How to Plan Your Wedding: When To Do What! (Part I)

So you’re engaged… now what? That’s the beginning of the wedding planning process! A friend of The Wedding Lens recently got engaged and was asking questions about time frames. So here we go!

Because engagements take place for different lengths of time, I’m not going to specify how long before the wedding date you should do each action. But this is generally the ORDER of things. Where possible, I’ve linked to other related blog posts on the topic! (And here’s just a list of things to do for wedding planning, if you just want that) Also, be sure to check out our Cheap Wedding Tips and our Green Wedding Tips, both of which have great ideas to help you out during different stages of the planning process!

First Steps

  1. Create a budget! This means taking a list of everything that you know you’ll have to spend money on and deciding how much you can dedicate to each portion. Check out our Guide to Creating a Wedding Budget — which specifies which costs are fixed and which depend on the number of guests.
  2. Pick the wedding party. This seems early in the process right? True! But the wedding party can help you with the tasks that you’ll have to do. Pick early, they’ll help early!
  3. Divide tasks! After reading the rest of this blog post, you’ll get a full picture of everything there is to do: from marriage license to centerpieces.  Once you have that list, divide up the tasks however you see fit.

Things That Shouldn’t Wait

  1. Marriage license.  Every state has different rules on the time frame needed to apply for a license and to get married. Make sure you know what you need to do before you get too close to your wedding date!
  2. Find a venue, date, and officiant. This is sort of circular because you need the venue and the officiant to be available on the same date. But keep in mind that you may have to pick two venues — one for the ceremony and one for the reception. Just be sure they’re both available on the same date! Here’s how to pick a wedding date. Also, make sure you look at how to find a venue AND the questions you need to ask each venue. With officiants, think about whether you will have a religious officiant or a friend. Find out any state requirements if you want a friend or family member to officiate.
  3. Create the guest list. Sometimes it’s hard to limit the guest list, so consider having A lists, B lists, and C lists. Here are our tips for the guest list. Also, be sure to decide whether you want kids to attend or not.
  4. Themes/Styles/Colors. The earlier you select any themes, styles, or colors, the earlier you can get started with some of the other aspects of planning. After all those three aspects will impact the dress selections, the flowers selections, etc. Here’s some help on how to pick your color scheme.
  5. Wedding dress. The wedding dress should be purchased earlier in the planning process because it might need to be fitted several times. Depending on how long your engagement lasts, this should be done ASAP. Plus the bride will want her dress before the bridesmaids get theirs! Here’s how to choose  the right wedding dress and some ideas for colorful wedding dresses.
  6. Save the Date.  The save-the-date (or STD) should tell guests when & where you’re getting married. When should you send the save-the-dates? It depends on when you’re getting married, but generally, send them as soon as possible. If you are ordering save-the-dates that you want to look similar to your invitations, there are companies that give you package deals. Here is a timeline of when to send save-the-dates and when to send invitations. Here are some creative save the date ideas and how to address the save-the-dates.
  7. Order your online photo album from The Wedding Lens. By ordering your online photo album from The Wedding Lens early, you can start telling your guests where to upload photos AND you can include your engagement photos in the album or any other older photos to share your memories with your guests.
  8. Wedding website. Obviously put as much information on here as you can, but here’s what to include on your wedding website.
  9. Find vendors. This means finding vendors for everything you might want. Here is how to find the right vendors for you (and each category that follows links to a blog post that will help you narrow down what will be best for you in that area). Photographer (engagement photos and day of), videographer, florist (selecting flowers), caterer, DJ/band/music, bakery, wedding planner or day-of coordinator. Any other kind of vendors you might want (eg if you want to have wedding entertainment such as a photo booth, cigar bar, or silhouette artist) can usually wait a bit longer in the planning process.

Stuff That Can Wait a Little Bit

  1. Invitations! What goes inside, when to send, how to tell your guests that no kids can come, RSVP cards. Remember, there are specific rules on how to address invitations, so make sure you check those out (yes, there will be a blog post coming!)
  2. Attire: Groom, bridesmaids, groomsmen. Here’s everything related to helping you select wedding attire!
  3. Hair & makeup for the bride and bridesmaids, if you would like.
  4. Rings! Dont forget you both need to exchange rings on the day of the wedding. Here are some green tips on picking the rings.
  5. Decorating: flower arrangement (or alternatives to flower bouquets), centerpieces, plates/napkins/glassware, guestbook, favors, place cards, menu cards, cake toppers, chair rentals/chair covers, other entertainment)
  6. Guest-related: Accomodations, transportation, and out of town bags!
  7. Get your online wedding photo album from The Wedding Lens. If you haven’t done it yet, now is the perfect time in the planning process to get your online wedding photo album from The Wedding Lens! When you share the information on accomodations & transporation with your guests, you can also share the link to the album and remind people to bring their digital cameras to your wedding. Plus people can start uploading old and new memories of you & your fiance(e)!
  8. Menu planning: buffet vs sit-down meal; alcohol – open bar, soft bar, signature drinks. Here are all things food & drink related to help guide you through this!

Final Steps

  1. RSVPs
  2. Ceremony planning: walking down the aisle, vows, readings — and whatever else you want to take place.
  3. Seating chart: who will sit where during the reception? Here’s how to create a seating chart!
  4. Music (song) selections for band or DJ, both during the ceremony and reception.
  5. Remind your guests to bring their cameras to your wedding day so they can capture memories for your online photo album.
  6. Planning the timeline: This means planning the timeline of who arrives where at what time, what order things occur, and who transports what where. It’s meant to be distributed so that everyone is on the same page about what’s going on.
  7. Programs: This lets your guests know what is going to happen & when! Here’s the information on writing your programs.

So that’s everything you have to do…. Next blog post will cover what comes up on the day of and any other last minute things and miscellaneous things you should be aware of! (Like gift registry, thank you cards, wedding insurance, things people forget, staying calm…. all coming up!) 

Good luck! Remember, if you have questions – email me!

~ Natasha

Questions to Ask Before Selecting a Wedding Venue

I recently wrote a blog post on how to find your wedding venue. I discussed a number of questions about the costs of the venue — which I think are important enough to reiterate! I also am adding questions to this list that you should keep in mind before actually signing any contract with a venue. If you’re looking to double check questions that you should ask, be sure and check out the Here Comes the Guide questions to ask when evaluating a wedding location.

Photo from The Wedding Lens

General questions on costs/facilities to ask

  • Seating/guests
    • How many people can they seat/fit?
    • How much is the deposit/down payment? Is it refundable?
    • Does the venue provide chairs? Do you need to rent chairs?
    • Do they charge for the chairs/setting up chairs?
  • Facilities
    • Is there a dressing area for the bride & groom?
    • Are there bathrooms accessible to guests?
    • Is it wheelchair accessible?
  • Food, drinks, & catering
    • Does the venue provide food, drinks, or other catering? Do they have preferred vendors?
    • If they have food & drinks for weddings, then find out a price range, you will select your final food/drink options later. Most venues give a per person rate. (Be sure to check whether each price option includes a buffet, a seated dinner, an open bar, limited drinks, etc.)
    • Can vendors use the kitchen facilities? (Are there kitchen facilities on site?)
    • Is there a per-person cake charge?
    • Is there an additional charge for linens and utensils?
    • Is there a service charge for serving the meals?
  • Music, Dancing, Flowers & Decorations
    • Does the venue have a dance floor? Does it cost extra?
    • Does the venue permit amplified music?
    • Is there a sound system? Can an outside DJ or band use it? Is there a cost
    • Do they permit decorations/flowers? Can you bring in decorations from outside or does it have to be done through the venue? What is the charge?
  • Miscellaneous
    • Do they charge for clean up
    • Does the venue require wedding insurance? (Check out the blog post on wedding insurance if you have no idea what this is!)
    • Are there restrictions on the site? (no confetti, etc)
    • Do they have any other costs and fees? (service charges, etc)

Specific Questions to ask yourself to make sure the venue is right — at the right time

  • Go to the venue at the time of day you want to get married to make sure the lighting is right and sufficient.
  • Is there sufficient lighting? Ask the venue if there is additional lighting available.
  • If it is outdoors, are there coverings or tents that can go up if it rains? Can you bring in umbrellas? (Are there charges for tents? What is the charge?
  • Do you like the people at the venue? Can you work with them?
  • If they require a certain vendor, is that okay with you? Do you like the vendors?

Questions to ask about the contract before you sign

  • What happens if one side or the other has to cancel? Do you still have to pay fees? Can you get reimbursed if it’s their fault?
  • Is there a contingency plan if it’s outdoors and it rains?
  • Are they requiring you to do something you do not want to do or incur costs that you dont want to incur?
  • READ it thoroughly! Make sure you understand it. Take your time, don’t feel strong-armed into signing it. If you can, have someone else who isn’t involved in the process read it too. They might see something you didn’t.

~ Natasha

Wedding Roundup: All Things Food & Drink!

Plates & glasses ready to be filled! Photo from The Wedding Lens!

A lot of wedding planning stress stems from finding the “right” foods and drinks — among everything else. All of it relates to budgeting, passions, and tastebuds. In honor of Thanksgiving, I thought this would be a great time to roundup all the posts we’ve done on food!

Wedding Question: What Food and Drinks Should We Spend the Most Money On?

Picking Wedding Reception Food!

To Buffet or Not To Buffet: Food at the Wedding Reception

What To Do About Menu Cards

Choosing the Drinks!

How to Have a Dry Wedding

Do you have wedding food or drink questions? Email me!!

Til then, happy eating & drinking!

~ Natasha

Thanksgiving Weekend Wedding Ideas

A friend of mine is going to a wedding this weekend — Thanksgiving weekend! It sounded really odd to me at first, but then I started thinking about all the great things that a Thanksgiving wedding weekend could have! So if you are contemplating dates, here are some great reasons to have a Thanksgiving theme!

A great wedding party photo from The Wedding Lens! Wouldn't it be great to have everyone together for Thanksgiving too?

First, of course: FOOD! Turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce…. YUM! It’s all delicious, and it’s all pretty reasonably priced if you want to cook it yourself.

Second: family and friends! Thanksgiving is all about surrounding yourself with great family and wonderful friends. What’s a better time to show your gratitude? Get everyone together, eat a lot, drink a lot and celebrate! Plus, if friends and family were going to be traveling to your vicinity (or somewhere else), it’s a little more green to have their travel do double duty, right? Right.

Photo from The Wedding Lens

Third: colors and decorations. I’m a sucker for all things orange, so the fall season is particularly appealing to me. Everything is orange! Pumpkins, persimmons, sweet potatoes (not my fav, but orange!). All of these can combine for easy color decorating and natural decorations, especially if you’re in an area where leaves are changing. Nice, right?  Plus, with all these biodegradable decorations, well again, it’s just being green (but orange at the same time)!

I’d LOVE to see photos from a Thanksgiving weekend wedding! What do you think of the idea?

Happy Thanksgiving!

~ Natasha

What Foods and Drinks Should You Spend or Save On?

I just answered a reader’s question about whether she should spend more on the food or drinks at her wedding. I gave a bunch of suggestions — but I’m curious whether you agree with my advice! If you want to remember what I said…. here is my thoughts on where you can save money on your foods & drinks. Remember to look at our cheap wedding tips if you’re looking to save money in ALL areas of your wedding!

Happy eating & drinking!

~ Natasha

Wedding Question: What Food & Drinks Should I Spend the Most Money On?

Photo from The Wedding Lens

We just received this question from a reader: I am in the process of figuring out the food and drinks for my wedding. I’m not (yet) over budget, but I’m having a hard time figuring out where I should bother to put in the extra money and where it will make no difference! What is it that people notice the most and what won’t they care about?

Great question! It’s always hard to know where the extra money on food and drinks will make the difference. Here’s my advice:

First, spend a little more on great appetizers & h’oeuvres. People remember the first bits of food they eat — because it’s usually right after the ceremony and before the alcohol kicks in!

Second, spend a little less on the main courses. You can do this by having a buffet or by selecting less expensive options with your caterer (or at the restaurant — depending on the venue). Most of the time people dont expect fabulous main courses. And by then, they’re chatting and drinking and ready to dance! Usually chicken and fish dishes are less expensive than steak, but that’s not always the case. And, of course, be sure it’s something you don’t mind eating!

Third, save some money on drinks and alcohol by sticking with beer and wine (or just wine!). Once you start getting into purchasing hard alcohol and mixers, things go downhill for the wallet. If you do decide to purchase hard alcohol, try to make purchases that mix well with the non-alcoholic beverages you’re already going to have. For example, if you’re already going to have cola, go for a rum to mix with that cola! You get the idea.

Hope that helps! Good luck!

~ Natasha

Wedding Question: Is it common for venues to charge additional catering fees?

Photo from The Wedding Lens

Photo from The Wedding Lens

I just received another question via email: “The wedding venue that I’m looking at does not provide food, but they have a list of approved caterers we can choose from.  The problem is that the venue is charging an extra 28% over what the caterer charges.  Is this common practice?”

This is an interesting question! Many times venues have preferred vendors or caterers – that part is very common. The additional charges are, however, different with each venue.

Some venues charge you a certain percentage or amount if you do NOT use their preferred vendors. And if the venue offers catering, but you choose to use another caterer, they usually have high fees (like a corkage fee) to discourage that.

Some venues DO have a charge for vendors also, though they call it a “service fee.” The service fee can include a plethora of things, such as a cake cutting fee or, perhaps, a fee if your caterer needs to use their kitchen and facilities. BUT 28% seems really high for that kind of a fee — though it really depends on what services they are providing. Will they be providing the plates & utensils? Will they be serving the food? Pouring drinks? Even then, from my understanding, 10-20% is more standard for pricing. But find out what this includes before you sign (or don’t sign) anything!

Check out other venues in the area and see if they have similar practices & fees. That will give you a better idea of what to expect. Also, consider having the reception at a restaurant so you eliminate those kinds of additional fees that don’t get you much!

Hope this helps! Good luck!

Do you have a wedding question? Email me!!

~ Natasha

Share the photos of your venue and your catered food with a FREE online wedding album!

Picking Wedding Reception Food!

If you like food, the most fun part of the wedding planning process might be picking out the foods that will be served! As I mentioned in a previous post, you can do a buffet or a sitdown dinner — depending on what suits your needs and desires.

photo from The Wedding Lens

photo from The Wedding Lens

If you do a sitdown, you might want to ask your guests to request their food choice in advance (such as on a card that comes with the invitation) or you might have a deal with the venue that can take care of the orders on the day of. Remember, depending on the time of day (and therefore the meal you serve), the meal can cost less or more! You may also decide to try a finger food option — in which case, these same considerations would apply!

Regardless of the form, you need to bear in mind certain things when selecting which foods will be available to choose from (whether at the buffet or while sitting down).

  • Vegetarians – please have an option! Bear in mind that some vegetarians don’t eat fish and if you know that some of your guests have this dietary restriction, make sure you have something like grilled veggies and salad so that they don’t starve! Obviously it’s great if you can come up with a vegetarian/tofu dish that would be acceptable to non-fish-eating vegetarians, but that’s not always possible at the venue or at the price you’re looking for. So just be sure that your vegetarian friends don’t go hungry!
  • Peanuts. Coconut. Milk. Spices. Weird combination of foods to put together? True! But these are just a few things that MANY people are either allergic to or have special aversions to. My point is not that you shouldn’t have these things, but that extreme flavors can be tough for people. A few years ago, I went to a wedding where ALL of the food was incredibly, incredibly spicy New Mexican food. So spicy. My mouth is burning thinking about it.  Not only did a lot of people have a hard time eating, but it was also a bad combination with the champagne and wine served. Many upset stomachs!! Again, I’m not saying you cant do it, but have options for those who might be sensitive or have common allergies to foods.
  • Get what you want!!! Despite what I just said, you can’t cater to everyone’s desires. Be sure you get what you want to eat and what you’ll be happy eating yourself!

I recently went to a wedding where the options at the buffet were 2 different kinds of salads, grilled veggies, pasta with mushrooms in a light cream sauce, a rosemary chicken, and an herbed salmon. And bread and butter. I think it was a great combination and made a lot of people happy!

What is your favorite wedding food?

~ Natasha

To Buffet or Not to Buffet: Food at the Wedding Reception

I just came back from a weekend at a beautiful wedding where the couple chose to have a buffet dinner at the wedding reception. In between bites, our table talked about great it was that we got to taste everything. It occurred to me that this must be something that couples struggle with: whether to have a buffet or a served dinner and what to serve!

photo from The Wedding Lens

photo from The Wedding Lens

Why have a buffet?

  • guests get to try many different types of food
  • can easily satisfy dietary requirements or needs, if any (eg vegetarians)
  • usually a little less expensive

The other thing about a buffet is that you CAN set it up so that you need not hire waitstaff — another expense. An article on Wedaholic suggests that you can get people to bus their own plates to a table or location that the venue recommends AND that you can put the champagne or wine on each table with a bottle opener so people can take care of it on their own.

Some people don’t like the informality of  a buffet and would prefer a more formal, sitdown meal. In that case, there are usually selections that guests make for food — sometimes in advance and sometimes on the day of.

Why have a sit down meal?

  • More formal
  • Can ask people to order what they want in advance, so you can predict amounts/portions
  • Can select food options that work for most people (and for your budget)

What will you do?

~ Natasha

Choosing the drinks!

Most people know that there’s a whole process for figuring out the food and catering at the wedding – mostly taste tests. One of the food-related areas that does NOT require taste testing (unless you’d like?) is selecting the alcohol for the wedding.

photo from The Wedding Lens

photo from The Wedding Lens

There are a few ways that the couple can go: wine, wine & beer, hard alcohol, or no alcohol. And any combination thereabouts. Oh! And the champagne!

If your venue provides options, then you can weigh the taste + cost value yourself. Obviously you have to work within your budget — and it is unlikely that a venue that already provides wines will have bad ones available as options.  If the venue does not provide the alcohol, and you have a favorite wine, beer or hard alcohol that you want to have (and it’s within your budget) – go for it!

If you are at a loss about where to start, I have a few suggestions:

Selecing the wine & champagne: Go to a wine shop in your area. Many times the people who work there are very knowledgeable and can give you tips on what you might want, given what you are having as food and what your budget is. And sometimes you can get a discount that way!

Note on champagne: “Champagne” is only from France, and therefore expensive. There are sparkling wines from California that are equivalent to champagne — but from California, instead of France. Those are a bit cheaper since they’re not imported.

Selecting the beer: Local wine shops may also sell beer, but they might not be able to help you with what works best. Since people don’t think about paring beer with food, you should go with what you like and what you can afford. If you don’t know anything about beer, you should ask your friends and family members who might be more knowledgeable.

Selecting the hard alcohol: Usually people have preferences about what kinds of hard alcohol they like — rum, vodka, tequila, scotch. Perhaps start with a list of the ones you prefer and the brands you prefer and then cut from the list until it is within your price range. (Incidentally, one blog says that selecing the booze is a great way to get the groom involved in the planning because he’s naturally going to have preferences!

How much to buy?? If you’re looking for a guide for how much to buy (and you’re getting all of the above), check on this site. Another site says that the general rule of thumb is one drink per person per hour. This includes everyone — since some people won’t drink at all and some people will have more than one an hour.

One other note: make sure that the venue has a liquor license!

Happy drinking!

~ Natasha