So You Want to Plan Your Own Wedding
(Don’t Do It – Hire a Planner!)
by Jan Levie
So you want to plan your own wedding. Planning a wedding can’t be that hard, right?
You can do it yourself.
According to long-time wedding planner, Janice Blackmon of Janice Blackmon Events, it takes approximately 400 – 600 hours to plan a wedding. That is IF you have any idea of what needs to be done. A professional planner can reduce this time and lead you in the right directions to fit your budget, style, desires and theme.
When should I start planning?
Start a year ahead of time. At least. 18 months preferably. Venues and vendors schedules fill up quickly, sometimes 2 years in advance. To get your best options, start as early as possible.
But what if we want to get married sooner than in 18 months? You absolutely can plan a wedding in a shorter amount of time, however, you may need to consider dates that might not be your first choice. As long as you are flexible, planning in a shorter time frame is possible, just not recommended.
First, figure out your budget. Yes. Figure out your budget. Not your ‘wish’ or ‘dream’ budget, but the amount of money you have for everything.
This is why planners and vendors ask you what your budget is. We don’t ask this to judge you or change our rates, but it is so we can recommend appropriate vendors, services, and options that meet your budget.
People often respond, “We don’t know yet.” For us, that’s like someone asking where they should stay in Paris. When friends say they don’t know what their budget is for Paris, I ask them if they want to stay under a bridge or in a hotel. One major difference between them is the budget required.
Where do I start?
- What do you want?
- Do you know what you don’t want?
- What do you need?
- Is there a non-negotiable must have?
Everybody has a different concept of what tasteful, classy, traditional, reasonably priced, outside-the-box, quirky, elegant, luxurious, expensive, budget-friendly, and down-to-earth mean. Is elegant expensive? Whose tradition is traditional? What constitutes good taste for you?
Having answers to these questions can help a professional planner assist you with finding the best vendors to meet your needs.
Choose your venue. Again, Janice Blackmon, of Janice Blackmon Events, “Selecting the venue is typically the most time consuming task. Having a professional planner can save you time and stress. A professional planner will be aware of the many venues in the area that would match your style and budget. They are also typically able to negotiate a contract to include “extras” that you wouldn’t be able to get on your own.”
When considering venues, consider the proximity to you, your guests, accommodations, and venues. Does it have ADA accessible restrooms?
How welcoming and inclusive is the venue? To begin answering this questions, look at the signage on the restrooms and where they are located.
You will frequently see a lavishly decorated venue or showroom when you attend a scheduled walk-through or open house. Ask which options and amenities being shown are actually included in your ‘all-inclusive’ package.
Note: Just because someone says it’s so doesn’t make it true. Read your contract carefully! On one hand, this is not meant to say that you are being misled; but sometimes sales people forget to explain that the furnishings or decor were left from yesterday evening’s event.
Is parking included? You’ll want to know for how many guests. Ask what the total cost is. Valet parking might be necessary so you’ll need to see if it’s available through the venue. What are the additional costs?
Consider security. You’ll want to know what the venue provides or requires. Is the allocation based on the head count? When you take your guests’ needs into consideration, will it be sufficient to offer the degree of security you’ll need? Are the costs included?
Does your venue offer on site accommodations and/or transportation? If so, will all of your guests be staying on site? Will they need transportation to and from the venue? How will your guests get to and from the airport or get around before and after the wedding?
What do you, as the host, really need to provide? It is a nice touch to give your guests a detailed list of options to choose from.
In case you don’t already know–your local convention and visitors bureaus will provide you and your guests with information about local transportation, venues, accommodations, and attractions–free of charge. These often include coupons, vouchers, and giveaways and make a nice addition to your guest welcome bags.
Car rentals are still being adversely impacted by supply chain issues. Having alternative means of transportation might save your guests a significant amount of money, time, and headaches.
Pay close attention to your catering options. Catering will profoundly impact your budget. Sometimes a couple wants to serve guests for about $10 a person.
Think about that. How much does it cost per person to get a burger and fries? Milkshake? You need to be realistic. Can you serve Filet Mignon and Lobster Tail for $10.00 a person?
Considerations when choosing a caterer:
- Permitting or licensing
Will the catering service or the venue provide the following, or will you have to rent or buy:
- Serving ware
- Serving trays
- Cooling or heating equipment
Some tips for creating budget-friendly catering options:
You might think that having a buffet would be your most cost-saving option. This is not always the case. A buffet can be more expensive than a seated meal. It all depends on the food options.
For instance, you might select a chicken entrée for all of your guests for a seated, served meal, but if you have a buffet you might offer hand-carved beef tenderloin, salmon, three different salads, a variety of vegetable options, and starches. Don’t forget the shrimp cocktail!
These options would cost more than a plated meal because there are more of them and they are potentially more expensive items. Will you offer passed hors d’oeuvres or food stations? Passed hors d’oeuvres offer better food management and allow for fewer interruptions. In addition, it is a more sanitary way of serving.
When deciding whether you want to offer a plated, sit down dinner or prefer a buffet, take into consideration the number of guests in relation to the size of your venue.
The size and type of tables you use have more of an impact than you might know. Small, round tables facilitate conversation while long banquet tables are more formal. For plated meals, timing is a critical factor. If you choose to have a buffet, you will need staff to refresh and monitor, as well as maintain sanitary practices.
What are the laws in your state? Who is the responsible party?
In Georgia, permitting depends on whether the alcohol will be distributed free, or sold at the event. If your vendor is distributing the alcohol at a facility without a liquor license, you will need a Special Event Permit.
Check if your venue provides bartenders.
Your budget, local ordinances, guests, and whether or not your venue has a wet bar or kitchen prep area will help you determine what you can offer.
When considering alcoholic beverages, you generally will choose between the following:
- top shelf
- signature cocktail
- wine and beer
- Don’t forget the non-alcoholic options!
If your venue offers packages, you might also choose between an open bar and a set limit of drinks per person based on your budget and your preferences.
Does your municipality require a permit to have people at your home or at your awesome, quirky, and unusual venue?
Are there noise ordinances? Would having a permit make a difference? You might have pulled all the correct permits, but the neighbors not only don’t know that, but the local law enforcement also isn’t aware–until they’ve shut you down for violating local noise ordinances as reported by neighbors.
In addition to obtaining permits, be a dear and let those neighbors and local officials know what you are doing! Tell them why you are doing it, and what to expect in terms of noise, traffic, parking issues or other inconveniences.
The simplest and a very effective way of communicating with neighbors is to print flyers and put them in mailboxes. Also deliver a copy to the local precinct station.
When obtaining permits be sure to know or find out who is eligible to serve alcohol at your venue. You would think all event venues would be licensed to serve alcohol, but that is not always true.
What is the legal age to serve alcohol? Is there a difference in the type of alcohol served? For example, are 18 year olds allowed to serve wine and beer but not hard liquor? Look into the legal drinking age and consider having some designated people keep an eye on the young people. Inebriated guests can derail the best of plans; tipsy kids present even more risk.
How will you ensure guest safety? One option we’ve introduced is ‘The Smile Patrol.‘ We provide entertainer(s) costumed to fit your reception and theme! They can strategically distract, intervene, if necessary, and guide guests away from bad decisions, or back to the part of the event where they should be!
Is there an Uber or Lyft option? Do you have an agreement with the hotel to provide shuttle service?
Who you are and how you do things will influence your choice of entertainment more than anything else. Are you someone who likes to follow the trends? Do you want to have the kind of entertainment that your best friend had at her/his/their wedding? Are you the kind of person who likes to do things your own way?
Is budget your primary concern? Does it have to be EASY? Do you want something quiet? More questions to ponder–do you want an interactive form of entertainment? Are there any people with disabilities you want to be sure to include in your entertainment?
Here are some of the choices people make:
DJ/MC – someone to keep the party going, Sure, you can have Uncle Pete run the music from his MacBook Air. Think about that for a second–Pete will have to create a timeline, a playlist, and cue everyone and everything.
Will Pete have an assistant, backup equipment, and backup plans? More importantly–does he carry liability insurance? Most venues will require any and all outside vendors to provide a Certificate of Insurance.
Do you want a band?
If so, have a budget in mind and know what the venue has to offer in terms of power, space, stage, and what are the noise ordinances??
Strolling entertainers are an amazing option for making sure everybody is included. It particularly makes a difference for guests who have mobility issues. They are able to be a part of things without having to maneuver from their seat, or ask for assistance.
This is our jam. The sky’s the limit! Ask us! We are happy to share ideas, point you in the right direction and be a trusted voice in this journey you’re on.
We are seeing an increasing number of couples requesting original artists like magicians, acrobats, caricaturists, sword swallowers, burlesque, fortune tellers, jugglers, and more as part of their traditional weddings!
We recently were hired as part of an exquisite, elegant wedding at The Fox Theatre. Lip Print Analysis were part of cocktail hour. Guests could visit the Tea Tent for Tea Cup Readings during dinner (similar to coffee cup readings). We served Oolong and Rooibos in an assortment of bone china cups and saucers!
There are so many different options to celebrate traditions, and today they are more available to us than ever before. Being able to shop for necessary elements from the comfort of home has been a total game changer.
In addition, what is most important to you? More importantly, why is it important to you? Furthermore, what about your partner’s priorities? Lastly, you’ll want to take into consideration what the families deem important.
Note that I wrote “take into consideration.” For some families, some traditions, and some religions, the couple’s needs and desires do not take precedence.
When the couple comes from different traditions or levels of observance—which is pretty much all the time—you can fight to have your way, or find out WHY something is important to the others.
Moreover, try to understand what the others want by asking questions and listening (really listening) to their answers. This is the best way to create a wedding that is yours, and is also welcoming and considerate of your family and guests.
No denying it, outdoor events are grand! It’s possible for event the best of plans to be waylaid by uncooperative weather. Whether storms, power outages, or even wildfires, many situations can be mitigated with foresight.
Protect against blazing sun and no shade with parasols. Or provide comfort against unpredictably cool weather with rented Pashminas!
Impassable roads, floods, ice-storms–they are all a possibility. Tenting provides for alternatives if the weather turns. In addition, tents can allow you to extend your space.
If your area is known for challenging weather conditions, try to plan for the worst case scenario, while hoping for the best. Every couple wants perfect weather, but that is unfortunately not always going to happen.
Will each guest be responsible for themself, or will you provide group transportation? How about those family members and guests arriving all through the day and night at the airport? Will they have to rent a vehicle? Is there mass transit in your area and will they be comfortable with it?
Lodging ties heavily into transportation.
Where are people staying and how is that going to affect your budget, their budgets, your timeline, and the comfort of their stay? Sure, you might find an awesome little hotel away from the fray, but are they going to get lost on their way to your event?
Decor is a game-changer. Do-it-yourself abounds. It usually boils down to how much time you have to invest in the procurement process and the logistics for the set-up for your wedding.
In addition, consider that if you purchase all of the décor, what will you do with it all after the wedding? Who is going to be designated with staying sober and until the last guest leaves to then take it all down and pack it all up? Do you really want your family or friends having to deal with that?
Want to know why designers exist and are sought after? To you, it is maroon fabric. When an experienced designer hears maroon fabric, their ears perk up and they start asking questions.
Exactly what shade of maroon? Do you prefer polyester, cotton, silk, or a blend? If you want a blend, a blend of what? Make a guess how many shades and variations of maroon there are! Would you prefer different shades of the same color or do you want everything to match?
My favorite example of what a designer can do is the transformation of the port-a-potty to an artfully draped accessory that matched the artfully draped rustic venue!
Some Style examples: dramatic * natural * photojournalistic * soft and dreamy * composed * modern
We hear it all the time. Clients want to know what the difference is between all the photographers and videographers. How can you tell the difference between their styles? It doesn’t actually matter what you call it, find out what you like!
Find out about their packages–what, precisely, is included. Some of the questions to ask are about the number of staff, times of coverage, shot lists, delivery of product, and your ownership.
Get referrals. Look for recent referrals where you can call them. This goes for all your vendors. Take the time to look at their work. If you like what you see, ask what’s included and what their turnaround time is.
Will you get that specific photographer, or will it be someone on the team? Ask if a second shooter is included. Do they have the availability to work with your planner’s timeline? What about their experience level?
Quite frankly, do they have the experience to pull off covering what is one of the biggest days in your life?
We hear from brides who hired their brother’s best friend and rue the day. Not only did they not show up on time, but they had no idea which moments were key to the wedding or how to line up those shots.
Why does everything cost so much?
You are not paying for pictures, you are paying for the person who has the training, experience, equipment, and savvy to catch moments on film that are clear, expressive, beautiful, and in focus.
Find out what is included. Do you get x-number of prints? How about access to an online gallery? If they do have an online portal, how long is your link valid? What happens if the portal link expires?
While you are finding out about prints and what is included, ask about what happens if you want more at a later time. Will you be able to print or copy, or does the photographer retain that right?
How much is an album, more concisely, what is included in it? All of these details matter. Imagine going to a smorgasbørd restaurant and having to pay separately for your eating utensils.
We love florals. This is where you can truly make your mark and create a signature look that captures your essence. You know that florals don’t have to be flowers, right? Did you know that you can save a significant sum by using local IN SEASON flowers?
If you are having people gather for several days of events, you can repurpose centerpieces and other decor and use different elements for your rehearsal dinner, ceremony, celebration, brunch–all of the different gatherings for your wedding. This will all depend on your decor, your designer, the season, and how delicate your blooms are. Do you want to mix it up and use different colors, plants, flowers, or elements?
Dream big–it’s YOUR wedding!
What you absolutely MUST do:
Always read your contracts.
Enjoy your special day, you family, and your friends!
This post will be continued, updated, and improved.
Is there something we haven’t covered [yet!] you want to see?
I am grateful for your suggestions.