Today officially marks 6 months of wedded bliss for the Chew-ster and me. We've been married as long as we were engaged. And - let me tell ya - 6 months of marriage has gone by WAY faster than 6 months of engagement!
In light of this, I thought I'd share the things I learned planning my own wedding without the help of a wedding planner. A "diy bride" of sorts. My hope is that this will help those brides-to-be out there who are planning their own weddings keep their heads screwed on straight.
I know it's a lot, but I really feel like it's all important. So here we go...
What I Learned...
Let me start by saying that Pinterest is your best friend and your biggest enemy. Pre-engagement Kendall thought pinning all those wedding pins would one day be so helpful, and I'd have so many options to choose from. Pre-engagement Kendall was obviously delusional. Pinterest was certainly helpful for some things, but I eventually realized that I couldn't have a realistic wedding with all the pins I had on my "Marry Me" board. In the end, Pinterest was most helpful for when I already had an idea but needed to search it on Pinterest to figure out how to make it happen, or for the occasional idea here and there.
One of the first things I did - at the suggestion of my brilliant mother - was buy a wedding planning book from Barnes & Noble (click the link to see the one I used). You can find these anywhere, and I'm sure there are online versions. But, for me, it was helpful to have it in print so that I could make notes and changes with super ease. This thing helped me keep my sanity. Seriously. Near the end I didn't even really need it, but it really helped me figure things out in the beginning and stay undaunted by the big task ahead.
The next thing that we did that helped us out immensely was figure out a makeshift wedding budget. We went with the presumption that we wouldn't have any financial help from anyone and planned from there. Did our families help us out? Yes - but I'm glad we didn't plan for that. It helped us keep our wedding reasonable and affordable and not ridiculous. Obviously, some people have the luxury of knowing up front how much their families are going to contribute (some of which foot the whole bill), and that's different. But that wasn't our circumstance. We simply budgeted by saying how much we thought was reasonable to spend on certain things (like food, venues, gifts, etc.) and deciding if we could practically afford to use that number.
If someone had handed me a check in the beginning for $50,000 and told me to have the wedding I want, I would have planned a lot differently. But I had to ultimately choose what was most important to me (and my groom): a big, expensive wedding or a happy checking/savings/credit account. I'm so glad we didn't go far out and kept it simple. Because - let me tell you - the checking/savings/credit accounts are still there when the big, expensive wedding is over. All in all, I think the two of us spent - maybe - $5000 on our wedding (and that's being generous).
A big factor for helping us keep costs down was to have an afternoon wedding and reception instead of an evening one. We did finger foods and desserts instead of a sit-down meal, and the reception was over by 6 pm, giving us newlyweds plenty of time to get to our honeymoon destination without being exceptionally exhausted when we got there. PS - Showing up at our hotel in our wedding attire scored us lots of free champagne (and only a few weird looks and stares). Just sayin'.
One thing we did that paid off when it was all said and done was to do our homework to find the best deals for our money. It was hard work, but it was so worth it. For example, we booked a reception venue that didn't do catering (it only cost us $300 to reserve it for that Friday and Saturday - great deal). We had originally decided to do all the catering ourselves for our afternoon reception with the help of friends and family. But after doing our research, we realized it would actually save us money and time (and probably a lot of stress) to have it catered, which we also got at a great price.
At our wedding, we decided to go the traditional route and not see each other before the ceremony. I'm all for tradition - I love it - I really do. But this is the one thing I wish I would have done differently, and only because of the pictures. Our pictures turned out fantastic, but we weren't able to get several shots we wanted to get because the kids involved in our ceremony were too cranky. They were so tired and hungry that we weren't able to get a family picture of Chewie's side of the family (and other various photos we wanted). Even some of the adults were ready to call it quits. So, if I could do it again, I'd forego tradition and do the pictures before the ceremony. I think it would have made for a less hectic post-ceremony, pre-reception time frame.
Closely related to that, we should have done all the pictures with kids FIRST and then moved on to the bridesmaids with the bride and then with the groom and the families and the newlyweds...
Also, make sure your photographer knows exactly what poses you want and has a physical list so that none get left out. We got most of the ones we wanted, but we forgot some and were just too tired for others (see note about cranky adults above). Just do the pictures beforehand - I don't think you'll regret it.
Sometimes the best bridesmaids aren't always bridesmaids. One of my best friends from high school flew in from TX just to see me get hitched, and she was one of the greatest assets in those few days before the wedding. She helped put wedding bouquets together (and was a pro at it), and she helped with anything that needed to be done. We also had some family friends of the Venturas who were an immeasurable help when it came to decorating the ceremony and reception venues. I'm pretty sure it would have looked so drab without their help. So don't neglect those "extra" helpers - they're creative too!
For the day before the wedding and the day of the wedding, it would have been helpful for the wedding party if I had made a schedule of what was happening. In my mind it would just all fall in place and people would be where they were needed. Not the case. I had bridesmaids go MIA and groomsmen calling because they didn't know what they were supposed to be doing. And even my groom cornered me at one point because he wasn't sure where I wanted him or what I wanted him to do. So, for those in your party who need that specificity of where to be and what to be doing when, help them out and make a schedule to avoid confusion. Just because you don't need it doesn't mean they don't.
Ok, ladies. Let's talk wedding makeup. My groom's sister-in-law is a Mary Kay consultant and offered to do my makeup for me (we're close friends). All I had to do was set up a time to do a trial run with her and buy the products I'd be using. I don't sell Mary Kay, but I LOVE it and use it all the time, every day. Find an MK consultant you trust and have her set up your makeup, or at least show someone else how to do it on you. Doing the trial run (we did 2, actually) let us figure out exactly what my look would be. And - here's the real bonus - I got to keep all the makeup in the end because I bought it. So I got to use the colors and products for as long as they lasted. I probably spent the same amount on products that I got to keep as I would have on a one-time look done by a professional. Plus, Mary Kay is just great stuff - seriously. Doing it this was is worth the money.
For my wedding, I knew what I wanted in general, but when it came to specifics, I just really didn't care. Not many people seemed to understand that. I think most people were too afraid of doing something contrary to what I would want. But, really, the day before the wedding when all the decorating and last minute decisions were being made, I just didn't care one bit. I didn't care if the flowers were too far to the left or right or if the stupid green lanterns were hung one way or the other. What ended up happening was that I got overwhelmed by everyone asking me what I wanted. I should have been much clearer and told them to just do what they thought looked best.
Some people may think this is tacky, and we try really hard never to be tacky people, but consider having a money dance. You know, where people pay the bride and groom money to dance with them. Make it fun - have the dj use silly songs that keep the crowd laughing. We were really skeptical about this, but our trusted dj assured us it would be great. And it really was. The crowd loved it, and we got enough money to pay for all the hotel staff tips and some of our other smaller honeymoon expenses. It was nice not having to pull that from our own pockets.
Sign contracts for any outside vendors you use, whether you're paying them or not. This includes the photographer, dj, videographer, caterers, etc. That way, you can always get your money back if they don't follow through with their end of the bargain.
The honeymoon. The real perk of the wedding. Since, like I said before, we paid for most of our wedding ourselves, we made the decision early on to go on a short, quaint honeymoon directly after the wedding and go on a big, extravagant honeymoon later on. So after our reception, we made the hour-ish drive to Seattle and stayed in a super nice hotel downtown for two nights, exploring Seattle during the day when we felt like it. Because we live so close to Seattle and have been a hundred-million times, this wasn't crazy for us. But we relaxed and enjoyed ourselves for those few precious days. It was fantastic, and I don't regret it a bit. I would have loved for it to have been longer, but we didn't want to hurt our checking account too much. And now, 6 months later, we're going on a cruise to the Caribbean for 5 nights in January (with a week-long visit to my parents' in TX beforehand). This has left us in a MUCH better place financially than if we'd left right away (since it was out of our own pockets). Plus it gives us a really nice getaway vacation after the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season (which is super hectic in my line of work).
This one I'm mentioning last because you're supposed to save the best for last (even though this should probably be at the very tippy-top of the list). Go through pre-marital counseling with someone you both trust and respect. We did our pre-marital with our officiant, who is also our pastor, and who is also my boss, and it was extremely beneficial. We understood that it wouldn't necessarily be ground-breaking for us, but it certainly helped us remember that more important than a fabulous wedding is a forever marriage. In the craziness of planning and bridal-showering and whatnot, it could have been easy for us to lose sight of this. And, related to this, we made it a priority to continue dating each other even after we were engaged (and even now that we're married). Our relationship was/is priority.
I'm sure there's a ton more I could write for you on wedding planning. I really learned a lot and look forward to eventually helping my sisters plan their weddings (and my brother, too, depending on the personality of his future bride). All-in-all, our wedding and the planning leading up to it were stress-free. Chewie says all the time that we could have gotten married two months after we got engaged because I booked through all the planning (I love to plan), and he's probably right.
I'll leave you with this (now that I've practically written a book for you): in the end, all that really mattered was that Chewie and I said "I do." So when your videographer doesn't show up (like at my wedding) or that inevitable mishap actually happens (and it WILL happen), just roll with it.
Smile. Remember you look gorgeous. And look forward to the honeymoon. ;)
**Note: If you have any questions about planning your own DIY wedding, or about anything I've mentioned in this post, please feel free to contact me by email or through a comment on this post. I'm happy to give any advice or information that I can!**