Don’t check the weather.
Order a clear plastic umbrella a few months ahead of time just to be safe ($14, amazon.com), then stop looking at your weather app. People will text you and call you to tell you they checked the weather. Ignore them. There is zero point in stressing about things that exist outside the realm of your control. Think about something else. Besides, overcast skies are better for photos anyway. Mother Nature is like a dragon: She will do whatever she wants, even on your wedding day.
Work with a photographer and videographer who work with second shooters.
We spent a huge chunk of our budget on photo and video, and I’m so glad we did. We have hundreds of awesome photos from the day and a spectacular wedding video that brings me and my husband to tears every time we watch it. The benefit of having second shooters is that you’re sure not to miss any special moments. And on top of that, you’ll get the same moment from different angles. Trust me—you want both of these moments:
Scout out your photo locations in advance and trust your photographer’s eye.
Our photographer was incredible and so fun to work with. She had no problem walking around our venue with us looking for places to take pictures. Remember, photographers and videographers see things in ways that you don’t. That’s why you’re paying them so much money! What may not look like a good location to you could perhaps look amazing on camera. We got married in an old manufacturing facility turned art gallery on Chicago’s historic Goose Island. To us, it seemed that there was nothing around the venue except parking garages, train tracks, and crumbling, overgrown buildings. This is what it looked like on camera:
Steel yourself for sticker shock.
In 2018 the average wedding spend was about $33,931, according to The Knot’s annual wedding study. That sounds expensive, right? I thought so too. According to the breakdown, floral/décor spend is usually about $2,411. Great. I took that number and a list of what I wanted to a local Chicago decorator, I got back a quote for $25,000. $33,931 doesn’t sound so expensive now, does it?
Studies like this one tell you what couples are spending—not what wedding vendors are charging. And vendors will charge you more simply because it’s for a wedding. Australian journalist January Jones did an investigative piece on inflation in the wedding industry (commonly referred to as “the wedding tax”) for the Sydney Morning Herald, and her findings are fascinating. Racked also has an awesome piece on the wedding tax, which delves more into why the inflation exists and how to understand and live with/work around it.
Make a priority list.
Your priority list is your best budgeting tool. The more in-demand a vendor’s services are, the more they can charge you. So decide where you want to throw your money and what you can sacrifice, and do this before you start making calls. Zach and I wanted our guests to eat, drink, and dance the night away in a blissful, satisfied stupor, and we wanted to remember every waking second of it in artful technicolor. So we tackled food, venue, music, and photography/videography first. When push came to shove, and we had to start cutting things out of the budget, I knew my most important items were taken care of.
Chart a successful seating plan with this method.
I hated doing my seating chart. It was the worst part of the wedding planning process, second only to reading and signing our contracts. My fiancé even tried to find an algorithm or equation online that would make it easier, but there is no such thing. Here’s how we did it:
- First, wait until everyone has RSVP’d. Do not start prematurely. You will be sorry.
- Divide your guest list into categories. I used categories like bride’s family, groom’s family, extended friends, college friends, colleagues, high school friends, medical school friends, etc. This will help you identify who will get along and who won’t. You’ll start to see who needs to sit together like aunts and cousins, grandparents and parents, etc.
- Buy a whiteboard big enough to fit your dining room layout and some dry erase markers. Use a different color for guest names, tables/seats, and the counts for each table.
- Draw your dining room table layout and a circle for each seat you have available, starting with your head table. Once you have the head table constructed, remove members of your bridal party from the different categories so you can account for their plus ones. Put your immediate family as close to the center of the action as you can, then continue matching categories with tables, adjusting and moving as you go based on the number of people you can sit at each table (usually 8-10).
DIY as much of your decor as you can (within reason).
The lighting in our venue wasn’t stellar, so we decided to rent lighting fixtures and cover the place in candles. When I reached out to our decorator, she quoted us at $950 for uplighting and $650 for candles alone (believe it or not, this was super affordable compared to my other quotes). To save money, I worked out an uplighting package with our DJ and found all of our candles and votives on Amazon and Facebook marketplace. All in all, we spent about $400 on basic lighting (not including our chandeliers, which were more decor than anything). Here are some big-ticket items you can easily do on your own:
- Seating chart display
- Personal table
- Welcome sign
- Memorial photos
Facebook marketplace is your new best friend.
I also purchased stacks of antique books and several ornate gold mirrors to use as decor pieces. The largest mirror ended up being a beautiful table chart display. And after the wedding, I resold that decor to other brides. This is a great way to save money if you don’t mind dealing with the stress of having to resell the decor after it’s over. But even if we decided not to resell and gave all the items to charity instead, we would still have saved money.
See a dermatologist at least six months to a year before your wedding.
I took my skin care routine very seriously in the months before my wedding. Not that you shouldn’t do that every day of every rear, regardless of whether or not you’re getting married, but you should be especially careful if you have a particular skin concern. I’ve been prone to acne since I was 14 years old, and I haven’t had much luck with dermatologists. When I finally did go see one, my visit lasted less than ten minutes. She looked at my face, gave me a prescription and said, “Drink more water, stop eating junk, and get more sleep.” Super helpful and specific, I know. The visit went so fast I didn’t even get to ask about the things I most wanted to know like which foods were most likely to make me break out, what drug store products/ingredients were best for my skin type, how many times a week am I supposed to exfoliate, etc.
After I got engaged, I decided to go again. And this time, I was far better prepared. Over the course of several months, we tested a series of wholistic and prescription treatments that eventually helped me trim the breakouts without overly drying my skin.
If you don’t have a dermatologist, get one. And when you do, get your insurance’s worth out of those appointments. Don’t let them rush you just because they’re busy. Ask questions. Tell them when you don’t want to try something and/or if it didn’t work for you. There are no stupid questions at the dermatology office.
Hosted by Ambassador Chicago / Gallery 1028
Officiated by Brad Hughes
Photography by Ebby Lowry
Videography by Kashmir Films
Flowers by Steve’s Flower Market
Live Entertainment by Paul and Kerena Moeller
Music and Lighting by Sounds Abound Entertainment
Catering by Calihan Catering and Bjorn Cakes
Decor by Studio AG