The great white lie: Would you lie to vendors about your wedding to get a cheaper deal?

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Canada's Globe & Mail recently interviewed me for an article called “I do, but shhhh” about brides who save money by not telling wedding vendors that they're getting married. The article is no longer on their website, but I saved it for posterity here:

I do, but shhhh: Bargain-hunting brides keep mum to cut their costs

Originally posted by The Globe and Mail

On the morning of her wedding, Ana Blagojevic arrived for her salon appointment and asked her hairdresser to swoop her brown wavy hair into a simple updo.

About 40 friends and family were scheduled to gather by the river in Kingston, Ont., that Saturday in May to watch the 30-year-old medical student marry her fiancé, Filip.

But that's not what she told the hairdresser.

“I just said, ‘Oh, I'm going to a party. I just need my hair done very simply,' ” she said.

Blagojevic came clean, however, when the hairdresser asked what the party was for.

“Then she said, ‘Oh, why didn't you say so!' But at that point, the pricing was already decided.”

Like Blagojevic and her husband, couples who yearn for their special day to be low-key and (relatively) stress-free are intentionally omitting the m-word from their dealings with wedding vendors.

And they're not just saving fuss – they're also saving money, as many caterers, florists, salons, venues and other suppliers charge more for a wedding than they would for any old social occasion.

“Some people call it a wedding tax – the same bunch of flowers that would cost you X dollars would cost you one and a half or even two times [the amount of] dollars because it's wedding-related,” says Ariel Meadow Stallings, the Seattle-based author of Offbeat Bride: Creative Alternatives for Independent Brides.

Often, the markup is justified, Stallings adds. Dealing with weddings is “higher risk, higher drama, higher quality.”

“That said, with things like flowers, with things like clothing, with things like accessories or shoes or decor, there's just no reason to ever mention that it's for a wedding.”

For many couples, it's the inevitable host of wedding add-ons that winds up getting expensive.

If she had said she was prepping for her wedding from the get-go, Blagojevic notes, she would have had to fend off the hairdresser's entreaties to add flowers to her ‘do or get her nails done. She had already had that kind of encounter with a florist who, when she did reveal her wedding plans, steered her in the direction of a $200 bouquet and other exotic, pricey arrangements.

“Just having ‘wedding' attached to it or ‘marriage' attached to it costs a little bit more,” Blagojevic says, acknowledging that more work is typically required to satisfy a bride as opposed to a regular partygoer.

“But don't try to sell me $200 flowers. That was kind of annoying.”

Despite the fear of fuss and aversion to financial headaches, others facing impending nuptials say honesty is still the best policy.

Christina Friedrichsen, the Windsor, Ont.-based founder of IntimateWeddings.com, an online guide to planning small ceremonies, says she has seen the fallout from disguising wedding receptions as a no-big-deal event.

A bride who blogs on her site almost lost her venue, a rental house in New Hampshire, just days before her wedding because she told the person leasing it that she was simply having a party. It took a lot of convincing that the wedding celebrations wouldn't get out of hand to ultimately secure it, she says.

“Over all, it worked out for her, but it easily could have gone the other way,” Friedrichsen says. “You're really taking your chances, but I think essentially people feel better in the long run just being honest about things.”

Weddings can also be a lesson for couples in being firm about their vision, whether they're tussling with planning pressures from family, from vendors or from both, says Alison McGill, editor-in-chief of Weddingbells magazine.

“You have to decide what are the non-negotiables and what are the negotiables,” she says. “In life, you can always be upsold, there's always something bigger and better. It comes down to a budget and, if you've only allotted X amount of dollars for your flowers, cake or dress, you've got to stick to your guns.”

If bargain-hunters do engage in subterfuge, author Stallings warns, they should remember to tread carefully with service people they may run into again, such as hairdressers or venue renters.

“If you're not going to tell someone, just don't tell them. Don't do an ‘Aha!' reveal.”

Whether they're going to a wedding or a party, anyone who comes in for an appointment at EvelineCharles Salons, a Western Canadian chain, are asked the same questions, marketing co-ordinator Kathleen Nixon says from Edmonton. “We're especially attentive to brides because it is a very memorable day of their lives. When they say it's just a party, it's not as specific.”

And brides, she says, usually have very particular ideas of what they want, she adds.

As she prepares to marry fiancé Nick Brown on July 6, Julia Lum has tired of the fuss associated with planning not only their wedding in an Okanagan vineyard but two other events later in the year to mark their union with friends.

“Because I knew that I might be charged more for a wedding, I just said in my inquiries that we were having a big party,” Lum, a researcher in Toronto, says about her search for venues. Initially, these additional gatherings in Vancouver and Toronto weren't part of the plan, but the wedding seemed to take on a life of its own, she adds.


The article uses an example of a bride who scheduled an up-do appointment with a stylist for a “big party” to avoid paying bridal styling prices. At the end of the appointment, the stylist asked what the party was for, and the bride was like SURPRISE IT'S MY WEDDING!

While I feel that it's maybe ok to lie by omission and not say that you're planning a wedding when purchasing supplies, I feel strongly that, in terms of personal integrity, it feels icky to straight-out LIE to folks performing a service for you … and doing a “GOTCHA!” reveal also feels extra sketchy.

Yes, there's money to be saved … but there are also people to be treated respectfully. Don't mention your wedding at all if you're buying supplies, but when it comes to getting services from people? Tread gently.

More ethical wedding debates

Comments on The great white lie: Would you lie to vendors about your wedding to get a cheaper deal?

  1. “Having said that my prices stay the same regardless what type of event it is because I still put the same amout of passion into all my jobs. ” Amen, Kitty.

    I’m chiming in from behind the hair stylist’s chair here…if one of my clients lied to me about their wedding, I would be hurt & offended. I have a good relationship with them and they usually tell me their good news. It would especially sting if they did an aha! reveal…almost to say “YOU’VE BEEN HAD!” If anyone plans on doing this to their stylist, I recommend not telling them at all, ever. Especially if you plan on having that person do your hair in the future.

    Personally, my updo prices are the same for everyone, whether you are a bride or not. And it would really be their loss, because when I know someone is getting married, I come in early with bagels, muffins, and juice. 😉

  2. Not cool. I would be upset if anyone in any situation lied to me and misrepresented themselves.
    I can’t speak for other wedding photographers, but in my business Saturdays in May-Oct. are at a premium because it is wedding season in New England – it is simple economics – supply & demand. I reserve Saturdays for weddings with an 8 hour minimum.

    Unfortunately, I think when most people look at prices for wedding photography, they assume that they are paying for 8 hours of the photographer’s time which is usually not the case.

    I photograph about 25 weddings a year in addition to the photography I do for commercial, portrait and boudoir clients. I’ve given a breakdown of the average time I spend on a wedding.
    Please keep in mind that every photographer is different and has a different way of working and different standards for editing which may require more or less time.

    Pre-wedding – avg. 5 hours:
    Initial consult and in person meeting, travel to and from in person meeting.
    Conversations via email, phone & in person meetings regarding cost and contract, details and timeline for wedding day. Send confirmation emails and letters upon receipt of contract and payments.

    Wedding Day – avg. 15 hours:
    Clean lenses & cameras, load charged batteries into cameras, format CF cards,
    double check location and print directions, print contract, timeline, lists of bridal party & family names. Load gear.

    Travel to event. Quick survey of site.
    8 hours of photography including, but not limited to preparations, ceremony, formals & reception.
    Return trip from event.
    Recharge batteries.
    Download images from CF cards.
    Back up files from Wedding day onto second external drive.

    Post Wedding – avg. 15-20 hours:
    Organize image files from 2 photographers (2000-3500) into editing software.
    Sort files, choose best images to tell the story of the day.
    Select 20 favorite images for blog and/or social media site.
    Edit initial favorites, post to web.
    Color correct and edit about 800- 1000 image files. Convert RAW files to jpegs.
    Create lo-res jpegs for online gallery.
    Create online gallery of edited image files, upload images and personalize gallery settings.
    Send email to client with gallery info.
    Create hi-res jpeg files for client disks. Burn client disks.
    Package and ship client disks.

    Additional time not included in averages above:
    Design Album, book or prep custom prints for professional lab extra.

    In addition to time, photographers have many liabilities in their field, and with the increased crowds and multiple locations often visited on a typical wedding day, all of the liabilities are increased. On a wedding day, I may need to go to 3-4 locations, drive 100+ miles, shoot in rain or inclement weather and risk having my gear damaged by intoxicated or clumsy guests – conditions which don’t usually come in to play on a portrait or boudoir session.

    Other factors to consider are:
    – product credits, prints or albums that may be included in a package.
    – payroll for assistants, second photographers or both.
    – material costs for disks, packaging materials, costs for online galleries, etc.

    I hope this sheds some light on how some photographers base their wedding prices.
    I love photographing weddings and have a blast doing it, but I generally make less per hour on wedding photography than I do in other areas of my business. Good luck with your wedding planning!

  3. See, now I’m stressing about my hair, hardcore. I already have to pay the “long hair tax” on my updos, and I’m dreading paying the “wedding tax” on top of that so much, that I haven’t made an appointment yet.

    Having said that, any of you OBBs that know of any good, ETHICAL hairstylists in the vicinity of Seneca Lake, NY? 🙂

    • I’m a photographer, not a hairstylist so not a hair expert but I have long hair. It’s not a “long hair tax” long hair takes longer to style therefore costs more. And it’s not a “wedding tax” it’s called if you want your hair to look like this all day and night through sweating, dancing, partying, pictures and hugs from every relative you’re going to have to pay more because a lot more work goes into it than if you want fancy hair for your dinner date that lasts maybe two hours.

      • Excuse me?

        If that’s the case, why is there no “bridesmaid tax?” OR, worse, why is there no “prom tax” or “homecoming tax”?

        At my current stylist, on their website, it says that regular updos start at $65, and BRIDAL updos are $85. No explanation of the extra $20. I’m not getting married in this city, so it’s moot, but you can be sure I’d ask why I was getting a $20 surcharge for what is the exact same service.

        And, also, regarding the “long hair tax,” I still call BS. I’ve never once – once! – been charged more to get my hair COLORED, and that I would understand (my hair needs twice as much color and takes twice as long). Yet I’m almost always charged significantly more to have my hair put up, AND usually not quoted a cost when I have sat in a chair. (Case in point – a few years ago, I was a bridesmaid and we were all quoted $50 for updos. When I cashed out? $65. And at the time, my hair was not NEARLY as long as it is now.) I’ve sat next to people in the chair with shoulder length hair (mine is halfway down my back). It generally doesn’t take my hair any longer. So, forgive me for not understanding why one thing costs more than another.

        Also, forgive me for being a bit put off by what would potentially cost me over $100 that may cost my bridesmaid $65.

        • My hair is very nearly down to my waste and I will also say it is TOTALLY a long hair tax for just a simple cut. Girls with super long hair generally don’t have complicated hair cuts (all one length, all one length with bangs, or long layers). My cuts are always finished before the girl beside me getting some super involved pixie cut.

          I am personally having my a hair very simply styled (half up, enhancement of my already present waves/curls)- like HELL am I paying $100 for something that would cost me $30 for any other special event.

          • ME TOO. My hair is not as long as yours (I can’t seem to get it to my waist – I wish!), but same idea. My hair is long layers, and I only cut it every 3-4th time I go to the salon. I want a similar style to you, too, hence why the whole thing is stressing me out!

        • I feel your pain about the hair! I paid the “normal” up-do price for my trial run, but will be charged nearly double that for my day-of hair. My hair is super long, but I would hope that you would put just as much effort into it for the trial run as you would for the day of (probably moreso)! I understand that more hair means more work, but the stylist is spending the same amount of time with me as the other girls. Charge for a 30 minute session or for an hour session, but don’t charge me extra telling me you want me to look perfect. Guess what – I want my maids to look perfect too!

          For Irisira above, I have been charged extra for highlights before, but I’m not sure about color. I was so knocked over by the price for highlights that I never got full color! : )

          • FYI, full color is actually cheaper than highlights, because it is A LOT less work (slapping color on vs. carefully separating the hair). Actually, too, for highlights I think charging more for long hair makes less sense than all over color – it’s not more work to highlight long hair than short hair. If anything, it’s more work to highlight thick hair than fine hair. But, the “using more product” adage technically applies here as well. Even still.

          • I’m a hairdresser with 16 years experience and I would like to respectfully answer to as many of your comments as I can. First and foremost what I charge is based on my years of training, education, skill, experience and expertise.
            That said, I charge the same price for an updo regardless of the event OR the length of hair. However, if anyone wants a practice updo I charge seperately for that. As a matter of fact Brides hair tends to take more time, as much as 30-45 minutes more in some cases, because I think the expectations of the client are much higher and specific.
            As far as hair cut prices, your assertations that long hair is simpler than short hair, or that you only cut half an inch at a time, so should be charged less is simply a mis-understanding on your part. A large part of what you are paying for is my skill and knoweledge about what is best for your unique head. Also, maybe it takes 3 minutes to dry and style Ms. Pixie, and I have spent 45 minutes blowing out Ms. Mid-back. If there wasn’t some skill there, wouldn’t you just let your best friend cut your hair in the kitchen and hang on to all your cash? For color, its somewhat less technical to ‘slap on’ some color, but you are paying me to know enough to mix the perfect shade, that won’t turn green, or break your hair off like you did in your bathroom that time. Hilighting long hair takes far more time and product than short hair. Sometimes thick hair takes a lot more than fine hair because you have to take tiny sections, etc. There are TONS of variables that you aren’t privy to, cuz part of our skill is to make it look easy.
            I suggest you ASK your stylist why they charge what they do, instead of assuming its some kind of conspiracy. Any professional should gladly talk with you and help you understand where the value is. If they can’t, or won’t, find someone else.

  4. Wow! From yet another photographer’s standpoint, trust me when I tell you that weddings are much more intense than a family picnic/renunion. Not to say that I don’t put my all into both types of events..I do..it’s just a different level of work. Nothing wrong with trying to save some money, but perhaps try to work with your photographer or find another one if the price isn’t working with your budget. Ditto to the posters above, it’s just not right to lie.—->Kitty said it right “As a wedding photographer, the last thing you want to do is annoy the person who can airbrush the other way”

  5. If the vendor won’t be at the event, don’t specify what it is.

    If they will be, tell the truth.

    As a wedding coordinator and a florist, you cannot screw around with vendors just at will–they also have budgets to meet, rent to pay, mouths to feed.

    Bargain.
    Ask for price cuts when and where you can.
    Most vendors will be willing to lower their costs at least a bit–and if not, go to someone else.

    But for heaven’s sake, if the vendor will be at your event, tell them that it’s a wedding. Not doing so is rude.

  6. My wedding hair and make-up stayed the same price whether I was getting married or having a “big” party.

    My husband occasionally does wedding photography, and I know he wouldn’t be angry if someone lied, but he would be very uncomfortable. Even the equipment he might bring can change, and the price he quotes people would HAVE to change, due to the amount of postprocessing he puts into wedding photos. It is one thing to go to have a couple ugly buildings or a beer can in a pic in a family reunion, but a lot of people wouldn’t want that in their wedding photos. Removing that can take a lot of time.

    • I agree that you should be honest with service providers. I would be too afraid of them either cancelling or doing a subpar job if they found out, and I don’t like to do business that way. But I do think photographers should offer different options regarding retouching rather than automatically build it in based on the type of event. I own a copy of Photoshop and know how to do a lot of the retouching you describe myself. If your husband would offer me that option for other types of events, shouldn’t he also offer it for my wedding?

      • It doesn’t work that way, Laura.
        Your photoshop skills will do little good if you’re not getting RAW files. And, if your photographer is any good, you will NOT get those unless you pay a serious premium.

  7. I worked for a catering company for a number of years, and I can’t tell you the number of times we would say to each other, in our recap meetings after events, “how can we charge enough next time for all the extra work we did for this wedding?” I agree with Sarah’s above comment: weddings always mean more work for the caterer than other events, period, end of story. Additionally, it’s not always easy to itemize in advance what those hidden grunt-hours or costs are going to end up being, whether it’s opening the reception site at 7:00 on the morning of the event so that the bride’s cousin’s wife can decorate, providing meals for guests who didn’t r.s.v.p. but ta-daaa! still show up, or orchestrating a grand entrance for a disorganized bride and groom who really want one, but didn’t arrange with the d.j. for it.

    Having said that, I think that this type of disingenuous behavior on the part of brides and grooms has a lot to do with the perceived disingenuous wedding taxes that so many vendors exact, whether legitimate or not. Fight fire with fire? Yeah, maybe sometimes.

    • Having spent part of my collegiate career working for a restaurant which did a lot of both on and off-site catering, I feel your pain on some of these things (7am, especially). However, I do think things can either be itemized or else simply not allowed. Otherwise, costs become very murky and subjective (IE: “weddings always mean more work for the caterer than other events, period, end of story”).

      For example, I worked the easiest wedding in the world, as well as the most epically awful breakfast birthday brunch craptastic extravaganza ever. The birthday was harder, the people were needy, awful, wanted in at 5am, etc. than any wedding I’ve ever witnessed. But that doesn’t mean all birthday parties are horrid. It”s just anecdotal evidence… and that’s the thing. Saying all weddings are harder is equally untrue. It’s like saying all weddings are big shindigs, which they’re not.

      My caterer knows I’m getting married, but believe you me, if she hadn’t revealed all costs, I would have dropped her like a hot potato (in fact, I almost did, for that very reason).

      Also, I don’t think that the “wedding tax” that goes to caterers usually goes to the bulk of the employees. I know when I worked catering jobs it didn’t.

      • Thank you for recognizing that not all weddings are big, elaborate affairs. (And not all non-wedding events are simple.) Itemize your costs and set strict rules and then everyone will be happy.

  8. I have heard this on Bride boards before about “As soon as you say Wedding the price goes up”, well for SOME Brides the Drama level goes up as well! (Not all!!!) So does our Workload, Stress level, and basic Business bottom line….and here comes Momzilla to the Fittings to add MORE work and stress to the entire picture for all…
    It’s just not the same as someone who wants to have The Custom Order Gown of her dreams made so she can go to many social events and not go shopping constantly.
    Our minimum $ is X regardless of Wedding or not. But our Contract states many little things that can add up for any type of ‘Zilla Customer regardless of her intended use. I’ve had several Brides cry poverty to me asking for deals and then found out they’re marrying Royalty (literally!) or other big $ scenarios, so crocodile tears don’t work with me anymore.

    If I were a Photographer or Caterer, it’s a lie and unethical of a Client to play that hand. Period.

  9. I can see both sides of this. Photographers do need to know the kinds of things they’ll be photographing, how much time & energy, what kind of equipment. But I fail to see why a caterer would need to know, or a rental company.

    For me, when I went to one local vendor to look at renting chairs & tables, as soon as I said it was for a wedding, the salesclerk starting trying to steer me to limousines, photographers, caterers, the whole thing. Very annoying! Maybe for some people that would be helpful but it immediately made me think, “Oh, over here is our kickback table with business cards…”

    • Yes, we ran into this when pricing chair rentals. All of a sudden, there was tons of pressure for a tent, lights, a dance floor all this other stuff we didn’t want. So when we rented speakers we just said they were for a party. We picked them up and dropped them off ourselves and no one was the wiser.

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