20 Need-to-Know Wedding Planning Tips

When you first start planning your wedding, there are things that are nice to know (like the hottest wedding colors of the year). Then, there are things you need to know -- advice so essential that any bride who's lucky enough to hear it thinks, "I'm so glad someone told me that!" These are those.
by Anja Winikka

Guests Come First

Get a grip on the approximate number of guests you'll invite before settling on a venue. This will ensure there's ample space for your crew. As a rule of thumb, allow for 25 to 30 square feet per guest. That may seem like a lot, but it's not if you count the space you'll need for the tables, bustling waiters, the band, and the dance floor.

> Start your wedding guest list


> Create your seating chart

Investigate Wedding Blackout Dates

Know ahead of time if your wedding date falls on the same day as a trade conference, charity walk, or other local event that could affect traffic and hotel room availability. If your wedding date happens to fall during a busy time, encourage your guests to reserve their rooms early.

Listen to Mother Nature

Heed the weather and other potential annoyances. Guests have been known to skip out early from hotter-than-hot summer tent weddings and improperly heated winter loft receptions. If you're planning an outdoor wedding, make sure that you have a plan B in case of rain. And if you want a sunset ceremony, know when to say your vows by checking SunriseSunset.com.

Check Your Credit

Take advantage of the high cost of weddings (yeah, you read that right) and sign up for a credit card with a rewards program. Whether it gives you airline miles or great shopping deals, consolidating all wedding-related purchases to one card will help you accumulate thousands of rewards points (which could be used for your honeymoon).


Pay It Forward

Let one vendor lead you to another. Your wedding photographer can tell you which florist does amazing work, and your reception manager should know which band packs the dance floor. Another benefit: When your wedding vendors know each other, it makes it easier for everyone to communicate style ideas and day-of logistics, which means a more cohesive look and feel for your wedding details.

Lighten Your List

The easiest way to trim your wedding budget? Cut your guest list. We know that might seem impossible to those with large families and friends from all over the place, but consider this: Half of your wedding expenses go to wining and dining your guests. If it's costing you $100 per person, eliminating one table of 10 can save you $1,000. Not to mention, you just took away a floral centerpiece, 10 place setting rentals, 10 invitations, 10 favors, and more, saving you thousands.

Make a Meal Plan

Another unforeseen expense? Feeding your wedding day crew. Even if it's not in the contract, you should always plan to feed your vendors (unless you're okay with the idea of a famished and woozy photographer!). Ask them what they prefer -- the same meal as your guests or something different but equally as hearty? Figure this out before you sign the contract, and then plan accordingly.

> Add this tip to your notes section of your wedding checklist

Get Organizationally Focused

Before you meet with any vendors or sign any checks, set up your online checklist, budgeter, and guest list manager. Get a three-ring binder to use to compile all your correspondences with vendors, notes you make during meetings, and photos or tear sheets from magazines you want vendors to see. It's also a good idea to set up a special email address dedicated to your wedding (so that you can easily access all wedding-related emails).

Leave Some Room in Your Wallet

Your wedding budget should roughly follow this formula: 48 to 50 percent of total budget to reception; 8 to 10 percent for flowers; 8 to 10 percent for attire; 8 to 10 percent for entertainment/music; 10 to 12 percent for photo/video; 3 to 4 percent for invites; 2 to 3 percent for gifts; and 7 percent for miscellaneous items like a wedding coordinator. It's essential to allocate an extra 5 to 10 percent of your money for surprise expenses like printing extra invites because of mistakes, additional tailoring needs, umbrellas for a rainy day, and ribbons for the wedding programs.

> Try our interactive wedding budgeter (it allows you to add your own items)

Don't Be Afraid to Ask

If you find a vendor you love who doesn't work in your price range, it never hurts to ask them for other recommendations. Oftentimes, incredible photographers have assistants (with a similar aesthetic) who will work at a lower price point. The same goes for other categories. If your favorite florist can't work in your budget, she may be able to recommend an up-and-comer in your price range.

Make a Uniform Kids Policy

You have four choices: You can welcome children with open arms; you can decide to have an "adults only" wedding; you can include immediate family only; or, you can hire a child care service to provide day care either at the reception space, in a hotel room, or in a family member's home. To prevent hurt feelings, it's wise to avoid allowing some families to bring children while excluding others (unless, of course, the children are in your bridal party).

Prioritize Your People

Pare down your guest list with the "tiers of priority" trick. Place immediate family, the bridal party, and best friends on the top of the list; follow with aunts, uncles, cousins, and close friends you couldn't imagine not being there. Under that, list your parents' friends, neighbors, coworkers, and so on. If you need to make some cuts, start from the bottom until you reach your ideal number.

Release Rooms

As soon as you have picked a date, start to look for hotels in a wide variety of price points. Many hotels allow you to reserve rooms for guests under a special wedding block and a reduced rate. You can then release any unbooked rooms a month prior to your wedding. If the hotels you contact insist upon contracts with cancellation penalties, just say no -- you don't want to be responsible for rooms you can't fill.

Provide Accurate Driving Directions

Make sure guests know where they're going. As easy as online map programs are to use, sometimes the directions are wrong -- or there's a quicker, less traffic-prone route to take. Ask your ceremony and reception sites for printouts of recommended driving directions, which they often keep in stock for weddings and will give to you for free, and test out the routes yourself.


Keep a Paper Trail

Get any nonstandard changes to your agreements in writing or send the vendor a confirmation email saying, "Hello, just confirming that you'll keep the venue open until 2 a.m. versus midnight." Don't take anyone on his word -- by the time the wedding day rolls around, your contact may no longer be working there to vouch for you.

Classify Your Cash

Wedding budgets are all about balance. Start your budget planning by making a list of the crucial details, like the music, your wedding gown, the invitations, the flowers, and the photographer, and assign a number to each -- one being the most important and three being the least. Invest your money in all your number ones and cut corners on your number threes. (But everything can't fall into the number one category!) For example, if a designer gown and fabulous food are what really matter, you may have to choose simple invitations and smaller floral arrangements.

Amplify Your Ceremony

Make sure your guests can see -- and hear. If people are seated farther than 15 rows back from your ceremony altar or podium, consider renting a mic and a riser. This could range anywhere from $50 to $500, depending on the equipment used. You'll need to coordinate the delivery and setup with your ceremony space, so put your wedding planner or best man in charge of this task.

Call the Fashion Police

Don't go dress shopping on your own -- all the gowns will start to look the same after a while and it will be harder to recall which style you really loved. But be careful about who you bring. If your mom or sibling can't make the trip, ask a friend who is truly honest. This is the time when you really need to know which dress looks best.

Write Down Your Digits

Carry an emergency contact sheet on your wedding day. Keep the paper with names and phone numbers of all your vendors in your purse and give copies to your bridal party. Trust us -- it will come in handy.

Be Realistic With Your Time

When it comes down to the last month of your planning (and when you're particularly harried), look at your mile-long to-do list and cut three things. Yes, cut three things. But not crucial things that you just don't feel like doing, such as picking a processional song or confirming final details with all of your vendors. Eliminate only the over-the-top tasks like hand-painting "Just Married" signs, or baking cookies for all of the welcome bags. Then make a pledge not to think about them ever again.

> Start your checklist

> Create your budgeter

> Build an inspiration board!

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