Wedding Planning Advice

Just got engaged? Get on this shit, ASAP

by Melissa on March 20, 2012

Every time I read an “advice for the newly engaged” article or blog post, I’m inspired to write a similar post too. Except one that actually contains USEFUL information. I ranted about this in my last “advice for the newly engaged” post, but did you know that after you get engaged you should start to develop a guest list? Or determine who you want to be in your wedding party? So, once again, here’s some advice for you if you just got engaged (that you won’t read anywhere else)


Learn how to use Illustrator and Photoshop, ASAP

Take courses at before wedding planning gets super crazy, or sign up for a course at your nearby community college. I am not familiar with Photoshop or Illustrator at all, yet I had to use them countless times for wedding-related things. And if you aren’t familiar with them, let me just say that they are not intuitive and there are some steep learning curves.

Practice communicating your opinion in the clearest, most straightforward and succinct way possible

Look okay, sometimes women have trouble saying no, or outright disagreeing with someone because we don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. But when dealing with people you interact with during the wedding planning process, including vendors and friends that are helping you, you need to be as clear as possible about your opinions. 

So for instance, if your cake decorator suggests a cake design that you think is hideous, this should NOT be your response:

"I mean, sure, that looks nice, but I was wondering if it was possible because I was thinking more along the lines of something that was perhaps a more coral color than a deep orange. I mean, if the color you’re showing me now is easier, then sure, that would probably be fine though. And, I mean, of course you’re the expert, what do I know about these things?"

WTH? And yes, we DO sound like that sometimes. And that just leaves your cake vendor completely confused. "So wait, is this deep orange okay or not?"

A much better response is:

"No, I don’t like this color orange you’re showing me. I would like something coral instead."

BOOM. Done. You’re paying your vendors folks. I’m not saying be rude to them or anything. But be straightforward and don’t worry about offending them.

Perhaps learn a bit of a crafty skill, such as sewing or calligraphy

This can help you save money down the road, or better yet, open up a host of different options that you might not have otherwise considered for your wedding!

Sign up for travel deal and airfare alerts for your desired honeymoon destinations

Even if you haven’t made a definitive decision about your honeymoon destination, hurry and sign up for travel deals and alerts for any potential honeymoon destinations. For instance, sign up for Kayak and Airfare Watchdog airfare alerts from your home airport to your honeymoon destination cities. That way you can pounce on a great deal if it comes up.  Also, sign up for Travelzoo Top 20 and Newsflash deals. While they’re not destination-specific, there may be a great deal to a city that you wouldn’t have otherwise thought of!

Start a blog, a journal, or something to remember your experiences

And keep up with it! Of course, planning a wedding adds an entirely new element of busy-ness to your life, but there will be so many crazy experiences and stories from your wedding planning experience! Make sure you memorialize them some way! Whether it’s a blog that you share with the world, a notebook journal, or a simple Word document, write it down! You’ll be so thankful that you did.


Over the next few weeks (er, months), I’m going to dedicate an entire blog post to each topic listed below. But, for the quick and dirty rundown, this is what I would’ve done differently:

Planned it in a much more compressed timeframe

We were engaged for 13 months for a few reasons 1) We wanted a fall wedding, and since we got engaged in October 2010, we knew there was no way to have a Fall 2010 wedding! And 2) All the books and wedding magazines tell you it takes a year to plan a wedding. Now hear this. There is no reason a wedding takes a year to plan.

I recommend planning it over the course of 4-6 months. Why? By the time our wedding approached, I was starting to become annoyed about it. I just wanted it HERE. Month after month of spending money. And it becomes all anyone ever asks you about – “How’s the wedding planning coming along?” While the wedding was, of course, joyous, those last six weeks leading up to it were brutal. We were done with all major do list items that could be done, and time just dragged on and on. I started fantasizing about my post-wedding life and planning all sorts of post-wedding projects. Be flexible with your potential wedding dates and find a venue that that has availability within six months, and BOOK IT. You won’t regret it!

Not hired a day-of coordinator

Well, let me back up a second. We had an awesome venue (actually, it was a campground) that we were able to start setting up more than two days prior to our wedding day. If I had a traditional venue that only allowed a setup on the morning of, then I probably wouldn’t regret hiring a day-of-coordinator. However, if you are organized, have a clear vision, the discipline to execute it, and a firm timeline, the coordinator will just add more hassle to your life by asking you stupid questions. Umm, why yes I do know what I’m giving guests as favors. And yes, I know I should have all my bins and boxes labeled when I come to the venue. There will be a more in-depth post in the next few weeks about why I HATED having a day-of-coordinator. HATED.

Had a dress custom made.

I had a very clear vision for what I wanted my wedding dress to look like. But I was never able to find it. As a compromise, I established some key criteria for my wedding dress. I was offered my grandmother’s wedding dress (I talk about that in the same post), which I considered having cut and made into the dress I wanted, but I ultimately decided against it. While I liked both the dresses I wore on my wedding day, I still would’ve liked to have worn the one I had envisioned all along.

Here is a sketch (ahem, a very crude sketch) I made early on in the wedding planning process of how I envisioned my wedding dress. Tea length, v-neck, with 3/4 length sleeves. And apparently some weird ruching thing on the waist!

(Update! Now that we have our wedding photos, I completely take this “regret” back. My wedding dresses looked phenomenal and were so perfect for our casual autumn campground wedding. So, this regret was short lived!)


Used those slower “interim” months to take care of the more “boring” details

If you do decide to drag out your engagement for a year, there’s a period of time in the middle when you’re kind of in a lull. You’ve booked your venue and other priority vendors, but you’re not ready to book other things or start buy decor that will just clutter your house for the next nine months.  What would I classify as the more “boring” details? In my opinion (and I realize others may be different!) things like the ceremony readings, ceremony music, making iPod deejay playlists, and designing your wedding program could’ve all been done much earlier than I did them.

Not spent so much time looking for things online

Look, we all want to save money on our wedding. But seriously, if you spend 3 hours researching the best prices to buy table runners and you save yourself 15 bucks, was it really that worth it? After hours of researching something and delaying decisions in hopes of finding something better and/or less expensive, I would feel just so completely unproductive.

Not invited so many people

This was one of my bigger worries. In fact, it tied with “weather” as the “Biggest Stressor” in my wedding superlatives post. In the end, we invited 287 people. Way too many. I have no idea how that happened. Both my parents are only children, and therefore I have no aunts, no uncles, and no cousins. Ken has a bigger family, but not huge. Our venue had seating for 160 people. With extra table rentals, we could probably fit another 50-75 people comfortably.  But, of course, that adds significant costs. So, we were relying on a very high “regretfully decline” rate in order to not be packed in our venue like sardines. I’m a little ashamed to admit that with every RSVP regret we received, I breathed a little sigh of relief!

Not used people we knew as vendors

Our officiant was a long-time friend (and pastor) of Ken’s family. Our day-of-coordinator was a woman from the neighborhood that owns a concierge business. While everything worked out great in the end with the officiant, even after some initial hiccups, he was not the most responsive guy. About a week before the wedding, we were worried that he never submitted the paperwork he needed to officiate a wedding in Virginia (because he’s a pastor in Maryland, he needed special approval to officiate a wedding in Virginia). And he wasn’t returning our phone calls, which was really worrisome.

We also knew personally our day-of-coordinator, and I have a feeling that I would’ve been much more comfortable with someone that I didn’t know. Someone that I could say to, “No, that’s a terrible idea,” and not have to worry about facing them after the wedding. Because, frankly, she had too many terrible ideas and I never told her outright they were terrible because I knew I’d still have to live in the same neighborhood as she does.


Setting Up Helper Stations for DIY Wedding

by Melissa on November 7, 2011

Yesterday, my wedding week to-do list included tasks like “get things organized at venue.”  Well, what the hell does that actually mean?

Anticipating that family and friends will ask what they can help with after they arrive, I’ve created a list of some of the more “menial” tasks that will need to get done as Ken and I focus on some of the bigger picture items. We’ll set up “helping stations” that include the boxes or bins related to each of the below tasks. Then we’ll ask them to cross it off our list as it’s completed. Although the helping stations will take a bit of time to set up, in the end it will save us time and preserve our sanity so that our friends and family aren’t interrupting us every two minutes to ask what they can help with and we won’t have to waste time showing them where the supplies are.

So, here’s our list of things family and friends can help us with on Wednesday and Thursday:

  • Put sand in bags for luminaries
  • Take cellophane off of board games
  • Assemble centerpieces
  • Keep fireplaces burning
  • Put batteries and SD cards into digital cameras
  • Fold and assemble ceremony programs
  • Assemble coffee supplies in wooden carrier (creamer, stirrers, napkins, tea bags, hot chocolate packets etc.)
  • Take plates, cups, napkins, etc. out of plastic wrappers (but not all in case we can return some)
  • Dishes to wash:
    • Cake stands
    • galvanized buckets
  • Break apart pieces of chocolate and put in bucket and cover with saran wrap
  • Open graham cracker packages and put in bucket and cover with saran wrap
  • Make coffee pot-sized portions of coffee grounds
  • Pour sand ceremony sand into the jars
  • Put postcards in table number holders
  • Assemble patio heaters (pack toolkit for park, including drill and chargers)
  • Organize “kids table” items (combine all crayons into one jar, take toys out of packaging, etc.)
  • Put “reserved” tape for on seats for family at ceremony site
  • Set up guest book items (including putting markers and pens in cups, putting cardstock in baskets, etc.)
  • Put empty boxes and bins in kitchen (the small room with the freezers). Stack or nest them neatly if possible

Tasks for our day of coordinator the morning of wedding


  • Decorate tables (tablecloths, table runners)
  • Steam/Dewrinkle tablecloths and table runners
  • Put centerpieces, pumpkins, favors, and table “numbers” on the tables
  • Move television to pavilion?
  • Set up easels with seating charts
  • Make sure fireplaces are going strong
  • Turn on patio heaters
  • Set up dessert table with (mockup of dessert table will be on a table in mess hall)
  • Put up family wedding photos
  • Set up guest book items
  • Set up games table (small folding table with ivory tablecloth). Mockup of games table will be in mess hall

Ceremony site:

  • Put tablecloths/fabric on hay bales
  • Put out table for sand ceremony
  • Set up sand ceremony kit on table
  • Move speakers equipment to the ceremony site
  • Put out chair for classical guitarist
  • Put out table with programs