Looking back on our wedding: tips for planning your big day

Time really does fly, whether you’re having fun or not! It seemed like just earlier this year that I was planning our wedding and today we’re celebrating our first wedding anniversary!

Your wedding day is one of the most important milestones in your life (including starting university or college, starting your first job, finding your first love, having your first child…the list goes on) and it involves, like with other important milestones, a lot of preparation, stress and high emotions. With all the planning involved, I thought it might be helpful for prospective brides to hear some of what I learned from spending 2.5 years planning our 2015 wedding.

Bigger engagement rings are not always better.
This is one of those wedding details that could be contentious. I’m not trying to say that if you like to gift your future spouse with a fancy engagement ring (and you can afford it), then by all means. I sometimes feel like this world has been a competition to see who’s better and who’s sporting the biggest diamond on their finger. Engagement ring and wedding band sets can cost a lot (diamond platinum engagement rings start from about £1500) and if you’ve already got a budget in mind for how much you want to spend on your big day, can you start the wedding planning if your fiance already spent that money on your engagement ring?

Personally, the OH and I chose a 5mm pink sapphire engagement ring by an independent jewellery designer (see my photo above. I also wrote a post about getting engaged here) and I love it. Sure when you get engaged everyone wants to see your ring, but your friends and family are happy for you, not for the size of the bling on your ring.

Your ring is personal and is a sign of your commitment to each other, so it should be for you and your partner, not for everyone else to judge. If you’re happy with it and it doesn’t break the bank, that’s a good thing.

Agree on a budget and try to stick to it.
The OH and I agreed right from the start that we didn’t want to spend too much money on our wedding and that we wanted to keep it simple so that was the first hurdle sorted. When you want your big day to be special, it’s so easy to get caught up in all the little things (like seat covers and favours) that do add up, especially when you attend a wedding fair and suppliers are persuasive in selling you those floral centrepieces with the ostrich feathers in them.

Put together a list of things that you’ll want for your wedding venue with prices and decide on what you want to splurge on and where to keep costs low. When I said try I do mean use it as a guide. It’s not easy keeping things below your target budget, but don’t stray too far from it (we ended up spending £500 over our ideal budget). You don’t want to be spending the first year or two of your married life paying off credit card bills for all the suppliers you paid.

Research and book your venue and officiant ASAP.
The venue and who will be conducting your wedding are two of the most important things for your big day so book as quickly as possible. Venues get booked up quickly, not just for weddings but also other celebratory events, and they normally only cater to one event per day. If you’re set on a particular date and you’ve got an idea of venue, I would suggest visiting several to get a feel for whether or not you and your partner like the place and see if they’re available on the date you’d like.

If you’re having a civil ceremony in the UK (officiated by the council Registrar) and you’re having the wedding at a hotel, your Wedding Co-ordinator should be able to help you with filling in your paperwork and you should send this in as soon as possible. If the Registrar is already officiating another wedding that day, it could mean they’re not available. Also be aware of dates for sending in your notice of marriage: you must return the required fees and forms to the local register office at least 28 days before your wedding day (see here).

Book your make up artist and hair stylist at least 6 months in advance.
I read somewhere (can’t remember where exactly) that it’s suggested you book your make up artist and hair stylist 3 months before the wedding. How wrong I was.

I e-mailed a number of hair stylists in or around Edinburgh 4 months before my wedding to get quotes but most of them were already booked for our wedding day. Believe me when I say I started panicking and may have hyperventilated while I frantically searched for more stylists to get in touch with and crossed my fingers, hoping one of them would be available. I was lucky in that I managed to book my make up artist and hair stylist eventually, but the stress of the thought that I won’t have my hair and make up done professionally to look good was not something I would wish on any bride.

Keep in mind that your wedding date could also be the big day for other brides, so most wedding hair stylists and make up artists are already booked up 6 months before your wedding date. Look around to get an idea of prices and pay the deposit to secure their services as early as possible, even a year in advance if you can. You don’t need to have a definite idea of how you want your hair and make up to look when you book, you’ll get a trial (I would recommend booking these) about a month before your wedding date to discuss how you want to look. Be sure to keep photos of styles you like to show your stylist/artist so they have something to work with.

DIY, wherever possible!
I know there will be a lot of groans and outrage at this point, but hear me out. I may be a sewer and prefer to take on a lot of crafty projects myself, but that doesn’t mean that you aren’t capable of doing the same if you’re inclined to do so! The wonderful world of cyberspace and fellow wedding crafters are very helpful and share a lot of their tutorials and videos online to help others create the same guestbook, favour or seating plan ideas (Pinterest is also good place to start). If you’re feeling that designing and making your own wedding cake or hand-folding origami centrepieces are not going to happen, try asking friends and family if someone they know would be happy to help. Often having connections, family and friends who can help with wedding details can be a real blessing!

DIY wedding glitter court shoes (tutorial here) with custom tartan shoe bows from Etsy

Find bargains where you can.
Boutique wedding dresses cost so much these days (prices seem to start at £2500) so before you even start, it seems like the cost of your wedding is already building up. Try finding a bargain if you can: boutiques often entice brides-to-be to walk through their doors with sample sales or discounts. One wedding dress boutique was closing down some years ago and were selling dresses at 70% off. If it seems like The Dress is going to clear your bank account, don’t be afraid to ask if there are any sales coming up.

Another option could be checking sites like Etsy where independent designers sell their designs online to reduce costs of opening a shop. While I was browsing for inspiration on styles that might suit me, I’ve seen designers selling ready-made designs (but customised to your measurements) for about £250! Again if you’ve got a friend or family member who’s handy with needle, thread and sewing machine, find out of they’ll be willing to make your dress. I made my own 3 dresses for a total of £250 for materials and 2 bridesmaid dresses for about £70.

My own handmade wedding wardrobe

Dresses for the Maid of Honour (left) and Bridesmaid (right)

Choose a wedding dress style that suits you!
Again, this is your day to look your best. You want a dress that complements your body shape and makes you look beautiful, so don’t get fixated on what other brides are wearing now. I knew that with strapless dresses being in fashion, finding something that was simple yet elegant with short sleeves would be difficult, so I used a vintage dress patterns for all three dresses. This is a day where you want to look beautiful, so look beyond what’s in fashion and choose a style that you know will flatter your figure. If the thought of having to constantly tug up the heavy strapless dress doesn’t appeal to you, go for a halter neck style or one with sleeves (long lace or cap sleeves).

You’ll also want to consider wedding lingerie accordingly. It’ll help when trying on your dress to know how things all fit. If you’re not sure what style of dress you’re going for, think about getting a convertible bra so you can remove the straps.

Going on a diet for your big day is not the answer to a happier future.

“If you’re not happy with how you look, chances are you won’t be any happier once you lose weight. Happiness is a state of mind, not a size. You can be happy, confident, and beautiful at absolutely any size — you just have to strive for body positivity and self-love.”

Guest post from Minerva Siegel on Offbeat Bride

There’s a common misconception that brides should diet to look good, but that’s not who you really are. Do you look forward to your big day when you’re stressing about the number of calories you’re eating? Or thinking about whether you should really taste all those cake samples to decide on a flavour for your wedding cake? You’re getting married to someone who loves you as you are, not because they think you’ll look better if you lost weight on your big day. I often find it disconcerting that friends think they’re too big and won’t look good in photos; I’m actually more uncomfortable about the fact that my friend, the bride, doesn’t look like the person I remember. Not that it affects them as a person and who they are, but I’m bothered by the fact that they think they’ll have better wedding photos by being a certain weight.

Your wedding day is important, true, but it’s one milestone out of many in your life. Don’t make it a day where you’re stressing about your weight. Choose a dress that fits you, don’t try to fit yourself into the dress.

Ask for a menu tasting from caterer and ask about options for dietary requirements.
This might seem like a daft suggestion to mention, but I feel it’s worth talking about. If you’re hiring an outside caterer to serve guests at your wedding, they should be well aware of what they need to do for special events. Hotels and venues that offer wedding packages should include a menu tasting in their packages, but if the venue or caterer don’t, ask for one.

Everyone who will be attending your wedding will be eating a meal with you to celebrate your recent marriage and you want to know what they’re being served is good. Imagine the disaster of having a caterer who only offers beef and you prefer pork. What if you have vegan guests and they’ve never made vegan meals before?

Menu tastings should take place a few months before the wedding so you can decide on the courses in advance and this allows them to plan ahead. Remember to ask guests for dietary requirements (if you’re not aware of any) and make sure the caterer can meet these needs.

Use wedding planning sites to help plan your schedule.
Some prefer a binder, folder or notebook for all their wedding planning needs while some prefer websites; I used a combination of a wedding planner book I was gifted, a wedding planning site (which also allowed me to create a wedding site for our guests to use) and the wonder of Excel for recording expenditure and keeping track of our budget.

I found it was quite helpful to get suggestions on when tasks should be started and finished by in relation to your wedding date or if you prefer to plan your own schedule, you can set your own dates and reminders for when things need done. There are a lot of sites that allow you to create an account for free and gives , so have a look around to see what each site offers and whether it suits your needs.

One thing to be aware of is that the sites are catered to brides in a particular country, so some suggested timescales for tasks and suppliers for the US may not be relevant for brides in the UK or elsewhere. Here are a few suggested UK sites to start you off: Wedding Planner, Hitched, BrideBook, The Wedding Site and Confetti.

and finally…

The day is all about you and your partner
Your wedding day is about celebrating your love for each other and making a committed vow in front of family and friends whom you want to share this special occasion with. The day is about remembering why you love your partner and understanding the strength of the commitment you’re making to each other. I can definitely tell you that while I was planning our wedding and organising all the small details (like guests changing their minds about whether or not they’ll be attending, deciding where to sit relatives without offending the other and making sure everyone was happy with their meal choices), I was ready to give it all up and just elope…if only we hadn’t already booked everything and paid the deposit for all sorts of wedding services.

Everyone will have an opinion about your seating plan, your schedule of events, what you’re wearing and even how you’re doing each little thing. This day is about you and your partner and everyone offering their penny’s worth can drive anyone up the wall if they’ve been spending as much time planning this day as you both will have done. If the multitude of opinions is getting to be too much, thank them for their suggestion and tell them it’ll be taken under consideration and go with what you and your partner decide on together. It’s not necessary to spend a lot of money if this isn’t within your budget. If you want a simple ceremony without a lot of flowers, guests and stress, do it your way.

Are there any married couples who would like to agree/disagree or add to my list of suggestions for prospective brides and grooms? What advice do you wish you had been given (or things that you would have done differently) if you were to plan your wedding again?

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