• Jasmin Norwood

Selecting Valuable Wedding Vendors, Part One: Budgets

Welcome to my brass tacks TED Talk on vendor scouting, inspired by eye-opening conversations I’ve had with panicked couples. Help is on the way!

Photo by Natasha Fernandez

The cost of weddings- even modest ones- can be astronomical. At times it’s hard to see the trees for the forest... The big, beautiful forest aggressively draining your brand new joint savings account. Let’s do everyone a favor (and avoid sticker shock) by being prepared, shall we?

The fact is this: You have the power to control that forest fire in your wallet! But, my love, your prospective vendors are not personal accountants or family therapists. They can’t hold productive pricing conversations until you do your homework. Your needs and values are unique to you, so before you fall down that Pinterest hole and rack up a $300,000 wish list, you need to get crystal clear on these four things:

  • your needs (vs. your wants)

  • your timeline for meeting those needs

  • your budget for meeting those needs within the time you have

  • who has financial authority (Hint: That’s the person to talk to about your budgetary concerns!)

Getting real about these essential items will tell you the value you place on each of those vendor areas. You should know what you need before you even start looking at your inspiration. The vendor sets their pricing, but only you can determine whether you need what they offer.

Think about it this way:

You wake up with a cough (need). This cough is really bad and you have a presentation today (timeline: urgent), so you head into Duane Reade (vendor). Do you say to the clerk, “Please show me every item I could possibly buy in here and then I’ll tell you which one I want and how much I want to pay”? No! You don’t have time for that, and neither does the clerk!

You say “Where’s the cough medicine?” You pay her the $7.99, and your need is met.

Let's add on these circumstances: Duane Reade doesn't sell generic medicine and only has the kind with flakes of real gold floating in it (additional perceived value), and you don’t have your debit card, so you have to ask your partner to pay (financial authority). If you didn’t think about any of that before you went into the store, you are setting yourself- and the vendor- up for a disappointing interaction. A bit of due diligence can save a lot of time and heartache.

Get a cozy blanket and a coffee. You have homework to do.

Photo by Vlada Karpovich

“Needs vs. Wants”:

I used to be an elementary school teacher, and I can tell you that the meaning of this phrase is supposed to be mastered in first grade. But weddings get our minds twisted. So, Friend, snuggle up with a legal pad, draw a line down the center, and label one side “needs” and one side “wants”. Then get really flipping honest. Remember to include the needs and wants of your financial authority, too. They're paying, so you'll need to throw them a bone or two.

True story: We didn't give a flying foo about our rehearsal dinner. But hubs's mom was positively ablaze with the spirit of wedding planning. So we let her plan (and pay for) the entire rehearsal dinner. Why? More on that later.


You may not realize this, but time is not only linked to money, it’s linked to quality. I present for your review this Venn diagram thingie:

Source: lightboard.io

You either need time or money, and with weddings you usually need both. If you have neither, then you’ve got urgency, which creates stress. And people who provide you with value wanna be paid to relieve your stress!

So now that you have your needs down, get your timeline going. If you’re an Idyllwild couple, we shared timeline resources as part of your Full Service Event Design experience, but there are a squillion other resources on the interwebs for your perusal. Invest a couple of minutes and find the one that jibes with your needs.


Now we’re cooking with gas! You know what you need and when you need it. Now figure out the most magical number in all of wedding planning. Nope, it’s not your overall budget. It’s your guest count.

Yeah, I said it. Your budget is not as important as your guest count. “But Jasmin,” you say, “How the f*** is that possible?” I present Exhibits A and B:

Exhibit A: You may have made peace with the idea of spending $500 per table for linens, china, flatware, stemware, floral, candles, paper goods, and favors. But now factor in your 150 person guest count. Assuming 8 heads per table, you need 19 tables. Now your tabletop bill is $9,500 plus tax. (More on hidden costs in Pt. 2)

Exhibit B: $125 per bridesmaid’s bouquet is less than the cost of a pair of jeans! That’s GREAT! But you invited your sister, your partner’s two sisters, six sorority chums, and your childhood bestie to participate. That’s over $1,000, and they all have counterparts on the other side of the aisle. Oh, and you’ll probably be wanting flowers for yourself and your partner.

Brah. Do you drive a Bugatti? No? Rein it in!

So hell yes, guest count matters! I used reception and floral examples, but the same is true for every contract that provides individual guests with an experience (plates of food, seating, tiny bottles of hot sauce, little cones full of eco-friendly dried lavender, whatever). So please take a moment, go back to your needs list, and put quantities next to each line item. Then write your guest count in big black numbers at the top and circle it! Preparation is key. Budgets are real. Numbers don’t lie.

Financial Authority: This is the person or people who’ll be shelling out their hard-earned cash to finance your dream day, and they can veto or ratify your creative authority. If you want creative freedom, I highly recommend hosting the soirée yourselves. With other people’s money comes other people’s ideas!

Photo by Cotton Bros.

Remember when I said my MIL threw the rehearsal dinner? She got to do whatever she wanted. In exchange, hubs and I paid for our entire wedding day, chose every last detail ourselves, and put our personal stamp on everything. We didn’t have to run a damned thing by anyone, so our wedding was very "us". This wasn’t with out compromise, however. We did still tell our friends not to bring their kids in order to make room for our parents’ friends, but there wasn’t the crazy-making power struggle that makes couples want to chuck it and go to City Hall during lunch hour.

And hey. If you're gonna do that, do it in the mountains! Reach out to us so we can make it fashion:

Photo by Avonne Stalling

Check back for Pt. 2 of this post, where I’ve stolen into your brain and listed all the reasons you could possibly have for loving the shit out of your vendor team.