How to Plan a Wedding

        Money | Financial Planning

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­Getting engaged can be one of the most memorable and exciting moments in your life. For t­he first few weeks after the proposal, you both feel dizzy with happiness and are bursting with anticipation. As well you both should be! You've met the man or woman of your dreams, you've decided to get married, and now it's time to plan the wedding -- the official celebration of your love and commitment.

As you plan this wonderful day, you both will continue to feel great joy, but may also experience a few butterflies and a little confusion. After all, organizing a ceremony and reception is a big undertaking.

There will be questions about anything and everything: from the meal (fish, chicken, or beef?) to the wedding gown (low-cut, fitted, or empire-waisted?) to the reception music (live band, small orchestra, or DJ?). There will be issues about budgets, guest lists, and styles.

But in the end, just remember what this day is really about -- a celebration of love. Stay focused, and keep organized. This is where this article comes in handy. It's packed with helpful information and useful worksheets that you both can click on and print out to help you stay on top of your wedding planning. You'll find:

  • checklists for keeping track of what needs to be done
  • useful charts for organizing the many little wedding-related details
  • worksheets for wading through vendor candidates and potential site possibilities
  • hint boxes loaded with valuable tips and other information

Plus, this article features special Stress-Busters and Budget Extenders tips that help you both tackle the tough problems and really stretch the wedding dollars.

Designed to help the engaged couple plan an entire wedding, from announcing the engagement and buying the rings to cutting your cake and planning the honeymoon, this article will help you both create a truly memorable day -- without driving yourselves crazy in the process.

Every wedding is different so there might be worksheets that you both will have to reprint to have enough to cover all of your guests or all of your vendor candidates. Conversely, there might be some worksheets that you won't need at all or that you might have to tweak to fit your needs.

Get started on the right track by beginning a list of important phone numbers -- from wedding party members to the florist and musicians. Then take a look at the next page to help you establish a budget and a timetable. You both also will find information about announcing your engagement and how to choose a ring -- that is, if you don't have your rings already!

Budget and Timetable

The engagement period will probably be the most gloriously tranquil time of a couple's wedding process. You both soon will be faced with decisions, compromises, and debates -- some simple, some funny, some tough, but all important.

While it's important to bask in all the happiness, there are also a few tasks that should be handled pretty quickly. The couple need to set the budget and a timetable for planning the wedding, buy the rings, and announce the engagement. Below are helpful tips on making the many choices surrounding these aspects of the wedding. Remember, you can click on the links for worksheets to help with each step.

Building a Budget

Setting a budget for the ceremony and wedding reception is somewhat easy -- you have what you have and that's that. Sticking to the budget is where things get tough. For now, the engaged couple needs to sit down with both sets of parents to discuss how much money they have, how much money they need, and who will be footing the bill for what part of the wedding.

It's going to be difficult at times, but try to plan a wedding within your means. Before you begin, determine a priority list for  the ceremony and the reception. Ask yourselves a silent question: Is what we are spending on this item really worth it to both of us? After all, needing five years to pay off the reception is not the way to go, especially since most newlyweds have a long list of wanna-haves, such as a first home and/or new furniture.

Setting the Date

Sit down together to determine a wedding date priority list. You both may want to include your families in this conversation, especially if they live out of town. Here are several important things to consider when choosing a date:

  • The honeymoon: Consider the type of honeymoon you both want. For instance, if you are both sun-worshipers, don't plan a wedding date when your favorite island is experiencing monsoon season.
  • Work schedules: You both may have work periods when you can't take time off. Select a date when your lives are least demanding.
  • Holidays and family occasions: Some couples go out of their way to schedule a wedding over a three-day weekend, so everyone has more time together. This idea works best if you send invitations at least eight weeks in advance; otherwise, people might already have plans.
  • The bride's menstrual cycle: The bride wants to look and feel her best on her wedding day. If she suffers unpredictable cycles, a quick chat with her gynecologist may bring up solutions.
  • Day of the week: Saturdays are generally the preferred wedding day. That way, out-of-town guests can easily stay overnight. Weekday dates result in many regrets.
  • Alternate dates: If possible, have a first-choice date and at least one backup date.

Once the couple decides on a date, the real fun can begin! Work backward from the chosen date to determine a timetable of what needs to be done when. Some tasks, such as mailing invitations and picking up the rings, obviously can't be checked off until two months before the Big Day. On the other hand, you both want to take care of other items -- booking a florist and reception site, for example -- at least a year in advance.

How to Choose a Ring

In decades past, the man got down on one knee, ring in hand, and proposed. Today, many couples jointly decide to become husband and wife. Likewise, they choose the rings together. It pays to know a few things first:

  • Find a jeweler you can trust. Use recommendations or family connections to find a jeweler you know to be honest and fair.
  • Select a style. There are many rings out there, with styles from heirloom to contemporary. Choose a style that reflects your personal tastes.
  • Set a price range. Have some sense of what you can afford before you even visit any jewelers. Most experts agree that the ring budget should total no more than the bride and groom's combined salaries for two months.
  • Know your diamond basics. There are four categories by which a jeweler assesses the worth of a diamond: cut, clarity, color, and carat (see "Knowing the Four C's").

Be sure to keep a good record of where the rings were purchased, how much they cost, the four C's of the diamond, etc. This will come in handy for insurance purposes and if you find something wrong with the rings after bringing them home.

Also, you both just spent potentially thousands of dollars with a jeweler, so take advantage of your new status as a valued customer and consider using the same jeweler to purchase the bride's attendants' gifts. Don't be timid about asking for a quantity price break.

Announcing the Engagement

One of the most wonderful duties the couple has during this period is announcing the engagement to the world. And while you both may have an urge to shout the news from a rooftop, there are a few more traditional ways to announce the engagement.

First, you'll need to call the "A" list -- friends and family who need to hear the news straight from the bride or groom. Take a moment to jot down the names and numbers; be certain you both don't forget anyone in your immediate circle. Schedule a few chunks of free time to make the calls. You both are going to have a lot to talk about!

Traditionally, the groom's mother contacts the bride's mother for congratulations and a get-acquainted chat. It's a nice gesture to write down the bride's mother's home phone number and mail it or personally give it to her future mother-in-law. If the two women have not yet officially met, the bride might want to add a few words of encouragement like, "My mom can't wait to hear from you. She already has lots of things to discuss!"

Newspaper and Magazine Announcements

Newly engaged couples often send an official announcement to their local newspaper and/or city magazine. They need to contact the publications to find out the submission deadlines, run dates, and photo requirements (you may want to keep an engagement photo log with key information). Be sure to keep track of the newspapers and magazines contacted so you both can buy up plenty of copies when the announcement is published.

A proper announcement includes:

  • Bride's full name
  • Groom's full name
  • Bride's mother's name
  • Groom's mother's name
  • Bride's father's name
  • Groom's father's name
  • Bride's parents' hometown and state
  • Groom's parents' hometown and state
  • Wedding site city, state
  • Season, month, and/or date of wedding

It is not recommended that the couple include addresses, since they will receive many wonderful gifts during the next few months and don't want to tip off burglars.

Engagement parties often occur soon after making the official announcement. Presents are not generally given; if, however, someone does bring a gift, be sure to promptly send a thank you card. It's an easy gesture to forget, since about now both of your minds are focused on wedding plans, and you probably do not yet have official thank you cards printed.

Did you both get through the budget, timetable, rings, and announcement without a hitch? Good for you! If not, take a deep breath. It will all work out, and there's a lot more to do! Let's move on to find out more about making the guest list and selecting invitations in the next section.

 

The Guest List and Wedding Stationery

The guest list affects many of the wedding decisions the engaged couple will make, including the selections for wedding stationery. So, before any of the invitations, stationery, and so on can be purchased, you both have to set the guest list and determine the total number of guests. We'll walk you through the process. And remember, you can click on the links for worksheets to help you with each step.

The Guest List

Your guest list generally drives other decisions, so it's often smart to write the list sooner rather than later. Two of the earliest concerns dependent on final guest count are the total budget and the invitation requirements.

The guest count has a trickle-down effect on just about all matters related to the wedding. If your list is extremely long, you both may want to ask only a handful of close friends and family to the ceremony and invite everyone to the reception. The size of the guest list can also affect the mood and tone of the day, as well as the size of your wedding party.

There are three steps to making a guest list:

  1. Do first things first: Some couplels like to set a guest count first and then set the budget accordingly. This is appropriate if they know upfront that they'll have a generous budget. Other couples like to set the budget and then determine how many guests can be invited. This is appropriate if they think funds will be tight.
  2. Divide the list by five: Divvy up the guest list between five categories: the bride's list; the groom's list; the couple's list of common friends; the groom's parents' list; and the bride's parents' list. (Sometimes it's easiest to allocate all family guests to the respective parents.)
  3. Whittle: Now begin removing names until you both hit your mark.

When it comes to the guest list, you both are likely to have some sticky situations. Remember, this is your party; within reason, the guest list is the bride's and groom's decision. But if you both find yourself growing weary or confused, here are a few hints:

  • If you both haven't seen or spoken to someone in over a year, he or she can probably come off the list.
  • If you both need to make cuts, select an entire group, like all business associates or all book club members. If anyone complains, simply explain that you're planning a small wedding.
  • If you both decide against having children at the ceremony, and the Smiths respond that they are coming with all four kids, handle it tactfully and directly. Call them up and say, "I'm sorry, but we simply can't accommodate children at the wedding."
  • If there is an "ex" in the bride or groom's background (this could mean girlfriends, boyfriends, in-laws, or stepparents), ask yourselves if everyone in the extended bridal party would feel comfortable about this person being invited. If you or anyone else might feel uneasy with this guest present, then he or she should be dropped from the list.

The Stationery

You both will need quite an assortment of printed items for the wedding. Depending on which printer you choose, the items included in the wedding stationery package will vary. (Be sure to look at all the package options before you make your stationery order to ensure you get everything you want -- and nothing you don't need.)

The Wedding Invitation Package

You can usually spot a wedding invitation in the mail a mile away -- it has a "LOVE" stamp in the corner and is bursting at the seams. To figure out why the envelope is so jam-packed, read on to find out more about what typically goes in a wedding invitation package.

  • The Ceremony Invitation and Envelope: The invitation announces the tone of the wedding and thus can take on any number of styles -- from traditional to unique. The wedding invitation itself traditionally comes from the bride's parents, but it can also come from the bride and groom. The tone or style of the invitation should reflect the tone or style of the ceremony and reception.There are several different invitation styles, from traditional to contemporary. All are perfectly acceptable. You both will, however, need to set a style before hiring a printer, since different shops have different printing capabilities. There are lots of places to look for style inspiration. You could look at friends' invitations, for example. You should also visit at least two printers and look at their sample books so that you can get an idea of what's available.
  • The Reception Invitation: The reception invitation can have three formats: It can be included on the same invitation as the ceremony information; it can be a separate invitation/card altogether; or if a guest is only invited to the reception, it can be used in place of the ceremony invitation.A combined invitation for both the reception and the ceremony is a great way to save money without sacrificing elegance. If the reception invitation is separate, however, the only thing to remember is that the card style should match that of the ceremony invitation. In other words, it should follow the traditional or contemporary style of the invitation.
  • The Response Card and Envelope: The response card addresses the reception only. It should have a line for the guest name(s), the number of people attending, and the menu choices (if needed). You both should also include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for the guest to return the response card. The card should have a final response date -- generally two to four weeks before the wedding.
  • Maps: It is increasingly common to include a map to the ceremony site and the reception site with the invitation. This could be a computer-generated map or one that you draw yourself. Just make sure that all of your lines and directions are clear before you give it to the printer. Also include a phone number for the destination. That way, the guest can call if he or she gets lost.

Other Printed Items

If you both know in advance the other printed items you would like at your wedding, ask the printer you've selected for your invitations to add in these items at a discount. This will not only save you money but will also ensure that each printed piece matches the style of the others.

  • Pew cards: If you plan a large wedding ceremony and want to make sure certain guests have reserved seats, insert a pew card into the invitation. When guests present this card to an usher, they will be seated accordingly. The pew card includes the guest name(s), the ceremony location, and the pew number and its section (the bride's side or the groom's side).
  • Place cards, matchbooks, napkins, etc.: You can include printed items -- such as napkins and matchbooks -- at the reception tables and scattered around the site, such as at the bar or the appetizer table. These printed pieces can include your names only; your names and wedding date; or the names, date, and a symbol, such as wedding bells. They are generally printed in a color that coordinates with your reception colors.
  • Wedding programs: The wedding program names the bride and groom, the officiant, all members of the wedding party, and any readers and soloists. It also lists the ceremony events, including all songs, prayers, and scriptures to be read. Ushers distribute the programs as well as seat the guests. Either your officiant or your church, synagogue, or temple coordinator can supply previous wedding programs for samples. You could also check with friends and your printer to see other examples.
  • Thank-You cards: Since you both will be writing many thank you cards during the coming months, it's nice to have appropriate thank you stationery printed fto use. These cards are small (generally folded and four inches by five inches) and are usually made of rich white or ivory paper. They have "Thank You," the bride's and groom's names, or their initials printed on the front. Be careful about how you print the names or initials, since the bride may need her maiden name on cards used before the ceremony and her married name on cards used after the ceremony.
  • Wedding announcements: A formal wedding announcement is mailed the day after the wedding to family and friends who couldn't be invited to the event. An announcement can also go to local newspapers and magazines. A newspaper or magazine wedding announcement is worded much like the engagement announcement.
  • At-Home cards: This card is sometimes included with the invitation or the wedding announcement. It tells whether the bride will be using her married or maiden last name and where the couple will live.

Show Proof of Proofing

Can you imagine anything more embarrassing than misspelling your future mother-in-law's name on the invitation? To avoid mistakes, enlist proofing help from at least three people -- preferably a mix of people from both sides. In addition, read each line in the invitation proof backward, from right to left. This forces you both to isolate each word. If you both question any name, circle it and phone someone to check the spelling. Use a dictionary to check other questionable words. As for dates, times, and sites, after you've double-checked this information, go back and check it all again. (And a third check wouldn't hurt, either!)

Addressing the Invitations

It may be tough to forgo the ease of computer-generated labels, but the invitations really should be hand-addressed. It is acceptable, however, to have your return address printed on the envelopes. If the invitation includes an inside envelope, repeat only the names of the guests (including any children under 16) on it. Persons 16 and older traditionally receive their own invitations. Single persons may have "and Guest" printed beside their name. Formal titles, such as Doctor or Reverend, should be spelled out.

Postage Prowess

Don't forget to include the postage costs in the invitation budget. And be certain to weigh the entire invitation to ensure correct postage. Ask your printer for a sample of your invitation, including every envelope (with the postage stamps), every enclosure, and every piece of tissue paper. These samples can be blank, since normal printing doesn't add weight. Take this sample to a post office and have it weighed.

Now that the guest list is set and the wedding stationery is ordered, the couple is ready to get into the nitty-gritty details of the ceremony and reception. On the next page, we will get started by learning more about choosing music for the ceremony and the reception as well as finding a florist.

Ceremony Music and Reception Music

The music and flowers play enormous parts in setting the mood for your wedding. Both of these speak to the day's romantic tone and serve to express the couple's style.

The average couple spends approximately 4 percent of their total budget on flowers and 5 percent on music. However, if you both choose to make the music and/or flowers a priority, you'll soon see how quickly your budget will climb.

Probably the most important thing to remember as you make final music and floral selections is that there are choices, including some very creative, very engaging, and possibly less expensive alternatives. We'll review some of them. And remember, you can click on the links for worksheets to help you with each step.

Ceremony Music

If the ceremony will be in a religious building, be sure to ask if there are any music restrictions. Instrumental music generally begins 30 minutes before the ceremony, and a solo is often performed immediately after the bride's mother is seated. The processional begins with an instrumental -- or sometimes a soloist -- and has a slow, even beat that you can walk to. After the final attendant is down the aisle and in place, special music announces the bride.

The bride's music can vary -- anywhere from traditional or contemporary, an instrumental or a soloist. The most popular choices are Wagner's "Bridal Chorus" ("Here Comes the Bride") and Mendelssohn's "Wedding March." You may also want one or two songs played during the ceremony. Finally, there's the recessional, which generally has a slightly quicker tempo.

No matter what you both select for your song list, take the time to find music that means something to you both -- or at least music that you both enjoy. And keep a worksheet on each of your ceremony musicians that lists contact information and other important details.

Reception Music

Unlike ceremony musicians, who need to reflect the moment's solemn, heartfelt ambiance, reception music is all about entertainment. It should inspire dancing, joyful singing, and all-around merriment.

If the ceremony and reception are hosted in the same building, you may be able to hire one set of musicians for both events. More often, however, you'll need separate musicians for the ceremony and the reception.

Below are a few ways to stretch your reception music budget, and surprisingly enough, these ideas can often lead you both to more creative and open-minded musical talent.

  • Hire a DJ rather than a band.
  • Hire a small band. It's a bit more expensive than a DJ but less costly than a full band.
  • Check out local universities or colleges for young talent. Remember, these students may be the same musicians to play at your baby sister's wedding years from now! Another bonus: Because they do not have a standard wedding repertoire, these musicians may be more open to learning special requests. (Be certain, though, to find someone reliable and trustworthy. The money you save isn't worth worrying about any last-minute problems.)

Once you select your reception musicians, create a music schedule to help them play key songs at certain times throughout the evening, such as the first dance and the bouquet toss.

The Flowers

You both will most likely be shocked and amazed at the sheer volume of flowers it takes to adorn a wedding. Even more amazing is the cost, especially since you're probably only used to buying small bouquets from a local florist or grocery store. But the right botanical display is a breathtaking addition to a wedding.

When interviewing florist candidates, find out how open they are to working within your budget. The best florist is one that can be creative and provide you with unique yet reasonably priced arrangements. Here are a few tried-and-true ways to extend the flower budget:

  • Use in-season flowers. While your florist can generally get almost any flower you want, in-season selections tend to cost less.
  • Use lots of greenery. For bouquets, you could instruct the florist to retain more stem leaves (requesting, of course, that only unblemished foliage can be used). Or, you could entwine a few perfect blossoms within ivy garlands.
  • Limit the number of attendants. Remember, every person participating in your wedding requires either a bouquet, corsage, or boutonniere. Fewer bridal attendants means fewer costly floral arrangements.
  • Consider tabletop alternatives. Alternatives like balloons mixed with only a few flowers, candles surrounded by ivy garlands, and heavenly scented herb arrangements can lower your floral costs. You might also want to consider renting bonsai or small topiary trees.
  • Use the ceremony flowers at your reception as well. One caution: There may be a slight up-charge if you'd like the florist to transport and set up the ceremony flowers at the reception site. However, sometimes this cost is far lower than purchasing flowers for two separate locations. Of course, you also could ask a friend to be in charge of transporting the flowers and setting them up.
  • Share the ceremony flower cost with another couple. Oftentimes, ceremony flowers are designed to decorate specific areas within the church, synagogue, or temple. This may make it impractical to move and reuse the flowers at the reception. In this case, you may want to try splitting the ceremony flower costs with another couple. Ask the contact person at your church, synagogue, or temple if there is another wedding the day before or after yours. If yes, call that couple, and see if they are open to this huge cost-cutting measure.
  • Simplify. Sometimes less really is more -- especially if your wedding style is particularly elegant or sophisticated. For example, if the bride's gown is a simple sheath, select a bouquet of one dramatic, breathtaking flower surrounded by beautiful ribbon.

As with all of the vendors associated with the wedding, keep a contact sheet handy that includes all the key information about your florist. Use this sheet to record notes from each meeting you both have with him or her. Also create a detailed list of your flower order that sums up what needs to go where and get into whose hands or on whose lapel.

 

Since you've spent all this time picking the right music, musicians, and flowers, you want to make sure you properly document how beautiful it all turns out. In the next section, we will discuss how to select a photographer and videographer.

Photography

The wedding photographs preserve forever the magnificence and magic of your wedding day. Your wedding video, on the other hand, tends to capture those precious and often spontaneous moments that defy the limitations of still photography.

Take the time to carefully select both the wedding photographer and videographer. Remember, these are the people who are in charge of recording your precious memories. Remember, you can click on the links for worksheets to help you with each step.

The Photography

Amazingly enough, the couple can plan, delight in, and obsess about their wedding day for 12 months, and then -- poof! -- everything's over before they know it. Even though the guests will appreciate every effort you both took to make this a memorable day, you both may find yourselves barely able to remember the menu, let alone the white roses at the end of the aisle.

For these reasons and a million more, your photographer will eventually (say, on your fifth wedding anniversary) become one of the most important persons to have attended your ceremony and reception.

Choosing a Photographer

Do your homework. Ask recently married couples for recommendations. Take a lot of uninterrupted time to study a photographer's portfolio. Look for technical skill, including clear, well-lit photos. Study the bride's and groom's faces: Was the photographer able to capture that nano-second where the bride's eyes expressed the love in her heart rather than the butterflies in her stomach? Despite being posed, do the traditional shots still have a sense of candid happiness, or do they seem flat and unanimated? Does the photographer use multiple-image, split-frame, or other creative techniques?

There are important questions for you both to ask during initial interviews with photographer candidates, such as the rate per hour, extra potential costs, photographer's attire, and number of assistants to be used. There are also definite ways to make the search for a photographer a little easier. For example, you should:

  • Start early. The best photographers are booked months in advance. Since you want plenty of time to interview and review more than one photographer, it's best to begin this task as soon as possible.
  • Ask to see friends' and relatives' wedding albums. Recommendations are great, but actually seeing the photographer's work is better still.
  • Attend bridal fairs. Photographers often have booths at these fairs. You can look at portfolios, collect business cards, and check for available dates. It's also a great way to see several photographers without having to drive all over town.
  • Ask your caterer, florist, and musicians for recommendations. These people are in the wedding business, and they've probably seen it all. Of course, their recommendations will probably be from a different perspective. For example, this photographer did not get in the way as food was served, and that photographer got right in the middle of the dance floor and captured every move. In the end, these are all important viewpoints that the average bride might not know to consider.
  • Interview several choices. You both may think that wedding photographs are all the same, but they really aren't. There are different levels of creativity, talent, and technical skill. After talking to several photographers, you'll begin to understand the differences, and you'll spot the right person.
  • Consider your chemistry with each photographer interviewed. While a photographer's portfolio is his best recommendation, it's also important to consider how you get along with this person. If you both prefer a take-charge, assertive person, look for these qualities during the interview. On the other hand, if you want someone who's laid-back and goes with the flow, watch for this attitude.
  • Consider a photographer's creativity. When reviewing a photographer's portfolio, look for black-and-white treatments, multiple images, and other creative techniques. Don't be shy about making special requests. If a friend's wedding album catches your eye, ask if you can borrow her book and show it to each photographer you interview.
  • Make sure your photographer has wedding-specific experience. Photographers who specialize in animal shots or formal portraits are probably not your best bet. You want someone who understands what a wedding album means.

Getting the Important Shots

If there are people at your wedding who you especially want photographed, make sure the photographer meets these people. Introducing the photographer to your great-grandmother is a nice responsibility for your maid/matron of honor. And be sure to make these special requests clearly known before the wedding day.

Wedding Photography Trends

Several trends in wedding day photography can make the entire process much more predictable and less stressful. Ultimately, the ideas below can give you more free time on the wedding day.

  • Take the formal shots the day or week before your ceremony. Yes, the groom will have to see the bride in her gown, but the benefits of a calm, unhurried session often outweigh any superstitions! Also, a pre-wedding-day photography session gives you both a true dress rehearsal.
  • Take more candid shots. There is something captivating about well-taken candid photographs. Some great candid opportunities are when everyone is getting ready, between formal shots when everyone is happy and playful, and as the bride awaits her first step down the aisle.
  • Request creative techniques. Black-and-white or black-and-white hand-tinted photos, double exposures, or special filters all offer unique and captivating results.

Once you both have determined which specific shots are important and when you would like the photographer to take these shots, create a photography schedule to keep him or her on track. And while you're at it, make a contact sheet with the details of your wedding package along with basic information about the photographer. This will make sure you and the photographer are on the same page and eliminate any potential for surprises.

The Videographer

Like the photographer, the videographer is responsible for capturing memories. What sets the video apart from the wedding album is that video tends to be more action- and sound-oriented and thus has the potential for being more spontaneous and candid. There's no better way to remember the informal but nonetheless remarkable moments of your day.

Many times, video is the only way to capture the moment you exchange vows, since the flashes for still photographs are sometimes not permitted or wanted during the ceremony. A quiet video camera, unobtrusively set up stage left, allows you to hold those vows forever at your fingertips.

 

As you both did when selecting photography, interview several videographer candidates, and use friends' wedding videos to help express what you're looking for. Once you find that perfect videographer, create a videography schedule with all the key moments you would like captured plus a contact sheet detailing everything you need to remember about your videographer.

Details, details. There sure is a lot to remember when planning a wedding, isn't there? Let's keep going by learning more about getting the rehearsal, ceremony, and transportation details set on the next page.

Rehearsal

It's easy to get bogged down in the details of wedding planning -- especially for aspects of the wedding that have so many components, like the rehearsal and the ceremony, and for the more mundane items on your checklist, such as transportation. Remember to keep the overall picture in mind, and always try to add a personal touch to each detail you both plan. Don't forget you can click on the links for worksheets to help you with each step.

The Rehearsal

The rehearsal is incredibly important, not only for obvious reasons, but also because it reduces the risk of ceremony surprises, tends to relax the wedding party, and gives his side a chance to mingle with her side. It also makes the reception even more fun and personal.

The worksheet link above provides a cheat sheet of everything you both need to remember about the rehearsal, including what you both should take along (such as the wine and the marriage license) that you will need on your actual wedding day.

Rehearsal Party

The rehearsal party immediately follows the official rehearsal. While the party is traditionally hosted by the groom's family, more and more groom's parents now choose instead to help with the overall reception costs, which, with the exception of the bar bill, were traditionally covered only by the bride's parents.

The rehearsal party is a chance for the bride and groom to mingle with loved ones and introduce wedding attendants from his family to wedding attendants from her family. It's also traditionally the time for the couple to give gifts to each wedding party attendant. 

Rehearsal parties can run the gamut. They can be quite formal or casual. They can be in a restaurant or a private home. They can include dinner or simply be drinks and appetizers. In other words, anything goes and anything is acceptable.

All members of the wedding party are included on the rehearsal party guest list, as well as their spouses. All parents, the officiant (and his or her spouse), and the coordinator (if any) are also invited. Some couples also invite other wedding vendors (the musicians, photographer, etc.) and out-of-town guests, but that is entirely optional.

The Ceremony

This is the time to acknowledge every fantasy and recall every wedding ceremony that has touched the bride's and groom's heart -- whether the ceremony was your best friend's, your Aunt Mabel's, or a scene on the big screen starring Audrey Hepburn. Indulge yourselves and your most romantic dreams. The only real limitations are budget and size. (In other words, you both want to make sure the ceremony site can hold all of your guests.)

The Ceremony Site

A ceremony does just as much to set the tone of the wedding day as anything else. If the bride and groom belong to the same church, synagogue, or temple and they want a traditional ceremony, choosing the ceremony site is simple. If, however, they want a more unique ceremony or if they do not belong to the same religious organization, then they may need to do a little hunting to find the perfect site.

There are four general ceremony styles for you both to choose from. Each of the four styles has plenty of room for personal expression.

  • Traditional: A traditional ceremony is performed in a church, synagogue, or temple by a religious leader. (A military ceremony is also considered traditional.)
  • Contemporary: This ceremony is most often in a historical building, museum, garden, or along a shoreline. There generally still are seats, an aisle, and a religious officiant.
  • Unique: These "extreme" ceremonies are held underwater, on mountaintops, in the air, or wherever your fantasy leads you. It takes a lot of courage to select this style, and you can expect more than the average number of regrets. If it's your dream, though, go for it!
  • Private: Reserved women fall in love and get married, too -- they just don't want to be on center stage. For these people, a private ceremony at city hall or a small religious site is perfect. They can then have a large party, with lots of mingling and no spotlights, at another time.

No matter how extravagant or simple the couple's dreams are for the ceremony site, it's important they keep track of all the details, including such things as the maximum number of guests, fee involved, and attire restrictions.

Ceremony Costs

There are several standard fees associated with the wedding ceremony. The following areas are all considered normal add-on fees and should be included in the budget. In the end, all of these additional fees add value to your ceremony.

  • Officiant: This is the person who actually performs the ceremony, legally pronouncing you husband and wife. The officiant may be a religious leader at the church, synagogue, or temple where you will hold your ceremony; a religious leader invited to your ceremony site from another church, synagogue, or temple; or a judge or justice. Whoever the person is, there will be a fee (or donation) for the service. Be sure to provide a schedule to the officiant so he or she knows exactly what you have planned for the ceremony.
  • Site fee: There are often additional fees beyond the building in which you hold the ceremony. These are generally for decorative items used to set up the site to your liking or items associated with religious traditions. Some of the add-on fees may include an aisle runner, candelabras and candles (if permitted), the altar or chuppah, knee cushions, canopy, and chairs (if necessary in addition to the pews).
  • Special services: Certain services outside the jurisdiction of your officiant or site manager include cleanup services, parking services, setup services, or tear-down services. These normally have an additional fee.

Wedding Vows

There was a time when the wedding vows were more or less set in stone. Those days, however, are gone. And while that's good news for those who are looking for another way to express their love, it also means one more thing for the bride and groom to worry about. Here are your choices:

  • Traditional vows: If you are having a religious ceremony with traditional vows, there is still room for input. Read through the customary vows to make sure you find nothing contradictory with your beliefs, such as things that you think are outdated or sexist. Consider inserting special readings or poems. Sometimes family and friends are invited to read scriptures or poetry.
  • Self-written vows: Many brides and grooms write their own vows. A few suggestions are to acknowledge the guests and the importance of their presence; explain the qualities you most love about your future spouse or tell your hopes for the future.

The Receiving Line

The receiving line is a special chance for guests to officially meet the bride's and groom's families, as well as an opportunity to personally congratulate the newlyweds. This line is usually formed directly after the ceremony, with guests offering their congratulations as they move on to the reception. It can also be formed so that guests arriving at the reception must first pass through the line. It's perfectly fine to keep conversation brief (yet still somewhat personal).

Transportation

Some might consider limousine service on your wedding day extravagant, but it is a surprisingly affordable luxury -- and an appropriate indulgence when you consider the miles of lace the bride will be wearing. Check out several transportation company candidates before settling on one -- many offer great deals if you both search hard enough.

A limousine can be used both before and/or after the ceremony. For example, the bride and her attendants could take a limo to the church. The couple (and possibly the best man and maid/matron of honor) could also be whisked away to the reception in a limousine. And remember there are several romantic alternatives to a limousine service. For example, the couple may be able to rent an antique car or hire a horse and carriage.

One trend is to find a way to keep the whole wedding party together in transit. This can include anything from renting a trolley (check the Yellow Pages for any local companies) to renting a mini-bus (available through many limousine services). This allows the entire wedding party to have a private post-ceremony celebration together.

 

Beyond hiring transportation for yourselves and the wedding party, you may want to consider paying for valet parking for your guests. If the ceremony and reception are at a fine hotel, they probably already offer this service -- which you can often secure at a reduced rate. If this service is not part of your ceremony or reception package, consider hiring parking attendants. This is a particularly thoughtful gesture if your ceremony is someplace where street parking is difficult.

You' both have walked down the aisle, exchanged vows, puckered up for the all-important kiss -- and now it's party time! In the next section we will help you both plan your wedding reception.

Reception and Catering

Like the ceremony, the reception and catering should reflect the bride and groom's overall wedding style. And just as with the ceremony, pretty much anything goes. Your reception can be an elaborately planned formal sit-down dinner, a relaxed yet elegant semiformal buffet luncheon, a glamorous cocktail party, or a casual outdoor brunch. No matter which style you both choose, you can click on the links for worksheets to help you plan the reception and catering.

Traditionally, a reception includes the following broad categories: a receiving line (which you may choose to include as part of the ceremony), a toast to the couple, a meal, cake, and music. The only must for a wedding reception, however, is lots of celebrating. In other words, do whatever you both like to make this a truly romantic, memorable, and -- above all -- lovely day.

While reception sites run the gamut from a formal restaurant to a backyard, you both want to make absolutely certain that your site can comfortably hold the number of guests you wish to invite. It also must accommodate guests' parking needs and any activities you want, such as dancing.

Before choosing a reception site, you both must define the mood of your reception. Even though anything goes, you still have to define what "anything" means to you both.

To begin, consider your other wedding decisions, such as the style of your dress, invitations, and ceremony. Will these be very formal and traditional? It might seem odd to go from a formal, traditional ceremony to a unique, creative reception ... but again, it's up to you both.

Once you set the mood, select three or four reception site possibilities that can accommodate your concept. After choosing the reception site that meets your needs, keep a detailed checklist of everything the site has and, more important, doesn't have, so you can be sure to rent what you need. Also provide the site with a schedule so the people in charge on your Big Day know what you expect. Be sure to map out a seating plan -- with help from your fiance -- and give a copy to the manager at the reception site and a copy to your caterer.

Reception Costs

You both will probably devote 35 to 40 percent of your wedding budget to the reception. Some ideas for stretching the dollars:

  • Serve limited alcoholic beverages. By limiting your bar selections to soft drinks, punch, champagne, beer, and wine, you will save a substantial amount of money.
  • Rent necessary equipment yourself. You'll cut out the middleman and save a significant amount of money.
  • Select a meal option other than dinner. Breakfast, brunch, lunch, high tea, and cocktails are all less expensive than dinner.
  • Limit the open bar. If you both definitely want an open bar but need to trim costs, limit the time your bar is open. Once the bar is closed, you can still have wine, beer, and nonalcoholic beverages available.
  • Always ask about packages. Many sites offer reception packages, and while these options may give you less room for special requests, they often come with a lower final figure.

The Food

There are basically three options for the reception food: self-catered, catered, or included with the total reception package. With the last option, you'll generally work with the food manager from a hotel, restaurant, or country club. Within these three categories, you can aim for a formal, semiformal, or casual menu.

A Caterer

Some hotels and especially private establishments such as museums or historical buildings do not offer food preparation services. In these cases, you need to hire a caterer. Make sure you choose a caterer you can trust who is experienced in weddings. Then let this person be your guide. Your caterer is an expert, and considering the fact that you're paying for his or her services, you might as well sit back and enjoy the help. Also, you both should insist on a tasting session before choosing a caterer. Give very careful second thoughts to anyone unwilling to provide this service.

Once you both have settled on a caterer, keep a worksheet on all of his or her contact information as well as details about the menu, including costs.

A Food Manager

This person -- while technically working for a private club, hotel, restaurant, or country club -- should be handled just the same as a caterer. Again, you need to be certain to find one that you're comfortable working with, and you need to sample the food offered before you make any decisions. Food managers should be able to accommodate special requests, although sometimes on a more limited scale.

A Self-Catered Affair

You may choose to prepare all of the food yourselves. If you both are planning a small, intimate reception, this is sometimes an option that can save some money. If you both choose this, be sure to go into it with your eyes wide open. The secret is to plan ahead, ask for help, choose as many make-ahead-and-freeze courses as possible, and organize, organize, organize.

The Cake

The wedding cake should be a work of creative art as well as a delicious dessert. Many reception sites and caterers include the cake with their wedding packages, but you may prefer to select a baker on your own. If doing so, you both first need to select a cake type, size, and style.

The number of tiers is dictated by sheer preference, budget, or the number of guests you need to feed. The icing is generally white, but the inside can be whatever flavor you desire.

Generally speaking, it is the outside cake decorations that most affect cost. The inside follows no standard rules and can be any flavor. As with the food, insist on a tasting session before you choose a baker. Also keep a detailed list of important information about the baker you've chosen that includes fees and specifics about the cake.

The Groom's Cake

The groom's cake is an old Southern tradition that fades in and out of favor. While it is certainly not mandatory, it does add a sweet touch to the day. This cake, generally chocolate cake with chocolate icing (as opposed to the bride's white cake), is cut, placed in take-home boxes, and given to guests upon departure. Legend has it that a single girl who places this cake under her pillow will dream of the man she will marry.

Many women have a picture of their dream wedding gown in their head long before they even meet the man they want to marry. But wedding attire involves more than just the bride's white dress. Check the next section for helpful tips on selecting the perfect wedding attire for the bride and groom.

Wedding Attire

Everything that surrounds the bride as she walks down the aisle should represent nothing less than warmth, love, and beauty. Her gown, her attendants, and both of your family and friends standing

near -- they all embody decades of dreams, centuries of tradition, and a few fleeting moments of utter joy.

Choosing the bride's gown and groom's attire, and the apparel for the rest of the wedding party, can be a long process. Just remember to use the clothes to reinforce the style of the rest of the wedding. In other words, if the wedding is a formal evening affair in an elaborate setting, don't put the groomsmen in casual sports coats and trousers. As we walk you both through the process of selecting the appropriate wedding attire, remember that you can click on the links for worksheets to help you with each step.

The Wedding Gown

Before the bride begins shopping for her gown, she should take a look inside her closet and pull out the dresses that make her feel absolutely gorgeous. Study their basic shapes and cuts.

Next, buy an armful of bride magazines. Tear out pages with fashions that catch her eye. Have a pen handy, so she can circle any neckline and sleeve treatments she likes.

She'll probably be trying on dozens of dresses, so create a log of what she likes and didn't like about her top gown possibilities. Once she has made her selection, keep track of all of her ordering information in one place to make it easy to make any follow-up phone calls to the boutique.

The Veil and the Headpiece

There are many styles of veils and headpieces. First and foremost, the bride should choose headwear that coordinates with her dress. However, most headwear can be adapted to coordinate with any gown style.

Her only other concern is deciding what sort of veil and headpiece she feels comfortable in. Her comfort level depends on how she likes to wear her hair and whether she wants to wear all or part of the headpiece during the reception. On the subject of hair, she'll probably want to make a general decision about her wedding day hairstyle before buying the headpiece.

The Bridesmaids' Attire

Once the subject of ridicule and scorn, bridesmaid dresses now have a world of options.Bridesmaids don't even have to dress alike anymore. The bride can choose to have the wedding party all dress in the same color or fabric. Just remember that the bridesmaids will be paying for these dresses; try to choose one within their budgets.

As the bride did with her wedding dress, she should keep track of the likes and dislikes of her bridesmaids' gown possibilities. Then create a detailed worksheet about the bridesmaid gowns she has selected, including all of her attendant's measurements.

The Groom's Apparel

As with the modern bride, the modern groom no longer absolutely has to wear a traditional black tux. A nice-looking suit and tie has become popular, and this option allows the groom to wear the suit for other special occasions.

If he wants to stick with the rental route, be sure to check out a few rental apparel possibilities to make sure he gets the style he likes at the price you both like. Then keep track of all the groom's ordering information, including dates for the fittings.

Groomsmen's Attire

The groomsmen's apparel should match (or at least reflect) the style of the groom's attire. The groomsmen will sometimes wear a less formal or less colorful version of what the groom is wearing. The best man will often match the groom. It's a good idea to have a list of all the groomsmen's measurements in case you run into any problems with the rental company.

Phew! You both made it through the wedding planning. That's it, right? Well, not quite. You can't forget about the honeymoon, post-wedding parties, and gift registry. While all of these are pleasant distractions, they do take planning nonetheless. Check out the last page for information on the gifts, parties, and honeymoon details.

Gifts and Parties

A wedding is all about fun stuff. And what could be more fun than giving everyone an excuse to have a party -- to put on clothes that rarely get worn, to get silly and sentimental all at once, and to hug anyone and everyone. There will be lunches, brunches, showers, cocktail events, bachelor and bachelorette festivities, and impromptu gatherings galore.

In addition to the parties, there will be gifts...lots of them. You and your fiance will receive presents big and small. To make sure you receive what you both truly need and want, you should register with at least one store. We will show you both how to tend to these final party and gift details. And remember, you can click on the links for worksheets to help you with each step.

Registering is time-consuming and can be slightly stressful because of the many decisions that need to be made. Physically, it's easy. You both simply go to the gift registry department at your favorite store and either fill out a massive checklist or use an electronic scanner to note items that you want. Then, the store will print out your complete wish list.

You both should seriously consider registering at several stores, maybe one that offers wonderful formal dinnerware, one that offers gorgeous furniture and housewares, and one larger superstore where you can register for electronics, gardening supplies, or any little thing your heart desires. That way, you both are sure to hit all of your wishes and all of your guests' price ranges.

On the subject of gifts, perhaps the greatest gift of all is the honeymoon -- something you and your fiance give to each other -- and something most newlyweds need and want more than anything. After months of planning, negotiating, and compromising, you both deserve a special and memorable getaway. After all, once you both return home, it's back to reality.

Creating the Gift Registry

Registering for gifts is fun and functional. As for the fun part, what better way to spend an afternoon than jotting down hundreds of things you both wish you owned. As for functionality, registering ensures that you actually receive things you need. Registering also keeps duplicate gifts at a minimum...unless you both really want four gravy boats?

At every store you both register, you will receive a printout of your registration that details all selected items, style numbers, and desired quantities. If you care to know your gift status at any given time, you both can request an updated printout that will list all items and quantities purchased thus far. Some stores also have Web sites that let you check the up-to-the-minute status of your list.

Before heading off to register, go through the following list together and take note of the general categories that deserve special attention. Think of particular items that you both need in each category, and jot them down on a piece of paper.

  • Formal dinnerware
  • Informal dinnerware
  • Formal flatware
  • Informal flatware
  • Serveware
  • Casual glassware/barware
  • Crystal
  • Bar needs
  • Kitchenware
  • Linens
  • Decorative items
  • Electronics

Duly Noted

Every gift -- big or small, expected or not -- should be followed up with a thank you card. To make the process easier, keep a good wedding gift record from the start that includes the name of the giver, the gift, and an area for you to check off when you've sent a thank you note.

The note should be sent as soon as possible, so you both want to try to keep up with this as the gifts arrive. Because you'll likely be writing many notes, keep them brief. You are not obligated to send an entire letter. Simply begin by thanking the person for the gift, move on to a sentence about how the two of you will use the gift, mention how happy you are that this person could attend the shower or wedding, and close with a second and final thank you.

Showers

Legend has it that bridal showers began when a poor Dutch miller wanted to marry a woman whose father forbade the union and refused a dowry. The miller's friends decided to shower the couple with everything they needed to begin a life together.

Today, the bride can expect anywhere from one to many showers. Showers can have themes, such as kitchen or honeymoon; they can be of a personal nature, with gifts centered on lingerie and bath items; or they can simply be friendly gatherings with gifts purchased according to the couple's registry list. A popular trend is a couples shower, where the engaged couple attends together and the guest list includes other couples.

Each person or couple who throws a shower should receive a special thank you letter, something a little more intimate than the usual thank you card. You both may also choose to offer hosts and hostesses a small gift -- a token of your appreciation. This could be a bouquet of flowers, a plant, a meaningful book, a special bottle of wine, or any other personal gift. Bridesmaid Party

Some brides like to hostess a bridesmaid party. This is a wonderful way to show your appreciation or their support, love, and help before, during, and after the wedding. It's also a great way for out-of-town attendants to meet everyone else before the Big Day.

Post-Wedding Party

The post-wedding party, held the day after the reception, probably began spontaneously because of out-of-town guests with time on their hands. Today, it is a very popular idea and well on its way to becoming a tradition. This event is usually hosted by the bride's mother, the groom's mother, or both mothers together.

The event can be brunch or lunch and includes anyone you both care to invite, but it especially includes out-of-town guests. The bride and groom may or may not attend, depending on personal preferences and/or the honeymoon schedule.

The Honeymoon

Whether you both hire a consultant to take care of every last wedding detail or you handle every decision yourselves, you are likely to leave the reception exhausted. You both will need the honeymoon to come down from all the excitement and activity.

The best time to tackle the honeymoon is right from the start of the wedding process. This is when you both want to begin considering honeymoon possibilities and then select a wedding date that coordinates with your general destination. For example, if you are both ski enthusiasts, you probably don't want an August wedding. After you set a date, begin thinking of the honeymoon specifics.

Anyone who has planned a wedding will probably say they never imagined how many details there were to take care of. The good news is if you both use the tips and worksheet links included in this article, you'll have all the bases covered and you both can focus on the fun, personal touches that really make a wedding spectacular.

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