So you just got engaged...now what?
I'm probably going to get a great deal of backlash from this article so I just want to state first and foremost that THIS IS ONLY MY OPINION so if you don't agree with something you read here, that's totally FINE with me.
I experience a huge number of brides that get engaged and immediately start planning their wedding only to get overwhelmed because things don't go like they played it out in their head over and over hundreds of times since they were a little girl. They know what they want the end result to look like, but they never played out what it takes during the planning process to get their desired results. I end up coaching them through the process like a wedding coordinator (which sometimes makes my job easier) but since I'm not a wedding coordinator, if anything goes wrong, it's on me to make it right. I'm here to tell you, if you don't want to be one of those brides read this before you start your planning process. Hopefully it will be a good guide to easy your stress and make your planning process an enjoyable one.
Let's talk about the most common way a bride typically books her vendors. The first thing a newly engaged bride looks at is her wedding dress. She will search hundreds of photos online via Google or Pinterest to find the perfect dress and as soon as she has an idea of the one she wants to get, she immediately searches local bridal shops to book an appointment to go try on a bunch. Usually this is done with her mother, grandmother, mother-in-law, and her bridesmaids if she already has them picked. This is great if budget is not a factor, but in my past experiences, budget is ALWAYS a factor. I got my dress for $7.47 at Macy's since I had $100 gift card and a 20% off coupon that my daughter found while crawling around on the floor in between the clothes racks. Yes, I am the "QUEEN of FRUGAL" and not ashamed to flaunt it! I'm here to tell you you can buy your wedding dress anytime as long as you take time for alterations into consideration. It definitely does NOT have to be the first thing you get.
The next thing that is on a bride's "To Do" list is picking a date. The most popular dates are the ones that have a certain pattern or fall on a certain holiday. ie: 09-10-11, 02-02-2020, 11-11-11, or Valentine's Day, New Year's Eve, Halloween. This is great if your church or venue has the date you want available but 9 times out of 10 they don't. Unless you are booking YEARS in advance, dates get taken quickly and usually you settle for what's available, not for what you want. This becomes the first step in discouraging a bride into thinking her dream wedding is far from happening.
Depending on the venue a couple decides to book there are vendors that sometimes the venue will suggest in a list form for them to call to help them get through their day. This list includes (in no particular order) Officiants, Florists, Photographers, Bakers, DJ's, Videographers, Limos, Furniture Rental, Photo booths, Makeup Artists, Hairdressers, Tuxedo Shops, Candy Bars, Popcorn Bars, and in some cases entertaining things like Jumpers for kiddos or artists that draw characters while you wait. Although this is valuable information, they don't tell you who to call first or what vendors get booked the fastest and thus become unavailable because of availability. Most couples start by booking the fun stuff first, ie: cake tastings and dinner choices, while forgetting about the things that will be unavailable if they wait too long. I constantly hear that I am the LAST thing on a bride's list to book and to this day I can't wrap my head around that. I even had a bride and groom once tell me because they paid $800 for their cake they only had $500 left in their budget for photography. As much as I wanted to help that couple I just couldn't do it. Call me crazy but I know I would have regretted taking on a wedding for that amount of money.
If I can help one couple with this information I am about to give then I will consider my job done. AGAIN, if I offend anyone, or you don't agree with what I am about to say, THIS IS ONLY MY OPINION. I cannot stress that enough and I know someone will lash back at me, but again, I'm only trying to help. So, read at your OWN RISK! Let's begin...
I'm going to start at the beginning assuming you are already engaged and have your ring. That is hopefully something the groom took his time to pick out and you absolutely LOVE it because he did that on his own. Now the fun begins, and you the bride is in control. So where do you start? The very FIRST thing you should look for is a professional wedding coordinator. So many brides skip this step because they think they can do it themselves and when they realize how hard that actually is, they turn to family and friends for help and that can turn bad very quickly. Wedding coordinators are trained to LISTEN to what you want and guide you in the best direction for your situation. You may think that you can save money by not hiring a wedding coordinator but PLEASE BELIEVE ME when I say this is money well spent and you will not regret getting a good, professional, wedding coordinator. I have worked many weddings in my 35 years with and without wedding coordinators and let me tell you how appreciative I am when I know there will be one at the wedding. They help the flow of the actual wedding day as well as the planning process so the stress level involved is virtually gone. They help you with budget and timelines, the best of the best vendors, and generally they can give you the best advice around. It ranks #1 on my list of vendors you should get.
#2 on my list I suggest you look for is a location to have your wedding and your coordinator can be a HUGE help in this. They can really get down to specific locations once they know what you are looking for and the budget you want to stay in. There are hundreds and sometimes thousands of places to get married so this can be the most overwhelming part of the planning process, but once this is figured out, not only will you have your date but you will also feel relieved that you are making progress. The best part is most locations have "day of" coordinators and vendors they recommend and they will give you a list to call and find some you might want to work with. Problem is, which one do you call first?
There are two types of wedding vendors and it is important to know the difference between them. The first kind of vendor can only do one wedding at a time and they are the ones that usually cost more. These generally include venues, photographers, DJ's, videographers, and coordinators. The second type are the vendors that can serve several weddings in one day and generally cost less. Examples include bakers, florists, hair dressers, make-up artists, candy bars, limos, and a few more I cannot pinpoint at the moment but I'm sure will come up. Most couples will book the later first because cost is lower and I think they want to feel a sense of accomplishment by booking a bunch right away, while neglecting the crucial ones, and that can be a total nightmare. If you consider the order of importance we have already talked about you should have the coordinator and venue booked. Why not book your photographer, dj, and videographer next? After all they will be the bulk of your budget and THAT should give you a sense of accomplishment once tackled.
I want to stop right here and point out some very important things about booking your photographer, videographer, and dj. Things you probably didn't think about but they will make PERFECT sense and once I tell you, you will not be able to get it out of your head. Think about this for a second: You meticulously pick out your dress because after all this IS your wedding dress and it HAS to be amazing! You pick out your beautiful flowers because you want everything to look spectacular because after all YOU are going to be breathtaking. You pick out the most classy tuxedos for the men to wear because they deserve to feel special too. And you pick out the most beautiful cake you have ever seen because you want this to be the centerpiece to your reception. But after all this is over what will you have to remember all these particular things you spent so much time choosing? Enter your photographer and videographer. Your memories will be the best thing you take away from the wedding but the photos and video will be your preserved memories for you to share with people that were at the wedding and people that weren't. This I think is the most powerful thing about photos. You can share them with anyone, anywhere, anytime. WOW! Powerful. Since the photographer and videographer can only do one wedding a day please don't wait to book them. They book up FAST and very early so PLEASE don't hesitate on this step. If you have a good wedding coordinator they will tell you the same thing. This is my #3 and #4 on my list of importance.
Next up: the DJ. Your guests are going to be the people in your life that are most important and you hold nearest and dearest to your heart. They took the time to come out to your wedding, bring you a gift, and get dressed up. They may not remember what song you walked down the aisle to or what you said in your vows. They may not remember what color your bridesmaids wore or your first dance song either. Heck, they may not even remember what they ate for your wedding dinner. BUT I can honestly say 99% of the time they will remember if they had a good time. If you have a good DJ that is gonna make a world of difference. When my husband and I got married it POURED all night but because we had the most amazing DJ everyone danced all night, in the rain, soaking wet, and they still talk about it to this day! I can use my wedding as a personal example but because I have done hundreds of weddings I've seen some of the best AND worst DJ's in my time. IT CAN MAKE OR BREAK YOUR WEDDING so please choose wisely when picking a DJ. This ranks #5 on my list of importance.
Once these "Top Five" are chosen and officially booked I can assure you that you will feel a sense of accomplishment and now you can relax while choosing the rest of your vendors. This is the part you can really have fun doing by bringing guests with you to experience and enjoy the planning process. Bring your girls with you to help pick out your wedding dress while sipping champagne and snacking on cheese and crackers. Go cake tasting with your groom because after all, cake is cake and grooms like cake! Include your mother and mother-in-law when picking out your flowers because you want them involved and moms love flowers. And have a "practice run" with your hair and makeup and then go on a really fancy date with the groom if you don't mind him seeing a "sneak peek" of what he's getting on the BIG DAY. And since you have a wedding coordinator, if any of this gets overwhelming, call her! That is WHY you have a wedding coordinator, after all, and she (or he) is there for you to lean on if you need help and get you back on track so you can enjoy the planning process. Your wedding day will go by SO FAST, so you need to enjoy the planning process because if you don't, you will be so unhappy and regret not having done that.
In closing I would like to offer a dozen little budget-friendly tips to keep in mind when planning your wedding:
1. Look for dress sales happening in your area because you can find "last year's styles" at significant discounts and believe me when I say NO ONE will know it's a "Last Year Style" at your wedding.
2. Pick flowers that will be "in season" when your wedding date arrives so you do not have to pay premium prices to get certain flowers that may not be locally available. A good florist can make ANY types of flowers amazing with their creative touch.
3. Select a beautiful cake for your reception and "cutting of the cake" photos but don't worry about buying a super huge cake that feeds all your guests. You can buy separate cup cakes for the guests or even sheet cakes that no one sees that can be cut and served after dinner.
4. Get married during the week if you want the biggest discount when booking a venue. Don't worry about your guests not being able to attend because it is during the week. With enough notice, the ones that want to be there will, trust me. If it is important to them, they will make it.
5. If you are a veteran or active military, use this to your advantage. Just about every vendor offers military discounts so don't be afraid to ask.
6. Renting tuxedos can be expensive so consider buying suits instead. There are suit outlets that sell suits for around $99 and that can be cheaper than renting a tuxedo for the weekend. On the plus side, the groomsmen will be able to keep them.
7. On the flip side, bridesmaids can rent dresses (believe it or not) because let's be real, no one wears their bridesmaid dress EVER AGAIN. You can even rent your bridal gown if you really want to save money and because you will NEVER wear that dress again.
8. Invitations can be pricy so I like to point out what your ultimate goal when choosing them. If you are going for a certain "look" to introduce people to your wedding you might have to pay extra for that. ie: Halloween wedding, Masquerade wedding, New Year's Eve wedding, Winter Wonderland wedding, etc. But if your ultimate goal is just to invite guests to your wedding with certain info, save money by making them yourself. This can be super fun, personal, intimate, if you are a crafty person, and you can include family and friends in helping you make/design them.
9. The exact same can be said for your wedding favors so if you can get creative and frugal make them. If you really want to save money here you can also eliminate then altogether. I do quite a bit of weddings that have no favors at all. They are not a "necessity", more a "luxury" and if the budget does not allow for such luxuries, don't be afraid to exclude them.
10. If you think you can save money by holding a backyard wedding, I'm here to tell you DON'T! Professional wedding venues include so many things you don't even think of from tables and linens to bathrooms and trash bins, that if you rent all the things you NEED to hold a backyard wedding the amount of money you will pay along with the amount of stress you will deal with, you will WISH you booked a professional venue.
11. The best way to cut your budget is cut your guest list. This can be VERY hard to do, but if you can do it, you will reap the biggest savings.
12. Lastly, if none of these savings are possible, this is the best advice I can give. Figure out your best budget and the DOUBLE IT.
Weddings are expensive but there are things you can do and help you can get. If I am missing anything, please let me know. I have been shooting weddings for 35 years and have seen a lot. If I think of anything else I will update this article. Happy planning...