You are getting married! Wedding planning is a million things mixed into one, and you go through all kinds of emotions during the process like you are permanently on your period.
The beginning is always fun when you are on Pinterest going through all the inspiration boards, picturing your wedding to be exactly the way you envisioned. It starts to get frustrating when you realized you need to come back down closer to planet Earth as money becomes a discussion. Then it just becomes downright STRESSFUL when you are counting down the days, trying to tie up all the loose ends, figuring who sits with who, and more importantly who CANNOT sit with who. But after the big day, when you look back, it was all worth it – the stress, the fights, the tension, but also the joy, the laughter, and the memories.
Having one recently married bride and two bride-to-be’s in the group, we have come up with 7 basic wedding planning tips all newly engaged should keep in mind.
Our brides’ perspectives reflect different stages of the wedding planning process. There is Renée, the reflective wife who had her wedding 6 months ago. Then there is Susan, the bride-to-be who is only 3 months away from her big day and is feeling all the stress. And there is Michelle, the newly engaged who is still in a bit of the planning honeymoon period. We also enlisted our good friend Irma, owner of Irma Soetikno Events, to share her insights and expertise.
Irma: When planning a wedding, most couples begin with a budget. However, most couples do not consider what goes in that budget. Prioritize what is most important to you and your fiancé; which means both the bride and groom may have to give up certain wants and items. The bride may want to spend more on flowers but the groom insists on spending more on alcohol. Decide which is more important or find a middle ground to compromise on. Make a list of each of your must haves and start from there.
Renée: When my husband and I were planning our wedding, we had an idea of the total budget, but we never figured out how much on what. When I met with a potential florist and she asked me what my budget was, I was caught off guard and did not know what to say. That also made it difficult for her proposal as she wasn’t sure how elaborate she could be with the arrangments. It is important to make a list of all your must haves, and how much you plan on allotting to each item, as you can easily end up overspending. Venue will always take up the majority of the budget. If your guest count is on the low side, consider having a wedding at a restaurant, as they tend to be less expensive. Plus you really cannot go wrong with the food – it is a restaurant after all! We had ours at Café Pinot in Downtown Los Angeles, which was perfect as the garden next to it provided an amazing setting for our wedding ceremony.
Susan: This is so important as having a budget keeps you out of debt! You should determine as a couple what you are realistically able to spend, then allocate to the top categories that are most important to you. Even if you are lucky to have parents contribute to the wedding, you should still work around a budget. I recommend you creating an excel file where you track your budget against your actuals. If there is a negative variance, you will need to either to cut back or take away from elsewhere. Our allocation belongs to the following categories: 61% VENUE (which includes food, bar, cake, DJ, photobooth), 11% PHOTO/VIDEOGRAPHY, 8% FLOWERS, 7% WEDDING PLANNER, 5% APPAREL (which consists of gown & bridesmaid dresses, hair & makeup for all, and shoes), 4% GIFTS (to bridal party), 2% STATIONARY, 2% PARTIES (dinner rehearsal, day of wedding breakfast/lunch). Every little thing adds up without you realizing; so checking your expenses every now and then against what you are tracking to will (hopefully) keep you away from easily swiping that credit card.
Michelle: Before you even go off and start visualizing your dream wedding, sitting down and discussing the budget with your fiancé is a must. My fiancé recently read an article on Yahoo finance that one of the biggest mistakes a young couple make is spending too much money on the wedding that unfortunately may leave them in debt. This is something we really kept close to our hearts as we were planning our budget. We wanted to be able to go and do things after the wedding, like a nice romantic honeymoon and plan future vacations. Just remember your wedding is only one day, a special day indeed, but only one day in your happily ever after. Wouldn’t you want to be able to celebrate your happily ever after for the rest of your life together? Discussing a realistic budget with your partner is definitely the first step in planning your wedding.
Irma: Many brides and grooms consider themselves well organized. This is good, but regardless on how organized one may be, planning a wedding is a huge undertaking. You may not need to hire a professional wedding planner to plan your entire event, but make sure that you do hire one for the wedding day. Nowadays some venues offer a “day of” coordinator. Their priorities may slightly differ than those unassociated with the venue. Make sure your family and friends get to enjoy the event. Don’t give or make them work resulting in missed moments. Create memories with them, not without them.
Renée: I thought I could do it all by myself without a wedding planner or coordinator. But when I hit three months before the wedding, I knew I needed help. There are so many details a bride can miss when planning a wedding, especially the little things. Plus wedding planners and coordinators always have their own network of trusted vendors, sometimes it is just easier to go with a recommendation than blindly searching for one. Day of coordinator is a must, as you need to have your peace of mind and enjoy your big day, instead of worry about what happens when and coordinate all your vendors.
Susan: Absolute YAY!!! A wedding planner keeps you in check and nudges you to keep a timeline so everything is going as smooth as possible instead of last minute. Without one, planning your own wedding can be super stressful, sometimes creating tentions between you and your partner. A good wedding planner or coordinator can act as a mediator and help come up with a compromised solution. If you want your vision to come to life, a wedding planner is the way to go; after all, two heads are better than one 😉
Michelle: I am a planner by nature, and I had a really specific idea of how our wedding should look like that I actually thought I could do all the planning and coordination by myself. Alas, I did not realize planning a wedding is like a second job, especially a destination wedding. I found myself using work hours to research on venues, flowers, etc. I also found it difficult to schedule time speaking to vendors since my desired location is 5 hours behind. I finally conceded and hired a wedding coordinator, and the whole planning process has become much less stressful, since someone else is doing all the leg work for me. Of course, at the end of the day, you and your fiancé still have to make the big and tough decisions, which is also the fun part.
Renée: 90% of the time, the bride drives the wedding planning, and the groom just sits back and goes with the flow. Although he doesn’t seem like he cares, he secretly does. It is also his big day afterall! Make sure you do not get blindsighted by all your excitement and visions, and forget about the hubby! You are going into this marriage together, the wedding should be something that represents both of you, not just one of you. Marriage is all about compromises, and this is your big test! A wedding is a big, one time investment, and you do not want either one of you to have any regret or resentment after the fact.
Susan: I always try to plan together because it is exciting. Every time I think of something, I would consult with him; but sometimes I feel as if I am forcing him to be involved in something he is not interested in. So I get disappointed. Actually, upset. No, frustrated. Emotional. It is only when I raise my voice and tear up that he listens. This whole experience of planning together, “for us”, whether it is me dictating or the other way around has definitely led to a ton of compromises.
Michelle: From the very beginning, I wanted my fiancé involved in the decision making process. It is imperative that both of you sit down and discuss your ideal wedding so that you may iron out key specifics like outdoor vs. indoor wedding, traditional church vs. non-denominational, etc.. Another key thing my fiancé and I did was open a shared email account. For every quote or communication I have had with the coordinator, my fiancé has easy access to it. This eliminates having to forward emails to each other which you could end up forgetting to do, as well as emails getting lost within each of your already cluttered inbox. The shared email inbox will pretty much only contain wedding planning info and specifics.
Irma: If you are a creative bride or groom, by all means feel free to create everything. It lends a personal touch to your event. However, consider the following: timeline, cost and your creative limits. Some things may not be worth the time spent and may cheapen the overall look. Then gather your most detailed and creative bridal party to help you. Good Luck!
Renée: DIY is fun and caters to whatever your heart desires, especially when you are specific like I am. I do have a bit of creative juice, which helped with many of the little things. I designed and put together our wedding invites. I also bought a lot of things on Etsy and added my personal touch after. Plus it is always fun to organize a workshop day with your bridal party! However please know your limits. There are certain things that should definitely be left to the professionals, such as floral arrangements. The last thing you want to worry about is buying flowers the day before the wedding and putting them together the night before!
Susan: If you are like me and can be a procrastinator at times, DIY may not be the best option. I prefer to set a budget and buy everything; otherwise you will see me and my bridal party working the day or 2 days before the wedding, sweat-shop styling away in an assembly line. But do not get me wrong, I do love DIY’s; I just need my wedding planner to give me that extra push to do things in advance.
Michelle: DIY is definitely a fun and creative way to make your wedding truly something that showcases who you are as a couple. Just be careful on trying to take on too much and asking your bridal party for too much. Know your and your bridal party’s creative limitations as well as time limitations. Also consider the less is more approach. As I am planning my destination wedding, I know there really isn’t time for me to be doing a lot of DIY once we get to the island, plus we will not be bringing home any of the decorations. Good Luck!
Irma: Your friends and family are a great source of support for your wedding. They can not only give you advice and recommend connections, but they can also help you on the day of by being ushers or guest book attendants. If you do utilize your friends or family, ensure to give them tasks that will not conflict with activities they can also partake in; such as group photos. Let your coordinator take care of most things so that your family and guests can enjoy celebrating with you.
Renée: This is the time for you to capitalize on all your connections, especially your friends and family! Have a friend who is a part-time DJ? Ask if he/she would like to spin at your wedding. Have a friend who does wedding planning? Utilize her expertise and her vendor network. It is your big day and most people will be more than glad to help, and be part of your special day!
Susan: Yes, your friends are after all, your FRIENDS! They will gladly help whether it is using their discount to help you get items, or offering their own service of doing make up for you on your big day! It is your special day and your friends will be honored to partake in anything that will make you happy!
Michelle: Utilize your circle of friends as well as your family. You never know if that Uncle who works for a hotel can offer any sort of discount you can use for your rehearsal dinner or even your reception. Even just 10% off is huge especially when you are trying to stay within a budget.
Irma: This is a sensitive topic for any couple. You cannot possibly invite everyone so really think about who you want to be a part of your special day. If caught to make a decision between guests, a good rule of thumb may be the 5-year contact rule. Not having kept in touch for 5 years, one can assume you are not that close to that person. There are also ways to indicate guest preference in your invitation. For example, an “adult only reception” or “we have reserved 2 seats in your honor” can limit your invitees to a certain number count. Consult your Coordinator/Planner for the right etiquette.
Renée: What we asked ourselves was, will we still be close to that person 3 years from now? There are always new friends in your life, that does not mean you have to invite this dude you just met two months ago who happens to be hanging out with your group of friends. The people at your wedding should be the ones who truly matter. There are times when it is going to be a very difficult decision to make, especially when you are trying to keep it under a certain headcount. Unless it is a big fat Asian or Persian wedding, then good luck with the guestlist of Auntie Marys or Uncle Joes, whom you have only met once in your life and probably will never see again. 😉
Susan: Invite the main ones nearest and dearest to your heart! If he or she is far away, have you spoken to him or her in the last year to keep in touch? If the answer is yes, this means you care to keep in touch, so invite away. Wish me luck on the Persian wedding. Namaste.
Michelle: If you and your fiancee have a huge family and are worried about the amount of people you need to invite to the wedding, consider a destination wedding. We also considered everyone we know who have been a part of our relationship. If they were not, then they do not need to be invited.
Irma: While a destination wedding is a great option, the planning process and logistics involved can be more difficult. One would have to consider such factors such as currency exchange, transportation, accommodation etc. With that said, a destination wedding doesn’t always mean cheaper. I highly recommend hiring an event coordinator where you live and they can help you with all the planning and communication with the coordinator at your intended destination.
Renée: Aside from our Los Angeles wedding, we also had one in Hong Kong since many of our family members and friends are there. It was certainly difficult to communicate with the time change, and there was language barrier with certain vendors. I highly recommend anyone who is planning a destination wedding to visit the location and set up in-person meetings with all your vendors. It is always much easier to get things sorted out and iron out all the questions in person. We were lucky enough to have my mother-in-law help coordinate everything for us in Hong Kong. If you do not have any close friends or family members who can be your go-to person at the destination, I would highly recommend hiring a local coordinator.
So there you go, our 7 wedding planning tips for all you newly engaged! When it gets stressful and out of hand, just remember to take a deep breath and think about the fact that your are marrying your true love (or at least we hope so). Make it fun, keep it light, and most importantly, enjoy the process!
Los Angeles wedding pictures copyright of Caroline Tran Photography (http://www.carolinetran.net).