Wedding planning should be way more fun than it is stressful. Step into the experience of our managing editor as she shares her advice for the next bride-to-be.
It’s a whirlwind of emotions to be a bride. Planning can be stressful, but at the same time, if you multiply every childhood birthday and Christmas morning you’ve ever experienced, maybe it will come close to the anticipation and excitement of your wedding day.
As a newlywed myself, I’m still experiencing wedding day withdrawl. It was such a great day. True, it took a lot of planning, but it’s a day I reflect upon fondly and frequently. When it comes to advice for the next bride-to-be, here’s what I have to say.
First of all, have a wedding.
I know some people are fine with just popping over to the courthouse, but think about it. This is an opportunity to have all of your favorite people, everyone you love, in the same place at the same time. It’s a surreal experience.
Everyone says that at the end of your life, you’re more likely to regret the things you didn’t do than the things you did. So, give yourself permission to plan your dream wedding.
Make a budget early on.
Before you even pick a date, figure out who’s contributing to the cause. Are the bride’s parents paying for everything, or a significant chunk? Are the groom’s parents willing to help out? Or is the couple financing their own day?
Don’t assume you’re getting a large check, then sign a bunch of contracts and regret it later.
Once you have a rough estimate of what everyone is willing to contribute, you’ll have a better idea of how much you can spend on each vendor. Money can be the most stressful part about planning a wedding, so the more honest and accurate you are about your budget in the beginning, the easier it will be to meet with vendors in your price range (and ultimately just focus on preparing for marriage).
Within your budget, figure out what details are most important to you.
I personally recommend splurging on a good photographer and talented DJ, since your wedding photos will bring you joy for the rest of your life, and your DJ is the focal point of having a fun reception. But everyone is different. It’s OK to compromise on stuff you don’t really care about anyway.
Attend premarital counseling.
Marriage is a big life change, even if it doesn’t necessarily feel like it on a day-to-day basis. In premarital counseling, you’ll be confronted with the tough questions and hypotheticals. Do you both want kids? Would you consider adoption? How much money do you think it’s OK to spend without telling your spouse? (That question still makes me chuckle, since my husband and I originally had very different answers). If you’re religious, these meetings may take place in a church environment. But even if you’re planning a secular wedding, it’s still a good idea to meet with a third party to talk about the “big stuff” before the “big day.”
Involve your future husband in the planning process.
It’ll be more fun this way, and you won’t have to feel like you’re planning a wedding by yourself. Give him access to your Google spreadsheet so he can enter his family members’ names and addresses. Have him come to meetings with photographers, florists, DJs and other vendors so you can both make sure there’s a good vibe. Ask him to help address save-the-dates and invitations (or at least have him lick the envelops if his handwriting is hieroglyphic). And fellas – you may just want to sit on the sidelines so your bride can have “everything she wants,” but the truth is she’ll appreciate your opinions. There’s a lot of decision-making throughout the planning process, and it’s nice to have your perspective.
Start touring venues right away!
I couldn’t believe how many Saturdays were unavailable when my brand-new fiancé and I started looking at venues. Some places were almost fully booked two years into the future, and even Friday dates were slim pickings. Fortunately, we were willing to be flexible with our date, which helped us secure a venue we loved.
It may feel like a lot of pressure, but once you have a venue, find your photographer and DJ sooner rather than later. Unlike other vendors, they can only do one wedding per day. You’ll definitely want a band or DJ who brings the party you envision while keeping your timeline in mind. And we all know the photos of your special day still remain once the flowers die and the cake is consumed. It’s exciting and relieving to have these vendors locked in.
(Not to sound contradictory, but sometimes people forget that the flowers and cake are in your wedding photos that you plan to frame around your house, post on social media, and overall constantly look at. So, it’s not that these elements are automatically less important, it’s just that you have more time to shop around.)
When choosing your vendors, don’t be afraid to meet with multiple people.
The Rockford region has so many options for photographers, DJs, florists, caterers, cake bakers, hair stylists and videographers, not to mention the dozens of shops for formal wear and jewelry. If there’s a vendor you’re interested in, make an appointment to see, first of all, if they can accomplish your vision, and second of all, if your personalities click. Each photographer has their own unique style; every caterer has different menus and fees. Some vendors are more serious throughout the planning process, while others are more laid-back. You should feel comfortable asking your vendors a million questions; they’re your go-to, trusted advisors throughout the planning process. And yes, it does feel crummy when you can’t hire everyone and need to send “rejection emails,” but you’re allowed to inquire and choose who you want to work with.
Pro Tip: Bridal expos are a great place to meet various vendors face-to-face and garner ideas for your wedding day. Oftentimes, vendors offer promotions or discounts if you book their services on-site, so it doesn’t hurt to look them up beforehand.
Let people pamper you.
A hair/makeup trial? Absolutely. A free glass of wine while touring a venue? Don’t mind if I do. This especially applies when searching for a caterer – they should be willing to overwhelm you with food during your tasting (my husband and I had leftovers for a week!). Once you sign on the dotted line, you’re locked into spending a lot of money. So, let people prove to you why they’re the best choice.
Take note of who follows up.
Once you reach out to a few vendors and have your initial meetings, see who’s actually getting back to you. I’m not saying they need to reply immediately to every email or text message, especially since business hours vary in the wedding industry. But, if you’re having trouble getting in touch with someone and you haven’t even signed a contract yet, that’s a red flag. Make sure to work with reliable people who put you at ease.
Go with your gut and don’t look back.
If you’re generally indecisive, it’s time for an intervention. I was this way when searching for a dress – I genuinely loved a bunch of options and couldn’t decide. Then I started searching for problems in everything I tried on, which just made it harder to choose.
Narrow down your options, ask your questions, recognize there aren’t any “bad” choices by now, and make a decision. Once you make a decision, don’t doubt yourself. (Do not Google the other options you could have gone with!) Once I finally picked a dress, I realized how much I loved it and how silly it was that I spent so much time stressing out about it. If you start backtracking, rely on your fiancé to calm you down and provide perspective. The day is about getting married, remember?
Write thank you letters as you go along.
These pile up quickly, so try to stay on top of them. If someone sends you their regrets and an early wedding gift, write them a thank you letter right away. It’ll decrease your workload later.
Make your own ground rules for plus-ones.
Some people say everyone above age 18 gets a plus-one, while some people enforce a strict “No ring, no bring” policy. Whatever you decide, be confident in your decision and stick with it.
For our wedding, we allowed anyone who was flying in to bring a plus-one. However, we asked our local single friends to come stag since they all knew each other, anyway. Figure out what makes the most sense for you (and don’t feel bad about it!).
Consider doing a receiving line.
It’s difficult to talk to everyone during your reception, and you probably want to spend that time on the dance floor, anyway. Organizing a receiving line right after the ceremony is the easiest way to greet all of your guests. At your rehearsal, make sure to confirm the details with your wedding coordinator, wedding party and parents so that everyone is ready.
Do a first look.
I can’t recommend this enough. THIS was my absolute favorite part of our entire wedding day. Find a location (or ask your photographer to scout out a location) where the groom can turn around and see the bride for the first time. It’s a surreal and giddy moment that you’ll always treasure.
Pro tip: This is also a great moment to give each other gifts, such as handwritten letters.
Write down all of the photos you want, and give the list to your photographer.
Especially when it comes to posed shots, make sure to write down all the combinations of people who you want in photos. The bride with her mom; the bride with her mom and mother-in-law; the bride and groom with both moms; etc. I will say, though, these photos aren’t as much fun as the candid shots you’ll get.
One month to go? Delegate.
If there’s a task you can pawn off, this is the perfect time to ask your bridesmaids for help. See if one of them can make the party bus playlist or day-of emergency kit. Or better yet, cut items off your to-do list completely. I know you wanted to clean your ring again and make little gift baskets for your out-of-town guests, but it’s really OK if you don’t. Just make sure the important things are taken care of, like finalizing the seating chart and confirming you have a ride once the reception is over. Also, it helps to schedule calendar alerts for your final payments so you don’t accidentally miss any deadlines.
Have a point person for any last-minute questions your guests may have.
The best man, maid of honor or even your parents can help answer questions about where the venue is in relation to the church, or when the cocktail hour begins. They can also hang on to your phone throughout the day so you can “live in the moment.”
Anticipate a touch of rudeness.
The truth is, people show up uninvited. People don’t show up at all. People “get sick” a few days before. Unfortunately, people are rude when it comes to weddings. Your guest list will fluctuate down to the wire, but you don’t have to let it bother you. Anticipate that last-minute changes will happen, and focus on all of your amazing guests who traveled from near and far to be with you.
Take pictures at your rehearsal dinner.
They don’t need to be professional – just a cellphone will do. But you’ll be glad you’ve captured memories of this special event in its own right. Also, this is a great time for siblings and parents to give speeches if they’re not already speaking at the reception.
Remember to eat!
You may feel a bit jittery on your wedding day, and as a result, your appetite may evaporate. But trust me, you need stamina to make it through this marathon of a day. Eat a banana and a croissant for breakfast, or at least a granola bar. Carbohydrates are your friend. Keep munching throughout the day if you don’t think you’ll eat a full lunch, and remember to drink plenty of water.
Also, don’t forget about your wedding party! They’ll definitely want to eat, so plan to provide sub sandwiches for lunch, or something else that’s filling.
At your reception, I would say it’s a judgment call of how much time you want to spend eating dinner with your wedding party versus talking to your guests. I recommend greeting people through the first course (typically the salad portion of your meal), but circling back to eat as much of your entrée as you can. Of course, you can always just do what feels right in the moment. Which brings me to my next piece of advice…
On your wedding day, try to do what you want in the moment.
Excuse yourself from conversations that are running long. You really don’t even need an excuse – you’re the bride. Take your veil off when you want, whether it’s immediately after photos or not at all. Request a song you feel like dancing to. You’re allowed to run the show!
Have a sense of humor if things go wrong.
I know you want everything to be perfect, but listen, you can’t control everything. Even the best-laid plans go awry – that’s just the nature of events. But, if you can laugh at the fact that your cake flavor was wrong, or that you stumbled while walking down the aisle (gasp!), you’ll be able to enjoy the day much more fully. As long as you get married, the event was a success.
Write in a journal the day after your wedding.
While your memories are fresh, write everything down! It’s amazing how even a week later, you can look back at your journal and remember all of the small moments on your wedding day that made you happy. Write about how you felt when you woke up, how your bridesmaids made you laugh while getting ready, how your dad teared up right before walking down the aisle, and how excited you are to begin the next chapter.
When feeling overwhelmed, just remember what the day is all about.
We all have that relative who’s judgmental about the food, the colors, or your decision to play your favorite explicit song from your college days.
Take the pressure off by remembering that you don’t need to plan the best wedding your guests have ever been to; you literally just need to show up and say “I do” in front of witnesses. Once that part is over, you’re married! And let me tell you, being married is so much better than being engaged.