AFTER HUNDREDS OF WEDDINGS, PLANNING MY OWN

With our wedding less than three months away, things are starting to move really fast! Though I'm a wedding professional myself, the process of planning my own wedding has been a wild learning experience. I wanted to share some of the surprises (some great, some not-so-great) that have come with planning. If you're recently engaged or plan to be in the future, I hope this helps! (Thank you Holly Felts for the beautiful photo below!)

1) I was surprised by how much I didn't know about weddings, despite having worked on hundreds. Most weeks, I literally eat, sleep, and breathe weddings. And somehow, I found myself scratching my head more than once as I tried to plan my own wedding. I learned that I know a LOT about my niche, and NOT A LOT about elements of the day that are less familiar. While I know a lot about florals, linens, decor, wedding invitation etiquette and any logistics that require guest-facing communication, I knew next to nothing about hiring a DJ, negotiating rentals, and choosing a wedding dress. The bottom line: Even a wedding professional feels clueless about many elements of planning a wedding. Get help! Invest in a planner or coordinator --someone with real experience who can walk you through matters big and small. 

2) We set our budget before anything else, and worked backwards to nail down size and venue. I have the pleasure of working with some of the most talented wedding professionals in the country. I love beautiful weddings. But I made the decision fairly early on that I would not hold my wedding to an unrealistic standard. The most important part of our wedding is saying our vows before God and the people we love.  We are INCREDIBLY fortunate that my parents are hosting the wedding and providing the bulk of the budget, with supplemental contributions from Kent and me.  I realize that many couples don't have this luxury and pay for the wedding themselves. In this case, I understand the need to extend the engagement to save, save, and save some more. For our wedding, I very much wanted to use the budget that we have now, make modest choices, and have a shorter engagement given the advice of plenty of wise people in our lives. 

This is where things got really tough, however. Once we had the budget in mind, our next items to tackle were guest list and venue, though they are so intertwined that it's hard to say what came first. Classic chicken and egg, y'all! Many people choose to have intimate weddings. While I COMPLETELY get that, I knew that it was unrealistic for us. We both had a long list of friends we wanted to include, and Kent is from a small town and has a very large family. Finalizing the guest list was the hardest, most emotional part of the process so far. Once we had an idea of the overall size and considered venue options in our area, we realized that we were wildly too large to get married anywhere but a convention center. That said, our venue gave us an absolute maximum for the guest list (260!), which helped us make those difficult decisions about who we could include. 

Choosing the combination of venue, date, and budget was a whirlwind, and the only time I ever felt truly anxious. But once that hurdle was over, the remaining planning felt so much smoother.

The bottom line: Be prepared for the emotional rollercoaster that comes along with budget/date/venue decisions. Ultimately, work with what you have and stay focused on what matters--your future marriage.

3) A large wedding makes EVERYTHING more complicated (but I'm glad we're doing it!). It may seem like common sense, but I didn't quite understand the impact of a large wedding (and a bridal party of 14). While greater costs for catering seemed obvious, here are a few examples of costs increases and complications with a big wedding: two makeup artists instead of one, increased cost for florals with more tables, increased cost of rentals (tables, chairs, and linens), two bartenders instead of one, a limited number of rehearsal dinner spaces that could accommodate us...the list goes on. Some wedding costs seemed fixed to me, but I was surprised when the size of our guest list impacted EVERY choice we made. I wouldn't change this, however. Our guest list is comprised of our closest friends and family members, and we were willing to make sacrifices to include everyone we wanted to include. 

That said, we had to make some compromises, and we feel good about all of these decisions. Catering was a huge ticket item, and we chose to have a more informal taco bar catered by a restaurant we love that uses lots of local suppliers . We are getting married in a beautiful white art gallery Downtown, so a taco bar made a ton of sense for our less traditional setting. To make things easier and more affordable, we are using the same catering company for our bartenders as well. So many of our guests are excited about tacos and margaritas, and our catering plan allows things to stay simple but still delicious.

We are also choosing not to do a large wedding cake, and family members and friends will be providing a range of bite-sized treats for a dessert table. While we will have a tiny gluten-free cake made to cut for the two of us, we are saving on costs related to cake and cutting fees and the logistics of getting cake dispersed to 200+ people.

Same goes for a Champagne toast. We will provide Champagne glasses during our toasts, but a significant portion of our attendees are not drinkers, so it wouldn't make sense practically to pay for everyone to have a Champagne toast. 

Lastly, we will have beautiful eco-friendly bamboo plates and utensils that can be tossed when the night is over. This is an idea I borrowed from my friend Brittany, who got married in 2014. This helps us save on rental costs, but it also eliminates the need for us to have someone on site rinsing and stacking plates at the end of the night. I totally understand that disposable plates and utensils do not appeal to all, but it's fitting for our catering option (and dressier than the restaurant-style plates offered for free by our caterer) AND can be dressed up with beautiful styling. 

If a delightful meal and classic place settings were a top priority for us, we could have absolutely chosen to go that route...with a guest list of about 40-50 people. Because we wanted to include so many loved ones and stay within our budget, we made compromises that I feel great about and that I believe our guests will ultimately enjoy. And that's all that matters!

The bottom line: With creativity and smart planning, you can do a LOT, even with a large guest list. It's all about priorities.

4) So, so, so many people offered to help us, and it brought me to my knees. Now here is where things get more specific to our situation, and less applicable to folks outside of the wedding industry. I want to mention it though, because it was a true surprise, and one that I will never forget. When we announced that we were getting married, we immediately received an outpouring of support of vendor friends who wanted to be a part of our day and some who wanted to bless us. I will never forget this time in my life, as it was a reminder of God's provisions. There's no way that we could have a wedding with 200+ attendees if some of my dear friends had not offered to step in and support us through trade and other means. 

5) And finally, I really, really messed up wedding dress shopping. :) I made a lot of mistakes when looking for a wedding dress and completely underestimated the process. I learned a lot through that process and it deserves its own post. But more on that later! 

I hope this post provides some helpful insight into some of the initial surprises we worked through as a newly engaged couple--and encourages everyone that there are a lot of options out there to fit a variety of priorities, budgets, and circumstances. Get help, stay realistic, and focus on what matters--the start of your marriage. 

I'd love to hear your questions, comments, and experiences. Share them in the comments below!