So you’re engaged! Congratulations! After a few days on cloud nine, it may settle in that you now have the daunting task of planning your wedding. Maybe you don’t know where to start or how to organize all your ideas without having a mental breakdown – you’re not alone! Any married person has been in your shoes, and lived to tell about it, including myself. My husband proposed to me on June 22, 2008, and right away I hit the ground running. I knew I wanted to plan my own wedding – I was organized, strategic, and crafty, and I had a great network of friends and family to help us make our wedding day a huge success. Neither of us came from money, and neither of us HAD money (can you say poor college students?), but we were in love, and that’s all that matters, right? We quickly devised a strategic plan to throw a crazy fun wedding on a crazy tight budget. It wasn’t always easy, but it was definitely worth it – we kept all the elements of our big day under $5,000! With the average American wedding costing roughly $28,000, we were pretty pleased with our results. Keep reading as I share some tips and tricks from planning my own wedding, including some lessons I learned along the way, and photos from our big day! So let’s jump in…
The first few decisions you make in planning your own wedding will be some of the biggest. The four big things you’ll need to decide first are the date, the budget, the venue, and the style.
Choosing a Wedding Date
When choosing a wedding date, you can go a few different routes: a special date, a memorable date, or a random date. A special date could be the anniversary of your first kiss or first date with your fiancé, or maybe the anniversary of an important family member. We chose May 17. Our anniversary of my husband asking me on our first date was May 18, but that fell on a Monday, so we opted for the day before. You could also choose a memorable date, i.e. one that your spouse won’t easily forget! We have several friends who were married on 7/7/07 – no excuses there! Your date could also be determined by the availability of your top venue choice. Many venues will book weddings up to a year in advance, so you may have to choose between a few random dates based on their availability. However you choose, I recommend consulting your vital friends and family members first to be sure everyone is available for your big day. Another factor to determine your date, is deciding how long you want to be engaged and/or what season of the year you want your wedding to be in.
Money-Saver: Schedule your wedding for an “off-day” such as Friday or Sunday. Saturday weddings are most common, and many venues and rental places will charge more for services delivered on a Saturday. Plus, having it on a unique day of the week will be more memorable.
Choosing a Wedding Venue
Again, your wedding venue and wedding date may go hand in hand, depending on the availability of both. Your venue may also be determined by the season. Many spring/summer weddings are outdoor, while most fall/winter weddings are going to be indoor. While some outdoor options will be cheaper than indoor options, remember to factor in the extra cost of renting tables, chairs, etc., plus the risk of bad weather. Always have a Plan B for an outdoor wedding! Also decide if you’ll be having your ceremony and reception at the same location or two different locations. Destination weddings can also be a good money-saving option. While they sound more expensive upfront, they’re quite comparable because they are usually all-inclusive.
We opted for an outdoor wedding for many reasons: we loved the idea of using the scenery around us as our décor, and we had some family friends who owned a house in the country that they rented out for weddings. We were their first wedding in their venue, so we got a great deal of only $600, which included the rental of all tables and chairs, plus the sound system.
Money-Saver: Sometimes choosing an unconventional location such as a firehouse, a library, or a public park, can be a money-saver. These locations aren’t used to hosting weddings, so you could get a good rate for their space. On the other hand, be sure you’ll have access to tables, chairs, and any other structural/furniture items you’ll need.
Deciding on Your Wedding Budget
Another important factor in your wedding planning will be your wedding budget. First, it would be good to see if either set of parents will be contributing to the fund at all. Next, if you have already begun saving for your big day, you can add that amount to the mix. Your budget and the size and scope of your wedding will most likely go hand in hand. But even on a small budget, you can have a beautiful wedding with a fair amount of guests. We capped our budget at $5,000, and still managed to host about 100 guests. Your budget will play a vital role in every aspect of your wedding. As tempting as it is to splurge and go overboard because “this only happens once,” it’s bad news to start your marriage off with a pile of debt. It may be YOUR special day, but it is also just that: a day. One day. So stick to your wedding budget, and start your marriage off on the right foot.
Narrowing Down Your Wedding’s Size and Style
Deciding on your wedding’s general size and style will factor into all your other wedding decisions from hear on out. Decide now where you want the size of your wedding to fall on the spectrum of everyone-you-and-your-parents-have-ever-known to a-handful-of-your-closest-friends-and-family. Again, this could also be determined by the size of your wedding budget and/or venue. You’ll also need to decide on some general styles that you’re going for. Will it be casual or formal? Country chic or Hollywood elegance? Traditional, unique, religious, sentimental? You’ve probably already thought about this even before your engagement, but nailing down some general aesthetic styles will help you decide on the other details that go into planning your wedding.
Another thing to consider as you’re deciding on style is your wedding colors. When choosing colors, consider the season of your wedding (warm tones are great for fall, while cooler tones look great in winter and spring). Also consider your venue. If an indoor venue already has some established hues, choose some additional shades that will complement. For our outdoor wedding, we wanted to play off all of the natural tones that would be surrounding every aspect of our wedding, so we used greens and yellows plus neutrals as our wedding colors. Also think about if your style and color choices will read as trendy or timeless. In 20 years, will you laugh at your wedding photos or will they still hold their elegance?
Filling in the Details
Now that you have the main four parts of your wedding decided, you can move on to filling in the details! Depending on the size, scope, and style of your wedding, some of these things may not even be a factor for you. Knowing what aspects of your wedding are the most important to you and your fiancé will help you focus your time, money, and resources on those things that matter the most.
Choosing Your Wedding Party
If you choose to have a wedding party, you have a wide spectrum of routes you could go! The size and scope of your wedding will help you determine which positions you want to fill, and which you can leave out. You can have a maid/matron of honor, bridesmaid(s), best man, groomsman(men), flower girl(s), ring bearer(s), usher(s), attendant(s), etc. When deciding WHO you want standing by your side on your big day, I would recommend choosing people who are close to you in that moment; childhood friends who you haven’t talked to in 10 years or your fiancé’s siblings who you’re not close to may not be the best choices. I have two brothers and my husband has a sister, but none of them were in our wedding party. Neither of us was super close to the other’s siblings at the time that we got married, and that’s okay! Choose people that are most important to YOU, not to your fiancé or parents or anyone else.
Money-Saver: Having a smaller wedding party will usually save you money than if you were to have a larger party. We had 3 girls, 3 guys, a flower girl and her escort, and that was it. Fewer bodies equals fewer dresses/tuxes, which is fewer dollars out of your (or their) pocket.
Choosing Your Wedding Photographer / Videographer
Many brides consider their wedding photographer to be the most important part of their wedding – they’re the one who captures your wedding in a form that will live on throughout your entire marriage! One of the first vendors you should book should be your photographer, as many of them can be booked over a year in advance. Be mindful of the style of photographs that you want your wedding to be captured in. They can be traditional, posed, and organized, or more candid, light-hearted, and personal. Think also about your post-wedding plans for having copies of photos and photo albums. Some photographers will provide you will a rights-free disc that you can print any photo from, while others require you to order prints and albums through their studio only. Also decide if you want to have a videographer or not. For us, we knew we’d only actually watch the video a couple times, so we chose not to record it, but if you’re really into videos, a videographer may be more worth it to you.
For our wedding, we were incredibly blessed to have a very dear friend who was an amazing professional photographer offer to do all our photography as a gift. This is a rare gift, so we know our wedding would have been more expensive had it not been for her generosity. Still, there are many budding photographers out there with great talent, so snagging them while their young could save you some money. But also be cautious when working with friends in this way – always sign a contract, even if you’re best friends! Better to be safe than sorry.
Choosing Your Wedding Dress
Here’s my main advice: try on everything! Even if you claim it’s not your style or it looks bad on the hanger, try it on anyway! My wedding dress was a simple strapless no-fluff gown with all-over beaded lace (for only $325), and it was definitely never on my radar. Throughout the whole shopping process, I kept saying I didn’t want any beading, but I tried this one on a whim, and it ended up being my favorite by far. Just as with your wedding style, consider if you want to go trendy or timeless. To find a timeless look, less is usually more! Also let the attendants at dress shops help you decide which dress styles will look best on your body type. Buying the dress can also be a common place to throw your wedding budget out the window, especially if you think you’ve found THE dress. But don’t do it! Keep going back to that dressing room until you find a dress you love, that you feel comfortable in, and that is within your budget. It can happen, you just may have to do some extra digging!
Shopping for your wedding dress can be a huge event in itself. Choose wisely who you want to join you on these adventures. Getting too many cooks in the kitchen could get confusing and awkward at times, so keep your group small and respectful. Finding your wedding dress can be a very sentimental time, so savor every minute. I did all my shopping with only my mom, and we had a blast. My dress was my wedding gift from her (which saved us some money!), and that day in the dressing room was one of my fondest memories from all of my wedding planning. Make those shopping trips special and let those closest to you enjoy the moment with you.
Money-Saver: Wherever you buy your dress, they’ll probably try to sell you on doing the alterations as well, and it’ll cost you an arm and a leg. But first try shopping around for the best price among local, reputable seamstresses. Ask your girlfriends or your mother’s friends, they’re sure to know someone who is their best kept secret!
Choosing Your Wedding Party’s Attire
We all know that the bride is the star of the show, but the rest of the party has to look good too! All of your party’s attire should complement your dress as well as your wedding’s general style (casual, formal, traditional, unique, etc.). Consider the season as well. A three-piece heavy, dark suit may not be the best choice for your beach wedding. When thinking about the look of your party as a whole, you’ll need to decide if you want everyone to match (exact same suits/dresses) or to coordinate (same dress different colors, or different dresses same colors). I personally like the coordinating look, so I had all my girls wear black knee-length dresses. I let them choose their own dresses, which allowed them to pick something that they were comfortable in and might actually wear again. To adhere to the budget, you’ll want to decide if you’re having your wedding party pay for their own attire or if you’ll be footing that bill. For our wedding, we paid for all of the wedding party’s attire, but we chose affordable options that wouldn’t break our budget. All the men’s suits were rentals at about $50 each, and the girls’ dresses were all from Target.
Choosing Your Wedding Caterer
Depending on the size and style you’ve decided for your wedding, you may offer a full dinner, or some simple appetizers, or maybe even just your cake and some drinks. Your venue may come with an in-house catering team, so check with them first. This is another place to inject some of your own personality into your wedding. My best friend is a coffee-addict, and served iced coffee at her July wedding. It was a huge hit, and we still talk about how good that coffee was! To keep our wedding simple, we decided to just have our wedding cake, plus cupcakes and some punch. As long as guests know ahead of time what type of food will be served, they won’t leave hungry.
Choosing Your Wedding Cake
Wedding cakes are tricky, I think. This was the only part of our wedding where I regret our decision. We paid $110 for a simple, three-tiered cake – it was beautiful and it was delicious, but we were the only ones that ate it! We served some melt-in-your-mouth cupcakes along side our cake, so no guests went near the full cake, and we ended up throwing most of it away. It will obviously be different for every wedding, but on ours, I wish we had gone smaller and cheaper. Our cupcakes, on the other hand, were the star of the reception! We saved a ton of money by buying pre-made cupcakes from Sam’s Club (a wholesale grocery store) a few days before, froze them until D-Day, and iced them ourselves that morning. We ended up with about 120 iced cupcakes for less than $100. Cupcakes are super popular right now, and can be a nice, frugal alternative to a traditional cake.
Choosing Your Wedding Music
Your wedding music may depend on the style of your venue, and what would work well in the space. Choose pieces and songs that are meaningful to you and your fiancé, and memorable for your guests to hear. We chose to go the simple route and use all recorded music. One of my brothers is a talented pianist, so as a gift to us, he recorded a unique arrangement of one of our favorite songs that played on a loop throughout the whole ceremony. Having musician friends perform on your special day can be a great way to include more personal touches to the day, and save you money (hopefully they’ll cut you a deal!).
Choosing Your Wedding Décor & Flowers
Decorating your wedding venue can be a daunting task, but it can also be an opportunity to incorporate a lot of personal elements into the day. Everything from the layout of the space, to the centerpieces, to the aisle ends can be adorned with something. A great example of personality in décor was at some friends’ wedding who were self-proclaimed bookworms. They loved all things reading and literature, so the bulk of their decorations included vintage books and interior pages from books. Utilizing unique, unconventional decorations can make your venue more welcoming and intriguing to your guests. Your wedding favors can also play into and become part of your décor as well.
Flowers can also play a huge part in your wedding décor. Decide if you want to use real flowers or fake flowers. It may be a budget decision, it may be a preference decision, or it may be both! For our wedding, I obviously didn’t want to shell out a bunch of money for some plants that were just going to die in a few days, but I also felt that fake flowers wouldn’t fit with my wedding’s style, especially being outdoors. I decided to go with real flowers, but to save some money, I would arrange them myself. I ordered yellow tulips online, and bought some supplemental flowers and fillers wholesale. Then, the night before the wedding, I invited a bunch of girlfriends over and had a “Flower Party.” My bridesmaids made their own bouquets using whatever they wanted from my spread. Two of my other dear friends, who weren’t in the wedding party, offered to assemble my bouquet that night, and it made it all the more special to carry down that aisle. Hosting a simple gathering like this can be special for those who aren’t in the wedding party but still want to play a role in your big day.
When finding inspiration and ideas for the look of your wedding, Pinterest can be a great resource, but it can also be a bit overwhelming. Pinterest became popular shortly after we got married, so I didn’t have it to refer to, but I can easily see how it can become too much to take in. My advice would be to pin in moderation!
I’ve only touched on the big ones here, but tons of other factors can go into planning your wedding including stationery, gift registry, rentals, rehearsal, ceremony, reception, honeymoon, bridal showers, bachelor/bachelorette parties, rings, jewelry/accessories, beauty treatments, and even post-wedding tear down plans.
Wedding to-do lists and organizers can seem overwhelming, but don’t let the details stress you out or turn you into a bridezilla, your wedding WILL come together and it WILL be awesome. You decide how your wedding planning will go – keep the process and your attitude positive and let family and friends help you along the way. At the same time, stay true to yourself and your style as a couple, and just focus on the elements that are most important to you. Try adding unique touches and personal moments to make this special day unforgettable by all who are celebrating with you. Congratulations, and happy planning!