Planning a wedding is one of those things that doesn’t exactly come with an instruction manual, college courses, or any type of real-life training. When you become engaged, people will offer you well-meaning advice, most of it contradictory and much of it not at all reflective of you as a couple. Therefore, much of what I learned about wedding planning I learned the hard way.

A lot of it went well (yay!) and some of the planning didn’t go as smoothly. To help in your planning, I’m outlining the things I think we did well (yay!) as well as the things I wish we’d done differently. These are obviously my opinions, and you may disagree, but if I could tell newly-engaged Ashley anything, it would be these 10 tips:

1. Don’t elope!

Ok, to be clear, I didn’t elope, but there were times during the wedding planning season when it was tempting and I totally understood why people do. You save money, you get to travel to a beautiful location with the person you love most, and you cut out a lot of the drama and burdens that inherently come with planning a wedding.

At the end of the day, though, I knew I wanted my family and friends by my side, as did Greg. And the weekend of our wedding we created such special memories with so many people. I will never forget the look on my grandma’s face when she walked into the bridal suite and saw me in my wedding gown for the first time. I’ll always remember standing outside the church with my dad, waiting for him to walk me down the aisle, something he and I had both dreamed about since I was small. I treasure the moments I had with my bridesmaids, and how much fun we had getting ready that day. I love that my mom was there to help me into my dress, and tell me I looked beautiful. I appreciated my Deacon Uncle Vic’s thoughtful words as he gave the sermon during our ceremony, and on and on.

We created so many treasured memories that weekend with our family and friends, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything, not even the ease of elopement.

2. Set a wedding budget that’s unique to you.

Not all wedding budgets look the same! Whenever a couple gets engaged, I strongly recommend sitting down and deciding which aspects of the wedding are important to each person. General wisdom breaks down a wedding budget like this:

Ceremony: 2-3%

Reception: 45-50% (all in, including food and rentals)

Attire: 8-10%

Flowers: 8-10%

Entertainment / Music: 8-10%

Photography / Videography: 10-12%

Stationery: 2-3%

Wedding Rings: 2-3%

Transportation: 2-3%

Miscellaneous: 10%

Cushion: 5%

That’s a general guide, but from there the percentages can be adjusted based on what’s important to the couple.

For example, it was important to Greg that we have an open bar. So we put a little more of our money towards that. For me, the wedding dress and the photographer were the things that mattered most, so we increased those percentages.

(Ok actually I’ll just sidebar here and say: A good photographer is worth the price! Your pictures are one of the few things that last long after your wedding day is over. Our photographer was fabulous, and made the day fun, and I can’t recommend Amy Bennett enough!)

I didn’t really care about the flowers, so we found an amazing florist who was a quarter of the cost of most florists, and we were able to put a smaller percentage of our budget towards flowers (and I ended up loving my flowers – thanks M’s Wedding Flowers!). Greg and I also didn’t care about the cake, and the venue was already serving dessert, so we cut the cake out entirely. And so on.

Now some couples absolutely love desserts, and it’s important to them to have a massive dessert display at their wedding. And that’s great! The important thing is that each couple’s budget reflects whatever is important to them.

3. Have your wedding ceremony, reception, and hotel at the same location.

Greg and I stumbled upon the sweetest stone church in the mountains, and knew immediately that was where we wanted to get married. And I’m happy with that decision, and wouldn’t change a thing.

That being said, it is much, much more convenient getting married at the same place where you have your reception. Then everything is right there, and you can have the coordinator handle all of the details from when the first guest arrives until the last song is played. In fact, if you can have the guests stay at the venue where you’re having the wedding and the reception, that will make your life immensely easier.

Greg and I, on the other hand, had to arrange shuttles to pick up guests from where they were staying (which luckily was on the same property as the reception), bring them to the church, then pick them up after the ceremony and bring them back to the reception. And, because our coordinator was based at the reception venue, and Greg and I would be off with our bridal party taking pictures, shuttling guests on buses was the one area of the day that I couldn’t oversee or have a professional control.

I worried the buses would get lost, I worried they’d be late, I worried guests would get left behind… and on and on. None of those things happened (thank goodness!) and Greg’s incredible group of Ushers really showed up for us, making sure this part of the day went smoothly. And it did, and it was wonderful, but it would have been a lot less stressful having everything happen at the same venue.

4. Pick a reception venue that provides tables/chairs/linens as well as food.

Something that was immensely helpful for us was that our reception venue provided all of the tables, chairs, linens, etc. that we needed on our wedding day. If we had to rent them, then that would have been a huge additional pain and we would have needed to coordinate the drop off and pick up in addition to everything else we were coordinating that weekend. It was so wonderful just having it all taken care of!

Also, our venue provided the food, so all Greg and I had to do was choose which dishes to serve. That also made our lives easier, because we had a chef who worked in that kitchen normally and staff who knew our reception area like the back of their hands. If we had had to bring in caterers, we again would have needed to coordinate this too, and they wouldn’t have been familiar with the kitchen or the space or maybe would have even needed to bring the food already cooked and try to keep it hot. You do have more flexibility if you have caterers, and can choose whatever style of food you’d like. However we loved the food at the Castle and were happy that it was all sorted for us.

These are all things to think about when choosing a venue. If you find a venue you absolutely adore, and they don’t provide the basics or food, then renting and catering may be your best bet. Just go in with both eyes open knowing that it will be more things that you’re piling on your already very full plate.

5. Hire a band, not a DJ.

I’m really throwing down with my opinion here!

I know that some people have strong feelings in favor of DJs, and I totally get why. DJs can play the music as performed by the original artists. After all, no one can sing like Adele, so having a DJ allows for her songs to be performed by the goddess herself. Of course, your budget may allow for you to actually have Adele at your wedding reception, in which case – go for it!

My strong opinion, though, is that bands are a lot of fun, provide an incredible range of sound quality, and do a great job of reading the crowd and ensuring that everyone is dancing. I absolutely loved our band (thanks Silver Arrow Band!), and felt like they elevated the overall quality of our reception. There’s just something special about dancing to live music.

6. Get a videographer.

Greg and I went back and forth about having a videographer. It was an expense that we weren’t sure was worth it, since we didn’t expect to pop the popcorn and watch our wedding ceremony every weekend.

However, we ended up being so glad that we did. The speeches during our wedding reception were the best wedding speeches I’d ever heard (yes, this is my completely biased opinion!) and I would have been sad if I was never able to hear them again in their entirety.

Also, while we chose an excellent photographer who captured all of our amazing moments, the videographer (we hired Juharo Productions) is also able to capture wonderful, moving moments which are special too.

7. Build extra time into your wedding schedule.

The limo was 45 minutes late picking us up to take us to the wedding (boy did my coordinator give the owner an earful!) and this could have completely derailed the day. Except, luckily, I had planned plenty of time cushion around each part of the day. I figured I’d rather spend my wedding day relaxing with my family and friends while waiting for the next event, than scrambling to catch up and stay on schedule while feeling stressed about the timing. So yes, there were a few moments during the day when we had more time than we needed. However, when the limo was 45 minutes late, I didn’t even care which, for me, is saying something!

8. Don’t DIY.

I know, I know, this is going against everything Pinterest tells you. But my number one wedding recommendation is not to do things yourself!

The more you do yourself, the more you’ll have to coordinate the weekend and day of your wedding. You may have built this amazing donut wall, but then you’ll need to enlist several strong family and/or friends to help you move it and set it up. You may think it will be fun to place signs everywhere, but then someone will need to set up the signs the day of your wedding, and take them down the next day. And so on.

If you’re considering making things yourself for your wedding day, really think through how easy or difficult it will be to set them up and take them down. And in deciding whether it’s too much work, keep in mind how you want to spend your wedding weekend and wedding day. Do you want to be running around dealing with these things, or do you want to be enjoying time with your family and friends?

Now DIY can save a lot of money, and that isn’t a small consideration. However, if you’re choosing between DIY or not doing something at all, I vote not doing it at all. Choose a venue that doesn’t need much added to it, and then sit back and enjoy your weekend.

9. If you can do it early, do it early.

I know so many brides and grooms who wrote cards to their families, or even their vows(!), the morning of the wedding. Don’t do this! If you can get it done before your wedding week, get it done beforehand.

Greg and I wanted to write notes to our parents, and each other’s parents, to open on our wedding day. So two months before our wedding, we thought about what we wanted to say, put pen to paper, and finished the cards with a month to spare. Then all we had to do our wedding weekend was hand the cards to our parents and enjoy our time with them.

So whatever it is, whether it’s gift wrapping, card writing, sign painting, etc., if you can get it done before your wedding week, get it done. It may seem small, but these small items can take more time than expected and that’s the last thing you want to be focusing on that week.

10. Don’t go anywhere the day after your wedding.

When it comes to wedding planning, this is by far the thing we feel we did the most “right.” Greg and I booked our wedding weekend hotel room so that we checked out on Monday after our Saturday wedding, rather than Sunday. And we commented about 300 times on Sunday how happy we were with that decision!

The morning after our wedding we could have woken up early, spent an hour or two packing everything up (you end up with a LOT of stuff your wedding weekend), showered and gotten ready, and then joined our guests at brunch just to check out at 11am. It would have been possible, but it would have been a hassle and exhausting, and the last thing you want to do the day after your wedding is worry about these things.

Instead, we leisurely woke up the day after our wedding, my cousin Brittany came over and curled my hair, and then Greg and I meandered downstairs to brunch right when it began. Then afterwards, we said goodbye to our family and friends, walked back upstairs to our room, and had absolutely nothing that we had to accomplish for the rest of the day. We hung out in the spa’s outdoor hot tub, we got lunch with Greg’s family, we opened our cards and presents, and we talked about how amazing our wedding was. It was so relaxing, and wonderful, and I can’t recommend that enough!

No matter how well (or… God forbid… not well) your wedding planning is going, keep in mind that soon the planning part will be a memory, and when you look back on your wedding day, you’ll think about all of the wonderful moments, rather than the not-perfect ones. It’s a day like no other in your entire life, a cross between magical and surreal, and enjoying it, and your new spouse, are what matter most.

Happy wedding planning! And, most importantly, happy life together.

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