From the perspective of a now-wedding-planner
I was twenty-two when Jon proposed. We were just purchasing our very first home and getting grown-up jobs. So much excitement packed into our year-long engagement. While I was in the corporate planning industry, weddings were not yet my forte. I was one of the first in my group of friends to get engaged, I had only attended one wedding in my adult life. It was all very unfamiliar territory for me – all I knew was that I wanted to throw an awesome party and marry my perfect guy!
Overwhelmed, I googled wedding venues, caterers, planners, you name it. Back in the day, it was faux pas to list your pricing on the web. Google was kind of a new thing, so I didn’t even think to ask a search engine “what does it cost to host a wedding?” All I knew was I had a pretty large family, Jon and I had lots of mutual friends, and we were going to try to do the new-age adult thing and pay for the wedding ourselves. So…150 people…$5k? Sounded perfectly reasonable in my delusional bride mind.
We lived in Northern Virginia at the time and decided to hold the wedding there as that is where most of our friend’s and my side of the family lived. Plus, there weren’t many options in Jon’s home town of Culpeper at the time (my, how times have changed.) One of the first contact forms I completed on the big scary world of websites was for a planner. My email went something like this “Hi! I’d like to hire your services and have you help me find a venue. I want to invite about 150 guests and my budget is $5,000.”
Her response was simply “Just to be clear, is $5,000 your budget for my services or for your entire wedding?”
That email sent me in panic mode. Do planners really cost that much? How much do I really need to plan this wedding? I was too embarrassed to even respond. Jon, always the logical one, did the simple math. $5,000 divided by 150 guests was only about $30 per person. How were we supposed to provide a beautiful atmosphere (like what you see in movies, because that's all I had to compare) with food and an open bar (because, priorities) at that price? Either we had to up the budget or reduce the guest list. We chose to dig more into debt and savings because, let’s face it, YOLO. I’m proud to say we managed to have a gorgeous wedding in a Northern Virginia ballroom for less than $15,000 – which is a steal – but we did have to cut some major corners and as a result, I do have some regrets.
Invitations. One word: Staples. After countless hours of looking online and not even realizing there were real live people that could meet with me and help with the custom design I was looking for, we decided to just do it ourselves. They really weren’t all that bad…until I decided they needed a little bling. Do yourself a favor, do not ever take a glue stick and glitter to your wedding invitation. I’ve said too much…
Photography. These were the days before Facebook and Pinterest (gosh, I am dating myself.) Way before wedding blogs and Instagram. Photography did not seem to be all that important at the time. Why did I need to have an album of drunk wedding guests on my coffee table? I had never really been exposed to portraits, a shot list, detail shots, etc etc. We found a lovely young lady on Craigslist who was trying to build a portfolio and gave her a few hundred dollars just a month or two before our wedding. CRAZYNESS. We are honestly lucky she even showed up. She did a decent enough job but 1) she clearly did not have experience with artificial lighting (there were no windows in the ballroom) 2) she did not have a second shooter, which would have been ideal to wrangle our 16 person bridal party and 3) Jon volunteered to do the editing himself, because totes he has Photoshop. To this day I only have about 8 printable images from my wedding because those are the ones that she edited and shared in her blog. The rest are grainy and not at all a great resolution. It’s a total bummer and I tell this to all of the Main Street brides – there is absolutely nothing you can do to go back and recapture the day. Make the investment. Hire a professional. Cherish those memories.
Also while we are on the subject – go outside! We got married in the middle of December right off the beltway AKA concrete city. The ceremony and reception were at the same location and I was too nervous to load up the bridal party and try to fight traffic and make it back in time for the reception. If I were to get married under the same circumstances tomorrow – I would just do a first look, which was unheard of in 2008. We recently coordinated a wedding at the same reception hall that I got married and the bride and groom discovered a park 5 miles from the venue with a beach. How cool would that have been in the winter time? Forget the temperatures, we would have warmed up fast once we saw the awesome shots. All of my bridal party portraits are in front of a weird tapestry in the hallway of the venue. Super lame compared to what could have been.
Planner/Coordinator. Of course this is going to come off slightly biased, but I legitimately don’t know how we pulled it off without one and it makes me slightly sad to think of how it could have been. If it wasn’t for the sweet wife of my wedding officiant who happened to tag along, I don’t think we would have ever gotten through our rehearsal. Luckily she was there the day of the wedding, when after waiting over 30 minutes past the ceremony time for my favorite Aunts to fight traffic on 95 she told us - guests have been waiting FOREVER - it is time. I think back to those minutes before the ceremony and it makes the planner in me cringe. What a hot mess we were!
I relied too heavily on the venue to be my coordinator even though they stated from the beginning what their role was – and it was not putting out my escort cards. It was not handing out the flower petals I wanted guests to throw in the air when we said “I Do.” It certainly wasn’t assembling and displaying my favors. They were busy making food and serving alcohol – the things I paid them to do. Alas, these details were just a sampling of those that were not taken care of and I’m honestly impressed that the champagne flutes made it to our head table and the cake cutting set was right where it needed to be.
Flowers. We did splurge slightly on this one (thanks to my incredible in-laws who footed the bill.) More bridal party attendants = more flowers, period. Because we got a little "ask happy" when selecting bridesmaids and groomsmen (although we love you all dearly) the majority of our flower budget went towards the attendants. What was left was two garden roses floating inside a fish bowl supplied by the venue as our centerpiece. After seeing so many gorgeous arrangements at weddings over the course of my career, this hurts my soul. Luckily I don’t even have one picture as evidence thanks to my inexperienced photographer! Seriously though, flowers can sometimes be an afterthought. There is so much value in having a statement piece on your table. Something that ties in with your invitations, with your theme.The possibilities are limitless, even with a smaller budget, if you hire the right professional to guide you.
Hair & Makeup. I got this halfway right. A friend of mine who is a professional hair stylist came to the hotel and styled my hair and most of the bridal party at a very fair cost. However, because she lived out of state, I did not get a chance to schedule a trial. Always schedule a trial. My hair was pretty but I regret not exploring other looks. I only looked slightly more fancy than a night out with friends. Also, I opted not to hire a professional makeup artist and had my friend apply my Cover Girl makeup which totally melted by the end of the night. Again, luckily there’s not too much photographic evidence.
If this blog is coming off as if I was ungrateful for my big fat fabulous wedding please know that is not my intent. We had a WONDERFULtime – great music, yummy food, fun guests, lots of amazing memories. To this day I get compliments from friends and family members about how much of a great time they had at our wedding. I just want to share my experience so that if you have the option to make the most out of your wedding budget – do it. You don’t want to regret not spending just a little bit more to take your wedding to that next level. Most importantly, as I have learned from my wedding and years of working weddings, always hire a pro. Like most things in life, you get what you pay for. There is no room for half-serious vendors on your wedding day. If you hire the right team, you can relax and let them do what they do best. At the end of the day, not only will you be married to your love but you will have no regrets. Plan on. <3