It was 1980 and I was new at school. I wore purple my first day, because everyone liked purple, and I tried to be friendly without looking desperate.
The new-kid anxieties ratcheted up several notches, though, once Bar Mitzvah season kicked in. Would a new kid get invited to the parties? If I did, what would I bring as gifts? And what would I wear?
I needn’t have worried. Back in those dark ages, Bar Mitzvah parties were decidedly less extravagant than they are today (and less inclusive). With the exception of Sandy P.’s Star Wars-themed party, most of the post-Mitzvah celebrations were not themed; some even took place — without the aid of DJs or emcees! — in synagogue basements or private homes. No one cared about what I brought or what I was wearing. Whew!
Nowadays, as you see from the splurges featured on page 8 of this issue, religious rites of passage are heavy on the bling. And that’s just the beginning of the pressure. After the Bar or Bat Mitzvah comes the sweet 16, homecoming dances, junior and senior prom, graduation from high school and college, the engagement soiree, the wedding, the baby shower, the first-birthday fête … and on and on it goes. The circle of life, etched in deliciously sugary icing.
And while each one of these seminal events would ideally be marked in exquisite style and in dream-like settings — an all-expenses-for-everyone-paid destination wedding on a pristine beach in Mustique, let’s say — spending so liberally is not always an option.
Even so, there are many ways to have a wonderful event while being financially prudent. If you want a Swarovski-encrusted custom-made tux for your ring-bearer beagle, you might want to look somewhere else. But if you’re looking to have a lovely event without breaking the bank, see below.
Do It Yourself
Not the whole event, of course — you’d lose your mind that way. But there are plenty of event elements that are well suited to a DIY approach, like party favors, centerpieces, lighting (how about candles?), A/V and even DJing.
When the event includes kids, DIY projects can get them involved in a hands-on, creative way, like picking the iTunes playlist or making a photo slideshow to project on one of the walls. Of course, there are plenty of aspects that do benefit from professional expertise. Which brings us to No. 2 …
An event professional who does their job well will, most likely, save you money simply by knowing what should be streamlined and what to blow up. Inexperience may cost more in the long run, especially if something goes wrong, so go with established firms who have a proven track record.
Also, keep your vendor list small, said Stephanie Fitzpatrick, director of talent and event logistics at Philly’s EBE Events & Entertainment.
“If one of your vendors offers multiple services that you need for your big day, they will often have the ability combine their labor and delivery costs for you. Less trucks and less people means less money.”
EBE, for example, which offers entertainment of all styles (live musicians and bands, DJs, dancers and specialty performers) also offers production, lighting, video and photo booth services.
“Our clients are offered ‘multiple services discounts’ when they book more than one of those with us.” Fitzpatrick said.
You might want to also consider using an event planner, even if you are more of the DIY type.
“Event planners do a lot more than keep you organized,” Fitzpatrick said. “They have relationships with vendors who have already proved themselves to be amazing, and your planner can often negotiate better pricing for you because they call upon those vendors regularly.”
Even if you go it alone, Fitzpatrick recommends using the same vendors for subsequent events (assuming you’re satisfied with their services) because many companies offer repeat-client discounts.
Event professionals don’t want to be lowballed, but they absolutely understand that different clients have different budgets. There’s no shame in telling a vendor you need to save money in one area or another, or even in asking for advice if you plan to DIY.
Cindy Singer, founder of Dylan Michael Cosmetics, has happily consulted with brides-to-be who can’t bring her along to their destination wedding but will still be using her products. Singer provides them with a written chart and a diagram showing exactly how to get the right look — advice that can be used after the event is over.
“For me, as an artist, there’s no such thing as special-occasion makeup per se,” she said. “I try to make sure it’s wearable again and practical in their lives.”
She’s also happy to tell clients the truth if they’re spending money unnecessarily, such as brides who hire her to be on-site at a venue for after-wedding/pre-reception touchups. That’s $75 an hour, and “usually I’m waiting to do five minutes worth of touchups. … If I have done my job correctly [earlier in the day], they won’t need as much of a touchup as they think.”
Not only that, but brides often find they have less time for primping than they expect.
“[The most important time for makeup] is before the photos and before the ceremony,” she said. “After the ceremony, I always say, ‘If you’re worried about the way you look, you need a psychologist, not a makeup artist.’”
Bottom line, said Singer — who donates a portion of all proceeds to the Victor Center for the Prevention of Jewish Genetic Diseases and the Dylan Singer Education Fund, in honor of her late son — “I don’t want a bride to feel she’s wasting her money.”
Book “Off” Dates
As with individual vendors, event venues offer discounted rates under certain circumstances.
“Venues and vendors are always looking to fill dates that aren’t prime Saturday nights,” Fitzpatrick said, “so booking on a Friday, Sunday or holiday weekend when your guests won’t have to go to work the next day will likely mean lower prices.”
For Jewish gatherings, that could include Easter weekend, for example, or the weekends around secular holidays like Memorial Day. Just make sure you let your guests know well in advance so that they don’t make vacation plans of their own.
You want to be the No. 1 priority!
Although it’s often necessary to pay with credit cards for big events, cash is still king when it comes to vendors, who get hit with big credit-card processing fees. Some vendors actually have different pricing schemes depending on method of payment; if so, cash — and personal check —always beats credit financially.
Even vendors that don’t differentiate in price that way may be willing to negotiate when you offer to pay with cash. And paying with cash means it’s over when it’s over. Now won’t that feel good?
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