So, you’ve enjoyed the initial bliss of engagement, you’re now comfortable with the word ‘fiancé,’ and then suddenly, reality hits: someone has to plan this upcoming wedding! From picking the ceremony and reception location, deciding on size, to the details such as cakes and flowers, you and your mate will have lots of decisions to make together in the very near future. As weddings grow in extravagance and cost each year, more couples are finding that they have to plan early and make arrangements sometimes over a year in advance. When planning a wedding, first set a budget, then set a timeline to get things done; attack the larger, more important items first, relax, then move on to the details.
Today, couples spend more on weddings than ever before; an average wedding costs approximately $25,000-$35,000. Many couples decide to ‘splurge’ on their weddings because they feel that such a special occasion calls for all the best a city can offer. A wedding (of course!) is a special occasion, however, the love shared between two people is what’s special; an extravagant wedding does not ensure a successful marriage. Though some brides may see a budget as a burden, it can actually be a great tool for couples to narrow down their choices such as which reception hall to use, or how many guests to invite. As a general rule, allot 50% of your budget to the reception (location, food, drinks), then 10% each to flowers, photography, music, and attire (bridal gown, tuxes). The remaining 10% can be used for favors, invitations, and other miscellaneous details. If you are planning a $10,000 wedding, you have $5,000 to spend on the reception site, so make reservations accordingly.
Another other important factor to determine early in the wedding planning (this will also help you choose a location) is how many people you and your fiancé would like to invite to share in your special day. Is it important to you that all of your family, even the second cousins that you never see, be there to watch you get married? Or, would you rather have only your immediate family and very close friends there to witness your vows? Some couples who feel torn between the two options will have a very small wedding ceremony with just immediate family, and then invite everyone they know to a large reception. Remember, the bigger the group, the more the wedding will cost; generally, receptions held in a hotel will cost over $40.00 per plate. Whatever size you decide, make sure that you and your fiancé are happy with the number. Do not let guilt or pressure from family members make your decision for you, this is your wedding, and you should be the one to decide just how many people you want to share your day with you!
With decisions on budget and size now set, your options for ceremony and reception sites should be narrowed down quite a bit (see, the budgeting helps!). Traditionally, wedding ceremonies are set in a church or temple, but many couples choose to get married in outdoor botanical gardens or backyards (weather permitting) as well. Advantages to getting married in a church include suitable seating, a ready-made aisle and altar, and an organist or pianist to provide music for the ceremony. A church will usually require a minimal fee from a couple to marry them which helps to pay for the pastor’s time and use of the facility. An outdoor wedding ceremony will involve more planning because items must be rented such as chairs for the guests, an aisle runner, and a tent in case of rain. Also, a musician must be hired to perform outdoors during the ceremony. The costs of an indoor and outdoor ceremony may be comparable, but the outdoor ceremony will most likely take more planning attention. Once the ceremony site is chosen, move on to the reception site. Hotels, restaurants, and country clubs are very popular choices for receptions, as they usually offer comprehensive in-house food and beverage service, and provide seating, linens and place settings, and a dance floor for the night. Receptions in these venues tend to be more formal and more expensive – watch out for added fees such as cake cutting (it can be over a dollar per person!). For couples on a tight budget with lots of friends, consider holding the reception outside and having a big barbeque or buffet-style meal as opposed to traditional sit-down service. Once again, with an outdoor reception there will be more to plan, but you will have more control over what type of food and drink are served and the total cost of the reception. Parks make a great setting for outdoor receptions and are very affordable to reserve; the natural outdoor beauty requires very little added decoration. You should reserve your wedding and reception sites six or more months in advance (for some popular places, you will need up to a year). Be prepared to put down a deposit as most reception sites require a certain amount be put down to reserve your day.
Now, as you move on to the next step, feelings become involved, so proceed carefully when selecting your wedding party. For brides, choosing attendants can be very tricky because while you may have vowed to have your grade school best friend in your wedding someday, friends change, closeness changes, and selecting those few to stand up becomes complicated by guilt and memories. To be honest, it is almost inevitable that someone will get their feelings hurt by the bride’s choices, so just be true to your heart. Whom of your friends do you think will be there even once you’re married and have children? Will any of your friends shirk the responsibility of being a bridesmaid? Most often, best friends and relatives (sisters, brothers, cousins) are chosen to stand up, and the number of attendants on each side can range from 1 to 10 (or more!). If you want to include friends or family, but cannot fit them into the wedding party, give them another task like the reading of a favorite passage during the ceremony, or greeting incoming church guests. Choosing to have many bridesmaids can become expensive with more bouquets to order and more gifts to purchase, so keep that in mind when deciding your number.
If you have chosen bridesmaids wisely, you can get them to help you organize many of the wedding details; hopefully you have at least one maid that has been in a wedding before to help you! Have a couple bridesmaids accompany you to pick out the bridesmaid dresses – this way you can have other opinions, but not an overwhelming amount. Although some brides let the maids select a dress on their own, it is much harder for the bridesmaids to reach a combined decision because no one girl has authority over the others, so choosing a dress may become awkward. For a bride that wants each girl to feel comfortable, select a color, a dress length, and let each maid choose her own. Some bridal salons have mix-and-match pieces, so you could even specify a color and skirt, and then let each girl choose her own top (this works well for a bridal party that varies greatly in size and shape). As a bride, be sympathetic to the girls’ needs and think of the times you were a bridesmaid; if you have a close friend with red hair, do not choose a bright pink dress! Most bridesmaids pay for their own dress, shoes, accessories, hotel rooms, etc, so be conscious of the dress cost. If you can afford it, offering to pay half of the dress cost would be greatly appreciated by your bridesmaids. Manufacturing and shipping usually takes 8-12 weeks for a bridesmaid dress, so order them about six months before your wedding day to allow enough time for delivery and alterations.
Congratulations…the ‘big stuff’ is planned (hopefully your bridesmaids helped you find a bridal gown as well already)! Take a breath, relax, and think about something else for a minute. Ok. Now, vast amounts of options exist when deciding details such as the type of cake you’ll order or the color and type of flowers, so begin to form ideas about colors and flavors. In the months of June and August (most popular wedding months), florists and bakers can book up fast, so be sure to reserve your date at least five months in advance with your favorite vendors. Magazines can be a great resource for getting pictures of the cakes and flowers you like, so rip out those pages, save them in a binder, and give them to your florist or baker to help convey your visions. Instead of a traditional tiered cake, many couples are deciding on smaller individual cakes, cupcakes, and other desserts to offer like chocolates or cheesecake. Your guests will love choosing their own dessert, and many times the cost of ordering different items will be less than the cost of a huge cake to feed everyone. Or, if you still like the cake idea but need to save money, order a smaller cake for display, and have a sheet cake cut up in the kitchen and served to the guests instead. To save money on flowers, pick blooms that are in season during the time of your wedding. Tulips and peonies are great during spring, while dahlias and chrysanthemums are great for a fall wedding. Some companies even offer kits to make your own paper flowers – not only are they economical, but they’re reusable as well! Get creative with decorations, have your friends and relatives help you, and most important of all, enjoy the time you spend planning your day.
One detail that sometimes gets overlooked, but should not be, is planning a honeymoon. A honeymoon will provide time for the both of you to rejuvenate together after the wedding is over, so make sure to include the honeymoon planning as a top priority. Whether you go to a tropical island for two weeks, or camping for two days, allow yourselves time alone together to enjoy your new married status!
Although stress and anxiety will surely take over at some point during the planning process, try to keep the bigger picture in mind, you know, the one where you and your new spouse travel off into the sunset to live happily ever after. Planning a wedding is time consuming, so get yourself a plan, and use a methodical approach (slow and steady) to get your day in order. Do not be afraid to ask for help from friends and family– many of them have planned weddings and understand how demanding the process can be. Finally, have fun planning the day; if you’re lucky, it will be the only wedding you’ll ever have!