Monday, May 7, 2012

Ericka’s Quick Guide to Wedding Planning

After our wedding day was over, I began thinking of all the things I wish I had known. I was CLUELESS when it came to planning a wedding, and looking through the stacks of books, planners, and magazines for sale was so overwhelming! I had no idea where to begin or how to get it all done in time (we had a 4 month engagement) or how to stay within our budget! With friends getting married left and right, I decided to sit down and put all my thoughts together. I shared this "quick guide" in a facebook note a few years back but I thought with wedding season in full swing again it would be a great time to add it to my blog!  

Below you will find my advice on the things I would’ve done differently, the things we did well, ways to avoid disasters, tips to cut cost, and any other bits of advice I have to offer. Remember, these are only my opinions, but I hope they help some of you out!

If you are on a budget, find out exactly what it is and start crunching numbers. If you are NOT on a budget, I would suggest setting one for yourself anyway. Wedding expenses can get out of hand VERY quickly! People in the wedding industry play to your emotions and everything is marked up dramatically. It’s important to remember it’s just a day, and you have a life together to plan for after the wedding. (ie – you might want to save some money so you can actually purchase furniture, pay the rent, buy groceries, etc ;)

The next thing you should do is pick the 3 to 5 things that are MOST important to you. This will be different for every bride. (Be sure to ask your groom if there is anything that is really important to him too. My husband really didn’t care about anything and wanted NO part in the planning, but it’s still nice to ask!)
For me, my priorities were:

  1. Dress
  2. Photography
  3. Music
  4. Flowers

I knew that I would choose these things first, and that the majority of our budget would be spent on these things. Everything else could take a backseat because these were the most important things to me! (This is really important for people on a budget. Everything cannot be important...some things will have to be sacrificed.)

Time is ticking!
There are several things that take a lot of TIME in the wedding planning world. Some of them surprised me (and threw my plans for a loop!) Just to give you a heads up, these are the things you should consider doing ASAP:

  • Pick a DATE – I would suggest having a couple of possibilities, as your locations may not be available on your first choice of dates
  • Find a CEREMONY LOCATION – some churches book 2 years in advance!
  • Find a RECEPTION LOCATION – again, these can book a year or two in advance! Also, if you want to dance at your reception be sure to ask if music/dancing is allowed at the location. We were only able to find one location in our area that allowed it!
  • Find a Rehearsal Dinner Location – depending on how formal you want your rehearsal dinner, this may not be as difficult. But if you have somewhere special in mind, book it asap!
  • Choose a DRESS – day #2 of dress shopping we were informed it can take 6 to 8 MONTHS to get a dress in. Not good when your wedding is less than 4 months away! We were very blessed to find “the dress” in the right size already at the bridal shop!
  • Choose BRIDESMAID DRESSES – we were shocked yet again to find out it can take 6+ months to get bridesmaid dresses in! That completely cut out our option to order ‘traditional’ bridesmaid dresses. If you are in a similar situation (short engagement), I would suggest finding a dress you like online for your bridesmaids. The cheaper the better – remember it is EXPENSIVE to be a bridesmaid! It’s an added bonus if they can really wear it again (ie – it’s not too formal or too odd a color/fabric). A couple of suggestions I wish I’d known about:

Modcloth – VERY unique and trendy dresses!
Victoria’s Secret – This dress can be worn 12 different ways, and comes in a variety of colors!

... and these (above) were the dresses my bridesmaids wore (in chocolate brown).They were more expensive than I was hoping for, but turned out really beautifully (and could be shipped quickly). I actually still wish I had one for myself! They also come in a wide variety of colors :)

Network & Delegate
Find friends/bridesmaids/family members who will volunteer to help with the planning process. Many people will want to help and will be honored to be involved! Just be sure you don’t let their opinions/desires overrule what you and your future husband want!

It’s also a good idea to check your networks for friends who might be able to offer services at a discount. We had a family friend print our invitations, programs, and thank you notes. Another family friend gave us our reception location at a discount!

If you are in Oxford, Alabama, DO NOT USE WORLD OF FLOWERS. I cannot stress this enough! Our flowers were a DISASTER because of them (and remember, flowers were high up on my list of priorities). Everything was the wrong colors, they sent back our special ordered blue flowers (our wedding was chocolate brown and blue) for PURPLE ones, the corsages were wrong, the daisy halo for my little flowergirl was HUGE and looked ridiculous, they broke my mother’s 21 year old glass globe that she used in my aunt’s wedding, and here’s the WORST part.... They charged us $500 more than they quoted us! $500 more! That was a huge problem for people on a BUDGET! And this was after I spent 2 hours with the florist picking out exactly what I wanted in person, AND after I’d emailed them a BOLD PRINT, bulleted list of exactly what we wanted. I won’t lie... even 3 years later I am upset about this!

My best advice to avoid this kind of disaster is:

  • Find a picture of what you want and email/bring it to the florist
  • Double check your order the month before, week before, and week of the wedding
  • Get a detailed contract signed with a quote
*Money saving tip – use your bridesmaid bouquets as centerpieces for your reception, and your bridal bouquet as a centerpiece/decoration on your cake table.

*Recycling tip – re-use your flower arrangements by blessing others with them after the ceremony. Have a friend take them by a nursing home or hospital, and ask the nurses to deliver them to the rooms of patients who don’t receive visitors.

Veil & Headpiece
Wedding veils are probably the item with the highest mark-up. Tulle is about 15 to 30 cents a yard, yet wedding veils are $100 and up! If you don’t want a detailed veil (with lace trim or other adornments) you can make one for around $10 to $15. All it takes is a friend or family member with a little bit of sewing experience. My mom made mine, and she loved the honor of making something I wore on my wedding day!

Headpieces can be very expensive too (rhinestone headbands, tiaras, etc). I would recommend looking online or in a shop like Claire’s before going to a Bridal Shop. I found a gorgeous tiara from an Ebay store (new, not used) for $35. The ones in the bridal shops were $100 - $200!

Invitations, Programs, & Thank You Cards
These can get pricey VERY quickly. There are so many options and it’s easy to get carried away! Remember, it’s JUST PAPER. You and your parents might each save a copy, but everyone else is going to throw them away!

*Money saving tip – go to a local print shop and see if they can print these items “in house”. We were able to show them what we wanted from a book, and get them done “in house” MUCH cheaper. The only difference was that the ink wasn’t embossed, which was NOT a big deal to us.

*Go GREEN – you can opt out of the “formal” invitations, which require not only an outer envelope, but an inner envelope and tissue paper insert. This wastes a lot of extra paper that, again, is THROWN AWAY! A single page/card in one envelope is much friendlier to the environment. It will save you some extra money and time too!


Bed, Bath & Beyond I cannot say enough good things about this store! We went to 4 different stores in 4 different states and in every one the customer service was incredible! They go above and beyond to help you register, and make the process much less stressful. They also have a GREAT return policy - they keep your registry online for 2 years, don’t require a receipt, and give you CASH BACK for items you return! They even replaced one of our wedding gifts (3 years later) that was defective! Amazing!

Target & Walmart – While these may not seem like the classiest or most fun places to register, the giftcards we got from here were a huge blessing! We were able to buy everything we needed to set up our home (trashcans, vacuum, mop, cleaning supplies, etc) and also all our groceries for our first two months. Their return policies are a pain though – so I would recommend only registering for giftcards or a few ‘basics’ here.

Amazon – Some friends of mine recently registered here and I thought it was GENIUS. Register from the comfort of your home for practically ANYTHING you want or need! They even registered for giftcards for other stores and restaurants!

Photography & Videography   

Even if you don’t think this is important, remember your PICTURES and VIDEO are the only things that last from your wedding day! (Well, other than your marriage of course! ;) You will forget all your guests, you’ll forget what the minister said, you’ll forget a lot of the special moments between each other and your friends. You will miss so much that happens that day! A good photographer and videographer will capture it all!

Make a shot list! You don’t think you’ll forget to get a certain picture, but trust me, in the rush of your wedding day you will! Neither of us got a shot (except for some candids) of just us and our moms. We also forgot our godparents and some aunts & uncles!

It’s also important to make a ‘shot list’ or at least an explanation of what you want from your videographer. Even if they are amazing, they can’t read your mind! Be detailed and tell them what’s important to you! I’d also suggest setting up a “back up” video camera on a tripod. It’s nice to have the whole ceremony from start to finish (and good to have ‘just in case’ something happens with your videographer’s footage or equipment!)

If you're looking for recommendations, I will list the people we hired below. Unfortunately, all of their prices have gone up considerably since we used them - but if they will fit your budget then we would definitely recommend them! They all did BEAUTIFUL work!

Jane Johnson
- Jane was our wedding photographer. She and her husband Josh are friends of mine from Oregon and she does BEAUTIFUL work! It meant so much to have them come down to Alabama for our wedding! Our gallery isn't up anymore, but here are a few of our favorite photos from the day!

Stephen Devries –  Stephen is a friend from college who did our engagement photos. He was so much fun to work with! I was totally stressed out because it was pouring rain on the day of our shoot, but he had the genius idea to incorporate an umbrella and have us stroll around downtown Birmingham. We were thrilled with how the shots turned out! He used a mixture of digital and film and shot on several different cameras. Here are some of our favorites!

Paul & Courtney Bryant (Kinora Films)
- Paul is another friend from college and he did a beautiful job on our wedding video. One of my bridesmaids is actually his wife now, and together they are even better! (You may have seen their incredible work on Matthew Mayfield's music videos!) Paul did several videos for us on our Wedding DVD (ceremony, engagement story, rehearsal dinner, etc), but this was the “overview” he did for our friends and family. We love it!


Wedding Singers
If you decide to have “live music” at your ceremony, let me offer you a bit of advice. PAY THE PERFORMERS! Having sung in quite a few weddings, I know it can get pricey. I have a friend who now has a “contract” because he can’t afford to sing at all the weddings he’s asked to sing for unless his expenses are covered. The wedding singers/musicians have to travel to the ceremony and find lodging. If they are not from the area that can add up! Also, (if they’re good) they’re putting a lot of time into rehearsals for your wedding. Compensating them for their time is a blessing. Another option would be to find them lodging (pay for their hotel room or find a family member/friend for them to stay with) and to give them a gas gift card to help with their travel expenses. For our wedding, we had 3 live singers who also played instruments. We paid each singer $100 and provided their hotel rooms for the weekend.

*Note – If they are a friend of the bride or groom they may refuse payment and say it is their “gift” to you.


If you are looking for ways to cut cost, the reception is an area you can be most flexible in. You can always find a cheaper venue or cheaper food. We decided to have an afternoon wedding (3:30pm) so that dinner was not expected at the reception. This helped us cut cost as our caterer only served foods like pasta salad, cheese, fruit, veggies, candy, and cake. Remember, if you have too much food the cakes may not be eaten (and they are expensive too!)

Our wedding cake was made by a friend. She is no longer in business, but I have two other friends who make cakes as a hobby (and they do a beautiful job!) You can see their cakes by clicking their names below (photo shown is one of Candice's Cakes!)  Creative Cakes by Candice   &  Katie Cakes

*Re-cycling tip – Food is often wasted after a wedding. Check with soup kitchens and homeless shelters in your area to see if they will accept un-used portions of food and cake.

Giving Back
There are lots of ways to incorporate giving back or supporting missions in your wedding plans! You can ask people to donate to your favorite charity in lieu of gifts, or you can give gifts from businesses that give back. One of the gifts for my bridesmaids were earrings made in Thailand by women who have been rescued from human trafficking. We also had a table at our wedding with our prayer cards and info about other organizations that support missions. A few organizations to check out are:

A few more tips:

Ask for Discounts – always ask for a discount! You’d be surprised how many people will agree to one. We got $50 taken off the cost of my dress just because we asked!

Receiving line – these are not done very often anymore, but I would HIGHLY recommend having one! We had a receiving line at the entryway to our reception. It was just the Bride and Groom out front, hugging each guest, snapping a quick picture, and thanking them for coming. The guests hurried through (because the food was on the other side of the door ;) so it didn’t take too long. We were able to see each of our guests and thank them personally. Everyone got a chance to see us, and we had more time to enjoy our reception (instead of everyone interrupting because they hadn’t seen us yet).

Honeymoon – Don’t underestimate how TIRED you are going to be from all the wedding planning and wedding week/day activities! If at all possible, get a room nearby for 2 nights before traveling to your honeymoon destination. You will want to sleep in the day after your wedding and relax together; not wake up early, repack, and rush to the airport for a long travel day! I would also recommend a relaxed honeymoon. (Just my opinion :) You will have plenty of anniversaries to do fun exciting vacations together. Start out your marriage by relaxing, recharging, and focusing on each other (instead of a lot of outside events). We stayed at a remote cabin in Colorado cuddling by the fire, watching movies, and sleeping in. It was the best thing we could’ve done!

The Day Before – DO NOT plan anything for the day before your wedding. Set apart that day to sleep in, relax, and enjoy time with your friends and family. I didn’t do this, and spent the day tying up loose ends and stressing out! It was horrible! Make a rule that if it’s not done that day, it’s not getting done (or someone else is doing it!)

Your Wedding Day – Something will inevitably go wrong. Decide ahead of time that you will refuse to be stressed out on your wedding day. Find a friend/family member who will be in charge of any ‘wedding day disasters’. Keep your sense of humor. Focus on each other. Take “mental pictures” of special moments throughout the day. Remember, no matter what, you WILL be married at the end of the day! This day will only happen once; don’t let anything or anyone ruin it for you!

Happy Wedding Planning Everyone!


  1. Ericka this is fabulous. It's amazing how these little things you've mentioned never cometo mind; which is puzzling since women start planning our wedding from the time we are little. Hopefully in the near future I will be planning my wedding. And I will certainly be referring back to this!

    Jessica Woodard

    1. That is wonderful Jessica! And I'm so glad I could help! It is amazing how much there is to think of... so many little details!

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