Wedding Planning Tips
In our research over the years, a number of tips and suggestions about wedding planning and the wedding day seem to pop up repeatedly. Also, through our own experiences with weddings we have seen certain issues come up over and over again. Below is a list of these most frequently heard, read about or experienced tips and suggestions to help things go more smoothly.
Click on any of the following to go straight to that section. Or...just read them all!!!!
So You're Engaged!
- If you have not already done so, sit down with your spouse-to-be and talk about exactly the type of ceremony and reception you each would like to have. You may be surprised at what you learn. Come to an agreement. It will be easier for others to sway you or get you to add or delete things if the two of you are unsure of what you want or do not agree ahead of time. In the end, your wedding day may end up being something completely different than what you imagined or expected.
- Once you know what you both would like, write it down. Then decide which elements are "written in stone" and which are not. Do not budge on those items you both really really want (or really really don't want). If either or both of you have "involved" mothers, let them make more decisions about the items that are not written in stone.
- Along those same lines, limit yourself to only the major decisions. Let others help with or make decisions about the minor things. Actually assign things if need be, which lets people feel useful and important while allowing you to focus on the more vital elements. Be flexible on these minor issues (they are, after all, minor) or in other terms, don't sweat the small stuff. This will ensure that your day turns out the way you expected/desired without either of you being overly stressed by having to handle all the details by yourselves.
- Have a planning notebook, binder, box and/or software to help keep track of things, even if you think your wedding and reception are going to be too small to bother with much planning. Jot down notes whenever you see, hear, taste, smell or imagine something you may like. You will NOT remember things later...so write them down as they happen. The more organized you are during the planning stages, the smoother everything goes on the "Big Day."
- Having said that, have fun planning your wedding. If you get too caught up in a lot of minor details, the whole process will become tedious and annoying. For instance, a couple on the web wrote how they were stuck on deciding which of two designs they would have for their invitations. So they threw both into the air, and the one that landed face up won. A key piece of advice you may want to remember during the planning stages (and this actually works well for all aspects of your life) is this, "10 years from now, will it matter that...?" Will it matter that you had the invitations with the calla lily or the ones with the rose? Will it matter that you had Jordan Almonds or jelly beans? Think back on all the weddings you have ever attended. Do you remember the invitation? The favors? The pew bows? If you are like most people, you remember generally (and we mean generally) how things looked; you probably remember if the food was good or not (although, if the wedding was more than a year ago, we'd be surprised if you remembered the actual menu); and you most likely remember if the couple seemed happy and if they were having fun or not. That's probably it.
Working with Vendors
- Check references. Go with vendors with a history, meaning they have been in business for a while and they have good references. Unfortunately, there are many unscrupulous wedding vendors out there who charge big and deliver little, or worse, don't deliver at all.
- Have vendors break down their prices (especially "package" deals) into each individual item/service and its price. You may be amazed what you are paying for. This also gives you some bargaining power to possibly delete items you are not interested in for a reduced cost or include more of other items you may want.
- Get everything (and we mean everything) in writing in the final contract, and always have a contract. Do not count on any verbal agreements or handshakes. Spell out every single item and/or service you are getting for your money including time of delivery, number of items or people provided, etc, and in some instances (such as with a DJ or band), those things you do not want (such as music you do not want played.)
- Put your "budget saavy" hat on when looking at vendors with "Wedding" in front of their name. Businesses that advertise themselves as "Wedding Photographer," "Wedding Cake Specialists," "Wedding Florist," etc, tend to charge much more than similar vendors who do not advertise themselves that way. Check into a regular local florist to see if they do weddings. Look up local bakeries, or even the bakery at your local grocery store, to see if they make wedding cakes. You may be very pleasantly surprised and will certainly save a bunch of money. Realize that "wedding" vendors may have more experience, and therefore their product or service may be of exceptional quality, but our personal experience is that this is not necessarily the case. You must check references, ask to see/taste/hear examples or samples, and use your instincts.
- You may want to think twice (three times, four times) about having a relative or close friend perform a major wedding service for you, such as catering or photography. While this could potentially be one of your best budget-cutting options, unless this person has done this consistently for other relatives/close friends, it's just not worth taking the chance. If things do not turn out well, it could cause a family feud or end the friendship. An exception would be if one or both of the families are putting on the entire wedding and reception. In this situation, it is probably safe to assume that whoever is assigned a particular task will complete it or someone else will pick up the slack. We've been to many a wedding and reception where the families planned, decorated, cooked, sewed, set up and cleaned up the entire event, and we must say, they were some of the most beautiful affairs we have ever attended.
- When meeting with vendors, go into the meeting knowing that you are in charge. You are the consumer; they are selling a product or service. There is power in being a consumer...your money! They need your business, not the other way around. A really brilliant quote from Stephi Stewart, author of "Fire Your Wedding Planner" is, "It's your money; act like it." With this firm but polite attitude, you should be able to get exactly what you want for the price you want without a lot of extras or feeling like you were "taken." In the same vein, don't make any final decisions while emotional. Go home, think about it, talk about it, then make a calm and confident decision. If a vendor tries to pressure you with the line, "Well I have two other couples ready to put down a deposit for the same day," then let the "other couples" have it. Do not feel pressured into making any decisions you are not ready to make.
Note: This can be a tricky topic; we've worked with many many professional vendors over the years who are just impeccable. But there are also many who are not. Educate yourself about vendors in each category. Don't ask for unreasonable items or services, such as that top-of-the-line, out-of-season floral arrangement and only want to pay $50 for it.
- Consider having your wedding on a day other than Saturday. This tradition comes from the days when most brides were married in a church. Since the church would be occupied for most of Sunday, and the minister and the guests would all be there (in theory), it was just plain impossible to marry on Sunday. So Saturday became the day of choice. But for couples getting married in a location other than a church, (which is becoming more and more common) this old tradition doesn't apply. We have even seen small weddings held on Thursday afternoons and Friday evenings that were very successful. If you are not having many out of town guests, you might want to consider this new alternative. You will probably find that all your vendors are available and charge a better rate because there is a lack of competition on these days. And with plenty of notice, most guests will be able to attend.
More Planning Tips
- When it comes to the guest list, the following rule of thumb may help you keep the list manageable: If you wouldn't invite them to dinner at your house, don't invite them to the wedding. The whole inviting friends of friends and co-workers of your second cousin has just gotten completely out of hand. While wealthy families may "have to" do this for political or status reasons, the average couple does not. We doubt that if you fail to invite the guy who runs the mail room at work you'll be blacklisted from the Christmas party. Your wedding day is a time for those closest to you to celebrate your joy with you and your partner; not for complete or nearly complete strangers to show up for a free meal or show, nor to contribute to your "gift haul."
- Think twice (three times, four times) about having children (especially under 6) in your wedding. Not that it can't be done and turn out well, but children are just VERY unpredictable. If you are easily stressed out, just don't do this, even if you think your sister will be angry with you for not having her little precious as your flower girl. We truly have not seen many weddings with little ones where the child did what they were supposed to do. And many times, the child gets frightened and freezes or starts to cry. While this may look "cute" in your mind, trust us, it's not. It's very stressful. Older children are not usually as much of an issue unless the child is extremely shy or has a reputation for his/her behavior.
- While we're on the subject of children, if you are going to invite children to the wedding/reception, it is a GREAT IDEA to have a special section or table at the reception for the children with puzzles, crayons and paper, and other things to keep them busy. Also, see if you can't get a teenager or adult to be in charge of watching and entertaining the children, even if you have to offer some small compensation. You will be glad you did.
- Don't even think about having a pet in the wedding unless they are a highly trained animal. Pets are less predictable than children and spook easily, especially in crowds where they are not familiar with all of the people, and even sometimes when they are. Even if you think Muffy will just look adorable as your ring bearer, the truth is Muffy will probably run off with the rings and poop under your cake table.
- Do not get your hair cut, colored or permed the week of the wedding. Most cuts, colorings and perms look better/more natural about two weeks later. And if anything goes awry, two weeks gives you time to repair any damage or find a creative way to hide the undesirable feature. Do not try a new and drastic hair style, even two weeks before the wedding. Two weeks just probably won't be enough time to fix it if you don't like it. If you simply want to try wearing your hair differently (as in setting it, putting it up, etc.) try it two or three weeks before the wedding to see if you'll even like it. Again, the morning of the wedding isn't the time to realize you don't like the braids-pinned-to-the-top-of-your-head look.
- The same goes for make-up and nails. If you are going to try new make-up or a new color, do so several weeks before to see if you like the look. Do not have 4 inch fake nails put on the day of your wedding if you have not worn them before. Generally speaking, do not try anything NEW the day of the wedding. Know how things are going to look long before the day so there are no unhappy surprises.
- When booking your honeymoon, book it so that you depart a day or two after the wedding. Most couples are so exhausted by the end of their reception that having to run off to catch a plane or spend 5 hours on the road in a car is not smart...bad idea! Enjoy your reception without having to worry about what time you "have" to leave to catch the plane. If you have out-of-town guests, they'll appreciate being able to spend the extra time with you. Then go home and get some much-needed sleep. (When was the last time you slept?) You don't want to have to get up at the crack of dawn to catch a plane either. You'll still be exhausted, and when you get to your destination, you probably won't be able to check into your hotel until the afternoon. Most hotels have a 3pm registration time. Many couples said that the one or two day "down time" allowed them to catch up on their sleep, organize a few things, visit with out-of-town guests and just generally relax. Then, when they arrived at their honeymoon destination, they were in a happier/more relaxed frame of mind and consequently, had a much nicer time.
- Make sure you are familiar with your state's laws concerning marriage licenses. Check into this well ahead of time so that you know whether or not you will be required to have medical exams/blood tests and if there are any forms/information you will need to provide when applying for the license. Also, find out if there is a mandatory waiting period between obtaining the license and being able to marry. Two days before your wedding is not the time to find out your state has a 3 day waiting period.
A Day or Two (Or Three) Before the Big Day
- Pack an emergency bag (hair spray, safety pins, alka seltzer, medications, etc.) a couple of days before the wedding day. An emergency bag is a good idea all the way around, but if you leave it until the night before or the day of, you are more likely to forget something. This would also add to the seemingly large number of things you have to do or remember on your wedding day. Ask someone else, such as a bridesmaid, to be in charge of remembering to bring the bag.
- Make a list of all vendors, including a contact name, two contact numbers, time of delivery (where applicable), and anything else you might need to know about them. Make at least 5 copies and give 3 to other people. That way, someone will have that list on the wedding day.
- Make a time-line of the wedding day. As silly as this may seem, especially if you are having a small wedding, it will help keep people on schedule and ensure that something is not forgotten. Brides everywhere say how much smoother things went because they had their item by item time-line of the important day. Make enough copies to give one to each vendor and a couple to family/friends you trust.
- Take a well-earned day "off" about a week before your wedding. You and your spouse-to-be would benefit greatly by just spending an afternoon at a spa, walking the beach, or simply being together NOT talking about the wedding, work, your mothers, etc. Go to a movie, out to dinner or to the amusement park if that is your thing. Just something NON-WEDDING related that allows you to relax and do a little bonding together. Many couples who have done this state they were much more relaxed on their wedding day because the day off allowed them to relax, get perspective, and remember why they were getting married. Just keep the "rules" in mind; NO wedding talk, arguing, cell phones, etc. Look at it as a bride and groom mini-vacation.
- Write out all checks (or get the cash, money orders, etc) to vendors a day or two before the wedding day. Put them in sealed envelopes with the vendor's name and give them to someone you trust (typically the best man) to give to each vendor on the wedding day. Make sure this person knows when the vendors are to be paid; before/after the wedding, before/after the reception. Also have enough cash in a separate envelope to tip vendors for exceptional service. Most vendors who provide a service on the day of the wedding should be tipped (just like waiters/waitresses in a restaurant) for service above the norm. This includes the minister! You can look online to see the customary amounts for each vendor. Again, this will be one less thing to do/worry about on the big day.
- If you will not be getting ready for the wedding at home, pack everything you will need for the wedding the day before. Again, do not wait until the morning of to gather these items. It will add to your stress, and you are much more likely to forget something.
- Contact all vendors about a week before the wedding to verify times, numbers, products, services and so forth. Read off all the items on the contract if you must. If there are any questions, issues, etc., a week is usually plenty of time to "fix" a misunderstood issue, come up with a replacement/substitute item, or add or reduce staff as needed. The day before the wedding, or worse, the day of the wedding is not the time to find out the florist couldn't get those rare orchids you wanted in ALL of your bouquets or centerpieces.
- Assign/delegate all wedding day tasks to trusted friends and family who will not be in the wedding party and who are not your parents. The Bride and Groom should NOT have to handle a single thing on their wedding day other than getting ready and looking lovingly into each other's eyes. And it is simply too difficult for one of the wedding party to try to orchestrate things from the altar or while they are having their photos taken (same for parents). You need to ask these people to assist at least a couple of days in advance so they know what is expected of them, and you know the task(s) are being handled. This also provides you time to give your assigned people whatever lists they might need, such as your vendor list, time-line, etc, answer any questions they may have, and find replacements if they cannot (or prefer not to) perform their function.
The Big Day (The Wedding)
- Be sure to bring along some food and drink items for the Bride, Groom and the wedding party to eat/drink while they're getting ready. One of the most common complaints heard from couples about their wedding day is that neither of them got to eat. Even during the reception, the couple is often kept so busy they never actually get to sit and eat. Try to pack crumb-free food items such as raw veggies, finger sandwiches or canapés with bland meat and cheese slices. Do not include items that could upset already nervous tummies, such as spicy foods, acidic foods, or sweets. Also avoid foods that could easily stain wedding attire if dropped (or stain teeth), such as soups, jelly, coffee, etc. Include some bottled water, but have everyone watch their intake so there are no unsolicited "dances" in the middle of the ceremony (i.e., no one has to use the rest room).
- It is a good idea for the bridal party to limit (not necessarily avoid) their alcohol intake for a number of reasons. As already mentioned, tummies are usually nervous to begin with...alcohol will greatly increase the chance that someone will have to vomit (or faint)...especially if the person hasn't eaten much. Second, many couples sadly admit their wedding day was a bit of a blur. Excessive alcohol consumption will only add to this feeling. Third, you'll regret the photos...trust us. And yes, this is in the Ceremony section for all of you who think it will be a good idea to toss back a few shots before the ceremony in order to relax.
- Speaking of photos, consider having your wedding photos taken before the ceremony. There are many good reasons to do so and few negative ones against it. The negative reasons would be:
- You'll have to be ready a good hour and a half earlier than you would if you were taking pictures after the ceremony, and
- The Bride and Groom will "see" each other before the ceremony. Isn't this bad luck?
Ok...let us speak to number 2 (since we can't really argue with number 1). The tradition of not seeing the Bride before the wedding comes from the days when marriages were arranged. It was VERY common for the Groom's family and the Bride's family to make the arrangements without the Bride and Groom ever meeting. In fact, the Groom was not allowed to see the Bride before hand (this is also where the tradition of the veil comes from) so that he could not back out of the marriage if he didn't find her attractive enough. Nice. Now some couples say the reason for this tradition in modern society is so that everyone can get a good look (and maybe a photo) of the Groom's face when he sees his lovely Bride in her wedding attire for the first time. While very romantic, this often doesn't play out as people hope. In most of the weddings we have performed, and in most we have attended, the Groom shows little emotion as the Bride walks down the aisle. This is probably due to his nervousness, (he's trying not to pass out) but nevertheless, you usually end up with shots of the Groom simply standing there...waiting.
A newer and, in our opinion, preferable take on this tradition is for the Bride and Groom to have the opportunity to see each other privately in front of the altar (or where ever the ceremony will take place) right before the photos are taken. Photographers who are familiar with this practice have the bridal party and parents leave the area for a few moments, and then position a camera or cameras a little distance from the altar, typically in an unobtrusive place. They then bring in the Groom and have him stand in place. Once he is ready, they have the Bride enter and join him. The cameras will still capture the Groom's face as he sees his Bride for the first time on their wedding day. But in this more intimate setting (the photographers stay out of the way as much as possible), the couple gets to share their first few moments together privately, and thus, tend to feel more relaxed and "real." Subsequently, couples say that some of the most beautiful and touching moments of their wedding are captured on film during this time. The couple then spends a few minutes alone before the bridal party and parents are brought back in for photos. Another interesting side effect of this practice is that couples say they are more relaxed during the actual ceremony because they got to share this important time together before hand.
Other reasons in favor of having photos taken before the ceremony include:
- Hair, clothing, makeup and flowers are all crisp and fresh. Nothing has been crumpled, wilted, cried off or frizzed. There has been almost no opportunity to spill, stain, unclip or rip. Everyone looks bright and spanking new.
- It is less likely that the photographer will be rushing to get through your list of photos. Everyone will feel the difference. The photo session will seem more relaxed and enjoyable. Photographers usually say they can take more pictures of the Bride and Groom during a pre-ceremony session as well. (Again, because they are not rushed.) When everyone is relaxed, everyone looks better in their photos.
- Your day will seem to flow more smoothly because you will move right from the ceremony to the reception. Most of the "work" will already be out of the way. You'll get to enjoy the momentum and mood of the day.
- Your guests will appreciate not having to endure the endless waiting between the ceremony and reception.
- If there are children in the wedding party, early photos are a must. Children lose patience quickly and get fussy, dirty, wrinkled and tired in a very short amount of time.
- Last but not least, relax and enjoy your wedding. Do not fret about all the things that could go wrong. You have planned everything that could be planned and assigned all the tasks that can be assigned...now let it go! And realize it's not going to be perfect. That's right...it's not going to be perfect. Nothing is. But with a positive and relaxed attitude, you will only remember the beauty of it all. And it will be beautiful. Truly and magically beautiful.
The Big Day (The Reception)
- A great alternative to the receiving line for couples having a smaller wedding is to simply make sure you spend time at each table during the reception. Your guests will appreciate a special visit to their table to say hello, wish you well, and possibly get a snapshot with the Bride and Groom. If you are going to do this though, you need to make sure you only spend 7 or 8 minutes at each table and then move on. Otherwise, you will not get a chance to see/talk with everyone. Also, you need to stay together as you move through the tables to ensure that all the guests have the opportunity to see and talk with BOTH of you. People will be tempted to grab one or the other of you to take a photo, come talk to their table, etc. Couples have often stated that once split, they spent a large portion of the reception looking for or trying to get back to their spouse. Not enjoyable. Stay together.
- It is a good idea for the Bride and Groom to limit (not avoid) their alcohol intake at the reception for a number of reasons (basically the same reasons as for the ceremony.) As already mentioned, tummies are usually nervous to begin with...alcohol will greatly increase the chance that someone will have to vomit (or faint)...especially if the person hasn't eaten much. Second, many couples sadly admit their wedding day was a bit of a blur. Excessive alcohol consumption will only add to this feeling. Third, you'll regret the photos...trust me. While a couple hopes that people will remember their wedding, they usually expect it will be because of the splendor of the day, not because the intoxicated Bride got up on a table and started pelting people with Jordan Almonds.
- The Bride and Groom should take the time to sit and eat almost immediately upon arriving at the reception. As mentioned previously, many couples complain they never got to eat because they were kept so busy at their reception. There will be plenty of time to mingle with guests and do all of the other traditional activities after you have eaten. A hungry Bride and Groom make for a grumpy and tired Bride and Groom. If you're just absolutely convinced this would be rude, cut the cake first and then sit down and eat. Guests are often grateful when the couple cuts the cake early, since many of them only stay to see that tradition. And we have never heard guests complain about a couple eating instead of ...well...anything.
- To reiterate about the little ones, if you are going to invite children to the reception, it is a GREAT IDEA to have a special section or table off to one side specifically for the children with puzzles, crayons and paper and other things to keep them busy. Also see if you can't get a teenager or adult to be in charge of watching and entertaining the children, even if you have to offer some small compensation. You will be very glad you did.
- Try to remember this day is about celebrating the love and the union of two very special people: YOU, the Bride and Groom. It's not about entertaining your guests, or having a nicer wedding than your cousin Fay. Do not feel that you have to include any or all wedding "traditions" if they do not have personal meaning for you (this goes for the ceremony as much as for the reception). Part of the reason many couples describe their wedding day as a blur is because they are on such a tight schedule to complete every single wedding tradition and activity known to man that they never have any time to just enjoy their day. By all means, include those activities that have meaning. But leave the rest out. Regardless of what the etiquette book or your sister-in-law says, you simply do not have to include any element you do not want to include.
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