Franzella Vasquez thought she'd found a good price for a bridesmaid's dress, but it turned out to be anything but a cost savings.
She bought the $80 dress from a McHenry Avenue wedding store for her sister to wear at Vasquez's upcoming wedding. After paying cash for it, Vasquez had the dress sent back for alterations.
But the store went out of business before she got the dress -- or her money -- back.
"They just up and left," said Vasquez, 42, of Modesto. "Now I have to buy her another dress."
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Wedding experts said that in the flurry of spending decisions as a couple plan a wedding, it's easy to be taken advantage of, as Vazquez was.
With many couples spending hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars on their weddings, the temptation to save a few dollars on a photographer or caterer can be tough to resist, wedding industry professionals say.
But a bride and groom can spend their money more wisely if they take a few precautions, said Lollie Christner-Severin, a wedding consultant with An Elegant Beginning in Modesto.
She said that it's easier for a couple to spend too much, or in the wrong areas, when they don't start with a budget.
"You have to take a broad look at the whole picture," she said. "What I see more often is a couple spending thousands of dollars on a wedding, and then they have to start thinking about where to cut."
That can lead to couples hiring cheaper vendors, suppliers and service providers they haven't checked out, sometimes with disastrous results, Christner-Severin said.
Frank Whitney, chief executive officer of the MidCal Better Business Bureau, said references from friends and family can help couples find good individuals and firms with which to work.
"Word of mouth is a great source for good business recommendations," he said.
Most of the BBB's wedding-related complaints in the Northern San Joaquin Valley are about photographers, Whitney said.
Those complaints frequently come from newlyweds who pay for a picture package they never receive, he said.
Kambry Brennan of Riverbank said that's what happened to her and her husband after they were married in October.
She went with a photographer from Delhi she found on the Internet, because the price of $1,100 for a video and photos was far below others.
"I thought that was very reasonable," said Brennan, 23.
But though she got her engagement photos, the photographer had a family emergency back East after the wedding, and Brennan said she hasn't spoken to her in months.
"I'm still just devastated," Brennan said. "I would pay her again just to get my pictures."
If she had to do it again, Brennan said, she'd ask for references first, and refuse to pay in advance.
Whitney and Christner-Severin said it can be worthwhile to get a wedding planner's help.
Christner-Severin said that most planners have a circle of reliable vendors they work with, and sometimes can negotiate lower fees.
"I'll ask questions about where the couple's priorities are," she said. "How many are in the party? What's the venue you want? What about decorations?"
With or without a planner, Christner-Severin said, consumers should ask lots of questions, get services specified in writing, and follow up with vendors.
Couples should be especially careful to ensure all costs are fully explained, said Judy Stark, co-owner of Wedding Center USA in Modesto.
"You always have to ask that question about hidden costs," she said.
Hidden costs can take the form of a per-slice fee for cutting cake or prime rib, which can add up quickly.
Stark also noted that not all lower- priced vendors are bad vendors, because many will charge less when they're new to the business just to get started.
In those cases, Stark said, it's important for consumers to get samples of their work, such as a portfolio from a photographer or a taste-test from a caterer.
Dee Wilkey, event coordinator at catering and event hosting business On Broadway in Turlock, said that consumers have to know what they're getting for the money they spend.
"Is the photographer someone who charges $400 because they just do it on the side?" she said. "Do they have insurance? Do they have a studio? It's all about education."
Bee staff writer Ben van der Meer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2331.