20 Tips to Planning your Own Wedding (before, during, and after)

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B and I were married in October 2019, and I had 27 years to plan our wedding. Ha. Realistically I had a little over 13 months to plan the wedding, but I had been mentally planning for much longer.

I majored in hospitality and tourism management with an emphasis in event management. I know a thing or two about the industry, but you don’t have to be an expert to plan your own unforgettable wedding!

Follow my guide to planning your own wedding before, during, and after your big day.

Before The Big Day

  1. Start with your preliminary guest list.

Sit down with your fiance and make a spreadsheet of guests who YOU BOTH want to invite. Remember, your wedding is the sacred joining of you and your future spouse-don’t let others guilt you into who you should or should not invite. As you start jotting down your guest list, consider if you want to invite the extras: kids, plus ones, etc. This list may change down the line, so don’t feel you have to abide by it-it is just a start for you to see what the guest count is. We had a 275 guest count, and to some people that sounds like a lot, but it adds up fast because we invited kids, spouses, plus ones, along with friends, family, and colleagues, and not to mention vendors who counted towards the chef’s numbers for meals.

Pro tip: If you are stuck on who to invite, think of who is truly special in your life, or who has made an impact on your lives.

  1. Ask yourself what do you need, and what do you want.

I am frugal by nature and knowing from industry experience (and a simple Google search) weddings can be expensive. Would I have loved a horse-drawn carriage to take me and my bridesmaids to the venue? Sure-but realistically a 5-minute ride in style from the hotel to the venue would not be worth dropping a small chunk of change. This doesn’t mean you should feel guilty for getting something you have always dreamed of. Make a list of what you can’t fathom omitting from your wedding, and make another list of what you could live without. Regardless of your guest count, wedding costs can add up quickly so it is good to be mindful of your budget. The two things I would recommend to splurge on is the photographer and videographer-these memories will far outlast flowers, cake, or those darling heels that hide behind your dress.

Pro tip: Save money on wedding stationery by having guests RSVP on your (free) wedding website and forgo magnetic save the dates or excess stationery. Also, consider e-vites too!

  1. Set up a budget and stick to it as best you can.

Tell yourself that yes this is a one-day event, and do be conscientious of money spent, but it represents a lifetime of devotion, love, respect, and commitment. Can’t put a price tag on that! In event planning, it is no surprise that weddings are in the deficit while other meetings and events will either break even or have a surplus. If you create a budget, you are taking the first step at becoming a financially responsible couple. Being savvy with money before your marriage will transcend into your marriage and the rest of your life when you need to buy a house, a new car, start a family, vacation, plan for retirement, etc. Look at your variable costs vs fixed costs. Venue rentals will be fixed while guest favors can be variable.

Pro tip: Don’t feel you have to get a little trinket for every guest or get favors at all. I have never been to a wedding where guests complain they didn’t get a monogrammed koozie or bubbles.

  1. Include your future spouse in the process.

You are going to marry your best friend, the one who you bounce off ideas and jokes with. Chances are that your spouse will have good inputs in the planning process. Now I am not saying your future husband is going to want to scroll through pages of invitation templates or compare linen colors, but find something you both will have fun with and plan together. For B and I, we enjoy DIY projects, so we stained sticks I gathered from a tree in my backyard to make centerpieces with. Marriage is a partnership where you both collaborate together on different subjects. Wedding planning will be the one of the first major projects you will work together on. Have fun!

Pro tip: Schedule dates with your fiance where you DON’T mention wedding planning.

  1. Get your bridesmaids involved.

I was extremely blessed to have 10 amazing women be my bridesmaids. three of them were coming from out of state, one was coming from out of the country, and six of them are mamas. For the gals who weren’t local, they were able to help with logistics (reaching out to people for addresses, getting RSVP’s, etc). For the gals that were local, they helped me with wedding decor projects. Your bridesmaids love you and support you. If they don’t they probably shouldn’t be in your wedding lol. Your bridesmaids also won’t be emotionally invested, so call on a gal pal to help you handle a situation so you don’t overreact or get more stressed out.

Pro tip: Communicate with your bridesmaids via email, so they can search the subject faster, and their phones won’t be blown up from group chats.

  1. Create a registry online.

Sometimes people don’t want to drive out to Crate and Barrel or Pier 1 if they don’t normally shop there. Creating a registry online is super easy and more convenient, especially considering your guests can ship directly to your home. Even if you think your guests may not purchase an item, put it on anyways because 1) someone might actually buy it, and 2) it acts as a “grocery list” of what you’ll need to buy later. The nice thing about creating registries (online or in-store) is that they typically have a completion discount ranging from 15%-20%. I made three registries: Amazon, Bed Bath & Beyond and Target mainly if people didn’t go to one of the three, they had options, or if someone didn’t want to buy online.

Pro tip: Avoid putting generic items on your registries like dishtowels, (I received 43!), bowls, tupperware, or bath towels that are easy gifts to think of-you’d be amazed by the duplicates you’ll get.

  1. Develop a rainy day plan or rainy month(s) plan.

In my events classes, we learned to develop a rainy day plan for the day of an event, and what the alternatives would look like. Just as a rainy day can throw a wrench in your plans, so can failed expectations. For example, we wanted to hire a coffee barista to come during the reception and make beautiful coffee art for our guests. I even had a custom stamp from Etsy (link here it was super cute) to put on our coffee sleeves. I messaged one company months before our wedding after a few messages and quotes went MIA and then they finally got back to me weeks before our wedding. Another barista on Instagram just didn’t reply after a few conversations. Instead, we decided to buy Torani pumps and have a coffee bar for our guests.

Pro tip: Expect and understand that all your wonderful ideas and dreams may not all happen, so develop some creative alternatives.

  1. Guard your heart.

Ok ladies, I know I am not the only girl out there who wears her emotions on her sleeve lol. One thing I didn’t expect for wedding planning was the emotions leading up to the wedding. Sure, I knew it would be stressful and knew about the “bridezilla” syndrome, but I didn’t consider the possibility of insecurities arising. I am a people-lover, people-pleaser and I seemed to forget that 100% of the people I invited to our wedding couldn’t all make it. In my event experience, generally, about 10-20% of attendees can’t make it. However, being on the receiving side was much harder. Every “no” RSVP I received felt like a little sting in my heart and I took it personally. I had to have one of my bridesmaids help me with the RSVP’s because it started to bother me. Understand that people aren’t punishing you by not attending the most precious day of your life. People are busy with their own lives and it has nothing to do with you, gorgeous.

Pro tip: A wedding is an emotional time, and there is no avoiding the ups and downs. Lean on your future spouse and try not to sweat the small stuff, but leave room for normal human emotions-they are inevitable.

  1. Read and understand your contracts.

All venues and vendors will require a contract to agree to perform services for your event. Before you sign a contract, make sure that you have read the terms and conditions. At my job, I had a groom tell me that his future bride didn’t read the contract before she signed it so they didn’t know they were on the hook for 90% of the revenue from their guest room block. Ouch! First problem-don’t throw your future wife under the bus buddy. Second, once a contractual agreement is signed, it is legally binding and you can end up owing a lot of money to the venue or vendor! Our venue required host liquor liability coverage, even though we were having a dry wedding. The event insurance I had purchased did not include host liquor liability (because we disclosed on the form no liquor was to be at our wedding) so I had to reach out to my personal insurance to get the extra coverage.

Pro tip: Contracts can seem overwhelming with their legal jargon, but take the time to read, and ask the company to clarify any questions you might have.

  1. Be prepared for non-solicited advice.

Everyone and their mom is going to tell you what they did for their wedding and what you should do. Most times they are excited for you, and more often than not, people just like to talk about themselves. Yes, it is annoying to get opinions from people when you already have a plan established, but typically it is harmless. Unless you are trying to do something unhealthy, foolish, or destructive, you don’t have to implement someone else’s opinion. It is YOUR wedding, not theirs.

Pro tip: Acknowledge other’s opinions and advice, but gently tell them you have other plans in place.

During the Wedding (Week of, Day of)

  1. Tip your Vendors

Hopefully, you have had some great interactions with your wedding vendors, and they deserve a little treat, especially if you know they have gone above and beyond. If your vendor bill doesn’t include gratuity, generally you would tip the same as you would in a restaurant, 15-20%. Most vendors will have Paypal or Venmo, and you could just tip them that way, or if you want to make it personal, include a little thank you note and tell them you enjoyed working with them and everything they did for you and include a cash tip.

Pro tip: cash tips are great, but don’t forget the power of reviews, leave a stunning 5 star review for your favorite vendors.

  1. Take photos of your belongings.

The wedding day can be a blur, and your friends, family, and event coordinators may not know what is yours at the end of the night. One of my pet peeves is losing personal belongings, so I went OCD and took pictures of everything I was bringing up to our venue and kept it in a scrapbook. Your bridal party most likely will be staying behind to pack up you and your spouse’s belongings, so it is a good idea to give them a visual presentation of what is yours. I got all my belongings back except for two small items, but not bad considering I brought up a ton of stuff! Also if anything is left behind or damaged at the venue, you can show the wedding company what it looked like.

Pro tip: Place someone in charge of your sentimental valuables as well as your wedding decor. Leave them a key to take to your place after the wedding.

  1. Look at the crowd, or don’t.

Your wedding day isn’t like the movies where you can rehearse and take two if it doesn’t go exactly right the first time. I read an article suggesting you pause and look at the sea of loved ones when you are up at the altar and I didn’t end up doing that. I was too excited and too much of a ball of nerves to gracefully look over my shoulder and smile at the crowd. If you remember to smile at your guests, do so, but it doesn’t have to be before the ceremony.

Pro tip: Be natural, and act natural.

  1. Take time to hug your guests.

At the reception, take time to visit each table, hug and thank your guests for coming. Your guests took the time out of their busy lives to come to honor you and your spouse. Many guests might have come from a different state or country. Show gratitude by coming over and thanking them for coming to your wedding and how much that means to you.

Pro tip: Greet your guests when dinner is coming to a lull, that way people aren’t still chewing when you go for the hug.

  1. Relax and enjoy yourself.

You have no doubt spent months of hard work planning your wedding down to the tiniest detail. It is time to relax and have fun on the best day of your life! One piece of advice stuck with me, and that was to have fun. Every event I have worked has a hiccup, and every bride I’ve talked to, something goes wrong at their wedding. I mean, have you seen America’s Funniest Home Videos of wedding fails? But hey, that is what life is full of-imperfect moments, just roll with it!

Pro tip: Tell yourself, no matter what, I WILL have fun.

After The Wedding

  1. Write thank you cards.

Make this your number one priority after you come back from your honeymoon. Your guests were kind enough to attend your special day and generously gave to the new couple. Keep track of what each guest gave, and write a custom note to them. Don’t just write “thank you for coming to our wedding and for the gift”. Make it special. To keep from burning out, (as you may have dozens of cards to send out) write a few thank you cards each day.

Pro tip: As you open your wedding cards and presents, on the outside of the card, write who it was from and their gift so you can quickly look at it later when writing thank you cards.

  1. Change your name

My sister-in-law Candace recommended I use a company called HitchSwitch to easily get everything I need to change my name. Start with the legal stuff such as Social Security, Driver’s License/Real ID, Bank accounts, Credit cards, your employer, insurance, medical/dental providers, car title (if you still have a car loan, double-dip by changing your name at the bank and submitting the car title application same day) 401K, investment accounts, etc. Next, change your name on platforms that can be changed at any time, that generally have no consequences in waiting such as social media, email address, subscriptions, loyalty programs, etc.

Pro tip: HitchSwitch has different packages based on your needs to make the name change process smoother.

  1. Take your time to order photos

I ordered our first wedding canvas a few days ago through Free Prints. Normally I am not a procrastinator, but I wanted to be absolutely sure of which prints I wanted printed into a canvas and which ones I wanted in our photo frames. Also with working full time and other home projects, I did not have the time to really sit down and go through our amazing wedding photos (thank you again AllGoodThingsPhotography!!). So coming up on our six month anniversary and we are finally getting wedding pictures!

Pro tip: cut out different sizes of paper (24×36, 11×14, etc) to visualize what your canvas(es) will look like on your walls.

  1. Do some housekeeping with your wedding stuff and gifts.

Sell or donate wedding decor that you can’t incorporate in your home, get your wedding dress cleaned, purchase items leftover on your registry, and return any gifts that don’t work for your home. Don’t feel bad about selling your wedding dress as long as you have pictures, you will get more enjoyment out of your wedding photos.

Pro tip: There is no time like the present to get your new home in order. Do post-wedding stuff while it is still fresh.

  1. Keep the honeymoon stage alive.

Your wedding day should just be a glimpse of what married life is like. Now I don’t mean that every day your hair and makeup will be done, you’ll get showered with gifts and dance the night away. Each day you should live in gratitude of your spouse, and live in forgiveness. Ever hear an old married couple say never go to bed angry? Well, it is absolutely true. Life is too short to spend time-fighting or angry with one another. At a friend’s bridal shower, her pastor’s wife said the most important things in a relationship is affection and communication. Keeping up intentional communication and showing affection to each other goes a long way! Humans need it to survive. Think of a baby’s development-it needs loving and talking to so they can grow. Lastly, respect and honor one another.

Pro tip: Kiss and hug often-and mean it.

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