Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Notes for the future bride

I was planning my wedding before I was officially engaged. Not in the sense of the hypothetical wedding planning that all us women do—but in the sense of we are getting married and while I don't have a ring on my finger yet—the event is happening this fall! Oh my! 

It was all very complicated. My boyfriend, Stephen, was waiting for a specific day to pop the question. May 18, 2014 to be exact—and so he busied himself with putting together two mock proposals—which really didn't go over very well, as you can imagine. Stephen is very mathematical and as such pays close attention to the importance of dates and numbers. He wanted to propose on our 500th day of dating. And so I had to wait. But while I waited I figured that we could at least start planning the wedding. After all, four months wasn't a lot of time.

And so, these are my notes for the future bride:

Congratulations! You're engaged!
Now before you rush off to buy that drop dead gorgeous dress that costs more than your monthly rent, do take a step back and make a list—what you have dreamed of for years and the reality of your budget are two very different things. Because life continues on after your wedding day and you don't want to spend too much on one day when you have a lifetime of memories to make with each other. Also try to remember that your fiancé has a voice too—even if you have to pry them out of him, sit that boy down and find out what ideas he has before you blow right past him.

The date.
This was a tricky one. You can't just go by what you and your groom want. There are SO many little details to consider. Location, officiant, family schedule, season, etc.

We started with season. I wanted a September wedding. The weather in Maryland is usually a bit more pleasant during September. So I did my research—which led me to the farmers almanac, a free source that gave me a rough idea of the likelihood of pleasant weather on any given day during a specific month.

Next we contacted the pastor that we wanted to officiate the wedding. He was an old family friend, had known both of us since we were kids and had plenty of embarrassing stories to tell. He also travels, a lot. So knowing his schedule and working with it was really important. We narrowed it down to 3 dates—September 14, September 21, and October 5.

That is when we took it to our families. Who out of the extended families were a must? Who needed to know right now? And for goodness sakes Auntie, I know you are excited, but don't tell the whole world! We aren't even officially engaged yet! (Never tell my mom's oldest sister a secret that you don't want the entire extended family to know about within 48 hours.)

Once the conference with both sides of our families ended, the date for our wedding was set—September 14, 2014.

The venue.
This is often where dreams hit reality. The venue can either enhance or destroy the day. An outdoor wedding is great, unless the weather makes things miserable. Expensive venues aren't always the most practical or affordable option. Sometimes you have to do the groundwork yourself and make compromises.

The best advice I can give you on this is that what you want can often be achieved without spending thousands of dollars on a location. For example, I wanted a rustic, artistic, outdoor feel—where guests could relax and mingle. I really wanted a barn reception—but I'm allergic to hay. So where was I going to find an inactive barn that wasn't already used as an over priced venue? We ended up taking rustic to a new level. Church ceremony (complete with logs, ferns, and lanterns). And an outdoor reception with benches, tables, blankets, and games. The church courtyard needed some serious Tender Loving Care: flower beds weeded and mulched, bushes trimmed, branches cut and extra flower pots provided for the day of—but in the end, I was very happy with the results.

Take a look at your hometown. You don't have to go somewhere fancy to find a beautiful outdoor location or stone church. Drive around and look at parks, barns, churches, and other venue attractions on your own time. Do the research yourself and leave the promoted venues from weddingwire and theknot alone. The core price advertised on those websites is the cost of renting the buildings or field—not the full cost that you will be paying when all is said and done. And remember—as your guest list grows, the price to feed them sky rockets too.

The invitations.
You can save a lot of money by being smart about how you invite your guests to your wedding. There are a lot of awesome ideas out there, creative ways to announce and it is very easy to get whisked away. If you are having a relatively small wedding, you can be more creative with your invites. But if you are inviting 350+ people, you will want clean and simple. As a rule you don't need the following: save the date cards, RSVP cards with pre-addressed envelopes, or even the wallet-sized engagement photo. The more you stick into that envelope, the heavier it will become and the more postage it will require to mail each and every one.

Keep your invitation simple. Your guests just need to know the information—not a bunch of flowery words. One card, one sided, and use the RSVP function on your wedding website. Simple.

If you can, design the invitation yourself or ask a creative friend of yours to do it for you. That will save you money in the long run. I designed the invitations myself, which meant that I had quality control at my fingertips. The more colors you use, the more expensive it is to print them. Select 2 or 3 colors and use tints/shades to add interest to your invitation. Use the color of the paper to your advantage. All of these things will save your budget.

The wedding and reception coordinator: 
Yes, you will need both of these. They make the day of run so much more smoothly. Most churches and other venues have a wedding coordinator that will be working with you. They think of the details that you might forget about.

My wedding and reception coordinators were awesome. Meeting with them brought out so many ideas that I myself hadn't already thought of. [Yes, my fiancé got upset a few times due to him thinking that these women were changing my mind on what I really wanted—and with me for failing to explain to him throughly that with the reception, I had ideas for the decorations and feel of it, but not the food aspect. More on that later.]  As the months passed by I actually ended up with several different coordinators. Linda was my wedding coordinator, she knew the church inside and out. She knew who to call about certain questions and where we could store wedding items as the days grew closer. Leslie was my reception coordinator. The word amazing doesn't even cover the extent of her creativity and cooking ability. Everything looked and tasted awesome. We divided up certain food items and had family and friends help out when Leslie began feeling overwhelmed. The food was excellent and we had leftovers galore.

Our reception had two parts to it—food and games. With the food and serving table decorations taken care of by Leslie—I enlisted the help of Angie. She is incredibly creative and knows just about everyone—perfect person for the job. Angie enlisted the help of her mother, Marilyn, and her mother enlisted the help of Sharon, one of her close friends. Those three ladies made the outdoor reception happen.

The courtyard reception had been a sore point between my mother and I. Mom wanted there to be enough tables for everyone to sit down. Stephen and I wanted people to mingle, with optional seating elsewhere. It was the week before the wedding—mom and I were still at odds. We were gathered in our living room with Angie, Marilyn, and Sharon. Mom was expressing her concerns and I was just feeling overwhelmed. That is when Marilyn took over, she asked me point blank what I wanted and so I told her. And her response was—we will make it happen.

We would have tables, but in addition there would be more country styled seating available for those more adventurous. We would incorporate the yards of fabric I had gotten for picnic blankets and have them tucked off to the side in a basket. The various games would be scattered around the courtyard—for more easy access for the guests. And we also decided to use lawn furniture borrowed from friends and family to force guests to mingle with each other.

Who you have as your coordinators is up to you. They could be close friends or complete strangers. The bottom line is, you want to be able to enjoy your wedding and being worry free is a huge component of that.

The decorations and flowers: 
This is an area that will break your budget if you are not careful. Sites like etsy or pinterest—give you lots and lots of ideas. And with each idea comes a convenient price tag. Just click and buy, so simple. Except it isn't, not when you are on a budget.

Borrow, don't buy. This concept will only cost you your time. Ask around. Your friends and family have friends who have friends that have the oddest of items stored in their basements and garages. Crates, boxes, vases, lanterns, old victorian chandlers, etc.

Make it yourself. Oh the ideas you can get from the internet—but it is best if you use these types of sites as a research resource only and not as a store. If I (or someone in my family) could make it, we went that route.

Grow them. The flowers we used as centerpieces for the reception were grown locally. A friend of the family had a beautiful garden, with lots and lots of zinnias. My mom and I planted zinnias and other September friendly flowers in our flower beds. The Friday before the wedding mom led the troops out  to pick flowers and they came back with buckets and baskets full of flowers.

Yard sales and thrift shops. Looking for something specific? Check out the local thrift shops and yard sales. One man's trash is another man's treasure—or so the saying goes. I like antique stores and little thrift shops—you can find just about anything in them.

Sales and coupons. When you absolutely must buy certain items—look for the sales and the coupons.  We need tulle, lots and lots of tulle. And tulle by the yard isn't the cheapest, so I visited the fabric store when I knew they had a sale or I had an awesome coupon. In this area—it is all about timing. Know what you need and keep your eyes open for the various sales at the stores local to you.

Signs. Do them yourself or find a friend with amazing handwriting that can write with any medium. Use canvas instead of wood or paint bulletin boards black and write on them with chalk. Do all of this in advance and store the signs in a safe dry place where they won't get ruined.

The art of communication.
This is so important. Let me stress that again, VERY IMPORTANT. Planning a wedding will bring out all the inner demons lurking about. Everyone in your family has ideas. And if your parents are paying for it—you have to step very carefully into the territory of disagreement.

My mom and I have different tastes. Which is only natural. We learned a lot about each other during those four stressful months. It is possible that this will not be an issue for you. But I would advise you to be careful of how much you vent to your fiancé about your frustrations. It is natural for women to need to vent when stress out and overwhelmed. But the problem is that your man will want to come to the rescue and vanquish the foe. Which is all well and good when you are in immediate danger—but not so good when you and your mother are disagreeing on something as simple as napkin colors.

The dress.
This is where selfishness often takes hold. Oh yes, you want to wow your groom—but in reality you are way more interested in outdoing your friends. Put that aside and set a realistic budget for your dress, this is your day and you want to feel like a princess—but do so without destroying your bank account.

Choose a date and keep your shopping party small. You don't need unnecessary opinions floating around—just two or three people who know you well. I went dress shopping with my mom and sister. I had a budget of $400 and I told the sales person that I would not budge from that price. Remember, you can find quality in the year before styles and clearance section—who really is going to know the difference? 

Don't judge. Try them all on, even that puffy Cinderella dress that looks like it crashed into a Claire's store, which inwardly makes you gag. And remember, your body type is different than the models you see in magazines—you won't really know what you want until you see the dress on you.

The price. Pay close attention to details. Try to find a dress that wont need altering. Select the veil without sequins and go without the in store bra or corsets—these are all items that you can pick up later and will save you big.

The outcome. I have known girls who have spent over $1500 on their dress. And when I look at their dress—I don't see outstanding, I see an overpriced dress. So the question remains, is it possible to find the perfect dress without spending a wad of cash? Yes, quite—I am a bargain shopper (learned that from my mom) and will search until I find what I am looking for. My dress was originally $800, it was from the season before and had therefore been marked down to $399. There was also some "big savings" going on and so I got another $100 off the final price. Add in a 2-tier slip, a veil, and a garment bag and the total was $435.

The conclusion. Saving money on your dress is both feasible and possible—no matter the length or style, the bargain dress you choose will be perfect on you. I was very happy with the dress I chose, it was just perfect—and yes, I wowed my groom.

The accessories.
Something new, something old, something borrowed, something blue, and a sixpence in your shoe. This tradition comes from an old English rhyme, but there is truth in it. Not every item needs to be brand new. You might decide to use your mother's veil or borrow a necklace from a friend.

Take a good look at what look you want. Shoes that match you dress are great, if you can find them—but don't outweigh the importance of comfort. You will be in those shoes over 6+ hours and you are going to want to be comfortable.

The attendants.
You have probably already asked your best friends to be in your wedding. My advice would be to keep the bridal party small. Four or five of your closest friends or family. This choice is hard, because someone will ultimately get their feelings hurt.

If your fiancé has a sister (or two) this is where things get sticky. Should they be included as bridesmaids or should they not? I would say that it depends on the relationship you have with them.

I made the mistake of not talking to Stephen's sister about it first. What followed was a fiasco, literally.

To solve the problem and restore family peace, Stephen asked his sister to be one of his attendants. She would wear the same dress as the rest of the girls, hold flowers, and stand up front with him. It turned out perfectly, everyone was happy.

[The girls]
Their dresses, oh my this is always a fun one. It is important to remember the concept of wearability when you are deciding on the look. If you have chosen a long dress for yourself, look into knee length dresses for your girls. If you have gone with a short wedding dress, find bridesmaid dresses that are longer. Pay attention to cut and style, color and flower combinations. You begin to understand this better once you have been a bridesmaid. Between my sister and I, we have a closet full of dresses that are unwearable. No girl wants a dress that she can't wear again. As for the useless dresses in the closet, I am planning on turning them into princess dresses for my daughter and niece.

The point is, it is highly annoying to pay $165 for a dress that you will wear once. It isn't even economical. In some cases the color is repulsive or the dress is too formal. Other times the style of the dress just isn't flattering. Whatever the case, that dress will end up in a closet or GoodWill bin—and your style choice will be remembered long after. If the dress you are choosing for your girls isn't something that you yourself would want to wear—reconsider your original choice. Try the dress on yourself, no one likes uncomfortable dresses and if you can't stand it, they probably won't be able to either.

Also remember that not everyone has the same taste in style as you. Be aware of that and plan for it. Two of my bridesmaids were conservative, so I kept that in mind with the length and cut of the dress. My future sister-in-law was also 7 months pregnant at the time of the wedding and the high waisted dress we chose worked out perfectly for her.

We tried a variety of dresses before we settled on a navy blue dress made out of jersey fabric. The girls loved their dresses. So comfortable. The dress itself was very simple and the price was perfect. I bought each girl a bracelet from Khol's ($9 each) and selected bright flowers for their bouquets. We went with gray or silver shoes. I told them that I'd like their shoes to have a bit of a heel if possible, but to go for comfort over exact color. Worked out just fine.

[The guys]
Stephen didn't really have a lot of say in his attire. I knew what I wanted and it wasn't going to be the typical suit. I also wanted the guys to be able to wear their outfits again. We went with gingham shirts, charcoal gray vests, orange bow ties, and dark rinse jeans from Gap. Which went perfectly with the dresses I chose for the bridesmaids.

There are Sabbaths in which all three guys match perfectly—which is slightly amusing, but totally worthwhile.
[The boys]
Keeping kids comfortable and presentable at the same time is often a challenge. We already knew that the boys would be ready to destroy their outfits as soon as the ceremony was over. So we planned accordingly. The three boys got to wear dark rinse jeans, white linen shirts, and matching blue checked ties. We also skipped the idea of shoes and they got to run around barefoot. All three of them were simply adorable and added fun memories to the day.

[The girls]
I had looked at the flower girl dresses early on and was highly dissatisfied with them. They were stuffy and stiff. What little girl was going to feel like a princess in one of those itchy things? Ick! I was already using etsy for decoration ideas, so I decided to add the dresses to the search. And the ones I found were perfect. Since each dress was handmade upon order, they had to be ordered first. Which certainly added to the challenge of making sure everything went together flawlessly.

The baskets were leftover from the early 1990's when my sister and I were flower girls in a wedding. Why my mom still had them, I'll never know. But they were in perfect condition for being stored in the basement and just needed to be wiped down with a wet rag. We decorated the baskets with simple ivory and navy blue ribbons. We filled each basket with brightly colored origami paper flowers.

Stephen has never been one of those guys who will shower their girl with flowers—just because. I don't usually get flowers for Valentine's day or anniversaries (due mostly to my cat eating said flowers). Anyway, when we were dating he would present to me an origami paper flower for our month-aversaries. Which is why, when the time came to decide what we would fill the flower girl baskets with, I chose paper flowers.

The ceremony.
The ceremony is often up to the bride and groom (depending on the traditions found in certain churches). And while I can give some tips, the most important part is to make sure that the ceremony speaks of you as individuals. Stephen and I wanted a pretty traditional and simple ceremony. There were aspects that we added to make it more unique to us (through decorations and audience participation)—such as having a family unity tree and using logs, ferns, candles, tulle, twinkle lights and lanterns as the perfect backdrop in an already beautiful church.

Music was also an important to us, so we chose our music carefully. Staying away from the traditional wedding songs and welcoming something a little different.

The reception.
Just as with the ceremony, the reception is usually more of a combination of individual likes and family traditions. We wanted our reception to feel less structured and more like a big family reunion. We also wanted to kindly force the family and friend groups to mingle with each other, after all—we were all somewhat related now.

Make sure there is plenty of food and drink available—and then enjoy the rest of the day. As you have probably heard from other brides, it is unlikely that you will actually get to eat any of it. Luckily there are usually leftovers. Which in our case were delicious.

Have things available for your guests to do while you are off taking pictures with your extended families. Things can get pretty boring for a guest with nothing to do. We had different games available, a photo booth, and we made sure that there were hors d'oeuvres and drinks available for our guests to partake of. Once the pictures were finished, we joined our guests out in the courtyard. By then Stephen and I were about to drop from exhaustion. And while the main meal was delicious, our stomachs were too queasy from excitement to really enjoy it.

The getaway.
People do different things for their departure. If you are unlucky, your attendants will likely trash your car. With this in mind, Stephen refused to tell anyone (including me) what our mode of transportation was going to be.

Our getaway vehicle changed from pick-up truck to sports car five minutes before our scheduled departure. It was a surprise to me and made for some really great memories.

And that is the most important part—the memories. Looking back at all the memories and pictures gathered from that day is such a privilege and blessing. You will want them available for those days where it is hard to love the man you married. Of course he isn't perfect, but neither are you. You made a commitment to each other—for better or for worse, through sickness and in health, until death do you part.

So my advice? Don't be so caught up in the day, that you forget about the tomorrows.