Look, if you’re planning your own wedding or are thinking about doing so, you don’t have time for lengthy introductions. Let’s get right into what you came here for, shall we? Here’s everything I learned by planning my own wedding that could save you some sweat and stress when managing yours:
How can I choose bridesmaids? I considered the following questions when selecting my bridal party:
Who are my best friends? Everyone defines best friend differently, and I’m blessed enough to have sister-friends I’ve been close with since childhood. So, including those besties was a no-brainer. My other bridesmaids included a best friend from high school, college, and my new sister-in-law. (Etiquette hint: it’s proper for the groom to include the bride’s brothers with his groomsmen and for the bride to include the groom’s sisters in her bridesmaids.) Of course, other friends in my life are close to my heart, but I knew that if I didn’t set some guidelines, I would end up with so many that it would be more of a stress than a blessing. However, if you don’t have a best friend at this time in life, don’t feel pressured to pick one and settle on any bridesmaids! Better to have no bridesmaids or just one or two than people who will let you down.
Who will be most helpful and calming during this process? Face it, you probably have friends you really care about, but maybe they aren’t very responsible, are too busy to fulfill another commitment, or are simply too dramatic to handle such a solemn occasion. I would recommend not making these types of friends bridesmaids. Bridesmaids play a more significant part than simply standing beside you for pictures; they are often instrumental to planning showers and parties leading up to the big day, and if they are the reliable kind, they will provide a lot of emotional support when times get rough (yes, they will get rough). Select responsible, sensible friends who will make the whole process easier on you, not harder.
Who do I want in my life forever? Again, this question may be daunting or may not apply to you, but think about it! Even if you don’t have close friends, you may want your mom, sister, cousin, etc. to stand beside you as a bridesmaid. But honestly, if you don’t have a stable relationship with your bridesmaids candidates and don’t suspect that they will be by your side for the long haul, it’s okay, no obligation to include them.
Should I hire a DJ or DIY my music? If you can afford to hire a DJ, I highly recommend you do so. These days, many DJs double as MCs, and they are critical to helping the order of events flow and keeping everything moving. However, many people I know opted to DIY their music, and it worked out for them. But the overall consensus seems to be that DJs de-stress the experience by taking care of music, timing, and announcements for you so that you don’t have to put that crucial element into the hands of a friend or family member. If you do opt for the DIY route, be sure to select someone punctual and capable for the task.
Flowers? Real or fake? Like all elements of wedding planning, the choice of having real or fake flowers should be decided upon based on priority. If real, fresh flowers are a must-have for you, go for it. Know that it is not the cheapest choice, but it will turn out beautiful.
On the other hand, don’t be afraid of fake flowers. At first, I was convinced that artificial flowers were a tacky sell-out. At some point in time, that may have been true, but nowadays, the quality of fake flowers is pretty outstanding and is far more affordable than fresh flowers. At my wedding, I had a mix of artificial flowers, real flowers from Central Market, and fresh wildflowers from a friend’s field. They all looked beautiful, and I spent less than $300 on flowers. If you opt for the fake flower route, Hobby Lobby often has sales and a great selection in colors. For real flowers, don’t sleep on your nearest grocery store! Central Market, Trader Joe’s, and even Kroger have great in-season selections a lot of the time. I made my real bouquet the day before the wedding after browsing Central Market for about twenty minutes.
Guests: How many do I invite? Who do I leave out? Every venue has a guest capacity, so you can begin to simplify the guest list either by evaluating who you want to invite and finding a place that fits your count, or finding your dream venue and committing to only inviting as many guests as can fit. When I was venue shopping, I was surprised to see that few sites could hold more than 300 people. Mine could hold 200, so I knew that that was my max. Like selecting a bridal party, choosing who to invite can quickly get out of hand if some boundaries are not laid. I began to narrow down the numbers by first inviting crucial friends and family members. Seeing the amount remaining, I began to work my way out from there, sticking to the following rules: whether friend or family, if I haven’t seen them in more than five years, they don’t need an invite (unless you have beloved people who live out of the country you really want there). If there is mutual dislike, don’t invite them. If they have a track record of not being able to behave themselves at events like weddings, no invite.
If these steps still leave you with an overwhelming list that exceeds your venue and/or budget, consider making it an “adults only” event. While not convenient for everyone, most people understand that weddings are not cheap and every guest counts. Plus, it’s your wedding, so opt to ask for forgiveness rather than permission when it comes to making the guest list!
When to take photos? Having a cocktail hour is a great time to get pictures out of the way. If you do have a cocktail hour, make sure to provide guests something to eat, drink or do so that they aren’t bored waiting around, and nobody will be bothered, so long as you make sure it’s under an hour! If you can afford it, hire two photographers. Many professionals offer a second shooter for an added price, which I chose to purchase, and it was an excellent decision. This cuts down time on taking pictures and helps you to get all those good candids you want to see! Get to your venue as early as possible and have everyone get ready in plenty of time to take some pictures before the ceremony. If you want to do a first look, this can also make squeezing in photos before the ceremony easier and is probably your best bet if you really don’t want a cocktail hour.
Do I need to hire caterers, or can I do it myself? This is a MUST-ask question when browsing venues, as many venues have closed catering, meaning that you must select from their vendors and cannot do it yourself. Many couples opt for this route because it gives them more options when choosing venues, and it usually works on the day of, but it can be expensive. A big perk of my venue is that it had open catering, including alcohol, which allowed us to purchase all food and drinks ourselves, saving us heaps of money. So, if possible, recruit friends and family to help prepare and serve the food. Just make sure you select reliable individuals with a plan to keep things cool and/or warm and moving in time!
Where can I buy an affordable wedding dress? You might need to browse online or go visit a bridal boutique before you figure out what kind of dress you actually want. If you’re indecisive, utilize wedding dress stores to try on what they have and use the process of elimination to narrow down your preferences. Select a budget BEFORE you shop because otherwise, it’s easy to cave. However, know that you don’t have to! I absolutely loved my wedding dress, and it was $200 from Dillards. Some tips for finding an affordable dress once you know what you’re looking for include going to resale and consignment shops, shopping from department stores, and being open to getting dresses that aren’t technically wedding dresses. Mine, for example, was not labeled as a wedding dress, but I purchased the ivory version of it, and it was magical! Some bridesmaids dresses come in white, and so do evening gowns.
How much time do I need to plan a wedding? As much time as you want. Don’t be dismayed when you start talking to wedding vendors, and they tell you that you need at least a year-long engagement – not true! I got it all done in 9 months. I know people who have done it in 6, and my Matron of Honor planned hers in under 3. If you want something intimate and simple, 1-3 months is plenty of time. If you want a larger bash but still modest, 5-10 months is enough. However, if you want to wow everyone and are prepared to spend more than 10 grand, I would suggest planning at least a year in advance to avert the risk of losing all your hair due to stress.
Do I need a venue? Well, you certainly need a venue in terms of a physical location at which to get married, but no, you do not have to book a traditional venue! Backyard, garden, and house weddings can be just as beautiful as renting an expensive space, and it saves thousands. However, unless you are planning on having a minimal, intimate wedding, this isn’t a practical choice for most couples.
Do I need a wedding planner/coordinator? This is one of those things that I would have opted for if I had unlimited funds. I won’t lie, planning a large wedding is stressful without a coordinator, but if you can’t afford it, it can be done. Pinterest and sites such as Zola and The Knot have intuitive wedding checklists with deadlines that will help keep you on track. Don’t forget to enlist the help of friends and family along the way to help you manage everything; just be sure to show your gratitude and not take their support for granted!
Do I need to have all the traditional parties? It’s a lot, isn’t it? You’re expected to have multiple showers, a bachelorette party, a lingerie party, etc. That is totally up to you, the bride, of whether or not you would like to have those parties. I had all of the above and kept them pretty simple. There is no need to break you and your friends’ banks by having a ridiculous bachelorette bash. Showers are usually an opportunity for your friends and family to show their love and appreciation for you, and it’s a blessed time you don’t want to miss out on. Everything else is up to you, however! I will recommend at least having some type of bachelorette party, as it’s a good way for all your ladies in waiting to get to know each other before the big day, which helps everyone to have more fun day at the wedding. Nowadays, many people combine their bachelorette party with their lingerie shower to simplify things, a choice I made, and of which I have no regrets!
Comment below if you have any more questions I forgot to address, and I will happily reply to you! Planning your own wedding is no small task, but for many of us, it’s our only option. Remember that you don’t need a lot of money or a lot of people to have your dream day; just the right groom and right priorities! Best of luck to you in all your planning endeavors (and below are a few bonus pics!)