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What is does “luxury” mean on your wedding day?

Last week, I got home from a wedding consultation with a soon to be bride and groom in Baltimore. We’ll call them Jay & Alice. Jay is a craft beer enthusiast and Alice is a yoga instructor and more importantly very eager to have a “luxurious” wedding. Jay agrees and wants to do-it-up. Jay & Alice are a price conscious couple, but they have the disposable income and decided to squeeze as much glitz and glamor from their wedding day as they can from their budget.

They booked a high end venue north of Baltimore for 5 hours, opting to get dressed in their respective apartments in Ellicott City to save some cash. Alice’s aunt is a chef in Philadelphia and she agreed to cook appetizers for the cocktail hour—an agreement they spent a lot of time working out with their venue. Alice will be doing the flower arrangements and bringing them to the wedding venue herself.

Alice & Jay had three major priorities they shared with me. First, is that Alice & Jay want to feel like they’re living the life of luxury for their wedding day. Second, that the party is a rager. And the third, that the photographs are amazing and unique. But, as we got to talking, I discovered some other priorities too. Alice doesn’t want to do a first look—and in fact, she wants to go right from the car down the aisle. Jay & Alice both have big families, and getting lots of family formals is important to them. Jay & Alice also both have 9 people in their wedding party and want to take a break from the reception “for about five minutes” to do sunset portraits with them.

I was really enjoying my time with Alice & Jay and stylistically and personality wise, we seemed like a good fit. They both really liked what we shared in our portfolio and the images I brought with me for them to look over, so I got out our brochure of wedding packages. I could tell they were feeling a little bit of sticker shock. Who wouldn’t? It’s not like people are hiring wedding photographers all the time.

We spent a few minutes discussing the features of our various package offers and what could be feasibly accomplished in that time. As our conversation rounded up with a few last questions, I told them what I always tell new potential clients—“sleep on it, give it some thought, and lets talk in a day or two.”—Causing the ghost of some narcissistic sales trainer to roll his eyes right now.

So when I got home, I was surprised to find an email form alice waiting for me. She was asking whether I could give them a price for a five hour package instead of our standard 8 hours. After all they “only have the venue for 5 hours”. I knew the sticker shock was likely making these two nervous, but what I hadn’t realized is that I didn’t effectively demonstrate to them how they were undermining their first priority—luxury.

Is “luxury” fancy stuff and expensive looking places? Nope. Luxury is time. When time is absolutely your own, the things you want cost you no time, what has to get done costs you no time and you’re free to simply watch as whatever you want or need just falls into place—that is what luxury is. Alice & Jay, to their eventual disappointment, are designing a luxurious wedding that is going to be anything but luxurious for them.

When we hear the word “luxury” we’re thinking of expensive jewelry, gold and precious stones. We’re thinking of big houses. We’re thinking of expensive cars, fine clothes, and rare edible treats. We’re not thinking of the swaths of attendants and helpers who make sure this fictional person living the life of luxury isn’t doing all the prep work for those things themselves. But you can go buy all the raw materials for expensive jewelry for a fraction of the cost, but it’s not quite so luxurious when you have to spend hundreds of hours figuring out how to fashion it into jewelry. You can buy lobster at the grocery store, but you’ve gotta steam it yourself before you eat it. You can work 70 hours a week to  afford a ridiculously nice car, but you won’t get all those hours back. Are those things still really “luxurious”, I think not. They’re just really nice and enjoyable.

The fact of the matter is, Jay & Alice’s first priority being luxury means they’ve already missed their mark.

I responded to Alice’s email explaining that we wouldn’t be able to provide her with the images and sense of luxury she wants in just 5 hours, but offered some alternate ideas. I never heard back from her.

Some of the unhappiest wedding-day couples I’ve ever met, regardless of what their wedding cost, were the ones who misunderstood what their money was buying them. Most have mistook some thing as innately meaningful. There’s been no clear correlation between happy couples and elaborate cake displays, big diamonds, fancy meals, or rare florals. But there has been a correlation between happy couples and an appreciation for friends and family, for love and commitment. These people’s happiness on the wedding day has, far and away, been the most resilient of any of the people we’ve had the pleasure of working with.

So, if you are like Alice & Jay and want to have a “luxurious” wedding, invest most heavily in time. Time for everything. Time to feel nervous, time to joke around with your friends, time to put something off until later. Time to never feel stressed or rushed. Time to never feel like if you don’t do this thing right now it’s never going to happen and you’re going to miss it forever. Time is the real luxury. Get as much of it as you can, from every vendor who requires time to make your wedding day what you’re hoping it will be.