Engagement is one of the most exciting stages of life! You have a beautiful, shiny ring on your finger that you can’t stop staring at. You are celebrated by all your friends. And you can finally unearth that Pinterest Wedding Board that you’ve been discreetly adding ideas to for years.
As the weeks wear on, the magic may seem to fade away, suddenly replaced by the looming and insurmountable effort that is…wedding planning. Having just gone through the process myself, I want to share some wedding prep tips and tricks that helped me immensely throughout the process.
- Wedding planning does NOT have to be stressful! In fact, I can’t think of a time I was stressed throughout the whole process. In this day and age, weddings are idolized—put up on a pedestal as almost the purpose of our existence. Going into wedding planning with “perfection”as the standard will inevitably disappoint. Before you start planning, decide you will NOT allow this process to consume you, to frustrate you, or to cause divisions in relationships. As my aunt so wisely reminded me right after I got engaged, there is no need to get stressed about an event so joyful and glorious as a wedding.
- Make a budget! Before I did anything, my parents and I sat down and discussed how much they could contribute towards the event and what their expectations were. That framed the rest of my planning process, allowing me to decide how much I wanted to spend in each category. If you would like to see a template I created for my wedding budget, click here.
- You don’t have to have a pricey venue. If you’ve always dreamed of having your wedding at a certain venue, this may not apply to you. However, there are many options of places to have your wedding that don’t cost thousands to rent or put limitations on your food and photography options. These include parks, local theaters, museums, general event spaces, and, of course, churches. Places that aren’t used as traditional wedding venues are significantly cheaper than others, and they still provide the flexibility and elegance the wedding venues offer. Mason and I got married in a church then had the reception in their new Family Life Center. It was exactly what I wanted. Although there was still a fairly significant fee, it was much cheaper than any other wedding venue option.
- Be an undercover “bride” shopper. As you begin searching for everything from wedding party gifts to decorations, it is important to know that any search that includes “wedding” or “bridal” will exponentially increase the price of the items found. Retailers know that brides are more willing to spend money on a wedding than any other event in their life, so items are up-charged. However, you can often find the same item for a much lower price if you search for it on its own.
- Order flowers in bulk and have a friend arrange them. Honestly, I don’t know how much florists charge for wedding flowers, but I don’t think I would want to know. I had heard this advice from others and decided to take it myself. My mom ordered all our wedding flowers in bulk from Sam’s Club. There are so many selections online, you are pretty much guaranteed to find what you want. My mom was also the one who arranged them for both the ceremony and reception (she has had a lot of prior experience). I loved my flowers! And it was even more special that they were arranged by someone I love. Many of my friends have had a loved one or friend with experience arrange their flowers with the same result. I can’t tell a difference between those who did that versus hired a professional. But then again, I don’t know much about flowers.
- Use decorations you already have. You may not think you own anything you could use as décor in your wedding. Think again. We didn’t have to buy a single vase or picture frame for the reception table décor because we already owned so many. I remember digging through cabinets and storage bins with my mom and was amazed at all the things we found! Even if you don’t have much to use, your friends might. Ask around and you may just find free wedding decorations!
- Buy decorations from others who just had a wedding. Since I was home for Christmas break, I joined a Facebook group called “Louisville Wedding/Formal ReSale and Services.” I highly recommend joining a group like this in your area. People constantly post questions, offer ideas or services, and have their wedding decorations for sale at a reasonable price. This can be a great resource during the buying stage.
- You don’t have to spend thousands on your dress. My mom and I had very different expectations of what my dress would cost. Surprisingly, we found my dream dress within the low budget I had set for myself. Don’t be afraid to go to David’s Bridal (that’s where I got my dress) or other chain bridal stores. They often have better prices than specialty boutiques. Oh, and keep an eye out for sales.Those can save you money too! I will warn you of a major unforeseen cost of my wedding: dress alterations. I knew they would be a couple hundred dollars, and the ladies at David’s Bridal affirmed it would be around $200. However, when I went in for alterations, we ended up spending nearly $500 on the alterations alone. This varies based on the dress, but any hem and bustle on a multi-layered dress is pricey. Budget for that.
- Use Azazie for your bridesmaid dresses. I scoured the internet to find affordable bridesmaid dresses for my bridesmaids. In the end, I was still disappointed that I couldn’t find anything matching in my color for less than $100 each. But the dresses were beautiful and I selected short dresses so they could more easily be reused. I was pleased with Azazie because of their variety of selection and ease of ordering so each of my bridesmaids could get the exact size they needed.
- Use JJ’s House for cheap accessories. JJ’s House is a great resource for any item you don’t need to be super high quality but that could add a special touch to your day. I ordered my photo backdrop and was very pleased. I also ordered my veil on their site and was extremely pleased with the price and quality! I would buy a veil at David’s Bridal for several hundred dollars or could get the same veil on JJ’s House for $11 plus shipping. And that’s just what I did.
- Maximize your reception space with lighting and drapery. As I mentioned before, I decided to have my wedding in the main room of the new Family Life Center at my church. The space was beautiful, but largely un-decorated and empty. I rented and had an event company come install drapery. It was one of the best decisions I made with the space. I also strung lighting between balconies in the space to add elegance. Both of these were affordable solutions to create ambiance.
- Get creative with the food. Again, if you have had your heart set on a certain meal or caterer, this advice may not apply to you. However, keep in mind that food is where people spend the MOST money when planning a wedding. Don’t believe me? Thirty to seventy-five dollars a plate is considered “reasonable” and “average” in the wedding planning business. That means you’re spending upwards of $5,000 for a wedding of 150. Mason and I decided that having all the people we know and love be there was more important to us than having a full meal, so we had our wedding in the early afternoon and hired an acquaintance who is excellent at cooking for a crowd to put together a sandwich bar, veggie trays, and a cookie bar for heavy snacks. It was delicious! I had people texting me on our honeymoon asking me for the recipes the lady made. If you can, find a friend or acquaintance to help with food. But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay them! Doing wedding food is a HUGE job, and it often means they miss the ceremony. But even with all the food costs and paying our awesome food lady, we spent a ridiculously little amount on food, allowing us to spend in other areas.
- Don’t skimp on photography. At the beginning of the planning process, I tried to find ways to pay less for photography. Here’s the conclusion I came to: If you want good photography, you’re going to have to pay for it. Yes, you can hire a friend to do your pictures (we did this for engagement photos and loved them!) or a recent photography graduate or whatever other resources you come up with, but if they don’t have experience, you run the risk of your wedding photos turning out less-than-sufficient. I decided it was worth it to me to invest in these pictures—arguably the most important of your life—over other things. It is true that pictures will last much longer than the extra decorations or food you would use that money on. Megg Allison Photography did our photos and we LOVE them! View photography as an investment and you won’t regret it.
- You can have an awesome wedding with and without a videographer. I went back-and-forth for a while about whether or not I should have a wedding videographer. In the end, I decided to book Madison of Film Studio 619 and we absolutely loved her! I’m so glad we did. But I’m still not convinced that you need one to have a “complete” wedding experience. More than anything, base your decision on whether or not you will use or enjoy it later in life, not on how many views you will get when you post it.
- Having a DJ is important. I have seen many successful weddings where a friend was the emcee. However, from the bride’s perspective, I loved having a professional DJ. This was one of the things my parents requested. It is amazing how much more smoothly things run when an outside person is in charge, especially after he sat down with us several times to figure out what we wanted. It was a huge relief for me and Mason both on the wedding day. But it’s also important to make sure you pick the right DJ to fit the tone of your wedding. If you can afford it, I recommend it.
- There are many other odds and ends. Besides big-ticket items, you may be surprised how much of your budget is taken up by things you can’t see. We spent a significant amount on save-the-dates, invites, RSVP cards, thank you notes, and wedding programs, and we did these as cheaply as possible! My awesome sister Anneli designed a lot of our materials through her business, Anneli White Designs. But even custom printing costs alone (not including the design work), are expensive. Stamps are even more expensive! Budget for this is you want to stay on track. Oh and don’t forget about hair styling costs, tanning costs, wedding party gift costs, etc. Like I said, it all adds up.
- Communicate! Our wedding weekend went SO smoothly. I like to attribute this to the excessive amounts of communication I had with our family, photographer, DJ, day-of-coordinator, and bridal party. I even made a color-coded timeline of the entire weekend directing people where to be and when. If you would like to use that timeline as a template, click here. Prioritize clarity with those helping you with the wedding. If you didn’t talk about it, it won’t happen. Verbalizing what you want is crucial to helping the day come together.
- Have fun! There are so many more things I could say about the day-of-coordinator, the hair stylist, photo location ideas, rehearsal dinner, band, audio/visual team, flower girls, and all the other aspects that make a wedding what it is, but I’ll save those for another post. My most important piece of advice is to relax, take a deep breath, and enjoy this season! It only comes once. I LOVED my engagement season. It was one of the most fun I have experienced. All of these wedding things may seem important now, but as soon as you drive away from that waving crowd on your wedding day, all that’s left is you and your spouse. If THAT is not prioritized, planned for, prayer for, and prepared, the wedding is insignificant. Enjoy the engagement season cultivating relationship more than cultivating the perfect wedding. And at the end of the day, it’s not your party, it’s God’s! Treat it as such.