Chapter 2 — First Things First
There are certain basic questions you must ask yourself first to begin any of your detailed planning. These include:
When do we plan to have the ceremony?
What is the size of our budget?
Where would we like to have the ceremony?
How many guests would we like to invite?
These questions interact with each other so you may have to go through several iterations to come up with a basic plan that is realistic and realizable. Let’s look at each question first and then discuss deriving the plan.
There are several factors to consider here. Depending on where you live, the weather could be a big factor. Winter weddings happen, of course, but Spring, Summer, and Fall are usually much friendlier weather-wise unless you live or plan to marry in a warm climate.
Peak wedding season in most temperate climates typically runs from late April through late September, peaking in July and August, while July and August are not such good choices where it’s very hot and humid.
Saturdays are the most popular days for weddings. Sundays are next with Friday’s bringing up the rear. Weekday weddings are less common but can be done depending on where you are having the ceremony and from where the wedding party and guests are located or will be coming.
Your “when” decision can also have a big interaction with your budget. Non-peak season venue and vendor rates are often lower than peak season rates and weekday rates may often be lower than weekend days. Vendor and venue availability may also come into play here since many are booked six to eighteen months – or more – in advance!
Your budget is, of course, one – if not the biggest – constraint on your overall wedding plans. If your budget is unlimited, you can choose any when, where, and guest list size that you’d like. If your budget is less grandiose, which is the case for most couples, you’ll need to factor it into each decision you make. And if it is very limited, so will your choices be limited.
From where will the money come? If you and your spouse-to-be are paying for everything yourselves, how much do you have saved for the occasion? Or how long will it take for you to save enough to pay for your desired wedding day details? The amount of money you have available can also impact your “when” decision.
If your parents are going to help out, or completely pay for everything, how much money will they be providing? Alternatively, how deeply into debt are you willing to go to finance the kind of wedding you’d like to have? And how will that impact your plans for a honeymoon or starting your marriage being cash-strapped as you pay off the credit cards?
Once you have a handle on your total available budget, it’s best to start a spreadsheet or use a wedding budget planning application on one of the many wedding related websites like Wedding Wire and The Knot so that you can keep track of your planned expenditures for each vendor you’ll need to hire. And be aware that most couples exceed their original budget by about fifty percent!
Your budget will constrain your “where” and “how many guests” decisions. Commercial wedding venues are expensive to the tune of several thousands of dollars. Food and beverage catering is often the next largest expense, and it is directly driven by not only your menu but also by your guest list headcount. Then there’s photography and perhaps videography, ceremony and reception musicians or DJs, flowers, hair and makeup, and, of course, the dress!
The preceding items are, again, only a partial list of possible expenses and I’d recommend using a spreadsheet, application, or checklist available on wedding websites or message boards like Pinterest to plan and track your specific numbers.
Depending on your desired wedding date and your available budget, your next decision is likely to be where to have your wedding. The choices here are endless!
I’ve done weddings with just the couple and the two witnesses in apartments, homes, community rooms, and even hospitals that were lovely ceremonies. I’ve done them in backyards, public parks, and at beaches and forest and waterfall venues. I’ve done them at small and large chapels, large churches, many large and small commercial venues, and grand hotels with three hundred guests. The possibilities are endless!
You could, for example, have a small (5-10) to medium (10-25) sized “garden” elopement or wedding ceremony in your back yard with the reception to follow either outside or inside. You could have friends and family bring the food and drink, hire or recruit someone to DJ the music with a playlist you’ve put together, and hire or recruit a photographer. Very inexpensive, no venue scheduling issues but still very nice.
You could add some frills to a wedding like this with, say, a violinist and a pianist to provide the ceremony music. Or you could rent, buy, or construct an arch placed behind where you are standing for the ceremony.
You can even rent dance floors if you want to do the reception outside and hire a professional DJ host to keep things going. It’s your day and how you create it is really up to you!
If you decide to have your wedding in a park, forest, or beach setting, you may need to arrange for a permit, especially if you are bringing an arch, chairs, and other items. Some parks have covered areas and food preparation facilities. Some may or may not allow alcohol or may have noise restrictions that might limit your music choices. Don’t be afraid to ask! Much better to plan around restrictions than to find out on your wedding day that you can’t implement some or all of them!
If money is no object, you could rent an exclusive venue, a winery, or a hotel banquet facility. If you hire a professional wedding planner, you can delegate the majority of the planning and preparation work, including dealing with the multiple vendors and meet with he or her regularly to make sure that everything is on track and that nothing falls in a crack.
Between these two extremes are a myriad of other options that could fit your needs, wants, and desires and be within your budget. I’ve done very elegant “backyard” wedding at couples’ parents’ estates, at college campuses where tents and music, catering, etc., are all brought in for the ceremony and reception. Very elegant, but not inexpensive! You’ll want your venue selection to fit with your guest count and your budget, so here is another interaction to consider early on in the initial wedding planning stages.
Choosing who to invite to your wedding and reception is perhaps the most difficult set of decisions you’ll have to make as a couple when planning your wedding. Decisions that are fraught with emotional connotations, potential family conflicts, and friend and colleague hurt feelings.
One key thing to consider when putting the guest list together is that the cost of food and beverage catering goes up or down directly with the addition or subtraction of each guest. You’ll also want to consider whether you want your guests to bring a “+1” – spouse, partner, or friend – and what to do about your desire to have children present or not.
These are not easy decisions. There are a lot of advice and tips on many wedding websites, and there are flowcharts on bulletin board sites like Pinterest that can help you in your decision-making process. You’ll ultimately need to decide how many and who you will invite from:
Your immediate and extended family
Your spouse-to-be’s immediate and extended family
Your spouse-to-be’s friends
Your spouse-to-be’s coworkers
You’ll also want to take into account those you might want to invite but who you also know will not attend due to location, health, or finances. These people will likely appreciate being informed of the upcoming wedding but know that you know that they won’t be physically present.
The size of your guest list will also impact the selection of your venue, so you might want to start with the guest list first and then see which venues might work for you in terms of capacity and cost.
Hopefully, by now, you have a good understanding of how important these early planning factors are and how completely interactive and interdependent they can be.
Also, don’t forget to include yourselves and the wedding party – bridesmaids, groomsmen, flower girls, ring bearers – and maybe their +1s or parents – in your guest list headcount!
Concerning the bridal party, there are traditions regarding the makeup and order of entry into the formal ceremony area, and we’ll cover those details in the following chapter. In that chapter, I’ll be using the words bride and groom to differentiate among the various people for convenience. The diagram works just as well for same-sex marriages.
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