Here are my 12 days of wedding planning — 12 steps to help keep you full of the joy you and your family experienced when you said YES!
- Lead with love, and the rest will fall in place, you’ll see! It’s easy to be said but more difficult to practice. If you simply keep this mantra in the forefront of planning, your relationships with family, vendors and guests will be stress-free.
- It’s all about compromising. After all, it’s about love. Love means compromise. I’ve planned weddings with budgets close to a million dollars and budgets of just a few thousand. No one party in wedding planning completely gets their way. If you can accept this as inevitable, it will make it that much easier when you get to those moments. If she wants the aisle covered in rose petals (very expensive for a complete covering) what about a lush line along the side of the aisles or even a cool pattern in the aisle? If she wants to rent furniture to put outside on the lawn for a lounge feel, create a lounge vibe by using standard tables and chairs but cluster them near a tree where you could hang a cool candelabra or a neat IKEA light. If he wants a 12-piece band, then maybe drop that fourth app or nix the premium bar. And if he wants chocolate and you want vanilla — well, they have four tiers!
- It’s important to know what type of event the couple would like to host. Garden? Ballroom? Intimate? Everyone? Grand? Simple? Be it strong or sublime; it’s important to write it down, and refer back to it during the planning process.
- It’s time to have a frank conversation about budgeting. No one can successfully set forth on a project without knowing an amount to spend. I believe any dream can be accomplished on any budget, it just takes some thought and compromise, as noted above.
- Ask yourself: how many can we feed? Fifty percent of your wedding budget pertains to food, beverages and site fees. Once you set an overall budget limit, you should do some preliminary research (internet and email) on some possible sites and caterers to get a ballpark idea of pricing.
- Refer back to one and two. This is where your planning experience has the most chance of going from fun to “Now I know what they were talking about when they said it was a nightmare.” Refer back to points one and two. You can do it!
- Let’s create a plan we can set forth and succeed. It’s important to put it in writing – a simple spreadsheet with line items for ceremony site, reception site (to include food and beverage), entertainment, décor, photography/videography, fashion (including day-of prep), cake, stationary and auxiliary events (bridal tea, etc.) And because these are very general categories, you should reserve 10 to 20 percent for “miscellaneous.” This can be the line item you debit for non-budgeted line items (transportation, etc.) or item overages.
- How are you feeling about your plan? Marriage is a commitment, and so is a budget. Everyone involved in the planning needs to review the plan/budget and feel about an eight out of ten on the happiness scale.
- Channel in number two again. I can’t stress enough that these days, albeit very difficult, are the most important. Any great accomplishment has had a well thought out plan. If you invest your first week in this diligent research and hard work, you have set yourself up for a tremendously less stressful next few months or even years. Do yourself a favor and get the hard conversations out right out of the gate.
- It’s appointment time. Now that you have a plan, make some appointments to see some ceremony and reception sites that interested you from the budgeting period. Because of your research, you’ll ask informed questions and have a mental Rolodex of material to compare the site coordinator’s answers with. I also suggest meeting with photographers and entertainment companies, as they often book up quickly and have limited date availability.
- Let’s make some reservations for vendors with glee. You’ve created your plan, done the research in meeting potential vendors, now it’s time to book, book, book! Obviously, I don’t think you will book all of your vendors within 11 days of beginning the planning process, but it is acceptable to expect a ceremony and reception facility to be secured with a deposit within one to three months after commencement of planning.
- Just enjoy the process. You are planning your forever!
It’s this time of year clients start to second guess themselves about the decisions they have made. My advice is trust your gut, and trust your instincts! In my 14 years of service — I have learned the client is always right. However this topic made me think, What do clients regret? And, what do vendors see that they want clients to know? I asked some of my most favorite clients and vendors for some great advice I could share with you and came up with at “top five” list of “wedding mistakes.” With that being said, this list is more general guidelines and very unscientific! The goal is to only get you thinking, and in the end — remember — it’s about love. In the end — you’re married! and that is what counts. Which leads us to number 1…
TOP FIVE WEDDING MISTAKES:
- Sweating the small stuff
Remember it’s about you and your Fiance committing to one another for a lifetime. This helps you to not sweat the small stuff. Mom insisting you have a chocolate layer of cake? Just do it. Your groom has to have the bartenders wear Philadelphia Eagles bowties? (true story) Why not? Your Maid of Honor doesn’t feel comfortable giving a toast? Let her off the hook. The happiest Brides and Grooms I work with let the small stuff roll off their backs and remember, in the end, they are getting married! That is the real purpose of the gathering.
- Trying to please everyone — it’s impossible
If you are thinking this might be contradictory to #1 on the list –you are right. There is a fine line. And only you can decide what is sweating the small stuff and what is trying to please everyone! One great example is many couples struggle with picking the “right” wedding date. Can Aunt Millie Make it? Cousin Sarah is due around that time! My college roommate can only come in the summer months! How do you pick? My advice: There is a 100% chance that not everyone you invite will be able to make your wedding date. So speak to those that are nearest and dearest to you, as well as coordinate with your personal schedule, and pick a date that suits most. Know that not everyone will be able to make it — but if your nearest and dearest will make it — then your day will be a good one.
- Not spending enough for an important-to-you vendor category
I meet with clients all day long and each one almost always has a category that is important to them. Flowers, to photography, food and beverage. Whatever your passion is, I encourage you to find it and fund it. I had one of my most favorite brides tell me she wished she spent more on the flowers and the arrangements were bigger. Another bride told me they loved their photographer’s personality but didn’t love their photos but went with them anyways– and they regretted it. While I hate to hear of regrets — I think one thing rings true. If it is important to you, don’t be afraid to splurge and cut out something else that might not be as important. Or, find a way to get the best, but in a limited fashion. For example, go for the high end photographer, but maybe only reserve a 6 hour package. Or, love the dramatic flower look? Get a fabulous florist and do amazing arrangements on ½ of the tables and do a glorious candle arrangement on the other half. Fell in love with a 10 piece band? Why not seek out a great 5 piece band at ½ the price without compromising with a DJ? Love a high end DJ? Then skip the photo booth. Life is about choices and I encourage you to spend where you love but do so sensibly.
- Not taking the good advice of your qualified vendor team
I heard from many vendors –and the biggest complaint was couples who invested in their services but then did not listen to their advice. This too, is a fine line, as I believe the client knows their audience best but if several vendors are telling you the same thing — you should strongly consider taking their advice. I had a client that was having an outdoor wedding and all the vendors told the client they needed more lighting than just lights around the perimeter of the tent. They chose to only go with basic lighting and all the reception photos after sunset were in the dark. I also had a photographer that was trying to tell the client they needed time to get to the reception site before guests arrive to take room shots (set up of the room before guests arrived). They had invested heavily in florals and linens and the room was stunning! The client did not want to spend more for a second shooter and was unwilling to do photos before the ceremony. While we got many lovely photos during the reception, we were unable to get many shots with the beautiful table settings that the Bride had so carefully planned over the 16 months of planning.
4a. Not helping your vendors help you
This was something many vendors contacted me about, and something we occasionally experience at Wedding Savvy as well. You’ve gone and hired a fantastic DJ — everyone says they rock!! But if you don’t get them your music choices with enough notice — they will be flying blind. One DJ reached out to me to tell me about a client who e-mailed him his parent dances while he was in the shower getting ready for the gig. He was (as all professionals do) able to download the songs, but it turns out he downloaded the right song by the wrong artist. He didn’t have time to check with the Bride and Groom before the event because he was given the information too late. At Wedding Savvy – we ask for a copy of all contracts two months before the wedding so we can confirm all the right details. When clients don’t give us the cake contract or the floral contract — we normally track it down from the vendor. But in some circumstances –for example — a friend is doing the flowers and they don’t get back to us — we are flying blind. We have no idea if the flowers on the table are what you ordered. Do your vendors a favor and provide the details they ask for. It is for your best interest, and will help to provide your vendors with the tools to make your wedding –AWESOME!
- Not setting a budget before you set expectations, book vendors, and invite guests.
200 guests for $10,000? completely possible for a casual BBQ party. Expecting a plated dinner with china and steak? Think again. Many clients decide on the guest list before they figure out what they can afford with their budget. Talk with your family and figure out the type of event you are comfortable hosting and then be sure your budget can handle it for your guest count. Often times, before clients book us they reserve a fantastic reception site but when they add up the amount of guests they want to have there and then add in a photographer, DJ, florals — they are over budget. Take the time to research reception sites and plug those numbers in a budget for the amount of guests you are expecting. Then, research Entertainment, florals, and photographers to see if you can afford all your top choices. If not, are you willing to splurge on a reception site and scale back on entertainment? If not, maybe look into another site that is more in line with your budget that allows you to get all the top notch vendors you’ve been dreaming of. We had a client that was in love with a garden site at the tune of $6000, but that means she couldn’t have the DJ, photographer, and decor that she was in love with. In the end, she chose a less expensive site at $2000 and was able to get all the vendors she loved … and she was over the moon happy!
- Weather Accessories
- handkerchiefs for men in hot weather (to wipe sweat)
- Shawls or wraps for the ladies in the colder months
- Cute umbrellas (black always work) for fun rain pictures — or even fun matching rain boots for the ladies (so cute!)
- extra hairspray and bobby pins for windy days
- Food for you, food for him
- It sounds simple, but often times guys and gals will be running late or worried about fitting into clothing and don’t have time / choose to eat. Or even worse, time for a pre- wedding dinner snack was not budgeted into your event timeline. We always suggest the groomsmen meet for a meal before getting dressed, and the ladies have lunch or refreshments during hair and makeup. Plan a cooler and/or snack basket for your limo, trolley or party bus after the ceremony with water and snacks if you plan on taking photos / may miss your cocktail hour so your bridal party doesn’t show up starving.
- Extra time: During hair and makeup, travel time
- I cannot stress enough how important it is to have extra time in your day. Plan for an extra hour to hour to an hour and a half depending on the size of your bridal party for hair and makeup completion time. If you are done on time, you can use the extra time to relax with your bridesmaids and have a snack.
- Transportation is another category where people often cut it too close. It is better to arrive 15 minutes early than be 30 minutes late! Of course, please be mindful of your restrictions at the church/ reception site and don’t arrive obscenely early… but a little extra time to sip champagne in the limo at the church parking lot is better than sweating in your dress stressing about getting past a traffic jam!
- What happens at the end of the night – your exit plans
- I always encourage couples to plan their final moments and make an exit before the guests. This allows the couple to bring the event to a close on a high note. The couple can always make plans to meet up with everyone after the event in a hotel lobby, downtown, etc! Sparkler exits are very popular and well earned – it’s a very fun way to send the couple off with a BANG (or actually more like a sizzle!) I love the idea of all the guests coming together as a final capstone of the night to say goodbye. Other options could be bubbles, or a classic car exit. All these options signal to the guests the event has ended and the couple has departed.
What I don’t suggest is the Bride and Groom lingering as the lights come up and the reception staff is cleaning up around them. It’s hard for the couple to make an exit if they haven’t already and often times are the last ones there as they feel obligated to say a goodbye to each guest. After a long day or night, this makes it even longer. AND it is anticlimactic. You can always meet up with guests at an after party!
When I meet someone new in a non-work setting and tell them I am a wedding planner, I am usually greeted with a few stories of wedding nightmares. I am amazed to find, that over my fourteen years of doing this as a career, this one part of my life never seems to change. Sometimes it’s wedding day nightmares: during the ceremony a killer storm popped up and ripped over the bay bringing lightning and hail, or the cake that was made by a friend and collapsed during the first dance (both true stories, by the way!). Other times, it’s about the planning experience in itself: They hired a friend to help out who didn’t do anything, and the things she did do, she did wrong (she forgot to ask the rental house if they could host a reception there — they couldn’t — and they were out a $1500 deposit and needed to find a new reception spot). Or, they didn’t hire anyone and they bickered with their mother, mother in law, sister, maid of honor (insert role here) and are no longer speaking to them or their relationship has never been the same.
I hate to hear wedding nightmares, because I and my staff get to be a part of so many successful weddings! I truly wish everyone could have an amazing wedding planning experience that leaves them with fond memories for years to come. That is why I decided to offer 5 simple tips for a stress-free wedding planning experience!
Tip #1: Hire a Professional, Experienced Wedding Planner
“A good wedding planner is worth his/ her weight in gold” – say EVERYONE
What I didn’t mention in my story above, is that there are always a few folks who meet me that RAVE about the positive experience they’ve had with their wedding planner. “She took care of everything so we didn’t worry about a thing” or, “A hurricane was set to hit the day of my wedding. My planner called all the vendors and made all the appropriate adjustments including making sure the band didn’t back out! We were so thankful for her”. How do you know you have a great planner?
- They’ve taken some formal training – this shows they are committed to the industry and learning
- They have great client testimonials – from more than just one or two of the same weddings
- They have a diverse portfolio — they can do everything well, not just one niche
- Vendors refer them – they have seen their work and think enough of it to send their clients to them!
- Their pricing is fair. If it seems too good to be true — it probably is. An inexpensive planner sometimes can be over committed — which translates into a less time for you and your needs. This can be extremely frustrating, and I actually gain a lot of clients that have gotten fed up with the “great deal” of a planner they’ve secured. Also, on the other side of the equation, A planner out of your budget range will leave you feeling jilted that you can’t get all the vendors and bells and whistles you want. A good planner will be upfront and steer you towards a package that is in your budget (hourly, day of, partial or full service) because they too want it to be a win win!
Remember when investing in a planner, they will not only help you stay in budget, but save you tons of time and energy. Well worth the investment at any level of service.
Tip #2: Hire other great wedding professionals and listen to what they have to say
It’s important you are working with the best vendor you can afford, and also you can reach a bit for a vendor you adore so long as you are willing to cut back elsewhere. Don’t overreach — that doesn’t leave anyone happy! How do you find a great vendor?
- Get referrals from friends, other vendors, and online
- Check references — not just online, but ask for some people to call
- See samples of their work and find out what the cost of that service was
- Pay a fair price — if you are wheeling and dealing with a vendor, sometimes you might not get the best service or the service that originally brought you to them. I’m not saying it’s impossible to bargain, but let the vendor lead and work with your budget. If it’s not a match — it’s better to find someone that is a match and will be happy with the amount you’re willing to spend.
Tip #3: Set a Budget & Decor Guideline
I hear lots of complaints about overspending, or not spending enough. Just like any major project in life, I think it is important for you to decide BEFORE you start shopping how much you want to spend. When buying a house or car, you would never ask a realtor to show you around or step into a showroom without knowing how much you want to spend. With wedding planning, I ask you take it one step further and not only decide how much you want to spend, but break it down into vendor categories. I am happy to share with Hannah’s readers an exclusive look at Wedding Savvy’s suggested Vendor breakdown by clicking here. This is a general guideline and will need some tweaking as you start meeting vendors, but it is a great place to start!
In addition to creating a budget outline, I think it is equally important to create a decor outline. This can easily be done by creating a Pinterest Page you can share with your vendors! Please keep in mind that almost EVERY client has many or some ideas on the page that vendors are going to tell you- -are out of your budget range. However a good vendor can make suggestions as to how to fit your ideas into a realistic budget.
Tip #4: Be a decision maker
Pink napkins or Fuchsia? Gold Chivaris or Black? You can drive yourself crazy by obsessing over small and large decisions alike. That is why I suggest creating the budget and decor documents to serve as a guiding force in your decisions. I always tell clients to trust their instincts, listen to great vendor advice, then set it and forget it. It’ s no fun obsessing over small details. If it is a very bad idea, people will tell you. If lots of people (vendors) are telling you a bad idea…. then start listening!
Tip #5: Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Remember it’s about you and your Fiance committing to one another for a lifetime. This helps you to not sweat the small stuff. Mom insisting you have a chocolate layer of cake? Just do it. Your groom has to have the bartenders wear Philadelphia eagles bowties? (true story) Why not? Your Maid of Honor doesn’t feel comfortable giving a toast? Let her off the hook. The happiest Brides and Grooms I work with let the small stuff roll off their backs and remember, in the end, they are getting married! That is the real purpose of the gathering.