Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Lessons in Wedding Planning

It's no secret that since April, the creativity and energy that I've put into this blog has been on the back burner. The reason for this is two-fold: my workplace blocked Blogger.com so I couldn't work on my posts during my lunch time anymore, and then when I got home at night I either had wedding planning activities to do or simply didn't want to stare at the computer screen after being at my computer all day at work.

I guess it has all worked out well because Mr. Max and I have been making a lot of repeat meals and things that haven't felt very sharable, very "blog worthy." We've also been on a wrap and salad kick - by we, I mean me, but he eats what I make, so it's now we. When I get the urge to write, I will create invitation wording examples, new tabs on the master spreadsheet for lists... lots and lots of color coded lists. As an event planner, my busiest times of the year are like school semesters. We have our spring event season running from end of January through first of June, then have a brief respite during the summer to gear up and prepare for the big fall event season starting middle of September through the first weekend of December, then have end of year wrap up and "winter break". So when are we getting married? The second weekend of December! I'm using this summer lull and lack of "crazy" at work to knock out all things wedding. The plan is that everything we can get done ahead of time WILL be done by the end of August, and proud to say that is right on track. Looking at my timelines though, there are just some things that can't be done until that three month stretch, so I make lists and write out plans to think through my strategy to do them when they will happen. That way it's already been thought out so when the time comes, I already have a plan in place. Sometimes the stressful part of planning is thinking through how to do something in order to get it done. Meaning you have to plan, to plan.

When you get engaged, there are a series of the "usual suspect" questions. One of the firsts you will get from every person you see: "so, how's the wedding planning going?" People who know me know that this is my trade! I've worked for six years planning events, I look at this as the biggest (by way of importance) and best event I'll get to plan. However, six years of non-profit planning experience doesn't fully prepare you for wedding planning, but it does help. So far I've been able to use my florist and my rental company contacts, my paper store and printer are ready when we say go, but when it comes to the dress, a wedding photographer, cakes, and a band.... these are things I haven't used in my work event capacity, so it was a new experience.

From engagement to the day we say "I Do," it will be just shy of 8 months for the planning process. For us as a couple, that is a perfect time frame but everyone is different! Aside from cooking, event planning is another big part of my life and at times can be a hobby when separate from work, so today I've decided to shed the apron and share my top three lessons so far in the Wedding Planning process.

Lesson #1: Negotiation

In the non-profit world, I am always working against a tight budget. Sometimes there isn't even a budget because there is no money to start with and what you spend goes against what you raise. To counteract that, you work to get as much discounted or donated as possible. I would say 8 out of 10 girls also have to work against a wedding budget and I do fall in that 80 percentile that need to be savvy and creative to wheel and deal. My experience in this professionally has been a helpful tool and lesson number one of wedding planning: you can always talk down the original asking price from a vendor.

From photographer to band, you can negotiate and lower the price, never agree to the asking price off the bat. For example, when we first reached out to the band, they quoted us $X amount. After going to see them, telling them what we need and asking about their lighting resources, after two weeks, we got our band to include a 9 piece set for 4 hours, audio tech and basic lighting with 30 room pinspots, the stage trellis, a spotlight and gobo less than the price they originally quoted us for just an 8 piece band and stage lighting.

With our photographer, we had such a great connection. The package that had everything we wanted was a little higher than we had set in the budget and it didn't include tax. After talking with them for about a week, we got them to come down and throw in the actual 18x20 bridal portrait print for no cost. They also come to the church rehearsal for their own rehearsal, walking the church, seeing where we will be, taking practice shots of view and meeting our family and friends to establish relationships with them.

With vendors, it's like retail. They will have some kind of upcharge but you can always get them lower than the asking price; if not the "at-cost" value, at least the "on-sale," discounted value. Work the relationships, get to know them, them you, and they will come to a compromise because they want to work with you!

Lesson #2: Time of Year

2.)  Going along with the first lesson, the second lesson is to be conscientious of the time of year because it can help or hurt your budget. People have started asking me if I had always wanted a winter wedding. I never really had a "set time" of year, just not the summer. When I began planning events, I quickly learned that fall was cheaper but since that time, it has become a more popular wedding/event season than spring and summer, so the rates are now much more comparable. When I knew Mr. Max was "the one" I kept thinking how dreadful it would be to invite all his friends and family from the Midwest to Texas during certain months. Leaving their comfortable 80 degree perfect summer to triple-digit, stifling heat; they would hate Texas, so my only thought was I couldn't do summer. Another trick I learned early on is that churches decorate for Easter and Christmas right? Well if you get married within 2-3 weeks of those holidays, your church will more than likely already be decorated with floral. Sure enough, the morning of our wedding, our church plans to install their annual Christmas flowers of white hydrangeas and deep red poinsettias in the alter area. We were able to save money by not needing any floral for the ceremony other than bouquets and boutineers!

However, we also ran into a problem that luckily did not end up effecting us, but it could have and it was one that I didn't even think about at the time. Quickly after setting our date, we were faced with the reality that our wedding date is a very popular corporate Christmas party date. Many of the venues I first reached out to candidly shared with me that the food and beverage minimums to book were higher because they were "expected to book" and they make more from corporate parties than weddings. So not only did we have a wedding price tag on us but this "expected to book" price tag that increased those minimums by $10,000 to $20,000! The venue we chose was an exception to this, fortunately we did not have this as a factor.

Lesson #3: The Two-Thirds Rule and Guest Lists

Finally, the third lesson to share is helpful in your guest list planning. This is one I learned six years ago on my very first event and it has held true with nearly all events I've done that receive formal invitations.

Your venue can hold 200 people. So, how many people do you invite? Two-thirds, or 65% of your guest list will be able to attend - leave room for those that cannot attend but you will still send an invitation to. This is deemed as the two-thirds rule, or 65% factor and it is what planners, caterers and florists will operate by when it comes to planning for a party, like it is the 11th commandment. There is always the exception to the rule but when you are working with mass numbers, take this into consideration!

For us, the list was possibly the hardest part so far. If your venue will hold 260, then this theory says you invite 400 people. Does that give you anxiety? Don't worry about it! Especially when you are looking at a large number of travelers, you have to think that some may not be able to make it in due to family, work or financial conflicts. Even people in town can have other things going on, fall ill or have circumstances preventing them from attending even though it is your big day.

Also, remember that you are typically inviting in two's. For Mr. Max and me, we are in our late 20's. Most of our family members, friends and family friends are married or are a pair. If one can't make it, the other probably will not either. If you really get into a crunch on the list, shave off the "+1" additions in accordance to the late, great Emily Post. It is better to nix the ability for someone to bring a date that you may not know, than to have to cut people that you do know and would want to have at your wedding.

Last, I will leave you with a little fun fact. Have you ever wondered what RSVP stands for? What does it mean, is it an anagram? It is French for répondez s’il vous plaît!

Until next time,

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