It’s very simple: don’t just sign a contract, because you will be held to it.

One of the things most brides and grooms miss is a minimum guest number. At my wedding, my early, very rough guesstimate of 125 guests when I was talking to the caterer suddenly became my “guaranteed minimum”.

You have to be organized. There are computerizedß planners on websites or you can buy software, but you have to find your own organizing system – it can be a bunch of colored folders if that works best for you.

The more organized you are, the more confident you’ll feel when you’re negotiating and when you’re answering questions later – all brides end up having to answer a ton of questions from vendors and guests.

Here’s a new thing to watch out for: My e-mail service now wipes out your sent messages after three months. If you’re planning a wedding over nine months, you don’t want those first rounds of communication disappearing. Put all wedding communication e-mails into your folder. You need a paper trail. Every one of these transactions and agreements is important. One of the biggest budget breakers seems to be the creeping guest list. How do you advise people-pleaser brides to keep that under control?

Sometimes parents get carried away. Parents may appear to be using this event to show how well they’re doing in life. They will want a lot of people who are their contacts – their friends and neighbors, not yours.

A lot of parents will try to talk you into it by saying that the more people you’ll invite, the more gifts you’ll get – that’s not true nowadays. People are cutting back on gifts.

You have to say, “We have space and budget issues.” Point out your own friends that you can’t invite. Ideally you can say to your parents, “You can have 20 A-list and 10 B-list guests,” But that’s trickier if they’re helping with the costs: “I’m paying, so it’s my people.”

Try reasoning with them: “You’re giving us this beautiful day – we don’t want to be sad that our friends weren’t there.”

Suggest planning an anniversary party or renewal of vowels ceremony for your parents in a year or two. That way you can gratify the ego: Instead of making us have a less formal wedding to accommodate the larger guest list, let’s plan you a party too!

Most families understand that you can’t invite everyone.

When you have the issue of co-workers, just set a rule: If we’ve socialized with you outside of the office, you’re invited. Draw the line there. And don’t talk about the wedding too much at work. It’s true that you’re excited at first, but as things add up, you realize you can’t invite everyone you’ve talked about it to. And you should be working anyway. One of the things I really like about the book is that it’s not about being a cheapskate. You make it clear that a bride should indulge in at least a few things, and that it’s important to take value into consideration, not just price. What advice do you have for a bride who gets paralyzed on that point?

I encourage building a priority list. TALK ABOUT THIS TOGETHER, PLEASE! What are the top five priorities for the two of you? Food? Entertainment? Most grooms care about the food and the>music.

Now which five things do you not care about? Centerpieces? Now you have a list of things you can spend less on and you can hand over to your parents if they want to be a part of the planning.

It gives your budget some form, so you know where you’re coming from. Now you can feel better about indulging. Don’t feel guilty about the top three or four things. As time goes by, you’ll feel happy you invested in those things.

And you can feel better about cutting costs on the mid-range things. It becomes a sport – where can you indulge because you saved a little over here?

You have to indulge somewhere, or your whole planning process is about settling for less. The one good thing about the recession is that a bride can really turn it to her advantage because vendors are so motivated to sell. What negotiating tactics do you recommend?

You have never had more power to ask for freebies, additions, and upgrades. Can you upgrade the budget package to platinum? Will you throw in two more stations and a dessert bar?

They want you to be happy and tell your friends.

But you HAVE to be nice about it. While you’ve never had more motivated sellers, you’ve also never had more stressed-out vendors. Don’t be obvious, insulting, or demanding. Don’t condescend. If you say something like “You have to give me this or I’ll tell my 20 sorority sisters not to work with you,” Your vendor will not only shut down on you, they won’t give their all.

When you are the only sweet bride walking into the office that day, that vendor will be so happy to see you that you may get the advantages the bossy brides before you gave up.

Understand and respect time constraints. Don’t expect someone to call you back in 10 minutes. Expect them to call you within a day. The better a partner you are, the more they will do for you.

Above all, get wedding insurance! You don’t know who will go out of business nowadays. Traveler’s has a good plan. By investing a couple of hundred dollars, you have piece of mind.

I used to only recommend wedding insurance for outdoor weddings, but now you should get it for any kind. Here in New Jersey, we had a photography company that kept taking pictures of weddings, but then shuttered. People couldn’t get their pictures for years.

Insure your wedding well with a company you trust. Ask your friends and vendors – vendors especially will know the best plans. It’s a must nowadays. What piece of advice do you wish you’d known when you were planning your own wedding?

This is a brand-new thing to me: Vendors who put pictures on their websites that are not their work. I’ve only heard about this in the last year – there are floral designers and photographers who post pictures of events they didn’t do. They get stock photos or go to a flower show or an event at a hotel and take pictures. There are celebrity>wedding coordinators I know who are very upset over people taking pictures of their designs.

You have to be careful with websites. Don’t just do everything over the Internet. Invest your time in the free consultation. Sit down with them and talk. Ask “where was this taken?” Really get to know who you’re working with.

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