The majority of wedding planning is pretty fun. It's full of cake tastings, playing dress up, and design, but there's a serious side, too. For every detail you secure, there's likely a vendor behind it, and with the vendor comes a contract. While not the glitziest part of planning, it is the most important. Protect yourself and your dream wedding by doing these things before you sign on the dotted line.
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Read it, twice.

Your friend used this vendor, it's your sister's colleague, you don't have time-these are all great excuses to not read a contract, but they don't matter. Read your contract. It's that simple. After you sign it, you're liable for everything in it. Once you've read it, ask your fiancé, a parent, or your wedding planner to look it over, too, says Julie Savage-Parekh of Strawberry Milk Events & Styling in Washington D.C.

Look at what's included.

Contracts typically list what's included, not what isn't, says Savage-Parekh. If you're expecting a specific service (think: rental chair delivery, highlight video, or event setup), it should be listed. If it's not, ask to add it so you aren't surprised later when you're charged an extra fee.

Review the breach of contract statement.

Don't freak out. Your wedding will likely go great. But it's always, always, always (did we say always yet?) important to take a worst-case-scenario approach to contracts. If a vendor doesn't perform as agreed or services aren't fulfilled, what are you entitled to? Bianca Hall and Hilary Carpenter of Estera Events in Chicago say this is the most important question to answer, as it's often not included in the contract. "Certain state laws may apply and will likely determine the manner in which these types of issues are resolved," they say. So check out your state's rule book.

Check the total fee.

The number you see on your contract might not be quite as accurate as you think. "The total fee reflected in the contract doesn't always include the labor or gratuity fees, which could be an additional 20 percent or more," says Savage-Parekh. Find out how much these fees are, and ask to have them put in writing.

Pay attention to payment terms.

Every vendor will have different guidelines for payment. Some require payment up front, while others may prefer a tiered payment option with the final payment due a week or so before the wedding. "Make sure you're aware of the payment amounts and due dates," says Hall and Carpenter. If you're not, you could put yourself in breach of contract (see No. 3).

Confirm the cancellation policy.

Life is full of surprises, but don't let cancellation fees be one of them. Hall and Carpenter recommend checking to see what happens if the wedding is called off or rescheduled. Are you allowed to cancel at any time? What are the notification requirements? Are there specific dates prior to the wedding that you can cancel by and still get your deposit, or some of it, back?

Confirm the hours permitted.

When you book a venue, a DJ, or a band, the fee in the contract is typically limited to a set number of hours. Look at the number of hours included and additional hours available at a fee, says Savage-Parekh. This way you're not surprised when your reception goes over an hour and you now owe your DJ another $1,000.

Take note of the due date.

When you receive the contract to review, your vendor will likely also provide a sign-by date. If you don't return it by the noted date, you could lose your spot. If you're getting married during wedding season (spring/summer), this could mean another couple could swoop in. Hall and Carpenter suggest meeting this date, but if you can't, then ask kindly for an extension.


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