By Lindsey Brook Norton, Founder and Creative Director of L.brook events
I just got engaged. What is the first thing I need to do?
Congratulations on your engagement! The first thing you should do is pause, take a step back, and enjoy and savor this moment. There are a lot of exciting things to come, and there will be big decisions to make, but the most important thing is that you give yourself a little time to let it soak in and celebrate this moment. As soon as your friends and family find out that you are engaged, there will be an onslaught of questions, but know that it is okay to tell people that you are focusing on enjoying the moment and that you will let them know as soon as you start planning the wedding!
I’m ready to start planning. What is my first step?
The very first thing you should do is determine what your priorities are with your partner. I suggest that all of the couples I work with do this activity: I ask that they sit down separately from each other and write down four priorities each. These can be really broad—for example, “convenience,” meaning convenient location, convenient time of year, a lot of options for accommodations, etc.—or they can be pretty specific things like “amazing Italian food.” Then I ask that the couple compare their lists and talk through their priorities in order to compile one master list. Once their priorities as a couple are defined, I suggest that they write them down on paper, because this list is going to act as your guide throughout the planning process and you want to be able to refer back to it. Your priorities will help you figure out where to invest your resources, which is helpful in figuring out how to allocate your budget and what professionals to hire first. Your list will also help you stay focused on what really matters to the two of you throughout the planning process.
I should book my venue first, right?
Before you pay a deposit and are locked into a contract, there are a lot of things you will want to consider—the biggest being your overall budget and the number of people you will be inviting (in that order). The venue can dictate almost all of your wedding planning decisions and it can be one of your biggest expenses. Ask the venue what the average overall budget is for weddings hosted there. Ask what the average size wedding the venue hosts is and for floor plans and layouts that show the number of guests you are planning to invite. Does the venue have space for the size and shape table you envision? Do they have enough parking on-site for all of your guests and the wedding professionals you will work with? Bathrooms that will accommodate all of your wedding guests? These are important questions related to how many guests the venue can accommodate.
I have no idea how much a wedding costs. How do I set a budget?
Every couple is different and no two weddings are alike, so every wedding budget is going to be different, too. There is a lot of information out there that suggests what the average cost of a wedding is, which is often skewed because it doesn’t account for your priorities, guest list, where you specifically are getting married, or what your financial situation is.
The bottom line is that you need to decide what you feel is reasonable to spend on a wedding and also what you are financially able to invest in a wedding. Be honest about this. Rather than come up with one number, I suggest coming up with a budget range, because there will most likely be expenses you didn’t account for or know to budget for.
A lot of couples ask me who typically pays for what at a wedding, but the reality is that it is different with every couple I work with. Rarely does one family pay for the entirety of the wedding anymore. More often the couple pays for some items, parents chip in, and then other family members may chip in as well, but it really is different for every couple. You will want to communicate directly with everyone who is involved in order to come up with a budget range. This can feel a little awkward, but remember that everyone is excited for you and respect that people will offer what they feel comfortable with and are also able to. I also find that people are willing to contribute for parts of the wedding they value. This may mean they want you to work with a certain band, so they offer to cover that cost, or if they want to make sure their best friends and co-workers are invited, they offer to cover the cost of the reception. You will want to make sure that any expectations are communicated directly and early on in the budget conversation.
How many guests can I predict will come to my wedding?
You may have heard that, on average, two-thirds of your guests invited to your wedding will be able to attend, but it is really important to plan and be prepared for the fact that everyone you invite to your wedding may attend. There are a lot of factors that impact this (time of year, when save the dates or invitations were sent out, location of wedding, etc.) so you need to be prepared to host a full guest list. Make sure your venue can accommodate all of the guests you are inviting and that all of the quotes you receive when budgeting (catering, rentals, florals, etc.) account for your complete guest list. This may mean you need to evaluate your guest list a little more closely, which can often be one of the most difficult decisions you make throughout the planning process. A few questions I ask couples to think about when they are struggling with their guest list are: When was the last time you spoke to this person on the phone or in person? Will this person always be a part of your life? If you move or get a new job will you still keep in touch with them? Your guest list should reflect the relationships in your life that you care most about now, but also relationships that you will value in the future.
I have so many ideas for my wedding. Where do I start?
When it comes to weddings, there is no shortage of inspiration or tools to help you plan. Once you have established your priorities it's time to define your wedding style. To do this, first look at your closet and your home. Are there common themes or colors you notice? Do you prefer classic pieces and neutral colors, or bold, trendy pieces? Write down three adjectives to describe your personal style, and three colors you notice that are repeated a lot in your wardrobe or home. Next, think about how you met your partner and what you like to do together on the weekends. Are you social and met at a party in college? Are you introverts who prefer to stay in and watch movies? Are you the outdoor type? Write down three adjectives to describe how you met and what you like to do together.
The adjectives you came up with to describe your wardrobe and home should be able to guide what the overall aesthetic or look of your wedding will be. The colors you listed can guide the color selections for your wedding, but think about how you can incorporate them to create the aesthetic you just outlined. Finally, the observations you made about how you met or what you like to do together should help you describe the mood you are trying to create at your wedding and the kind of experience you want your guests have. Now that you are able to describe your aesthetic, have colors in mind, and can describe the experience you want to create for your guests, your wedding style is defined. When you are gathering inspiration or making decisions, make sure you are constantly referring back to these two lists. Your priorities are what will make your wedding meaningful and personal, and your wedding style is what makes your wedding uniquely you. Remember this and you will be able to stay focused and create a cohesive look for your wedding.
By Kate Martin from Beautiful Days
Where do I find ideas and inspiration?
Design is a process; it is expansive, it can click, it can be stubborn, and sometimes you need to just walk away for a bit. Design has a different language all it’s own. I hear so many times from my brides, “I know what I want I just can’t express it!” and that’s ok! My first line of advice is go with your heart. There are so many pretty things out there that anybody’s head can spin at the possibilities. Go with what you love, with what speaks to you, and you can’t go wrong.
Pinterest is a great tool for exploring, collecting, and organizing ideas, but it can be a rabbit hole—do not let yourself go down it. Turn it off! Pick up your favorite book or magazine or listen to your favorite podcast—anything to get you away from potentially doubting what you love as well as potentially thinking that the customized caricature cake toppers of you and your fiancé in the mix is a good idea.
Of course blogs are great, but again, a potential rabbit hole. You know how sometimes you are online and you are looking for the perfect dress and you keep searching even though you already have three different ones in shopping carts on three different sites? Just buy the dress! Stop looking! It’s the same with wedding inspiration—stop searching for THE one when you have already collected about 20 that you love and are inspired by! I have a current client who wisely stopped following certain feeds on Instagram because she didn’t need the wedding overload.
Look at the trendsetters beyond the wedding world—fashion designers (because the color and design of your wedding dress and maids dresses are trickling down from them), interior design (because the colors and patterns of linens are trickling down from them), and fabulous iconic movies that have the most amazing set designs (because, I swear, the whole family style farm table thing is s direct result from all those damn Harry Potter movies). There is a wedding from an Anne Hathaway movie called “Rachel Getting Married” that I wish I could replicate!
Start with broad strokes identifying the feeling you want on the day, the colors, what’s most important to you—then get more detailed from there. And then go for a walk, take a few deep breaths, and have a cocktail.
Do I need to invite all my guests to the rehearsal dinner?
With the evolution of the wedding weekend, especially with “destination” weddings, there has been the seemingly compulsory addition of a party for all your guests on the evening before the wedding day. I do love the idea of gathering your nearest and dearest who have traveled across the globe fueled by love (or familial obligation) to celebrate with you beyond the wedding day…BUT that doesn’t mean you have to throw them another party! If it’s in the budget then hosting a lobster bake or food truck picnic for 150 the evening before the wedding day is awesome! But don’t give up on having a more intimate rehearsal dinner—or even luncheon—for your wedding party and immediate family. I think missing out on that opportunity is a shame.
We often suggest to our clients having an intimate rehearsal dinner followed by a hosted drinks and desserts for all guests at the same venue as the rehearsal dinner. That way you have your lovely smaller rehearsal dinner then have the opportunity to hug and say hi to everyone else who has rolled into town without footing the bill for lobster and beer for 100.
I'm stressing out about money!
First things first...Oy! If only there was a formula that worked for all budgets! Don’t pay attention to the online budget estimators—those tend to take into consideration national averages, which do not adequately represent the market you are “shopping” in.
First things first—have an open honest conversation with the very generous people in your lives who will be contributing to your wedding celebration. Find out who will be contributing what. Have them give it to you and your future spouse to manage the spending from a separate wedding account. Your future mother in law might say, “I’d like to pay for the flowers, so just let me know how much it costs.” But she got married in 1972 when baby’s breath and daises were super hip and her flowers cost $750. When presented with your flower proposal for $6,320.73 she might say, “Well, I wasn’t expecting it to be this much. I was hoping to spend $2,000.” Then you are in the middle of a familial sticky wicket and back to starting from scratch. Unless parents have hosted (i.e. paid for) a wedding in the past 10 years, they do not know how much it costs, and it is up to you to educate them. But you haven’t done this before so how should you know?! Get where I’m going with this?
Secondly, don’t invite so many people! I’ve heard something like this many times: “I have a budget of $50,000, and we are inviting 250 people, but so many are from so far away we know at least 75 won’t come.” Wrong. People love Maine and are just waiting for the excuse to make the trip! And Maine is hip and you are so awesome that of course they are coming! So either come up with at least another $25,000 or more to entertain the 200 who will be at your wedding, or tighten up that list!
Lastly, don’t buy the horse before you have the cart! You have booked an amazing venue for $5,000 and right away booked a band that is just as awesome for $7,500—good for you! Your 150 guests will have a great time eating hotdogs and dancing to a kick ass band in a barn that has no decoration or lighting or tables to sit at because you didn’t realize that the venue just comes with…nothing! No tables, chairs, linens, forks, knives, glasses, catering facilities, or even a bathroom! And the average cost for food the budget calculator that BIG website gave you said you should be able to feed everyone for $35 per person—but that doesn’t include staffing, tax, tip, service fees, transportation, etc…). And you want local organic and seasonal ingredients, which not does not cost less but more.
And you don’t want your guests to pee in a Porta Potty, but that’s all you can afford now because you blew 1/3 of your budget on two items. Granted, they are two very important pieces, but their costs are making it pretty darn hard to afford all the rest.
Lesson learned: figure out what is most important to you for you wedding day, do the research, break down the budget, then commit.
Do It Yourself—Oy! Don’t Do It All!
The cost of having someone produce something for you on Etsy is short money for the pain and suffering you will endure making all those hand-painted dessert and directional signs (that you were inspired by Pinterest one late Tuesday night and gosh they look soooo cute and I can totally do that).
I had one couple a few years ago that did a ton of stuff—invites, programs, favors, etc...—but the groom was actively involved (not just a “Yes” man) but actively involved and engaged in the decisions, resourcing, and production of wedding pieces. I'm not saying your betrothed isn’t awesome, but let’s be real, the actual production of the 100 welcome bags, 150 escort cards, and the 120 jars of honey from your aunt’s farm, typically falls on our lovely brides. Most brides are lucky if they can get their man to choose a suit that actually fits, decide on a mother/son dance song, and get his guys off the golf course without being two sheets to the wind before they need to be photo ready on the wedding day.
If you want to DIY, pick, choose, and plan ahead. And remember, you don’t have to do it all!