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The Wedding Guide - Planning the Wedding
Planning the Wedding

Getting Started
Choosing a Style
Setting a Budget
Tips on Choosing a Site
Bridal Consultants
Setting the Date and Time
Catering / Selecting a Menu
Making the Marriage Legal

When Cinderella was swept off her feet by her prince, one can only imagine that what followed was a big white wedding, full of pomp and circumstance -- the palace court in attendance and celebrations of dancing and feasting that the peasants of the village paid for in taxes for years to come.

The reality is, a fairy-tale wedding costs money. Taxpayers do not pick up the cost. And for most couples of average means, planning a wedding requires some compromises, a limited budget, and a lot of planning.

Getting Started

As a couple, the first step in planning a wedding is deciding what style and size you want. You must decide whether you want a civil or a religious ceremony. You need to decide whether you want a formal or a casual affair. You also need to set a budget total, keeping in mind that the average-sized wedding can cost well over ten thousand dollars.

After the bride and groom have discussed these issues, it is time to bring in the families for more discussions ... and more compromises. The families' expectations about the style, traditions, and religion in the ceremony and financing the affair are all issues the couple will want to discuss with their families. This is the time to have honest discussions about how the expenses will be divided up and how much those wishing to contribute can realistically afford to spend.

With a preliminary plan in mind, start calling around. Get estimates from some of the reception locations you're considering to see if what you're considering is, in fact, realistic. If necessary, change your plans now, rather than later.

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Choosing a Style

A fantasy, or theme, wedding can be what fairy tales are made of, but they also require an inordinate amount of planning. Wedding reception locations, such as a hotel or a private club, with an on-site package deal that includes most of the details -- such as the staffing, food and drinks, flowers, and wedding cake -- can be more convenient for a busy couple. And outdoor weddings, such as in a garden or historical setting, can be beautiful in their own way, but again, they can require more planning and can be dependent on the weather.

Weddings can be formal or informal. They can be a candlelit night affair, or they can be a casual morning church ceremony followed by a champagne breakfast with a menu of coffees, teas, rolls, muffins, crepes, and fresh fruit.

A wedding can be anything the bride and groom want it to be, provided they are willing to take the time to plan it and can afford what they want. However, once a wedding style is selected, stick to it. The style or theme should be consistent in all the elements of the wedding -- from the wedding attire to the decorations, party favors, food, and entertainment.

The possibilities are endless, but here are a few style types to start with:

Theme weddings: Themes can center around any common interest or hobby the couple shares, a location, an ethnic culture, a season or holiday, an era, or anything else. The theme can be exhibited in the location of the ceremony and reception, dress of the participants and guests, decorations, and food. The advantage of a theme wedding is an endless opportunity for expressing your personalities and creativity. The disadvantage is the high level of planning involved. If the affair is held in an unusual place, such as a yacht, gallery, amusement park, or botanical garden, be prepared to deal with logistics such as bathroom facilities, kitchens, parking, and guest accessibility.

Destination weddings: Some couples, out of a desire to cut back expenses, to avoid the work and stress of planning a large wedding, to get away from troublesome situations with family, or just to escape to a romantic location to start their new life, choose to combine their weddings and honeymoons and get married far from home. Popular spots include the Caribbean, Hawaii, Las Vegas, Jamaica, even Disney World. Like theme weddings, the possibilities are endless.

Arrangements can be made long-distance with a wedding/catering coordinator of a honeymoon resort. Packages, which can accommodate 2 - 10 people, often include the use of the location, an officiant, champagne, wedding cake, reception, flowers, musicians, and a suite for the wedding night.

Outdoor weddings/receptions: Whether the party is held in a beautiful garden, by a lake or by the seashore, the advantage of having the unmatched beauty of nature as a backdrop is offset by the chance of rain or a heat wave. An alternate plan, such as renting a tent, is recommended. Tents today come technologically advanced, usually including the option of generators for heating, air-conditioning, and cooking to provide full protection regardless of the conditions outside. They can be rented in all sizes, from seating twenty-five guests to seating thousands. The cost of a tented affair is similar to, or a little above, the cost of holding a similar function in an established location. The tented affair may cost a little more because all of the items are rented separately.

Indoor receptions: In a private home, or in a rented hall at a hotel, club, or restaurant, an indoor reception is probably the most common choice. Some locations, referred to as "on-site," provide most, if not all, of the services you need: food and drink, staff, tables, linens, and maybe flowers, cake, and music.

On-site locations include hotels, restaurants, clubs, halls, and sometimes historic or converted buildings set up to accommodate functions. The advantage of going this route is the convenience of buying one package to meet almost all of your needs. A disadvantage is losing the chance to plan the details yourself. You may be penalized for making alternate plans, such as bringing your own wedding cake.

Off-site locations, which can be a private home, an historic setting, or any other private function area, will not provide many extra services beyond the use of the location. As a result, you will probably need to hire a caterer that can meet many of those needs, and you may want to consider hiring a wedding coordinator to help you pull together the details. The advantage is, of course, the creativity allowed in making all of your own decisions.

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Setting a Budget

The first step in putting together a budget is making calls to find out approximately how much things cost. Then set budget guidelines that are as honest as you can make them.

If you find you need to cut back, remember that the budget for food, beverages, support staff and the like is proportional to the number of guests, as is the size (and cost) of the hall you'll need to rent. Other areas where you can trim costs include flowers, transportation (kibosh the limo), catering, miscellaneous reception items, disc jockey, and invitations. Consider borrowing where you can, such as renting flowers from a nursery or borrowing a friend's antique car. Also, making items yourself, such as clothing, food, or invitations, will further reduce costs.

The following is a rough breakdown by percentage of the costs for a typical wedding. As more guests are invited, the reception costs rise and the remaining items drop proportionally:

Reception 60
Clothing 10
Music 10
Flowers 10
Stationery 5
Miscellaneous 5

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Tips on Choosing a Site

By now you probably have a good idea of the kind of wedding you want. You know what style it will be and what your estimated budget is.

You should start shopping for a site early, at least 10 months before the wedding, because popular locations book up early. If you wait too long, you'll either be shut out from the site you want, or you'll be forced to pay top dollar. Before shopping, though, finalize the number of guests as best you can. Most places are very specific about the number they can hold due to fire safety laws, building codes, and profitability reasons. If you select a site and then your numbers change, you may lose both your site and your deposit.

When interviewing sites, ask the following questions:

  • Prices -- do they change depending on the time of day and season?
  • How many people can the site hold?
  • What services, such as catering, does the site offer?
  • What hours will it be available to your party?
  • Will there be another party taking place at the same time?
  • How are the parking arrangements and accessibility?
When it comes to both the ceremony and the reception, make sure the person you are dealing with puts the details in writing. That person might not be there on the day of the wedding.

Items to put in writing might include the date and hours the room will be available; staffing services; the type of food and the way it will be served; the hours the bar will be open; the type of glasses drinks are served in and dishes food is served in; any other charges, such as a corkage charge for bringing in liquor not bought on the premises; the exact room to be used and the look of the room; and whether the quoted price includes tax and tip.

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Bridal Consultants

They have design experience, they know where to shop for bargains, and they may get you special discounts. They'll save time, and if they are any good, they will actually save you money -- even considering their fee.

Their job can include selecting a caterer, finding the right music and florist, advising on invitation wording, and helping with arrangements at the church. For a flat fee, you can get a one-time consultation to start you on your way. Or you can hire a consultant on a full-service basis, in which case you should expect to sign a contract that stipulates the responsibilities and liabilities of the consultant. Their price may be on a percentage basis (usually 10-20 percent of the total wedding cost), or it may be derived from a flat fee or an hourly rate.

When looking for a consultant, you can research them by checking with local business organizations or associations. You may be able to get a referral from a local bridal consultant association.

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Setting the Date and Time

Setting the date and time of your wedding can be a juggling act between doing what's best for your guests and getting the best rates for your budget.

The most economical times to hold a wedding are off-season and Friday and Sunday evenings. On the other hand, Sunday night means some people won't be able to work the next day, and Friday night means some people will have to leave work early.

In general, you want to pick a time that isn't going to cause a lot of scheduling conflicts for your guests. Family holidays, such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter/Passover, or July 4th, are not recommended, although other holidays such as Memorial Day or Labor Day may be better. Think of who you're inviting and their lifestyles. If there are a lot of students, consider when school breaks occur. If your guests are mostly families with young children, weeks reserved for vacations may cause conflicts.

You're not going to be able to do what's best for everyone, so in the end just consider the different factors and then check with the people you most care about to make sure they can attend.

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Catering / Selecting a Menu

The first question you should ask is whether the location you have selected for the reception handles the food and catering services. If not, then you probably will want to hire a caterer. Set some budget guidelines and consider what you would like to see on your menu before you start shopping.

The menu will vary depending on the time of day of your reception. It can consist of a morning champagne breakfast or buffet brunch, with breakfast foods and salads on the menu, or it can be a mid-afternoon or early-evening tea and buffet affair, with mini-sandwiches, pastas, salads, and coffees and teas. If it's in the early evening, you may want cocktails followed by a three- or four-course meal. For a late evening reception, hors d'oeuvres and a light dinner may be desired.

When considering a buffet or a sit-down dinner, there is often little difference in cost. While the sit-down dinner requires more staffing, a buffet usually includes more food because you want the buffet table to look inviting.

When interviewing caterers, find out what services the caterer provides. Some include little more than food, while others include tables, linens, flowers, liquor, and cake. Do more than look at the menus: Sample their food.

Here are some other tips:

  • Get referrals from friends and family. If the site of your reception is not supplying catering services, they may be able to supply referrals.
  • Check references through local business organizations and associations and through the Better Business Bureau.
  • If you can visit an event the caterer is hosting, do so.
  • Find out what happens if you need to cancel or are not satisfied with the service. Make sure it is in writing.
  • As with all the other services you will be hiring, get the terms of service and prices in the form of a written contract.

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Making it Legal

At least a month before the wedding, the couple should start thinking about obtaining a marriage license. Rules vary from state to state, and most require some type of waiting period for blood tests and physical examinations. To find out about local requirements, the couple should ask the officiant of the service, or the city or county clerk's office where the ceremony will be held. It is at the clerk's office that the couple can obtain the license, which needs to be signed by the officiant, the bride and groom, and two witnesses before it is considered legal.

If the couple is married abroad, the couple should consult the country's consulate in the United States to find out what requirements are necessary for legally marrying in that country. The United States will not recognize a marriage unless it is legal in the country in which the ceremony is performed.

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