Weddings: 5 money warnings
If you're planning to get married, know that you may be targeted with inflated prices, disappearing deposits or claims of discounts that really are too good to be true.
Whenever a lot of money is involved -- weddings can cost a lot of money (a survey by TheKnot.com and WeddingChannel.com put the 2012 average at $28,000) -- the opportunity to get ripped off is there. The key is understanding what to watch out for, so you can recognize the warning signs and run the other way if you see them.
Not only are you potentially dealing with a big-money affair, but a typical reception will involve the hiring of multiple vendors. You have to hire a company to make the food, someone to play the music, someone else to take pictures and/or video, a florist, a limousine -- the list can go on.
Because weddings tend to be booked far in advance, many vendors require deposits to hold the date. Legitimate ones do just that. The others, well, they might just take the deposit.
Since the wedding day is supposed to memorable for happy reasons, trying to avoid some of the pitfalls that have befallen some couples can help keep everything on a high note.
Here are five things to be careful about:
- The dress. Ah, the dress. There are entire TV shows built around brides finding dresses. What doesn't make for good TV, though, are the situations where brides get ripped off while sitting in front of a computer. The Internet is home to loads of sites catering to brides-to-be. They want to sell you a dress and dresses for your whole wedding party, too. The problem is not all of them are on the up and up. Many sell knock-offs or poorly made versions on designer dresses. Before you make the purchase, consider whether getting a $5,000 dress for $200 is really plausible and check out the site's history. Deal with known retailers.
- The limo. If you plan to have a limousine, you don't want to take to the online classifieds to find someone running a special. Unless you want to be standing on the curb waiting for Dad to come rescue you, be sure to find a reputable company that does weddings as part of its repertoire. CHeck it out carefully. (There's a theme here.) Look at the Better Business Bureau database to see the complaint history. Strongly consider recommendations from friends and family. Rather than booking a limousine on the Internet or through an 800-number, visit the limo company. You'll see the fleet and at least know the company is real.
- The contracts. This might be more pitfall than ripoff, depending whom you ask. But contracts are contracts, and when you sign them you ought to know what you're agreeing to. Pay attention, particularly when booking a venue, to just what you're signing onto. Look at when you would incur cancellation penalties, dates when certain payments must be made, whether you can use any vendor or only certain vendors -- you need to be sure you feel comfortable with the terms.
- The photographer. Anyone can call themselves a photographer. As anyone who isn't a photographer knows, it is possible to get a great picture, but most amateurs take photos that are, well, amateur. Before hiring someone to do your pictures (and/or video), get a handle on his or her experience shooting weddings. Understanding how weddings work and what types of photos couples and their families want for keepsakes is important. Meet with photographers and look at photos from other weddings they've shot. And pay particular attention to their time in business and reputations. Because it is perfectly reasonable for a photographer to have a one- or two-person operation, it isn't difficult to claim to be one. Check them out and consider recommendations from people you trust.
- The cake, etc. Even legitimate companies see weddings as a chance to pump up their prices. It's called the "wedding premium." A birthday cake might cost half the price of a similar cake headed to a wedding. There also are a ton of fees to watch out for, including some associated with the cake -- such as fees to cut the cake, plate the cake and so on. The same rules apply when you're getting invitations, party favors and just about anything that involves weddings. Watch out for those special charges, and know there are ways to avoid or minimize them. You can, for example, book a venue "for a party" or choose a cake that isn't from the wedding book.
More from MSN Money:
How about deciding not to fall for the fairy tale nonsense? Thumb your nose at this industry. If you think that getting married is about one theatrical day of your life, and not about the 50+ years that come after that one day, then you're not ready to get married.
Our (sheet) cake came from Sam's Club, was very nice, fed 100 people, and cost thirty dollars. The dress came from a catalog, cost $100, was pink instead of white, and has been worn again on special occasions. No photographer - our friends took informal pictures. Limo????? Are these people nuts??????? We had the ceremony at home in our garden, then piled into the Buick and drove to the reception. No DJ - people actually want to TALK to each other at receptions, not scream over the noise. A good, genuine, non-pretentious time was had by all.
People need to understand that a wedding is the celebration of a union between two people who want to spend the rest of their lives together, for better or worse. It is not the uber-prom you wish you had in high school.
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