The Wedding Hacker with Heather Fier

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The Wedding Hacker with Heather Fier

As some of you know, I have a gripe against weddings. I don’t love watching clients go into credit card debt planning or participating in weddings. So you can imagine how excited I was to hear about Heather Fier aka the Wedding Hacker. She created her business to literally help couples plan the weddings of their dreams in the most cost-effective way. Heather joins me to share why she decided to start this business and share some really great ideas for how couples can save on their wedding.

What Are We Drinking?

Heather — Bulletproof Coffee (includes butter & coconut oil)

Shannon —  Black Cherry Schweppes

Podcast Notes

  • Shannon met Heather through Stacey, who is a listener and former guest on the podcast.
  • Heather started doing event planning when she was in middle school, and she was on every dance committee. She loved organizing and putting together events.
  • This continued through college with planning huge fundraisers and events at UCLA that provided funds for pediatric AIDS research and other things.
  • This fed in naturally to a company Heather’s mom started locally in San Diego that did event marketing in natural food stores. 
  • After Heather graduated from college, she came back to San Diego to help her mom grow the company.
  • Over 15 years, they took this event marketing company, working with Whole Foods, Jimbo’s, and other big chains that were just starting to bud at that time, and they grew national.
  • They ended up with 3,000 field reps across the country doing in-store events for store launches, grand openings, and themed special events.
  • Heather was coordinating building up the team, training everyone, and learning how to put on events on a scaled model.
  • When Heather’s mom was ready to retire, the business was acquired by a competitor and it left Heather wondering where she should go next. It was exciting and terrifying all at the same time.
  • Heather was deciding where to go next when she looked back and realized she had helped about 20 friends with their weddings. Her friends were referring their friends to her and it was becoming a small side business.
  • Heather’s friend group were all middle class and they were comfortable talking to her about their budgets and what they could spend.
  • Heather was good at guiding them with budgets of $10,000 and $15,000 price points. These were the only weddings she was planning. 
  • Over time, she started getting referrals for friends who were UCLA based and they were spending significantly more. Their parents had more to spend, and she started planning weddings that were around $30,000 and $40,000. 
  • It seemed easy to plan a wedding with a higher budget, because they could go anywhere and it would fit in their budget.
  • Heather really liked the challenge of planning weddings on a lower budget. She started thinking about how she could do this and make money. When you work for people on those budgets, there is no room to pay a wedding planner. 
  • This opened her eyes to how the wedding industry worked. The wedding industrial complex has a lot of dark undertones, where there are kickbacks and wedding planners have preferred lists of vendors they refer you to.
  • Heather wanted to build something that was a different model, so she started writing a book. She pulled together all of resources she knew of, talked to other people, and came up with a model of doing a virtual wedding planning company. This way she can help many people in a group setting and offer the little one-on-one support you need, like reviewing contracts and coaching clients through the family drama that comes up.
  • This is the same guidance she would give everyone, like how to locate a venue that is off the radar of the wedding industry. She figured if she could do this on scale, she could make it affordable and approachable.
  • Since she has the experience of building a company to a national level, Heather is building out a network of regional coordinators. Once she does the online planning with people, she can hand them off to someone locally who can oversee the day.
  • Where money and emotion come together, it is difficult to be rational in our financial choices. The two most emotional times in our lives are usually getting married and having children.
  • Shannon has had six clients who have been with her from the engagement to the wedding. They have all gone over budget, but none have gotten financially crazy. 
  • Shannon makes sure there is money available and that her clients don’t go into credit card debt for their weddings. 
  • When there are so many emotional decisions, you tend to make the easiest decision possible.
  • One of the first things Heather tells couples is to not look at their wedding budget as monopoly money. If someone else is contributing to the budget, it is easy to think that contribution doesn’t count. 
  • Heather recommends putting the money in a bank account so they are looking at it. This way they can realize that if they stay under budget, they get to put that money into their savings account and invest it in something that is valuable to them long term.
  • It is important to make it a tangible thing.
  • There are so many decisions around the wedding, and every line item has a financial impact. It is easy to get lost in those decisions.
  • Be careful of what wedding sites you are looking at. Most vendors want to do a good job for the couple, but they are not marketers. They don’t have a full team of people in their office helping them run ads themselves, so they turn to the big giants to find their clients and they pay too much. That cost is passed on to the customers.
  • If you look on those sites and choose all of the one dollar sign options, which are the cheapest options available, it will still push you over $20,000. 
  • Venues charge different prices for weddings than they do for other events. It is about 50 percent less to hold a graduation party or anniversary party at the same place. 
  • There is a wedding tax that is applied, because it comes from the marketing expense vendors need to pay. 
  • Walk around the neighborhood that you think is cute and look at the restaurants, parks, and community center. Explore those things and consider the places that aren’t advertising for weddings. 
  • Don’t look for the people who are looking for you. 
  • Cover bands that play in bars are usually good at playing the top 40 songs and they are usually much cheaper than wedding bands. Since they play Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, they don’t need to make all of their money on one night. 
  • Don’t be afraid to hire older, more experienced bands. If you look up wedding bands, it could be $5,000 and more.
  • Sometimes DJs do a little better job at being the Master of Ceremony (MC).
  • If you hire a bar band and are concerned about them not being a good MC, have an outgoing family member do it. Schedule all of the MC duties at the beginning of the night (introductions, cake cutting, special dances, etc.), so when you are two hours in, you don’t have a drunk uncle still talking in the microphone.
  • Having the day flow well helps guests enjoy the day more.
  • Think about the weddings you’ve been to and what is the most memorable thing? Is it the food or music or is it the flowers and little place cards?
  • There is crazy pressure to have the perfect wedding. The wedding website pictures are all staged. They aren’t real. It is impossible, because there are people at real weddings and people are messy.
  • If you are looking to have a highly styled wedding like the pictures you see online, consider eloping. If you are looking for gorgeous photography, go have that done and then come back and throw a party a month later. You don’t need to do it all in one day. 
  • If you are the bride and you are concerned about the look and feel of the room, you aren’t going to see any of it. The most styling you want to pay attention to is your outfit and your spouse’s outfit, because that is what you are going to see the most, other than your guests.
  • Give yourself space and room to enjoy all of the special people who came to celebrate you.
  • Book your photographer for minimal hours on your wedding day, so they can get your ceremony pictures and the main highlights of your reception, and then have them leave. Do all of the portraits of you and your spouse another day. The cost of redoing your hair and makeup again and doing a couples photo shoot is going to be significantly less than paying the premium of a wedding day photography rate. You will save money and you will be less stressed and more natural.
  • You don’t need photography quality shots at the end of the night. Your friends will be taking those with their phones. 
  • For the super low budget couples, consider only having a photographer at the ceremony and have the reception be crowd sourced. You can set up different tech now where people at the wedding can post pictures from different perspectives. They will be doing this anyway.
  • Look at who is giving you advice when you are spending. It is probably someone who will benefit from you spending more.
  • You don’t need to tip everyone. Most vendors, like your florist or photographer, are not expecting anything other than what you agree to pay them. If you want to do something to thank them, consider a nicely written thank you note or a bottle of wine. If you hated working with them, don’t give them anything extra. 
  • The one group you should tip is the servers. Give them cash tips directly or have someone in your staff do that. If you have a fully stocked bar, make sure your guests are still throwing some tips toward the bartender. The workers on the ground are going to be the most appreciative of getting a tip.
  • Most catering companies or venues are going to charge a service fee and they tell you that in the fine print. In your contract it may say it will be $59 per head for the meal “plus plus”. This means you are going to add a lot more money to it. That $59 may turn into $120 per person.
  • Often in the fine print it will say it is $59 plus plus, but there is a minimum of $20,000 you need to spend. If you only have $100 people, you are almost forced to spring for the open bar and extra appetizers, just to hit the minimum.
  • Budget Busters:
    • Venue: If you choose the wrong one, it can lead you down a more expensive path. Every venue has a preferred list of vendors, and those vendors are not dedicated to you, they are dedicated to the venue. If you look up reviews of those preferred vendors, a lot of times they are not even that good, because they don’t need to be. Avoid venues that have preferred lists and have minimum spends in the fine print.
    • Wedding parties: It is a tradition that you don’t really need to do. You can have all of these friends at your wedding and not pay the money to transport them across town, for proposal gifts to propose to all of the women in your bridal party, or the forced moments. It will be a relief to them and to you to not have those required gifts or expenses. Let your friends come to your wedding as your guests. You can find ways to involve your friends in your day.
    • Wedding Sites: Avoid the major websites to find your vendors. There are some really great resources that are a little off brand from weddings, like Thumbtack, GigMasters, and WedBrilliant. These are all sites where you can define what you need for how long on what date and location and put in the price you will pay. If a vendor can do it, they will reach out to you. You can find vendors who are suited to your needs. 
  • At the end of the day, your wedding is the most special to you and your spouse. 
  • There is an episode of Adam Ruins Everything, and it cuts straight to the bone about weddings. Let the traditions go that you don’t like.
  • Heather did a webinar at the Financial Gym in March about weddings.
  • Own your money and do not feel obligated to do anything you don’t want to do.
  • It will be a special day, no matter your budget. It is only one day, this is just the beginning, and there will be so much more you will want to accomplish with this person. 

TAKEAWAY: I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Heather today. My biggest takeaway is that your wedding day is an important official kickoff to your relationship; however, it’s just one day in what will hopefully be thousands of days spent with your significant other. If you can make this day as cost-effective as possible, it will be the best kickoff to your relationship.

Random Three Questions

  1. Do you have a favorite wedding movie?
  2. What is your favorite food option to serve at a wedding?
  3. What is your favorite place to recommend for honeymoons?

Connect with Heather

Website: The Wedding Hacker

Instagram: @weddinghackerclub 

If you’d like to get financially naked with my team, and budget for a wedding or combine finances with your significant other, I hope you’ll reach out to us at the Financial Gym. We’ve helped hundreds of clients plan amazing weddings without going into debt.

The great news is that Martinis and Your Money listeners get 15% off Financial Gym services. So if you’re ready to manifest your dreams of budgeting for the perfect wedding, head over to financialgym.com to get signed up today.

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