Wedding Planning Advice From True Experts – Former Brides

The coming of the new year marks the beginning of a new season. No, I am not talking about duck season or rabbit season. I’m not even talking about NASCAR season. I am talking about the wedding planning season. The time of year when thousands of brides, oftentimes dragging their reluctant grooms, travel out and about to bargain shop, meet vendors, attend bridal shows, and visualize what elements are important to their ceremony and reception. With all the advice that is shared from vendors, family, friends, and the hundreds of wedding planning books and websites, how is a bride to know what she should expect and want when planning her wedding? This article attempts to diminish the fears and stress of planning by sharing true expert advice from the people who really know and empathize with the modern day bride…former brides.

The Challenges

According to most brides, the hardest challenge you will face is having to plan the wedding on your own. If you do not have family and friends in your area readily available and willing to help, you may have trouble coordinating the event. Even if you do, you may run into a similar situation as Amber Bahnak whose wedding occurred in October 2008, “Sometimes people want to help, but are afraid to do something you won’t like so they shy away from offering suggestions.” She states that “Communication is key. Let people know when you are open to and really need suggestions.”

Other brides look for professional help. Danielle Lux, whose wedding was also in October 2008, suggests hiring a professional planner. “They really help you with each step and remind you to look at things you may have overlooked otherwise.”

Planning a wedding can be an overwhelming task. If your budget doesn’t afford a professional planner, or you do not have access to a relative or friend experienced in planning events, make sure you hire other vendors that match your personality, will listen carefully to your vision, and offer suggestions that can help to achieve those dreams.

The Budget

Did you know that according to, the average wedding in the United States of America in 2008 costs $28,704? Your budget may be in this range or could vary greatly, but one fact remains, how you divide your budget will be the most important determining factor towards the success of your wedding. Overspending in areas that have little or no impact on what you or your guests remember could lead to you not having enough money for the elements that are important to you.

The first step to budgeting for your wedding is deciding what elements are the most important to your vision of a successful reception. Choose three words you would use to describe the reception. Whether they be fun, elegant, magical, or romantic, these words will be important when making decisions on where to spend your money.

Anna Story, whose Tango-themed wedding was a perfect fit for her guests in October 2008, gives these words of advice, “Don’t over spend…keep it simple. What makes a good wedding is the entertainment and the food. Decorations are secondary. Choose a theme and make it simple.”

Mike and Mary Gifford, who married in beautiful Pensacola, Florida, in 2008, gave their advice on budgeting stating, “Don’t sweat it if a few things go over the budget, because most of the time there will be something else that will cost less.”

Nicole Meredith, married June 2008, advises taking your time in planning. “Do your research on DJ’s, reception halls, flowers, and catering. Gather referrals. Our DJ was fabulous! He was interactive and fun. He was the best in the area and was definitely not cheap. We spent the extra money and it was well worth it!”

By now, you’ve read several magazines and online articles probably offering tips on saving money for your wedding by taking shortcuts to making your reception a success. The key number in budgeting is the guest list. Every wedding reception can save an average of $50 per person by cutting down the guest list. Remember, you pay by how many guests are expected, not by who actually shows up. So, if you want to let your long-lost Uncle Buck know that you are getting married, send an engagement or wedding notice instead of an actual invite. You never know, he might just show up! Cut the list as far as you can if you need the extra money for something else. Once you have accomplished this emotional task, look at the little details. It is true that the little details can sometimes matter most, especially when you examine little details such as favors, appetizers, bouquets, and flower arrangements. Once you determine the necessity of each item, find creative and alternate ways to have a similar effect. These little things could matter most in making the most out of your budget.

What matters most to the success of your wedding reception? That depends upon the elements that are important in your vision. If the food is your determining factor, then spend more on food. In the wedding business, it really is “you get what you pay for.”

Capturing Moments

What will your guests remember about your reception? According to the survey results from St. Louis Bride & Groom Magazine, 2003, 81% of guests said they remember the entertainment and whether they had fun. How can you guarantee that your guests will have fun? Hire the professionals that match your personality. YOU are the party! Your reception should be a reflection of you. The vendors you choose will be responsible for making your reception a success, and they will be the same vendors who keep your guests engaged and participating in the celebration. If your guests leave one hour early because they are not engaged in the celebration, you have just lost an average of $4,784/hr (assuming six hours total for ceremony, cocktail hour, and four hour reception). Your choice of entertainment is the most important factor in creating a successful reception.

Amber Bahnak suggests to make sure your vendors work together to coordinate the event. “Our vendors were fantastic. Everyone wanted to work together and help us with the planning details. The DJ even went to the wedding site on his own several months before the wedding to check things out.” Not all vendors are alike. Some have personalities that are less than easy-going, so coordinating between the vendors does not always take place.

Nicole Meredith warns that “if you are planning over the phone as I did, and if people are rude to you, they are most likely going to be a bear to work with. Find someone new. There are too many people in the wedding business to ‘sweat the small stuff’.”

Once you have your vision in place, hire the professionals to capture the important moments. Photographers are a must. But Lindsay Forseth, Catering Sales Manager at Lansdowne Resort in Leesburg, VA, says her biggest regret about her wedding was not having a videographer. She says, “I didn’t think I wanted one at the time, but now I wish more than ever that I could go back and watch a video of the whole day. It goes by so quickly that I would love to go back and watch it over and see what I missed.”

Your wedding will truly fly by. Hopefully you’ll sound like Danielle Lux who wished, “it could have been longer, I know this sounds silly, but it flew by. We didn’t even do the bouquet/garter toss because we were busy having so much fun with everyone.”

Problem Solved

The daunting responsibility of planning a wedding should never feel like it is all on your shoulders. Hire professionals who match your personality. Whether you have the budget to hire a wedding planner or not, make sure you hire experienced vendors who can create your vision. This means that you must have a dream. By dreaming, you can begin creating the experience that you and your guests will never forget. Hire those vendors who can make those dreams come true. Ask them questions, find out the creative ways they can bring energy to your reception. Your budget is important, but not as important as how you divide that budget. Determine your budget by finding the average costs in your area for the different vendors, not by an arbitrary number. Make up your budget by considering the elements that you feel are important to your particular wedding reception. Remember, you really do “get what you pay for.”

Two last pieces of advice from Amber and Lindsay

“Stay on top of things, but relax. Things will get done and everything will be beautiful. Don’t forget to let your fiance know how much you care during the process. After all, the event is about professing your love in front of your friends and family.” – Amber Bahnak

“Enjoy the whole day. Being with all of your friends and family is the best! It will be the best day of your life!” – Lindsay Forseth

–Thank you to all of the brides and vendors who were so generous in giving me their time to write this article.–

References: – great source for some valuable information about wedding budget trends

St. Louis Bride & Groom Magazine, 2003. Sources include: Simmons, 2001; USA Today, 2002; National Bridal Service,

2001; The Knot, 2002; Brides Magazine, 2001.