If you’ve just sat down to plan the big day and you’re wondering if this is going to be a fun experience or a complete nightmare, let me assure you that it can be fun – if you let it. I planned my wedding in less than six months, it wasn’t stressful in the slightest and the day was magical. Here I’ll share my best tips for ensuring your big day goes smoothly and walk you through what you need to do, step by step.
Two things that did stress me out: first, people trying to interfere and tell me what I did and didn’t need, and second, people acting surprised at my calmness, making me think I wasn’t doing everything right or that I’d missed something. The answer: ignore these people. Get a friend on board to help you, one who is good at organisation but not too opinionated – and stuff everyone else.
Should you hire a planner? If you want to and you have the money. I planned my wedding myself with a bit of help from family and friends, although the venue were very experienced and a fantastic help. It wasn’t stressful and frankly considering you have at least six months to do it all in (I’m hoping), there’s not that much to do so I wouldn’t change my decision going back.
Here’s what you need to do:
1) Find a venue – for the ceremony and reception (which could be the same place, as it was for me). You can do this any time from when you agree on a rough date, right up to six months before. All you’ll find is that the closer the date gets, the less choice you’ll have. You’ll need to confirm the venue is free on your chosen date and then check with the Registrar and finally confirm with the venue. It’s great if you can do everything in one place – ceremony, meal and evening reception – as you don’t have to worry about travelling from venue to venue.
2) Work out your budget – how much you have to spend on everything from getting your hair done through to your dress. You don’t need all of this at once remember, as you won’t buy / pay for everything at once.
3) Plan the guest list – depending on when you start, this might be pretty loose at first but should give you an idea of numbers. A word of advice: unless your budget is unlimited, don’t invite your great aunt who you’ve only seen once since birth, her partner and your three second cousins from another country. Just pick the people you really want to be there and don’t worry about offending people by not inviting them – if they’re the sort of people that would be offended at you having a budget, they probably aren’t very good friends anyway. At this stage you might also want to think about a best man and chief bridesmaid – if you can, pick people who are going to be really helpful at organising things with you.
4) Find and book a photographer – we had a professional photographer who was also a friend so we paid mate’s rates. Don’t ask someone unless they do it professionally – your photos are what you have afterwards to remember the day for the rest of your life and a good photographer really does make a huge difference. You’ll need to make a list of shots for your photographer – this ensures you get what you want and really helps with organisation on the day. Some people hire a videographer as well to take footage of the day – I didn’t do this as I really hate being filmed!
5) Find and book a florist – they’ll need to know what day you need them on even if you don’t know what flowers you want yet. My advice – don’t go crazy on flower arrangements for the tables – either at the ceremony or the reception venue – they are what bumps the cost up and they are really not worth it. We had a bouquet for the brides and bridesmaids only – our table decs I’ll come to later.
6) Book the catering – and finalise the menu. If your venue doesn’t cater, you’ll need to find someone that does. Again this is not one to leave to your great aunt that likes cooking – it’ll cause too much uncertainty and stress on the day if anything goes wrong – although if you do want to self-cater, have a look at Marks and Spencers party food, it is pretty amazing. It’s simpler to find a venue that caters, and they’ll take care of things like welcome drinks and canapes too – but it’s probably not the cheapest option because they will charge you restaurant rates for wine/champagne or a corkage fee if you want to bring your own.
7) Book the entertainment – for an evening reception you’ll want a DJ or a band or a band that does DJing in between their sets (the best option!). Look for recommendations and make sure you hear them in advance, preferably live. An acoustic guitar player is a popular choice but try and book someone pretty cheerful as your crowd will be merry later on in the evening and will want a dance! See if you can influence what music will be played, even if it’s just giving them a list of your favourites. If your first dance is in the evening, you’ll need to plan this with them.
8) Buy the invites and send them out – or save money and print them yourself. I designed a PDF invite and emailed it to everyone. It was pretty different and everyone loved it.
9) Hire or buy your dress – if you’re having one. Make sure you leave time for a few fittings. I used Berketex and even with six months to go, this was pretty tight as they custom ordered my dress for me. If you’re on a budget, have a look on eBay – there are hundreds of dresses going for £100 or so and you can have them custom fitted to you.
10) Hire or buy bridesmaids’ dresses – these can be pricey and tough to meet all tastes and sizes. If like I did you’ve got bridesmaids of all shapes and sizes, considering ordering them from China and having them made to fit. This is what I did, they are cheaper than buying them in the UK (where bridesmaids dresses can typically cost £200-£300 e.g. at Berketex) and they fitted like a glove – here’s the site http://www.jjshouse.com/. You can have them adjusted if they arrive and aren’t quite right. Again allow as much time as possible, as these are coming from abroad.
11) Reserve any hotel rooms needed – for example, for out-of-town guests, or if you are stopping over near the venue.
12) Consider presents – if you’re having presents you might want to start up a wedding list. However, since we’d been together ages and we both had our own houses already, we asked guests to just bring a bottle of vino if they wanted to buy a present. Some bought crates. We had a very full wine rack. Some couples also ask for money towards the honeymoon or towards the purchase of a new house.
13) Plan and book your honeymoon – check your passports are up to date and make sure you have any shots you need. If like us you have kids, you’ll need to arrange for someone to look after them while you’re away.
14) Meet the official – in the UK you’ll have an interview with the Registrar. Make sure you know your partner’s date of birth before you go in and your partner knows yours .. seriously.
15) Arrange any transport – for example, if you’re getting married at one venue and moving on to another. Also consider if you’re having a special car to take you to the venue. Don’t feel like you have to have one – my partner and I drove to my venue in my Astra and put my dress on there!
16) Choose and order the cake – allow plenty of time. We got ours from Marks and Spencers and it was delicious. Just make sure if there are any flowers on the cake in the photo, you know whether these are included or not. Ours weren’t so we ended up running round the markets at the last minute looking for plastic flowers!
17) Choose the music and put it on an ipod – and make sure the venues can play it. We took 3 different devices with us just in case! We got a lot of our music from Youtube and used YouTube to Mp3 to convert it. This lets you choose different versions of popular songs by unknown artists that haven’t previously been released. However, do listen to them in advance to make sure that there is nothing at the start of the track (e.g. talking) and the sound is loud enough over a PA. You’ll need to make playlists – one for the aisle walk, one for the ceremony, one for the meal if you’re having one and one for the evening reception if needed.
18) Choose your accessories – you might want to buy shoes, earrings, a necklace, a bracelet and a veil or tiara if you’re having one. Some brides have a small bag as well but I was clueless as to where this would go and didn’t bother. Don’t forget undies – you’ll want pants that don’t show through your dress and a bra that works well with your wedding dress – take it along to one of the fittings to test it out.
19) Book a hairdresser if you are having one – and I recommend you get one unless you’re super confident. It’s not just about being good at doing your hair – it’s about taking the stress out of the day and enjoying it. Some girls also choose to have their make up done – I opted instead to go along to House of Fraser where a lady did my make up for me (for free), gave me loads of tips and I purchased some of the products I liked. Again this is just personal preference – I don’t like the idea of someone else doing my make up but if you think it’ll reduce the stress on the day, go for it. Do have trial runs of your hair and make up, whoever is doing them.
20) Plan the venue extras – rather than flowers we had lovely table centrepieces that I put together myself using artificial foam flowers on wire, butterflies on wire, giant cocktail glasses and chocolates. It was cheaper than flowers + favours. I then complemented these with butterfly shaped place cards and put champagne bubbles on the table. We hired the chair covers through the venue and bought the purple bows from eBay – they were about £30 for a pack of 50. The venue set them up on the day for us.
21) Plan the day – agree the timetable with the venue and the Registrar. Allow plenty of time for photos – we thought our 1.5 hours was really generous giving that we didn’t have a huge party. Not so. You’ll also want to do a seating plan if you’re having a meal.
22) Purchase the rings – you’ll need to allow time for resizing, and engraving if you want this.
23) Have a stag/hen do – if you’re having one. We weren’t fussed and ended up having a ‘sten’ do which was essentially (many) drinks with friends.
24) Reconfirm with all vendors – don’t leave it to the day or day before – phone everyone who’s involved at least a week before and make sure they are on track. Don’t skip this bit – you could end up with no cake, no hairdresser – even no dress. If something hasn’t gone to plan don’t panic, you’ve got time to fix it!
25) Plan for rain – you can’t guarantee good weather so plan for rain. We bought some fantastic bright orange umbrellas from eBay and you’d never know from our wedding pics that it was drizzling and cold – they look bright, colourful and fun. We also did some inside but my favourites are all the outdoor ones.
The above isn’t in perfect order and you’ll find there’s different stages to each step. For example, you’ll probably have at least a couple of wedding dress fittings and you’ll have a trial run of your hair and make up before the big day. Still, it’s a pretty good fuss-free list for getting your wedding sorted.
A final piece of advice – don’t do this alone. I did a lot of my planning alone as I chose my eldest daughter as my chief bridesmaid and at 20, she hadn’t quite honed her planning and organisation skills. Although I didn’t get stressed by it, there were times where I really wished I had someone to bounce ideas off or to help me get some of the little tasks done.
It’s your day: so choose a friend to help that is great at organising but won’t stress, panic or fuss you, and will let you (and your partner) make all the choices. Remember, you don’t have to have a first dance. You don’t have to do speeches. You don’t even have to wear a wedding dress. This is your day and the key to it being stress free is to do it your way. Good luck!