Hi folks, it’s Jenn here. Wedding planning can be an overwhelming and stressful process, but it does not have to be. Working with countless brides over the years has taught me some valuable lessons, and I would like to share some of them with you here. I am going to use images from my own wedding for a few reasons; One-because I have a ton of them, Two-because my wedding was the bees’ knees, and Three-because it was unconventional in many ways and illustrates a lot of valid points. I hope these tips help make YOUR special day run as smoothly as possible, or at least make it easier to deal with!
Several important decisions like the Wedding Date, Ceremony and Reception Locations, Bridal Party, Budget and Guest List, should be considered early in the planning process. These aspects of the day should be decided as a couple, but beware, as these are often the most stressful details to plan. In my experience there just are not too many Grooms who want much involvement with the other details like dresses, color scheme, and flowers. But, if the guys want to stay involved, try delegating a few things in their comfort zone like menu selection, beverages, and music. Moms, sisters, friends, and family usually love to be involved in wedding preparations. If they offer help, TAKE IT! Unless you have channeled Martha Stewart herself, you cannot possibly do everything. Trying to do so will only frustrate and exhaust you. Let’s face it; Tired, Cranky Bride is not a good look.
Budget will be a HUGE factor in your planning. Huge! Setting a reasonable budget that you, your fiancé, and your families can stick to is key. This is a wedding people, do not over do it and spend your life savings on the one day. Seriously. Hear me out. Yes, your wedding day should be Fabulous, but you still need to afford to live the Happily Ever After, Right?? Start with a little research on the average costs of each of the wedding component so you will have a reference point. Then make a list of “needs” and “wants” and see how they fit into your allotted budget. What items require professional help and which can be done personally, and often times less expensively? Where can compromises be made? Spend some time on this part. Talk it out right from the beginning. Make sure everyone is comfortable with the budget, and STICK TO IT. You will be budgeting your life together; if you cannot manage this one event you are in big trouble, sister!
When choosing your Wedding Date, there are a few things to consider. Dates near a major holiday will always be more expensive. Fridays and Sundays are usually cheaper than prime Saturdays. Think Friday night ceremony with Cocktail reception or Sunday morning service and a Brunch to follow. I have even seen a few unconventional brides that have chosen week nights that are a special date to them, such as an anniversary or holiday. Summer months book up fast for catering, reception halls, churches, florists, etc. Book the big stuff fast to reserve your vendors for the date. Off months, January-April, can often be easier to book and might mean considerable savings. Do not forget what is most important; pick a date that makes you feel good, whether it is a July day for your dream beach wedding or the date you two first met in January. My husband and I chose the date we starting dating in high school. It was easy to remember because we had already celebrated it for 10 years, and as a bonus it was a lesser expensive Sunday.
Flowers will always be more expensive near holidays like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, as well as the winter holidays. But, florists aren’t overcharging you. When there is a heightened demand on a steady/low supply of flowers the price skyrockets, for everyone. Try to avoid these holiday weeks and the few surrounding, if you can. You do not want to be stuck with the overpriced Valentine’s Day reject roses, do you? Think about work schedules, travel arrangements for out of town guests, and do not forget to consider the seasonal climates in your desired location.
When you first imagine a wedding ceremony these days it is in one of two places; a church, or not. Traditionalists will certainly find an abundance of beautiful churches, synagogues or houses of worship to act as the setting for their big day. But if a church is not your thing, don’t sweat it. Use your imagination; people get married in donut shops for crying out loud.
Simply put, a wedding is a public declaration of love and commitment. How you choose to express this declaration is up to you, and only you. Well, and maybe the groom too.
My husband and I are only vaguely religious, technically raised a Catholic and a Lutheran. We don’t often attend church, nor have a minister, so we felt most comfortable being married by a judge. There are also many other types of officiates outside of clergy; dear friends, a father or grandfather, a respected professor, or spiritual guides to name a few. These days internet ordainment is growing quite popular, and allows close friends and family to take an active and meaningful role in the event.
Now, say you and your fiancée are of two very different backgrounds or religious upbringings. Ceremonies that blend both religions and family traditions will be most memorable. Try not to worry about offending your guests with unfamiliar customs. Take this opportunity to teach your guests about other cultures in a setting of love and fun. Partake in the traditions that hold a special place in our hearts and omit those that do not trip your trigger. These decisions might be best made with the input of your parents and grandparents, but ultimately this day is about you and your love for one another.
Wedding vows can be very personal, or very traditional. Religious weddings tend to have more traditional vows that are usually set by the religion or place of worship. However, when having a more nontraditional ceremony, you can often entirely customize your vows. Your officiant should be able to help you get started writing your own vows if you choose to go that route. The internet is also a wonderful place to look for samples and examples.
At your wedding, the most time will be spent at the reception site, so take your time choosing the location! There are many wonderful banquet halls that make the process easier by having everything you might need from chairs to linens, cakes to caterers. But, if you want to think outside the box, there are also many unusual wedding locations that might fit your personal style a little better. However, sometimes the unconventional locations might mean a little more work. Often you’ll have to rent your own chairs, tables, lines, and dishes. You’ll also have to find your own caterer, bakery, and bar staff.
Jeff and I like to mix things up a bit, so when we chose our Bridal Party we opted for mixed pairs. On my side I had my brother Rob as my Male of Honor and my best friend Emily as my Maid of Honor, and Jeff had his sister Jillian as his Best Maid, and his best friend Jack as his Best Man. The guys chose their own black suit, tie and shoes, and the girls could choose any dress under the sun, I only asked that it was blue. I think that plan went over well because everyone was able to wear his or her outfits again in the future. As girls we decided to choose coordinating but non-matching shoes. It made for a cute detail without being too matchy-matchy. Who says you have to have 6 clones on your left and him with 6 on his right?
When it comes time for you and our other half sit down and write out that Guest List; I have always liked the notion that if you wouldn’t invite the person in question to your home, then you probably do not need to invite them to your wedding. Now, there will always be that Great-Aunt Tilly that your mother just insists you invite, fine. But that guy and what’s-her-face that you met at your sister’s house those few times, you can skip them. And it is OK! Consider all things. How many people fit in your ceremony or reception space? How much does it cost per person for food, drink, favor, flowers, etc? When you start adding up cost per person attending your event, do not forget to let your budget help you to make some decisions. While it would be nice to include the man who cuts your grass and his girlfriend, blowing your budget by hundreds of dollars will not be a feel good in the end. And the landscaper won’t mind, I swear. Check with your parents and important guests and make sure there isn’t someone you’re forgetting. I left someone off my list and ended up writing a letter of apology in the invite. I felt awful. Better to consider all options and make decisions, than to leave out some loved ones. If you get some pressure to add to your list, consider this; if the one doing the pressuring is the one writing the check, maybe let them have their way. If Mom wants to invite 20 of her work friends and she is the one who is footing the bill for dinner, then let her have her way. What will it hurt? There are bigger battles to be won, this is an easy compromise. And hey, the more the merrier, with added bonus of more presents! If the major cost of added guests will be falling on your shoulders, stand up for yourself, and your budget. Make all parties aware that the decision to narrow the list is purely a financially responsible choice and not an emotional one. There has to be a cut off point somewhere. Decide where and stick to it.
Take lots of them. Lots. And then some more. You only have one shot at capturing this event, and though your memory is key in looking back on our special day, it really comes down to the photographs to conjure up those cherished moments. You can easily send and display photos, share them in ways you cannot with your minds eye.
While I do have some beautiful and sentimental photographs from my wedding, I cannot help but to be a bit disappointed in the ones I DO NOT have. Looking back there are numerous photo opportunities that weren’t captured. I do not have any pictures of myself with my mother and the groom’s mother. I do not have a picture of all of the siblings, or of the bride and groom with both sets of parents. There are also not nearly enough of the flowers, as far as I am concerned. And there is no going back to recreate those moments. So, I say again, Take lots and lots of pictures. Take way more than you think you will need. Too many is a better problem to have than not enough. Especially in a digital world, there is almost no limit to the number of images you can gather.
My photographers were, as you may well have guessed by now, a bit nontraditional. Instead of hiring a generic wedding photographer we chose to ask a friend of the family to help us in this department. My Mother’s coworker, Amber, photographed our wedding events. She was fairly inexpensive, has an artistic eye and took some great shots. Amber also has a friend who IS a professional portrait photographer, who decided to tag along and took some excellent shots as well. The two of them captured nearly all of what I asked for and even some things I would have never dreamed up. Amber did the work in exchange for our purchasing her the camera she used to shoot the thousands of digital pictures, and her friend Jen worked at no charge, as she was happy to have an unusual photo session to experiment with. Both photographers gave me discs with every image shot from my events and from there I could post, send, print, and display the ones that I loved.
Prior to the wedding we did a consultation and discussed what I was looking for in my pictures, and for the most part I got just what I wanted. Since Amber was NOT a professional at this, she may have been a bit overwhelmed in covering the list of things I had requested, but considering the chaos that happens during wedding picture time, she really did quite well. Make specific requests during your consultation, ask to see some of their previous works, and be sure to get digital files that you can keep and share for years to come.
Now, I am no Boy Scout but I do live by their motto. Be Prepared. While I was in the planning stages of my wedding I gathered a lot of info, made seven-hundred lists, and a 4 foot color-coded calendar. I got organized early and really thought about how the day would go, and what I needed to do/get to make it as stress free as I could. I realized that I was having an outdoor wedding, on a hot august afternoon, in a garden with no shade, with elderly family in attendance. I had a nightmare about Grandpa Ruben passing out from the heat, and another about a downpour, but instead of freaking out about things that are out of my control, I just thought about how to remedy or prevent any disasters. I can not control the sun, but I can try to make my guests as comfortable as possible. So, I made yet another list: Umbrellas for shade, a Cooler with refreshments, Fans to beat the heat, Tissues for dabbing tears or sweat. I gathered up these items well in advance, had them packaged for travel and asked a few family members to help put them in their respective places. Nearly all of it was bought at local Dollar Stores; umbrellas, tiny battery powered fans, tissues, and even the water bottles and juice boxes. I must tell you, I was pretty happy to have that tiny cold juice box after the ceremony. On a side note: Personalizing these items, or coordinating them with your wedding theme adds that extra bit of detail that make the event really special.
Next, I made a ’just in case of rain’ plan. In the event the weather took a turn for the worse, I made arrangements with the ceremony and reception venues. My wedding venue did not allow tents, and even though it was not feasible to move my ceremony to an indoor site at the same location, my nearby reception venue was able to accommodate us if needed. Check with your contact people and see what is possible, and if there are extra fees attached. Chances are that since you took the time to make extra arrangements you wont end up needing them. Either way it is always better to be prepared…
Psssst… No matter how prepared you are things WILL go wrong! There is just no avoiding it. NO wedding will be as absolutely PERFECT like the ones in the movies. I planned, and planned and planned some more and you know what? Dumb stuff still happened. Look at my wedding cake. It fell over before I ever saw it. You know what else? IT’S OK! And do you know why? Because it is just a cake. My Mother-in-Law made it with love, it tasted great, and it is a funny memory that we will have forever. And for that, it was perfect! Just try to go with the flow during the big day. Ranting, raving, screaming and turning into Bridezilla will not fix most things anyways. Take a deep breath and try to enjoy yourself. Short of a natural disaster, it will all be ok…I swear.
Here are a few more things I did not plan on…. Go ahead, have a laugh at my expense. It’s ok…
Can you spot my mistake in the picture above? That is right, that is me putting the ring ON THE WRONG HAND! Must have been my excitement taking over, I have no idea how it happened, and I feel like a big dork. But again, IT’S OK. I can laugh at myself, and it makes for a memory that most brides can’t say they have. It does not make us any less married. We started our marriage with a good laugh and it still makes me shake my head with a smile.
Another thing I could not control was that my wedding space was open and accessible to the general public. Getting married in a Chicago park put us on display a bit, and while most people just smiled and waved and said sweet things, some passersby did get a little closer to the action. During the ceremony I did not even notice this gentleman, and it was not until I saw the pictures that I knew he had joined us. He rode his bike down my aisle and watched the ceremony over Uncle Steve’s shoulder. Now, I never saw that coming, but why get upset about it? He was quiet, respectful and just wanted to join in our fun. No harm, no foul.
Don’t sweat the small stuff is what I am saying in a long-winded way. Be as prepared as you can be, but also be prepared to let things slide when every little thing is not perfect. Sometimes the imperfections are the most interesting details.
Establish a Theme, Use it everywhere. Make it an EVENT
When designing the look of your event consider the space. Do not over-embellish an already elaborate or busy space. Too many things going on in a confined area will confuse the eye. A plain space needs a lot of interesting details to feel special and inviting. Here is a good rule of thumb: Elaborate space – simple decor, Simple space – elaborate decor. You are not going to make a castle look any better by adding glitter to everything, and a plain white banquet room with tiny white flowers would feel cold. Think about the space; work with your designers to create a special look that is tailored to your theme, tastes and overall vision. Chances are the vendors you work with have seen a lot of things that really work well and maybe some that do not. Once bride wanted me to paint her roses black, for a black and white wedding. Against my advice to her, she insisted that it be done. In the end she was not happy that her flowers looked dead, and I was not happy that I let her talk me into it. We are professionals people, design is our job, usually we know what we are talking about. Try to trust your vendors, but do not be afraid to do your own thing, too.
Pick a few key design elements and repeat them throughout your event. Choosing colors, patterns or flower varieties are a good place to start. Since Jeff and I are such movie buffs, our theme was Hollywood, and we used our favorite colors- orange, green, and blue throughout the space to tie all of the details together. The invites looked like award show envelopes, the reception was held in a theatre with a marquee and a red carpet. We were even able to utilize the ticket booth in place of the escort card table; our guests were given tickets to the “show.” The tables were all named for our favorite movies, and cardboard cutouts of our favorite characters helped set the Hollywood scene. We even tailored the music to include movie soundtracks, and brought in a photo booth and popcorn cart to really drive home the theme. Our wedding was truly an event, from start to finish. Now, I understand I may have gone a bit further in my planning than most, but you can do a lot with repeating patterns, or an abundance of lush, romantic flowers. Once you decide on a detail that is truly you figure out how to use it EVERYWHERE. The details make the difference. Not super creative? There are loads of magazines, websites and designers that are full of info and inspiration for your event.
While seemingly simple, favors can be a tricky part of any wedding planning. They often get left until the last minute, when the budget is the tightest and creativity is at the lowest. And they can really add up! If you have 200 guests, even spending only $2.00 on each favor is a lot.
Traditionally, favors are usually some sort of small, edible item. This is usually one of the easiest and most affordable options. It is also one of the best crowd pleasers.
Another option is to choose an item that ties in with the theme of the wedding. For example, I once attended a winter wedding that gave out small Christmas tree ornaments as favors! It was a simple, yet practical favor. And as a bonus, every year when I decorate my tree I remember that beautiful occasion.
Another option that is currently very trending is to make a donation in lieu of favors. Some couples choose to make one large donation to a charity that is important to them. Other couples will personalize the donations depending on the guests seated at the table. A table where you have a lot of college friends sitting would be a great place to do a donation for an alumni association. With some creative thinking, this can be a very personal part of a wedding.