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Y our big day is on the horizon, and you’re so excited you could burst.

Right now, there’s a lot to keep track of. You need to find the perfect wedding dress and wedding shoes, write your vows, and practice your walk. With so much emotion running through you, it’s easy to sign on the dotted line of your wedding vendor contracts without giving them much more than a once-over.

Contracts aren’t glamorous and hardly elicits wedding-planning butterflies. The COVID disaster has revealed just how important the right contract might be. One typo could mean that you get 6 hours of photography instead of 8. Or you might find that you don’t get any money back if your catering team needs to cancel last minute.

That’s not the kind of stress you want to handle just before your wedding.

Here's your guide to mastering the wedding vendor contract and avoiding costly mistakes.

1. Read through the fine details

The first thing you need to check for on your wedding vendor contract is accuracy.

The only way to check that everything is correct is to read the contract thoroughly. Legal wedding expert, Caroline Fox, advices to avoid “skimming” the text.

You need to be 100% confident before you sign anything. Read through carefully and then ask your hubby, your wedding planner or other family members to read the contract too.

If there’s anything you’re not entirely happy with, don't hesitate to make changes. The vendors want to do business with you, so they'll probably be as accommodating as possible.

If you want to add an extra two hours to your photography session, find out how much that costs and get these in writing.

If you need your catering team to add meals at the last minute, how much will that be?

Keep an eye out for extra things like “setup” and “tear-down” fees to get your wedding in order. There are also vendors like florists who will charge an additional fee if you don’t return essential items like baskets and vases before a specific time.

It’s your responsibility to get everything in writing prior to signing. And check that you can commit to your side of the contract.

2. Retainer and Cancellation Policies

Knowing how much it costs for everything you’re getting from a vendor is crucial.

Check what your options are if you need to cancel or postpone the wedding for whatever reason. The best plans can often go sideways and it’s essential to know whether you can get your money back.

Some vendors will give you a refund but charge for deposit or “retainer fees”. Others will allow you to cancel with a 100% refund if you don’t leave it too late.

A contract should detail the refund policy if your vendor doesn't fulfill their end of the bargain. Consider paying in installments and by credit card, so you have a chance of getting your credit-card company to dispute the charges if necessary.

3. The Difference Between Standard and Add-on Features

There’s a big difference between the standard services a vendor provides versus a premium package that includes bells and whistles. Find out the exact details of what standard and upgraded packages include.

Don’t assume that you’ll be getting exactly the same services and items in another wedding they’ve referenced. You may be surprised by what you don’t get in your package.

Always ask if your catering service include plates and cutlery.

If you’re having a candy station for the kids, do you need to pay extra for bags and jars to put the candy in?

Will your make-up include touch-ups throughout the day? Will the person attending your initial meetings be the same person delivering the service on the day?

Find out exactly what and who you get. Pay attention to taxes, fees, and gratuities.

4. Contingency Plans

Peace of mind is one of the most important things you can invest in with an upcoming wedding. You don’t want the stress of “what if” to keep you up at night.

If you’re worried that something might go wrong, and your vendor won’t be able to come through on their promises, ask what their emergency plan is. What happens if your photographer is sick on your wedding day? Can he send someone in his place? Do you need to pre-approve the replacement beforehand?

If your florist can’t deliver your flowers on time because of transportation issues, what back up do they have in place? If the flowers you’ve selected become unavailable, what substitutions are acceptable?

Problems can quickly occur on a wedding day that have absolutely nothing to do with you. Vendor contracts with emergency and contingency plans shows you that you’re dealing with a professional.

Even just a clause letting you know that someone else will cover your wedding if your vendor isn’t available could be enough.

5. Photo Copyrights and Model Release

When couples receive their wedding photos, they want to share them with the world.

A lot of couples have misconceptions about who has the rights to their wedding photos – and a good contract must clarify this.

Certain photographers might let you use your photos any way you like. Other photographers will want to retain some ownership over the images for advertising purposes. If you don’t want to be on your photographer’s ads, establish that in advance.

Will you have access to raw images so you can edit them as you please? Or will you only be given copies of selected, edited photos?

You should also make sure you know who’s responsible for storing your photos after you get them. If you don’t have a backup copy of your photos, can you go back to your photographer to ask for another copy free-of-charge?

Getting full rights to your photos is often more expensive, so keep that in mind.

6. Time limits

Just like choosing the perfect wedding dress and shoes, finding a vendor with a contract you trust takes time.

Reading through contracts and making amendments takes time, so start planning as early as possible. The worst mistake you can make is not leaving room to do your due diligence because you’re running out of time.

Be wary of any vendor that wants you to sign a contract without the opportunity to inspect it carefully. Good vendors will give you some space to review the agreement and understand all the legal ins and outs.

Ideally, you’ll want a vendor that holds your spot for a couple of days while you make your decision. Just don’t expect your professional to wait forever.

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