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.


Our Best Wedding Decisions

by Melissa on January 6, 2012

A few weeks ago, I told you what I would do differently if I could plan our wedding all over again. This week, I’m here to tell you about our best wedding decisions!

1) Not having a bridal party. Seriously, this tops the list. No regrets here.

2) Not involving others. We paid for the wedding on our own. The majority of the wedding details stayed between me and Ken. When my family asked how it was going, I just gave them generic “it’s fine” answers.  I even went wedding dress shopping by myself. While I do have a slight twinge of guilt about it sometimes, in the end, it made our wedding planning process much, much saner.

3) Maximizing cash back rewards and frequent flyer miles. Let’s face it, wedding are expensive. Even “budget” weddings are a few thousand dollars. I knew from the very beginning that I wanted rewards for spending that money. Although I still have to do the final tally, I ended up with more than 100,000 frequent flyer miles from British Airways (thanks to an awesome sign-up bonus), which is, in general, good for two free tickets to Europe. I also collected other cashback too. Rewards tally post to come soon!

4) Taking dance lessons and starting them early! Both Ken and I did not know how to dance. I mean, at all. Like, the only time I slow danced was at other weddings I was in. Not even awkward white people-type dancing. We just never did it. So, eight months before the wedding, we enrolled in ballroom dance lessons. This was a great, albeit pricey, decision. In fact, if you decide just one month away from your wedding that you want to take dance lessons, don’t do it. I feel like I would’ve been more frustrated and more overwhelmed trying to learn everything from scratch in such a short period of time.

5) Having a venue that doesn’t kick you out. We rented our wedding venue, which was a campground, for (get this) 3 nights! When we were early in the wedding planning process, we were so disappointed in the short amount of time that venues would allow. The price per hour was going to be enormous for one of the initial venues we found and liked. When we found the campground, and realized that we could rent it for three nights for the same price as other venues wanted for just 5 or six hours, we were sold. Our wedding venue rocked!


I always smack my forehead when I read “advice for the newly engaged” (including when I was newly engaged). I’m all, like, “Oh WOW! Thank you The Knot for telling me that I have to select a VENUE!” Or “Gee, that’s AMAZING advice for telling me I should figure out who I should invite AND that I should figure out a budget. I would’ve never thought of that on my own!”

It’s like they assume bride brain sets in the moment you get engaged. Because, after all, we’re just silly women, what do we know about this stuff?

So, Did you get engaged over the holidays? Do you have a brain? Did you already know that you need a wedding venue and a wedding budget? Then here’s my take on “advice for the newly engaged.”

adviceSource: Flickr User Laughlin

1) Most wedding sites will tell you to decide your wedding budget and stick to it. Let’s all pause for a moment and start a slow clap for that advice. I say, Regardless of how big or how small your budget it, weddings will cost some amount of money. The cheapest non-courthouse wedding I have found is over at 2000 Dollar Wedding. And here are a few other mini-budget weddings to check out. So, first things first, sign up for an excellent cash back rewards or airline miles credit card (or two!). Check out The Points Guy for the best up-to-date listing of travel-related credit card offers, and My Dollar Plan for the best cash back card recommendations. If you’re going to spend money on a wedding, you may as well get rewarded for it! My strategy worked great!

2) Other wedding advice sites tell you to identify your top priorities. Yes, that’s all fine and good. However, also identify things that are of lowest importance to you (but are things you still want to have at your wedding). For instance, flowers and ceremony music were definitely lower priorities for me. Knowing what your lower priorities are will help you delegate wedding-related tasks. When someone asks if they can help you, you can task them with the lower priority items. It will keep them occupied and out of your hair for a while, it will make them feel like they’re contributing, and it will leave you to focus on your bigger priorities. But then again, if you want to take care of everything, including the lower priority items, then do it. Because, despite what vendors and terrible TV tell you, planning a wedding is not hard, doesn’t have to be stressful, and you do not need outside help. Bonus of this method: By handing off lower priority items early on to friends, family, or your wedding party (if you decide to even have a wedding party), you’ll be able to identify who are the super responsive helpers, and who are just the slackers.

3) Be clear with your family about expectations. I’m not just talking money (because, after all, I’m a bad example. I never even had the “wedding budget talk” with my parents. I just knew Ken and I would pay for everything). Ask them if they have any expectations of you for your wedding day, for instance, that you’ll wear your grandmother’s veil. That way you can either A) Consider their wishes when planning – e.g., keep that veil in mind when shopping for your dress or considering your hair style; B) Let them know up front that you will not meet that certain expectation – e.g., you already have the perfect veil in mind; or C) Work out a compromise. Perhaps you don’t want to wear that veil, but (based on your identification of lower priorities in #2), something like a cake cutting set is a lower priority. Ask them if you can use your grandmother’s cake cutting set instead of wearing her veil. Anyway, you get the idea. I was shocked that TWO WEEKS before the wedding, my mom suggested I wear her pearls for my wedding. Ummm, I had my accessories picked out MONTHS ago. However, if I had known she wanted that in advance, I could’ve worked it out. But, I did decide to integrate her wedding handkerchief into my bouquet instead.

4) Develop your mission, goals, and a strategy to achieve them. I work for a major auditing organization. I don’t do financial audits. Rather, I do program evaluation audits. I’ll look at a program and do a nearly year-long evaluation and, in the end, we can make a very accurate assessment of whether they’re spending their money well. What are some common themes of those programs that AREN’T effective? Here goes.

  • No clear mission
  • No clear goals
  • No clear strategy to accomplish goals and mission
  • Lack of stakeholder involvement
  • Unclear performance measures to gauge progress

There you have it. The secret to any programmatic success. Mission, goals, strategy, stakeholder involvement, and performance measures. If you identify and stick to all those things, I guarantee your wedding will be a success! (Oh, and don’t forget to document it! i.e., write it down!) So, after your wedding day, if I was to audit your wedding planning process, would I be able to find a clear mission, goals, and a strategy?

There you have it! Congrats to all the newly engaged!


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.


Here are some things that I needed (er, at least wanted) during the week of my wedding, but didn’t have handy because no one ever told me I’d need it. I hope this helps you when planning your wedding!

Water. Copious amounts of water. Seriously. The week of your wedding, you’ll probably be wrapping up some projects and running some last minute errands. Nervousness and excitement may affect your appetite. The least you can do for your health is stay well hydrated. Carry around a huge bottle of water with you everywhere. Keep bottles in your car, in your purse, keep a nalgene clipped to your purse, do whatever you have to do. Stay hydrated. It will also help keep headaches at bay and will also keep the bloat away on your wedding day.

Gladware, baggies, and plastic containers. Shitloads of them. Your caterer will likely have lots of leftovers for you. And you’ll probably also have lots of cake leftover. We had both. Our cake leftovers were provided in cardboard cake boxes (which would make it dry out fairly quickly) and the catering leftovers were provided in HUGE aluminum pans. Both were useful for transport, but not as longer term solutions.  Before your wedding, make sure you purchase tons of large gladware containers as well as a mix of sizes of smaller containers. You will also be able to give away containers of leftovers to guests still in town.

Easy-to-make meals. Make sure your freezer is filled with easy-to-make (but healthy) meals in the weeks leading up to your wedding. We used a lot of frozen foods we had on hand, like fish sticks and chicken nuggets from Trader Joe’s, and other food items like grilled cheese and soup. This were great and helped us avoid the typical day-to-day chores that are typically a part of daily life.

A small notebook and pen on your person at ALL times. Multitasking sucks. And so does realizing you need to do something but forgetting about it five minutes later. So, when you’re in the middle of doing something but remember another task that you need to complete, just take out your small notebook, write down a reminder, and continue on with your current task. The Wednesday before the wedding, I purchased a few of these notebooks and kept one for myself and gave one to Ken. We did a great job making notes and reviewing them later on. We also used them to remind ourselves of other things we had to discuss with each other but we weren’t in the same room at the time.

Sleeping pills. (Disclaimer: Ken seriously disagrees with me on this one and would be afraid that people would oversleep for their wedding). I’m not a big proponent of sleeping pills. That’s probably because I am a very sound sleeper. And perhaps it’s because when I do have trouble sleeping, a glass or two (or three) of wine is enough to send me to sleep for hours on end. However, I did not sleep well in the three days leading up to the wedding. Tuesday night, Wednesday night, and Thursday night were fitful nights of sleep. With the exception of Thursday, falling asleep was not the issue for me. Staying asleep, however, was problematic. I’d wake up in the middle of the night and then find it impossible to fall back asleep. It would have been great to have gotten a great night sleep the night before the wedding, especially considering all the craziness of that night. So, in hindsight, I should’ve asked my doctor if she recommended anything in case I had trouble sleeping before the wedding. Maybe she would’ve said, “no way.” But, it’s just something for others to be aware of!