CONGRATULATIONS! YOU’RE ENGAGED! AFTER THE EXCITEMENT of telling family and friends, sending pics of the ring (and insuring it!), you likely have lots of ideas swirling around your brain about your big day and you want to hit the ground running.
But some brides are so excited to commence with the planning that they may buy something or sign a contract without thinking it through. One example Tiffany Butler, of Style Couture Events by Tiffany, has seen is brides buying a dress before doing anything else. “Choosing a dress is an emotional decision, and a fun one,” Butler said. “But saying yes to a dress before setting a budget, and picking a wedding style and a venue can be a mistake. You should create an overall vision first. Some of my clients have ended up with two dresses, and that’s money they could have spent on something else.”
So what should you do first? Before you head to the bridal salon or put down a non-refundable deposit, consider putting these five to-dos at the top of your list:
HIRE A WEDDING PLANNER
If you do this one thing first, the rest of the list and everything that comes after will be MUCH easier. Having a wedding planner helps keeps you on track in making decisions when it makes sense to make them. Wedding planners are lifesavers if you don’t live in the St. Louis area but are getting married here, have a demanding job, have difficulty making choices or just want help from the experts.
“A planner suggests all the vendors that are involved in the big day based not only on your budget, but on the overall scope of the day and personality of the couple,” said Callan Pratt-Piacentini, wedding and event planner and designer at Altar’d Events. They also often have personal, proven relationships with a lot of the vendors you’ll be interested in. “Locking in a planner you trust and who understands your overall vibe is key to a smooth and enjoyable planning process,” Pratt-Piacentini said.
SET A BUDGET AND ALLOCATE WITHIN IT
“Even before the ring, women usually have some ideas of what they want for their wedding,” said Tiffany Butler. “But budget should be a part of that preliminary research. Brides often don’t have a realistic expectation of how much things cost.”
Perhaps you can blame it on Pinterest, says Allissa Reimer, owner and principal planner and designer at Altar’d Events. “Pinterest can serve as a great source of inspiration, but those gorgeous photos don’t show you the price of everything you are seeing.”
It’s essential to set a realistic budget and then having an honest discussion about who is paying for what—the bride’s parents, the groom’s parents, the couple and anyone else involved in writing a check. “It’s not a fun conversation, but is crucial to avoiding more awkward situations later in the planning process,” Reimer said.
Reimer also advises couples not to forget taxes, service fees, delivery and set-up charges, and gratuities when determining their budget.
Once you have a budget, the next most important thing is dividing the funds within that budget. “No matter how small or big your budget, it still has to be broken down into how much money will be spent for each element of the wedding,” Reimer said. A wedding planner can help with that, by getting to know the couple and what their priorities are, and knowing real prices of those things.
Looking back, Nikki Klapp realizes she overspent on transportation–she just bought more than her wedding day actually needed. “We got picked up and immediately taken to the venue and then picked up at the end and taken to the hotel. The bus was supposed to essentially shuttle people back and forth to the hotel throughout the night, but I don’t think anyone took advantage of that. Considering it was so underused, transportation ended up being annoyingly expensive.”
DRAFT A GUEST LIST
Closely related to budget is how many people you are planning on inviting. “Since much of the pricing is on a per person basis, your budget discussion should include how many guests you think are really going to be there,” advised Butler.
Newlywed Lauren Boyer knew she would have a summer wedding, since her fiancé was in medical school and this summer was the only free chunk of time he had for a wedding and a honeymoon. “The next thing we did was think about our families and friends and estimate how many people we could invite. We tried to come up with a good, generous estimate, allowing for some wiggle room.”
LOCK DOWN YOUR OFFICIANT, CEREMONY AND VENUE
“Choice of venue is absolutely one of the first things to consider,” Pratt-Piacentini said. “Not only do venues in the St. Louis area book up far in advance, but the venue also can set the tone for your big day. If it’s a more casual or outdoor venue there will be a different tone to the day than if you are in a historic building or ballroom.”
If your ceremony is at a house of worship, reserving it and the officiant should be done in tandem with the booking of the reception site, obviously. “It was really important to me and my family that the priest we grew up with be the one to marry us,” bride Michelle Fox said. “So checking his availability was one of the first things we did.”
Maybe you’ve called around to various venues and some are booked, and you’re in a bit of a panic about availability. You may be tempted to secure the next place on the list without taking the whole wedding day into account, to have something on the date you want. Be very careful about committing financially to a spot until you are sure it’s what you want, fits into your budget, and all your guests will fit in the space.
Another thing to consider is what is included and what choices you have (and don’t have) at a reception site. Wedding planner Pratt-Piacentini shared a cautionary tale: “We had a couple that had booked their venue right after they got engaged without doing much research, because they liked the space. What they didn’t think about was that the venue required a specific caterer that the couple was really unhappy with. In the end they wished they had looked around more and hired us before booking anything, so that they had an educated person on their side before making decisions.”
CHOOSE A PHOTOGRAPHER
“While we are incredibly lucky to have an amazing selection of photographers in the St. Louis area, they, too, tend to book up quickly,” said Pratt-Piacentini. “I would recommend looking in local magazines, blogs and on social media to see what type of photography you are drawn to and to get a general idea of your style. From there you can narrow down your options and begin to reach out about booking.”
New bride Lauren Boyer loved the photos taken at a friend’s wedding—the fun, relaxed approach of the photographer, but also the beauty of the pictures in capturing the day and everyone involved. “I knew this photographer was getting lots of referrals for her work, so I booked her right after booking our church and reception site,” Boyer said.
It’s also a good idea to have an in-person meeting with the photographer, to not only see some of the wedding albums, but get to know each other a little and see if your personalities click. This person is going to document all your hard work on your big day, and it helps if you both feel comfortable and that it’s a good fit.
Planning a wedding is an exciting, wonderful time, but the process can sometimes seem overwhelming. But check these five or so items off your list, and you are well on your way to creating the wedding of your dreams.
Written by Jennifer C. Frakes for Saint Louis Bride