I don't want to box anyone out with this post; you know, focus entirely on just the engaged or nearly engaged. So, maybe if you're single, file this away, and perhaps if you're married, add your own advice in the comments (remember, I don't hate comments ;) ).
I should have written this when the event was fresher, but as it is, I'm not even three months into my marriage yet, so I'd say that's fairly fresh. I mean, if I was a can of beans, I wouldn't have even come close to my max shelf life. That's fresh. Oh dear. Anyway, I made it through wedding planning. I survived my wedding. I returned alive from my honeymoon. So I'd say that's a success. After living through that, and well, you know what they say about hindsight, I have a few tips for those planning and executing all the festivities involved in a wedding. Ready, set, go (warning-- this is a long one!):
You will probably feel overwhelmed at first. Your first step should be to find out who is contributing what to the wedding, and develop a budget. Decide which things are most important to you, and spend more money on those. The reception will most likely take up 1/3 to 1/2 of your budget. I allocated more money to photography because that was one of the most important things to me. Also, when you are assuming how much things will cost, always assume higher. Then you'll be pleasantly surprised. And be sure you list every possible cost you can think of-- even down to little gifts for those who help you, and the gifts for your minister, musicians, etc. Don't cheap out and not acknowledge those who help you. We couldn't pay much for musicians, so we asked friends to do it. We couldn't afford to give them large gifts, but we did give them a small, thoughtful gift, and acknowledge our thankfulness for their talent and time because it was valuable to us. Seriously, don't cheap out on your friends.
Stick to that budget. You will go over in some areas of your budget, but then you'll come in under in other areas. But if you go over in every single one, your $10,000 wedding will soon be a $20,000 wedding. Don't forget random things like dress cleaning and preservation and thank you notes.
After you have a budget, think about the feel you want your wedding to have. Ours was soft, cozy, and intimate, which made me think of soft, neutral colors and lots of candles. We built our theme around that.
You must have some kind of bulletin board/workspace to collect pictures and ideas. I loved Pinterest, because I could search for things and collect them on a virtual bulletin board, and they had so many DIY ideas! It also helped my mom and others get the concept I was going for.
Even if you can't draw, sketch out what you want the tables to look like, or anything else-- cake, dress, etc. It's always easier for others to catch your vision if they can actually see it.
Have a few working themes you'd like (different colors, etc.) and run them past your fiance. He might not care, or he'll want to be really involved. Hopefully he'll be like Hband and just want you to have the wedding of your dreams. :) This will also help in case the wedding venue you book doesn't quite fit the theme you want-- you'll have other options.
If it's in your budget, get a wedding planner. I'm not talking J.Lo, here-- she doesn't have to be terribly expensive. A wonderful woman at our church has her own wedding planning business, and she does a wonderful job at a fantastic price. Not only did she help me plan and organize beforehand, but on the day of the wedding, she was priceless-- she got everyone where they needed to be, and we had no disasters!
Do lots and lots of Internet research before you visit places. Your time is valuable, and gas prices are high. View venues online and call/email for pricing before you visit, and narrow your choices down to five or fewer. Then if you don't like any of those, expand your search.
Realize you can haggle with venues. Tell them your budget and ask them what they can do to meet it. We opted out of the bar package (saved TONS), and even though some family members moaned about it a bit, there was an in-house bar and they helped themselves. They also worked with us to bring the food and beverage minimum down, and that was fantastic. Don't be afraid to haggle and discuss-- they have an employee whose job it is to do that and work with you. Just don't be unreasonable. Also, realize the initial price they quote you might not include tax or gratuities, which can be $1,000 more than the quoted price. Get the full picture.
Make lists, lists, lists! Make a list of every single thing you can think of that needs to be done, and rejoice when you start crossing them off the list! Invite a friend over to help you with this, because two minds are better than one. Write in deadlines for yourself, too. Make a list of every song you want in the wedding and at the reception, and for what event. Make a list of every single person you can think of who can help set up at each venue/take things from the ceremony to the reception/take back tuxes, etc. For each thing that needs to be done, find a friend to do it. Be sure those friends are willing to help, though. And give them a printed list of their responsibilities via email. Make a detailed timeline of the day before the wedding through till when you leave the reception. Try to include everything. It will help you not forget anything. Make a list of every gift you need to give. This is what saved my sanity most: lists!
When you go try on dresses, don't try on anything outside your price range, unless you're prepared to go over budget. Boy do I know what this is like. You will inevitably fall in love with a dress that's $300+ more than you budgeted, and you will have to have it. Maybe you'll be able to make it work, or maybe you'll go way over budget. Just ask the woman helping you to only bring you dresses within your price range. Also, don't be afraid to try on other styles than what you think you want. I originally wanted something very simple and streamlined. I ended up with a simple dress, but it was more of a ballgown-- everyone said they never would have guessed I'd pick that dress. And don't forget, your veil will be expensive. Either be prepared for that, borrow a friend's, or make your own.
Also realize you will probably need your dress altered-- at least hemmed. Do your research and find a tried and true tailor or seamstress in your area. I had a friend get married about seven months before me, and she loved her tailor. I tried him and not only was he unbelievably good, but his price was far more reasonable than anywhere else, for three fittings. We actually overpaid him on purpose because it was worth it and we were so grateful.
Find a florist who will work with your budget and catches your vision. The last thing you want is a florist who doesn't get your theme/look, and you wind up with flowers that you don't love. My florist immediately caught my vision and ran with it. She invested herself in my wedding and saw it as a chance to be creative, and I ended up with fantastic flowers that I loved. We did go over budget here, but we made the mistake of not telling her our budget to begin with. She still worked with us though, and we brought the price down. Plus, she substituted my favorite flowers at the last minute... gotta love that!
Your photographer is one of the most important vendors of the wedding, if not the most important. Find one who will do the style of photos you want, and meet with them beforehand, to make sure they get "you," and your theme. Discuss the day with them, and the timeline, to make sure it works, and tell them all the important things you want in your photos. Give them a list of shots you want, but realize that if you look too forced/posed, those shots may not really be what you want. Be sure that in the contract, you have a date nailed down for when you receive your proofs, and that they will also give you digital copies of all the pictures. I'd also recommend (though my whole life I wanted the traditional first look to be at the church) you get most of your pictures done before the wedding. You will be so much more relaxed knowing those are done, and your guests won't wait forever for you. Haven't we all been there?! I felt so much better knowing all the important shots were done, and we still had special "first-look" pictures. But that still didn't spoil coming down the aisle. That moment will be incredible no matter what. In addition, I think it calmed me to be able to spend time with Hband before the ceremony. Consider it.
I would suggest getting a hotel suite with your bridesmaids the night before the wedding. It is so nice not having to clean up, and you'll all be together and have two bathrooms for getting ready. I've done that for three weddings (including my own), and it's been SO relaxing.
Don't do anything extreme before your wedding. If you're normally not tan, don't get a real or fake tan. Don't cut your hair short. Don't remove every bit of body hair. Make sure you look like you for your wedding. I was really grateful I tried out the fake tan a week and a half before my wedding. It looked OK, but too dark for me, in January. It was still wearing off on my wedding day.
If you do your own makeup every day and it looks nice, you can probably do your own on your wedding day. Buy some makeup and practice (it's fun). Find a look that's natural, but stepped-up a notch. You'll want to make sure you have good foundation. The pictures may wash you out a bit, so be sure you do wear good makeup, but don't go too dark. Experiment and take pictures of yourself. Don't make your eyes too dark or you'll look like a skeleton.
On the day of, don't sweat anything. Let other people take care of things. You just show up where you're supposed to be, and remember the end game: if the day ends and you're married, it's a success. Take mental snapshots the whole day so it isn't a blur. Especially, just before you walk down the aisle, choose to remember that moment. I remember the day very clearly because I chose to, and I'm so thankful I did. It was the best day ever!
We thought that the vows were one of the most important parts of our ceremony, considering that's what we were promising to each other. So we took the shell of the vows and then augmented them to say exactly what we wanted to promise. I encourage you to do the same. They weren't trite or cheesy-- they were straight from Scripture. Maybe someday I'll post them here. Perhaps you'd like them.
If you're going away for your honeymoon, don't get a flight the night of your wedding. Spend the night in a nice hotel close to your reception first. You'll be more refreshed in the morning. It's worth it!
You probably wont' eat much. I didn't believe that and didn't want to believe that (we had good food at our reception), but it's true. I hardly ate, but I wasn't hungry. Just be sure you eat a light breakfast and a light lunch (protein!), and hydrate-- drink lots of water! You'll be starving after the wedding and will probably eat leftovers with your hands in your hotel room like we did... or not.
Get out on the dance floor and enjoy every song. It is so worth it and you'll have a lifetime of memories.
Be sure to set up a time and place to say goodbye to your parents at the end of the reception. My parents live out-of-state, so I wanted to make sure I said goodbye instead of having a Father of the Bride moment. I actually got to hug each of my out-of-town relatives goodbye, and that specified time for our parents and bridal party was sweet.
When vendors tack the word "wedding" onto anything, it instantly adds more cash. Try to avoid wedding stuff and just get stuff. If a giant, gorgeous cake isn't super important to you, then get a small cake from a grocery store to cut and freeze for you, and sheet cake for everyone else. Do you really think they'll care? A pretty cake is amazing sometimes, but it doesn't last. To me, it was one of the least important details, and cost us $20. I regret nothing.
Don't over-estimate your DIY abilities. I consider myself pretty crafty, but even I had to draw the line somewhere my sanity was more important than saving a bit of cash.
Borrow, borrow, borrow! Talk to anyone and everyone in your life and borrow all you can for decorations. Buying everything yourself will not only be hard on your wallet, but you'll end up with TONS of stuff you can't get rid of.
Choose bridesmaid dresses quickly, and if you give your bridesmaids free reign to find their own dresses, don't be too picky. Remember, they're paying a lot to be your bridesmaid, and even though you can't always help how expensive dresses can be, you can try to make their lives easier.
Remember this day is special, but it really isn't all about you. It's about you and your fiance, but more importantly it's about what God has done. Keep focus.
I told my mom a few times that it was "my wedding," which was true, but she reminded me that though it was my wedding, it was sort of a big thank you to everyone who had ever meant anything to me, so I had to think of my guests. She was right. You can't cater to every guest, but do all you can to make sure they're taken care of and are comfortable.
Limit your registry to two places. I recommend Bed, Bath, and Beyond. They are amazing! I hear Target can be annoying, and I found JC Penney to be annoying. Perhaps another good choice would be Amazon? It's more customizable, anyway. Tweak the list at home online, and be sure to have a wide price variety.
Don't save all your thank-yous until after the wedding. As gifts come in, make detailed lists, and write the thank yous as you go. Writing one thank you takes maybe 2 minutes. Writing 150 takes lots of minutes. And DO send thank yous. It's a big faux pas not to. You want to be sure to show your gratefulness.
Either ask your in-laws to handle the rehearsal dinner, or make it as low-key as possible. You don't want it to rival the reception, and it's just supposed to be a relaxing celebration before the big day.
Do not let your wedding define you. It is ONE day. Your marriage is infinitely more important, so invest more in that than the wedding day.
Think about what traditions you want to incorporate: a special prayer? A fun song? Part of your mom's wedding dress? A special wedding has special details. Think about those things.
Check out websites like ruffledblog.com, where you can buy and sell used wedding stuff; it's like a wedding Craigslist.
Be sure you have some kind of guest book, whether it's traditional, a photo book, a fingerprint tree, or whatever. You'll want it in the future.
Put someone in charge of giving you all the cards at the end of the night. You'll have some cash for your honeymoon and can plan how you'll spend your wedding money!
You will only get married this one time, so do think about all the things you've always wanted. Some will happen and some won't, but you don't want to wish you'd done something differently.
Pray. Start praying about your day now, and don't stop.
Breathe. It will be fine, and you will get married.