To see more photos from the wedding click on over to her follow up post entitled “Our Wedding in the Mountains”
Wedding Planning Hacks | Lessons Learned
As a T.V. Producer by trade, I get paid to secure vendors, keep a budget on track, build production schedules, deal with insurance, etc, etc. So I naively thought wedding planning would be relatively painless for me. I was wrong, it's damn hard.
I kept getting so frustrated about how little I was actually enjoying about the wedding planning process! And everyone you speak to during that time gives the same advice "enjoy this time!" And don't get me wrong, I liked decorating the venue the day of and finding my dress. The rest of it - will serve as great motivation for making this marriage last and never, ever having to plan one again. And to the angels that do this job weekend and week out, managing multiple brides at once, there is a special place in heaven for you fine, lovely, gifts of human beings.
The part that I didn't take into consideration when originally thinking about wedding planning, was the fact that unlike work there are emotional attachments to every decision you make in a wedding. And if you are blessed enough to have parents and family involved in the process with you - at times they can feel more like clients. It was important to me that this day wasn't just about my husband and I and that our families felt included and represented in the process too. If that's important to you as well, then you will want to ensure decisions are approved by both sides, family traditions are being honored, both sides are being represented fairly, dietary restrictions are being communicated, etc... And toss in trying to do it all on budget, and it can begin to feel a lot like work and less like "your special day".
Thus, the following post is aimed to help anyone getting discouraged during the planning process and share how we pulled ours together and loved each other through it. There are a no less than a bazillion ways (scientific measurement) to plan a wedding, and hey - you may not care for ours! But on the chance that this post helps one stressed person, it's worth my time to put it together.
WEDDING HACKS 101:
1. As A Couple, Decide In One Sentence What The Main Takeaway Of Your Wedding Will Be. We actually did this in the car during a road trip before we were engaged and it was the single moment I kept coming back to when I was struggling to make a decision. The elevator pitch we came up with was "a family dinner party where all guests feel loved." You can make this sentence more about you as a couple, but we chose to focus our wedding on our guests and our families becoming one.
Because frankly, we wouldn't be celebrating if these people hadn't help shape and mold us into the people we are today. So we really wanted to make the day about all of us coming together. The benefit with this approach is that it forces you to focus right away on the atmosphere of the evening. I firmly believe that if you can craft the right atmosphere, everything else will fall into place.
2. Choose A Venue Before Choosing Your Wedding Date. Maybe a future anniversary date means more to others than it does to me? But I would rather have my dream venue whenever they can fit us in during the season we prefer, than try to find a venue that has availability on the ONE weekend I've selected and told family and friends to put on hold. I remember standing on this balcony the day we toured The Overlook Barn. R.C. walked up the stairs and hugged me and said "What do you think?" I turned to him and my eyes had welled up with tears at his question. "It's perfect", I whispered. And that was that.
3. Find A Venue That You Can Accent vs. Fully Decorate. I am an interior design junkie. I absolutely love it. To the point that I sometimes consider changing careers. But I knew when it came to a wedding and our budget, I didn't have the bandwidth or finances to erect a wedding in the middle of the woods like Pinterest was channeling me to do. My now sister-in-law found our wedding venue on instagram using the hashtag #ncwedding. They had only had two weddings in the barn when we looked at it the next week and we signed the contract the day we walked through. We didn't need to look at another other locations. It passed the test. If I couldn't afford a single decoration or fancy chair, I still would have been excited to get married there. So I knew early on, if worse came to worst, the venue was OK as is and anything additional I did just needed to accent what was already there. Anything more would take away. (AND - it was within our budget, we were allowed to bring in any food/beverage vendors we liked without penalty fees, the barn became our rain plan incase the weather was too poor to get married in the field outside, the bathrooms were inside the barn (no need for an expensive portal potty trailer like other barns require), etc...)
4. Hire a Day-Of or Month Of Wedding Planner. Our venue contractually required a day-of wedding planner but I allocated additional budget towards hiring ours for the month of. And it was my BEST decision. I sacrificed a few things to do it, but it was so unbelievably worth it. Our venue was 2.5 hours from our home, so it was technically a destination wedding. I only met in-person with our planner, the delightful Meris Gantt, of The Whole Shebang once during the planning process but she was available to us by phone and email the entire month prior to our big day. And I used every bit of that time with her that I respectfully could.
We had weekly phone meetings to go over what had changed, which vendors had been paid and who remained, any snags I was having trouble deciding on or securing, etc... She built a detailed wedding weekend schedule that we distributed to family and friends and she called all vendors the week before to confirm load in, drop off times, final invoice totals, etc... And most importantly, I didn't deal with a single logistical item the day of our wedding which was worth it's weight in gold. Meris and her team of assistants decorated the entire venue, they set up the tables, centerpieces, and placecards, coordinated delivery with all materials and vendors, helped guests find their seats at the ceremony and reception sites, paid all remaining vendors for us, and so many other things I'm sure I have no idea her team handled for us. Her positive attitude set the tone for our entire wedding day and we have so much to thank her for that I probably need to do another post just on the importance of this line item.
5. Your Catering Doesn't Have To Be Fancy To Be Memorable. Going back to #1 and our dinner party feel takeaway, dinner was important to us but we didn't have the budget for a fancy plated dinner. And I am actually happy we didn't. We ended up choosing a Southern BBQ restaurant that the venue had recommended (the first and only caterer we met with) who had catered one of their weddings previously and it provided that at-home, warm comfortable vibe we were going for all along. We sampled their menu, asked their council on what seemed like the biggest hits at previous events, and selected items from the menu that we thought everyone could at least find one thing they would like from. And for dessert, we purchased bulk pies, cookies, cupcakes, and chocolates from Whole Foods for way less than a baker would have charged and used various family dishes to plate them. My amazing mom, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and a few friends helped me set everything up the morning of. Maybe second to the 80s band, our food is one of the talking points people are still raving to us about. Some guests went to the BBQ catering's restaurant the day after for lunch!
6. Music. This process was a big lesson in trust for me, though I didn't know it at the time. Looking back - most all of our vendors were people I hadn't met or tried their service. And our band was no different. Our friend Brandon goes to church with us and I've sung with him a handful of times. We had heard a rumor that he was starting an 80s band and though my husband and I aren't necessarily 80's addicts, we knew this would be the energy level we were looking to uphold by the end of the night. I begged Brandon to let us book them on our measly budget, knowing they were worth WAY more, and to our forever grateful amazement - they accepted our offer. They made the night and guests had so much fun dancing to their tunes. We decided to create oldies playlists that progressed through time over the course of the day, starting cocktail hour off with 50's and 60's tunes. As guests moved inside the barn for dinner we played upbeat 70's hits for our parent's age group so by the time the band went on after dinner, people were in the frame of mind to sing along with older songs. The band played from 8-10pm and my dad grabbed me at one point while they were playing to bring attention to the dinner tables. No one was sitting. EVERYONE was out on the dance floor. We had hoped this would be the case but we don't get credit here. These guys crushed it and their commitment to 80's fashion style didn't hurt either. How amazing do they look??
7. The Most Memorable Details Don't Necessarily Cost The Most Money. Hey! Some good news in the budgeting department! Some of the most convenient vendors for us and most memorable were surprisingly the least expensive. For instance, we provided our own alcohol at our wedding. I had anticipated this costing us around $3K to properly libate 130 guests and was planning on us having to take the time to shop for it, truck it the 2.5 hours up to the wedding venue, place the kegs of beer and wine in various tubs to keep them cold, etc... Instead, thanks to the recommendation of our wedding planner, we rented a keg trailer for $200 with taps down the side of it and used their wholesale beer and wine partner for the alcohol. The tap trailer was delivered with the kegs already tapped inside and ready to pour and all of the wine was kept cold inside the insulated trailer until it was ready to pour by the bartenders. We came in $1500 under budget on this line item alone and I was able to re-allocate that money elsewhere for things I had forgotten about like road signs to direct guests to the venue, venue insurance, wedding planner over time, tips for servers at the rehearsal dinner, additional table cloths, additional glassware, etc...
Another surprising vendor cost was our ceremony musician. In passing one day, R.C. and I joked about how neat it would be to have a bagpiper play as I walked down the aisle. We thought the notes of that instrument would travel nicely as guests overlooked the mountain tops and would pay sweet homage to my Irish / Scottish roots. I had no idea what a bagpiper would cost but I assumed it was a luxury item we wouldn't be able to afford. I half-heartedly placed a request through GigMasters and to my surprise, we got several bites. We ended up choosing a bagpiper with 30 years experience. He dressed in full kilt attire and played as I walked down the aisle and at the end when we were pronounced husband and wife and the congregation walked down the aisle. We spent $285 and it was so worth it, I don't even remember what I had to sacrifice at the time to make it possible.
Lastly, gifts started stressing me out towards the end because the costs can add up so quickly and you don't have much budget left by that point to begin with! I gave my (9) bridesmaids a pair of earrings I found on Etsy, a hanger for their dress with their name on it that I also found on Etsy, a small toiletry bag from a boutique in Massachusetts and a picture frame from IKEA that I hand lettered a special quote inside for each maid. I wrote a thank you note to each of them and told them why I selected that custom quote for them. This part of the gifts was the cheapest at $7 but it was truly the most special to them. Some of them cried upon reading them!
8. Consider Taking The Time To Write Your Own Vows. I feel like you don't have to be the best public speaker or the wittiest writer to write vows to the person you love. This is the start of a new chapter in your lives together and what better time to communicate to them what they mean and how seriously you take this step then to put it into words in front of your biggest fans.
I had my vows in the notes section of my phone for over a year. Every time a little thought came to mind, I would log it there. I was on a plane the month before the wedding and felt compelled to use that time to finally streamline all the tidbits I had been logging. I re-read them over the course of that month and tweaked little things here and there until the morning of our wedding. I woke up early and made myself a cup of tea. I sat in the quiet of our honeymoon suite in the morning light as I watched the fog lift over the mountains. I sat down at the kitchen table and cried like a baby as I finally put on paper the vows I had written as I transcribed them from my phone. It was a beautiful, selfish moment for me as I sat by myself and prepared to become a wife and it helped put things into perspective as I got ready for the day ahead. I no longer cared how the table centerpieces looked, if my dress still fit after the pasta dinner I ate at the rehearsal dinner, if I was going to have a good hair day, etc... I was excited to see my husband and tell him how much he and this moment meant to me. I know some people put funny statements in theirs and I'm not discouraging that by any means. That's just not the direction we took. R.C. definitely had inside jokes between us in his, but for the most part we approached ours with an earnest, serious love for each other that set the tone for the rest of the day. I think if guests were asked about their favorite part of our wedding, most would say our ceremony. Which ironically was the least planned, most inexpensive, minimally decorated, unrehearsed part of the day. But it was very us. And I think that was felt.
9. If You Have 130 Guests Or Less, Consider Doing A Receiving Line. This is a European and Canadian tradition that we stole because it was very important to us that our guests feel our appreciation for the sacrifices they had made to join us over the weekend. While guests wrapped up the cocktail hour, R.C. and I snuck into the barn with both sets of parents and got into place by the entrance. The wedding planner and her team opened the large barn doors and there we were, as guests entered the barn for the first time. Our parents shook hands, hugged, and thanked every guest that came through the door so by the time they reached R.C. and I - I swear people felt so appreciated they were beaming. And because it's more or less a conveyor belt system, you have the perfect amount of time (30 seconds or so) to speak to every guest, thank them for coming and briefly tell them how much it means to have them there with you. Our wedding planner scheduled the timing perfectly so as the last guest was greeted, dinner was announced and guests, now with fresh drink re-fills from the inside bar, were able to fill their plates and sit down for dinner. And R.C. and I were able to actually eat dinner with everyone and not feel guilty about dancing with each other for the rest of the night because now we had personally said hello and thanked every single guest that had come to our wedding.
10. Stay Organized & Divvy Up Tasks When You Can. Anything that can take some couples years to plan accumulates a lot of paperwork and verbal agreements. I created a budget two nights after we became engaged to understand what we were getting into. I think my first budget came in $50K more than what we had to spend but it was a good exercise in understanding what things cost and what I would have to be realistic about. I kept an estimated column, a working column for how things were shaping up, and a final column once a transaction had been made with each vendor. I also created an excel document and I continued to add and modify it over the year we were engaged to keep track of checklists, things I wanted to purchase, vendor contact info, wedding party contact info, who needed to be paid and how muhc, when deposits were due by, etc. I used this excel document religiously to stay on top of everything and whenever a new piece of information came in or was decided on, it was logged in the appropriate place. Some people may be naturally organized in this department but I am not and NEEDED a tool like this to keep track of it all. If you would like to download my template, please feel free to contact me and I will send the excel file to you!
My Inspiration Board and the color palette I created to share with Bridesmaids back in January:
The dresses / color schemes they chose for our Wedding Day in October. And let me tell ya, they are just as beautiful on the inside:
The other part of this line item goes along with staying organized because if you are utilizing checklists, you can see at a glance when you have too much on your plate and may not be able to sanely finish it all. Sanely being the key word. Because just because you can, doesn't mean you necessarily should. I shot myself in the foot with our wedding because I decided to hand letter our invitations... a new hobby that I was enjoying trying out. As a result, I then felt everything needed to have the same "branding" (i.e.: my hand) and I WANTED it to have the same branding. So, the invitation envelopes, the seating charts, the chalk boards, the stall signs, the menu, the thank you cards, the welcome brochures, etc... all needed to be hand lettered by yours truly... the crazy one sitting by herself in the corner shaking out her hand (and head) ferociously.
Fortunately, this decision was a major key in how we were able to stay on budget. I had enough time to design and effort most all of the items that folks typically spend a lot of money on. And I actually enjoyed the creative process of building all of them. That said, I relied heavily on my mom where I could in the months leading up to the wedding not only for council, but for tasks that didn't need my hand like our favors and welcome gifts. The weekend of I relied heavily on my amazing parents and In-Laws, Sister-In-Laws, Matron of Honor, Maid of Honor, Best Man, my brother (anyone and everyone) to help transport all the decor/gifts/etc to the venue, organize it all once up in the mountains, help set the venue up the morning of the wedding with me, etc.
11. Consignment Doesn't Always Mean Used. One of my breakthrough moments in planning our wedding and figuring out how to stay within our budget was when I discovered that there are bridal consignment shops. Personally, I liked the idea of a vintage wedding dress and an old love story getting to live on through ours - but I know used wedding dresses don't necessarily meet everyone's vision for a fairytale wedding. So you can imagine my surprise when the dress I chose from Blush Brides was actually a dress from Klienfeld's that had never been purchased or worn! I couldn't believe it - or the price tag!
Even if I hadn't found my dream dress there though, the benefit of a consignment shop is that they have such a wide variety of styles you can really hone in on which style you like best on your body. I thought the odds of the shop having a dress I liked AND in the size I needed would be pretty slim, but even if I were able to leave knowing the style I wanted to look for somewhere else, it would have been time well spent. Some of the upscale boutiques seem to focus on one specific style and do that style really well, but if you don't necessarily know which looks best on you yet, that can be a tad daunting. So my recommendation is to start at a consignment shop first and try on every possible style you can - even those you may not care for on the hanger. You don't have to feel pressured to buy and who knows, you just may get lucky and find your dream dress at bargain price. Full disclosure - I didn't even see my dress on the hanger in my first pass at the shop. I walked around again after trying on 8 or so dresses and pulled another 10 or so to try on after).
12. Don't Be Hard On Yourself For Feeling Obsessive. I was OCD diagnosable about bringing all the elements of this wedding production together, especially by the end when I was on the home stretch. And I felt super lame because of it. I kept thinking "there are children starving everywhere and all you can think about are whether you need area heaters or not for one day of your life?" But that said, it comes down to priorities. For me, I hate the feeling of knowing I could have done something better or should have perceived a problem ahead of time. I like hosting and want guests to be taken care of. And I am completely and utterly smitten with my husband and wanted him to feel as special and loved as possible that day. So for me, having a day that went smoothly and knowing I did everything I could ahead of time to set us up for success was exactly what I needed. And really gratifying. So if you can, take a moment to breathe and think about the big picture. And whatever it is you're stressing about, think about whether it helps you accomplish the big picture or not. Majority of the time, it won't. So it doesn't much matter what comes of them. You have found the one whom your soul loves, and that right there is just enough. <3 p="">