Wedding planning basics
The wedding date and venue for the ceremony and reception are among your first decisions. After that, there’s the dress, cake and other food, guest list, invitations, photographer, flowers and more. Experts recommend that in preparing for your big day, allow plenty of time to plan and decide on details; document everything, including phone calls; insist on detailed contracts; avoid paying in full upfront; and pay with a credit card and only as services are rendered.
If you’re planning your own wedding, you’ll need to hire a host of professionals, such as caterers, florists, hair stylists and others. Most have their own categories on Angie’s List, where you can search for providers in your area who've received the best reviews.
Rated categories include wedding planning, reception halls, bridal shops, catering, cake decorating, florists, photography and tuxedo rental. But there are more, such as:
• Equipment and party rentals, and entertainment/parties: For seating, tables and tents, as well as musicians and DJs.
• Printing/invitations and calligraphy: Design your invitations and get them custom-addressed.
• Fitness centers, dance instruction: Get yourself in shape for the big day and beyond.
• Hair salons/barbers and manicures/nails: Pre-wedding cuts and day-of styles are important, as are ring-ready fingers.
• Limousine service: Ride in style on your first day as a married couple.
• Travel agencies: Plan your honeymoon the easy way.
Hiring a wedding planner
Whether a wedding is planned to be a modest ceremony or a big-budget blow-out, a professional planner’s main job is to sweat the small stuff so you and your family don't have to. Consider hiring a wedding planner at least nine months to a year before the big day. Be aware that fees can vary greatly, from a percentage of the total wedding cost, to an hourly rate, to “day-of” or “month-of” fees. Also, expect that after your first planning session, you’ll be asked to meet again at crucial points, such as for purchase and approval times, the rehearsal and, of course, the wedding day.
Here are four reasons why engaging a pro might be a good idea:
Experience. There are many details to iron out before you walk down the aisle, from picking a venue to getting a marriage license. A wedding planner has been through the process and can guide you, step by step, so your big day is the one you've always imagined.
Staying on budget. After an initial consultation with your wedding planner, he or she will map out a plan to keep the event at the price you set. The planner will find vendors to meet your price point and help with negotiating.
Vendor relationships. Good wedding planners typically have a lineup of quality, reliable vendors they use regularly. Considering these vendors, along with checking reviews on Angie's List, will give you peace of mind.
Stress reduction. Taking the leap into matrimony is a life-changing event in itself. A good wedding planner will confirm that all vendors are ready for the day, and will handle any surprises, so you can focus on the big day.
But before you hire a planner: Don’t just check references and Angie’s List reports. Be sure the person you hire is a good communicator and has a personality and style that match with yours. Be honest about what you can spend, and set realistic goals. Also, have a contract that covers all details so there’s no room for misunderstandings.
How to save money on a wedding
The average American wedding costs nearly $30,000, according to theknot.com. Here are areas where you might be able to stretch your budget:
Guest list. If you haven’t seen someone, even a relative, in more than a year, consider whether you must extend an invitation. At $100 a person, taking 10 guests off the list saves $1,000.
Wedding date. Pick a day other than Saturday. For example, Friday or Sunday food and beverage minimums are considerably less. If planning a destination wedding, consider marrying on a Wednesday or Thursday.
Flowers. Pick flowers that are in season with your wedding. Choose blooms that are open and fuller; this will cut down on the amount needed. Re-use ceremony flowers at the reception. Large dramatic centerpieces can cost $500 or more; consider varying centerpieces, such as florals for a third of the tables, candles for another third and a smaller combination of flowers and candles for those remaining.
Venue. Have the wedding at a location that has a caterer, chairs, tables, silverware, glassware and table linens. If you rent a space and have to bring in everything, it can add up quickly.
Wedding dress. Consignment boutiques and department stores may offer deeply discounted dresses. Don’t be afraid to ask to see samples that have been in inventory for a long time. If you find one you like, ask for the best price.
Men’s outfits. Forgo tuxedos in favor of similarly colored suits or themed outfits.
Favors. They’re not necessary, and in most cases are tossed out at the end of the night.
Cake. Wedding cakes can range from multi-tiered fantasy confections to iced Styrofoam imposters that look great but save money when guests are served less-pricier slices out of the reception hall kitchen. Cupcakes are a popular option, as well, and can be arranged in towers. Another option that might save on floral costs: serve small centerpiece cakes at each table.
Food. Provide one main entrée rather than multiple choices. Offer two or three hors d’oeuvres, rather than five or seven. Offer a plated meal rather than a buffet, which can cost more per person because the caterer may fear running out of food.
Drink. Provide beer kegs rather than individual bottles. A $350 keg provides about 160 glasses, compared to $815 for 160 bottles.
Invitations. Design them yourself, or omit engravings and decorative linings.
Lighting. Instead of expensive centerpieces or linens, light walls in dramatic colors or illuminate points of interest such as windows or columns.
Go with a pro. Consider hiring a professional wedding planner. They typically know the best professionals for the budget and will negotiate discounts or complimentary upgrades.
Outdoor wedding tips
Planning an outdoor wedding? Consider these suggestions:
• Practice walking on the lawn, mulch or gravel in heels.
• Cover candles with hurricane lamps to protect from wind.
• Face guests away from the sun for photos.
• Serve thirst-quenching drinks, such as sparkling water or lemonade, in summer. Serve coffee or tea if it's chilly.
• Attach a large Popsicle stick to the program so it can be used as a fan. Or, create the program in the shape of a fan.
• Opt for chairs made of wood or other materials that won't retain heat and burn a guest like a metal chair will.
What if you hire a wedding photographer who eventually vanishes, along with your payment and pictures? What if you pay for a venue, then learn it's been closed by fire before your big day?
Enter the option of wedding insurance. Because weddings have become ever costlier propositions, this type of insurance is gaining in popularity. Typical policies can cover everything from a torn wedding dress to a family member stuck at the airport. Coverage can be purchased a la carte for as little as $95, and the average wedding policy ranges from $150 to $200.
Wedding dress shopping
One important aspect of wedding planning includes selecting the bride's dress. Bridal shops offer a variety of wedding gowns for every budget that come in all different shapes, designs and even colors. To learn more about shopping for a wedding dress, check out Angie's List Guide to Bridal Shops.