Everything for weddings

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Everything for weddings

Getting engaged can be one of the most memorable and exciting moments in your life. For t­he first few weeks after the proposal, you both feel dizzy with happiness and are bursting with anticipation. As well you both should be! You've met the man or woman of your dreams, you've decided to get married, and now it's time to plan the wedding -- the official celebration of your love and commitment.

As you plan this wonderful day, you both will continue to feel great joy, but may also experience a few butterflies and a little confusion. After all, organizing a ceremony and reception is a big undertaking.

There will be questions about anything and everything: from the meal (fish, chicken, or beef?) to the wedding gown (low-cut, fitted, or empire-waisted?) to the reception music (live band, small orchestra, or DJ?). There will be issues about budgets, guest lists, and styles.

But in the end, just remember what this day is really about -- a celebration of love. Stay focused, and keep organized. This is where this article comes in handy. It's packed with helpful information and useful worksheets that you both can click on and print out to help you stay on top of your wedding planning. You'll find:

  • checklists for keeping track of what needs to be done
  • useful charts for organizing the many little wedding-related details
  • worksheets for wading through vendor candidates and potential site possibilities
  • hint boxes loaded with valuable tips and other information

Plus, this article features special Stress-Busters and Budget Extenders tips that help you both tackle the tough problems and really stretch the wedding dollars.

Designed to help the engaged couple plan an entire wedding, from announcing the engagement and buying the rings to cutting your cake and planning the honeymoon, this article will help you both create a truly memorable day -- without driving yourselves crazy in the process.

Every wedding is different so there might be worksheets that you both will have to reprint to have enough to cover all of your guests or all of your vendor candidates. Conversely, there might be some worksheets that you won't need at all or that you might have to tweak to fit your needs.

Get started on the right track by beginning a list of important phone numbers -- from wedding party members to the florist and musicians. Then take a look at the next page to help you establish a budget and a timetable. You both also will find information about announcing your engagement and how to choose a ring -- that is, if you don't have your rings already!


Budget and Timetable

The engagement period will probably be the most gloriously tranquil time of a couple's wedding process. You both soon will be faced with decisions, compromises, and debates -- some simple, some funny, some tough, but all important.

While it's important to bask in all the happiness, there are also a few tasks that should be handled pretty quickly. The couple need to set the budget and a timetable for planning the wedding, buy the rings, and announce the engagement. Below are helpful tips on making the many choices surrounding these aspects of the wedding. Remember, you can click on the links for worksheets to help with each step.

Building a Budget

Setting a budget for the ceremony and wedding reception is somewhat easy -- you have what you have and that's that. Sticking to the budget is where things get tough. For now, the engaged couple needs to sit down with both sets of parents to discuss how much money they have, how much money they need, and who will be footing the bill for what part of the wedding.

It's going to be difficult at times, but try to plan a wedding within your means. Before you begin, determine apriority list for  the ceremony and the reception. Ask yourselves a silent question: Is what we are spending on this item really worth it to both of us? After all, needing five years to pay off the reception is not the way to go, especially since most newlyweds have a long list of wanna-haves, such as a first home and/or new furniture.

Setting the Date

Sit down together to determine a wedding date priority list. You both may want to include your families in this conversation, especially if they live out of town. Here are several important things to consider when choosing a date:

  • The honeymoon: Consider the type of honeymoon you both want. For instance, if you are both sun-worshipers, don't plan a wedding date when your favorite island is experiencing monsoon season.
  • Work schedules: You both may have work periods when you can't take time off. Select a date when your lives are least demanding.
  • Holidays and family occasions: Some couples go out of their way to schedule a wedding over a three-day weekend, so everyone has more time together. This idea works best if you send invitations at least eight weeks in advance; otherwise, people might already have plans.
  • The bride's menstrual cycle: The bride wants to look and feel her best on her wedding day. If she suffers unpredictable cycles, a quick chat with her gynecologist may bring up solutions.
  • Day of the week: Saturdays are generally the preferred wedding day. That way, out-of-town guests can easily stay overnight. Weekday dates result in many regrets.
  • Alternate dates: If possible, have a first-choice date and at least one backup date.

Once the couple decides on a date, the real fun can begin! Work backward from the chosen date to determine a timetable of what needs to be done when. Some tasks, such as mailing invitations and picking up the rings, obviously can't be checked off until two months before the Big Day. On the other hand, you both want to take care of other items -- booking a florist and reception site, for example -- at least a year in advance.


How to Choose a Ring

In decades past, the man got down on one knee, ring in hand, and proposed. Today, many couples jointly decide to become husband and wife. Likewise, they choose the rings together. It pays to know a few things first:

  • Find a jeweler you can trust. Use recommendations or family connections to find a jeweler you know to be honest and fair.
  • Select a style. There are many rings out there, with styles from heirloom to contemporary. Choose a style that reflects your personal tastes.
  • Set a price range. Have some sense of what you can afford before you even visit any jewelers. Most experts agree that the ring budget should total no more than the bride and groom's combined salaries for two months.
  • Know your diamond basics. There are four categories by which a jeweler assesses the worth of a diamond: cut, clarity, color, and carat (see "Knowing the Four C's").

Be sure to keep a good record of where the rings were purchased, how much they cost, the four C's of the diamond, etc. This will come in handy for insurance purposes and if you find something wrong with the rings after bringing them home.

Also, you both just spent potentially thousands of dollars with a jeweler, so take advantage of your new status as a valued customer and consider using the same jeweler to purchase the bride's attendants' gifts. Don't be timid about asking for a quantity price break.

Announcing the Engagement

One of the most wonderful duties the couple has during this period is announcing the engagement to the world. And while you both may have an urge to shout the news from a rooftop, there are a few more traditional ways to announce the engagement.

First, you'll need to call the "A" list -- friends and family who need to hear the news straight from the bride or groom. Take a moment to jot down the names and numbers; be certain you both don't forget anyone in your immediate circle. Schedule a few chunks of free time to make the calls. You both are going to have a lot to talk about!

Traditionally, the groom's mother contacts the bride's mother for congratulations and a get-acquainted chat. It's a nice gesture to write down the bride's mother's home phone number and mail it or personally give it to her future mother-in-law. If the two women have not yet officially met, the bride might want to add a few words of encouragement like, "My mom can't wait to hear from you. She already has lots of things to discuss!"


Newspaper and Magazine Announcements

Newly engaged couples often send an official announcement to their local newspaper and/or city magazine. They need to contact the publications to find out the submission deadlines, run dates, and photo requirements (you may want to keep anengagement photo log with key information). Be sure to keep track of the newspapers and magazines contacted so you both can buy up plenty of copies when the announcement is published.

A proper announcement includes:

  • Bride's full name
  • Groom's full name
  • Bride's mother's name
  • Groom's mother's name
  • Bride's father's name
  • Groom's father's name
  • Bride's parents' hometown and state
  • Groom's parents' hometown and state
  • Wedding site city, state
  • Season, month, and/or date of wedding

It is not recommended that the couple include addresses, since they will receive many wonderful gifts during the next few months and don't want to tip off burglars.

Engagement parties often occur soon after making the official announcement. Presents are not generally given; if, however, someone does bring a gift, be sure to promptly send a thank you card. It's an easy gesture to forget, since about now both of your minds are focused on wedding plans, and you probably do not yet have official thank you cards printed.

Did you both get through the budget, timetable, rings, and announcement without a hitch? Good for you! If not, take a deep breath. It will all work out, and there's a lot more to do! Let's move on to find out more about making the guest list and selecting invitations in the next section.


The Guest List and Wedding Stationery

The guest list affects many of the wedding decisions the engaged couple will make, including the selections for wedding stationery. So, before any of the invitations, stationery, and so on can be purchased, you both have to set the guest list and determine the total number of guests. We'll walk you through the process. And remember, you can click on the links for worksheets to help you with each step.

The Guest List

Your guest list generally drives other decisions, so it's often smart to write the list sooner rather than later. Two of the earliest concerns dependent on final guest count are the total budget and the invitation requirements.

The guest count has a trickle-down effect on just about all matters related to the wedding. If your list is extremely long, you both may want to ask only a handful of close friends and family to the ceremony and invite everyone to the reception. The size of the guest list can also affect the mood and tone of the day, as well as the size of your wedding party.

There are three steps to making a guest list:

  1. Do first things first: Some couplels like to set a guest count first and then set the budget accordingly. This is appropriate if they know upfront that they'll have a generous budget. Other couples like to set the budget and then determine how many guests can be invited. This is appropriate if they think funds will be tight.
  2. Divide the list by five: Divvy up the guest list between five categories: the bride's list; the groom's list; the couple's list of common friends; the groom's parents' list; and the bride's parents' list. (Sometimes it's easiest to allocate all family guests to the respective parents.)
  3. Whittle: Now begin removing names until you both hit your mark.

When it comes to the guest list, you both are likely to have some sticky situations. Remember, this is your party; within reason, the guest list is the bride's and groom's decision. But if you both find yourself growing weary or confused, here are a few hints:

  • If you both haven't seen or spoken to someone in over a year, he or she can probably come off the list.
  • If you both need to make cuts, select an entire group, like all business associates or all book club members. If anyone complains, simply explain that you're planning a small wedding.
  • If you both decide against having children at the ceremony, and the Smiths respond that they are coming with all four kids, handle it tactfully and directly. Call them up and say, "I'm sorry, but we simply can't accommodate children at the wedding."
  • If there is an "ex" in the bride or groom's background (this could mean girlfriends, boyfriends, in-laws, or stepparents), ask yourselves if everyone in the extended bridal party would feel comfortable about this person being invited. If you or anyone else might feel uneasy with this guest present, then he or she should be dropped from the list.

The Stationery

You both will need quite an assortment of printed items for the wedding. Depending on which printer you choose, the items included in the wedding stationery package will vary. (Be sure to look at all the package options before you make your stationery order to ensure you get everything you want -- and nothing you don't need.)

The Wedding Invitation Package

You can usually spot a wedding invitation in the mail a mile away -- it has a "LOVE" stamp in the corner and is bursting at the seams. To figure out why the envelope is so jam-packed, read on to find out more about what typically goes in a wedding invitation package.

  • The Ceremony Invitation and Envelope: The invitation announces the tone of the wedding and thus can take on any number of styles -- from traditional to unique. The wedding invitation itself traditionally comes from the bride's parents, but it can also come from the bride and groom. The tone or style of the invitation should reflect the tone or style of the ceremony and reception.There are several different invitation styles, from traditional to contemporary. All are perfectly acceptable. You both will, however, need to set a style before hiring a printer, since different shops have different printing capabilities. There are lots of places to look for style inspiration. You could look at friends' invitations, for example. You should also visit at least two printers and look at their sample books so that you can get an idea of what's available.
  • The Reception Invitation: The reception invitation can have three formats: It can be included on the same invitation as the ceremony information; it can be a separate invitation/card altogether; or if a guest is only invited to the reception, it can be used in place of the ceremony invitation.A combined invitation for both the reception and the ceremony is a great way to save money without sacrificing elegance. If the reception invitation is separate, however, the only thing to remember is that the card style should match that of the ceremony invitation. In other words, it should follow the traditional or contemporary style of the invitation.
  • The Response Card and Envelope: The response card addresses the reception only. It should have a line for the guest name(s), the number of people attending, and the menu choices (if needed). You both should also include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for the guest to return the response card. The card should have a final response date -- generally two to four weeks before the wedding.
  • Maps: It is increasingly common to include a map to the ceremony site and the reception site with the invitation. This could be a computer-generated map or one that you draw yourself. Just make sure that all of your lines and directions are clear before you give it to the printer. Also include a phone number for the destination. That way, the guest can call if he or she gets lost.

Other Printed Items

If you both know in advance the other printed items you would like at your wedding, ask the printer you've selected for your invitations to add in these items at a discount. This will not only save you money but will also ensure that each printed piece matches the style of the others.

  • Pew cards: If you plan a large wedding ceremony and want to make sure certain guests have reserved seats, insert a pew card into the invitation. When guests present this card to an usher, they will be seated accordingly. The pew card includes the guest name(s), the ceremony location, and the pew number and its section (the bride's side or the groom's side).
  • Place cards, matchbooks, napkins, etc.: You can include printed items -- such as napkins and matchbooks -- at the reception tables and scattered around the site, such as at the bar or the appetizer table. These printed pieces can include your names only; your names and wedding date; or the names, date, and a symbol, such as wedding bells. They are generally printed in a color that coordinates with your reception colors.
  • Wedding programs: The wedding program names the bride and groom, the officiant, all members of the wedding party, and any readers and soloists. It also lists the ceremony events, including all songs, prayers, and scriptures to be read. Ushers distribute the programs as well as seat the guests. Either your officiant or your church, synagogue, or temple coordinator can supply previous wedding programs for samples. You could also check with friends and your printer to see other examples.
  • Thank-You cards: Since you both will be writing many thank you cards during the coming months, it's nice to have appropriate thank you stationery printed fto use. These cards are small (generally folded and four inches by five inches) and are usually made of rich white or ivory paper. They have "Thank You," the bride's and groom's names, or their initials printed on the front. Be careful about how you print the names or initials, since the bride may need her maiden name on cards used before the ceremony and her married name on cards used after the ceremony.
  • Wedding announcements: A formal wedding announcement is mailed the day after the wedding to family and friends who couldn't be invited to the event. An announcement can also go to local newspapers and magazines. A newspaper or magazine wedding announcement is worded much like the engagement announcement.
  • At-Home cards: This card is sometimes included with the invitation or the wedding announcement. It tells whether the bride will be using her married or maiden last name and where the couple will live.

Show Proof of Proofing

Can you imagine anything more embarrassing than misspelling your future mother-in-law's name on the invitation? To avoid mistakes, enlist proofing help from at least three people -- preferably a mix of people from both sides. In addition, read each line in the invitation proof backward, from right to left. This forces you both to isolate each word. If you both question any name, circle it and phone someone to check the spelling. Use a dictionary to check other questionable words. As for dates, times, and sites, after you've double-checked this information, go back and check it all again. (And a third check wouldn't hurt, either!)

Addressing the Invitations

It may be tough to forgo the ease of computer-generated labels, but the invitations really should be hand-addressed. It is acceptable, however, to have your return address printed on the envelopes. If the invitation includes an inside envelope, repeat only the names of the guests (including any children under 16) on it. Persons 16 and older traditionally receive their own invitations. Single persons may have "and Guest" printed beside their name. Formal titles, such as Doctor or Reverend, should be spelled out.

Postage Prowess

Don't forget to include the postage costs in the invitation budget. And be certain to weigh the entire invitation to ensure correct postage. Ask your printer for a sample of your invitation, including every envelope (with the postage stamps), every enclosure, and every piece of tissue paper. These samples can be blank, since normal printing doesn't add weight. Take this sample to a post office and have it weighed.

Now that the guest list is set and the wedding stationery is ordered, the couple is ready to get into the nitty-gritty details of the ceremony and reception. On the next page, we will get started by learning more about choosing music for the ceremony and the reception as well as finding a florist.


Ceremony Music and Reception Music

The music and flowers play enormous parts in setting the mood for your wedding. Both of these speak to the day's romantic tone and serve to express the couple's style.

The average couple spends approximately 4 percent of their total budget on flowers and 5 percent on music. However, if you both choose to make the music and/or flowers a priority, you'll soon see how quickly your budget will climb.

Probably the most important thing to remember as you make final music and floral selections is that there are choices, including some very creative, very engaging, and possibly less expensive alternatives. We'll review some of them. And remember, you can click on the links for worksheets to help you with each step.

Ceremony Music

If the ceremony will be in a religious building, be sure to ask if there are any music restrictions. Instrumental music generally begins 30 minutes before the ceremony, and a solo is often performed immediately after the bride's mother is seated. The processional begins with an instrumental -- or sometimes a soloist -- and has a slow, even beat that you can walk to. After the final attendant is down the aisle and in place, special music announces the bride.

The bride's music can vary -- anywhere from traditional or contemporary, an instrumental or a soloist. The most popular choices are Wagner's "Bridal Chorus" ("Here Comes the Bride") and Mendelssohn's "Wedding March." You may also want one or two songs played during the ceremony. Finally, there's the recessional, which generally has a slightly quicker tempo.

No matter what you both select for your song list, take the time to find music that means something to you both -- or at least music that you both enjoy. And keep a worksheet on each of your ceremony musiciansthat lists contact information and other important details.

Reception Music

Unlike ceremony musicians, who need to reflect the moment's solemn, heartfelt ambiance, reception music is all about entertainment. It should inspire dancing, joyful singing, and all-around merriment.

If the ceremony and reception are hosted in the same building, you may be able to hire one set of musicians for both events. More often, however, you'll need separate musicians for the ceremony and the reception.

Below are a few ways to stretch your reception music budget, and surprisingly enough, these ideas can often lead you both to more creative and open-minded musical talent.

  • Hire a DJ rather than a band.
  • Hire a small band. It's a bit more expensive than a DJ but less costly than a full band.
  • Check out local universities or colleges for young talent. Remember, these students may be the same musicians to play at your baby sister's wedding years from now! Another bonus: Because they do not have a standard wedding repertoire, these musicians may be more open to learning special requests. (Be certain, though, to find someone reliable and trustworthy. The money you save isn't worth worrying about any last-minute problems.)

Once you select your reception musicians, create a music schedule to help them play key songs at certain times throughout the evening, such as the first dance and the bouquet toss.


The Flowers

You both will most likely be shocked and amazed at the sheer volume of flowers it takes to adorn a wedding. Even more amazing is the cost, especially since you're probably only used to buying small bouquets from a local florist or grocery store. But the right botanical display is a breathtaking addition to a wedding.

When interviewing florist candidates, find out how open they are to working within your budget. The best florist is one that can be creative and provide you with unique yet reasonably priced arrangements. Here are a few tried-and-true ways to extend the flower budget:

  • Use in-season flowers. While your florist can generally get almost any flower you want, in-season selections tend to cost less.
  • Use lots of greenery. For bouquets, you could instruct the florist to retain more stem leaves (requesting, of course, that only unblemished foliage can be used). Or, you could entwine a few perfect blossoms within ivy garlands.
  • Limit the number of attendants. Remember, every person participating in your wedding requires either a bouquet, corsage, or boutonniere. Fewer bridal attendants means fewer costly floral arrangements.
  • Consider tabletop alternatives. Alternatives like balloons mixed with only a few flowers, candles surrounded by ivy garlands, and heavenly scented herb arrangements can lower your floral costs. You might also want to consider renting bonsai or small topiary trees.
  • Use the ceremony flowers at your reception as well. One caution: There may be a slight up-charge if you'd like the florist to transport and set up the ceremony flowers at the reception site. However, sometimes this cost is far lower than purchasing flowers for two separate locations. Of course, you also could ask a friend to be in charge of transporting the flowers and setting them up.
  • Share the ceremony flower cost with another couple. Oftentimes, ceremony flowers are designed to decorate specific areas within the church, synagogue, or temple. This may make it impractical to move and reuse the flowers at the reception. In this case, you may want to try splitting the ceremony flower costs with another couple. Ask the contact person at your church, synagogue, or temple if there is another wedding the day before or after yours. If yes, call that couple, and see if they are open to this huge cost-cutting measure.
  • Simplify. Sometimes less really is more -- especially if your wedding style is particularly elegant or sophisticated. For example, if the bride's gown is a simple sheath, select a bouquet of one dramatic, breathtaking flower surrounded by beautiful ribbon.

As with all of the vendors associated with the wedding, keep a contact sheet handy that includes all the key information about your florist. Use this sheet to record notes from each meeting you both have with him or her. Also create a detailed list of your flower order that sums up what needs to go where and get into whose hands or on whose lapel.


Since you've spent all this time picking the right music, musicians, and flowers, you want to make sure you properly document how beautiful it all turns out. In the next section, we will discuss how to select a photographer and videographer.



The wedding photographs preserve forever the magnificence and magic of your wedding day. Your wedding video, on the other hand, tends to capture those precious and often spontaneous moments that defy the limitations of still photography.

Take the time to carefully select both the wedding photographer and videographer. Remember, these are the people who are in charge of recording your precious memories. Remember, you can click on the links for worksheets to help you with each step.

The Photography

Amazingly enough, the couple can plan, delight in, and obsess about their wedding day for 12 months, and then -- poof! -- everything's over before they know it. Even though the guests will appreciate every effort you both took to make this a memorable day, you both may find yourselves barely able to remember the menu, let alone the white roses at the end of the aisle.

For these reasons and a million more, your photographer will eventually (say, on your fifth wedding anniversary) become one of the most important persons to have attended your ceremony and reception.

Choosing a Photographer

Do your homework. Ask recently married couples for recommendations. Take a lot of uninterrupted time to study a photographer's portfolio. Look for technical skill, including clear, well-lit photos. Study the bride's and groom's faces: Was the photographer able to capture that nano-second where the bride's eyes expressed the love in her heart rather than the butterflies in her stomach? Despite being posed, do the traditional shots still have a sense of candid happiness, or do they seem flat and unanimated? Does the photographer use multiple-image, split-frame, or other creative techniques?

There are important questions for you both to ask during initial interviews with photographer candidates, such as the rate per hour, extra potential costs, photographer's attire, and number of assistants to be used. There are also definite ways to make the search for a photographer a little easier. For example, you should:

  • Start early. The best photographers are booked months in advance. Since you want plenty of time to interview and review more than one photographer, it's best to begin this task as soon as possible.
  • Ask to see friends' and relatives' wedding albums. Recommendations are great, but actually seeing the photographer's work is better still.
  • Attend bridal fairs. Photographers often have booths at these fairs. You can look at portfolios, collect business cards, and check for available dates. It's also a great way to see several photographers without having to drive all over town.
  • Ask your caterer, florist, and musicians for recommendations. These people are in the wedding business, and they've probably seen it all. Of course, their recommendations will probably be from a different perspective. For example, this photographer did not get in the way as food was served, and that photographer got right in the middle of the dance floor and captured every move. In the end, these are all important viewpoints that the average bride might not know to consider.
  • Interview several choices. You both may think that wedding photographs are all the same, but they really aren't. There are different levels of creativity, talent, and technical skill. After talking to several photographers, you'll begin to understand the differences, and you'll spot the right person.
  • Consider your chemistry with each photographer interviewed. While a photographer's portfolio is his best recommendation, it's also important to consider how you get along with this person. If you both prefer a take-charge, assertive person, look for these qualities during the interview. On the other hand, if you want someone who's laid-back and goes with the flow, watch for this attitude.
  • Consider a photographer's creativity. When reviewing a photographer's portfolio, look for black-and-white treatments, multiple images, and other creative techniques. Don't be shy about making special requests. If a friend's wedding album catches your eye, ask if you can borrow her book and show it to each photographer you interview.
  • Make sure your photographer has wedding-specific experience. Photographers who specialize in animal shots or formal portraits are probably not your best bet. You want someone who understands what a wedding album means.


Getting the Important Shots

If there are people at your wedding who you especially want photographed, make sure the photographer meets these people. Introducing the photographer to your great-grandmother is a nice responsibility for your maid/matron of honor. And be sure to make these special requests clearly known before the wedding day.

Wedding Photography Trends

Several trends in wedding day photography can make the entire process much more predictable and less stressful. Ultimately, the ideas below can give you more free time on the wedding day.

  • Take the formal shots the day or week before your ceremony. Yes, the groom will have to see the bride in her gown, but the benefits of a calm, unhurried session often outweigh any superstitions! Also, a pre-wedding-day photography session gives you both a true dress rehearsal.
  • Take more candid shots. There is something captivating about well-taken candid photographs. Some great candid opportunities are when everyone is getting ready, between formal shots when everyone is happy and playful, and as the bride awaits her first step down the aisle.
  • Request creative techniques. Black-and-white or black-and-white hand-tinted photos, double exposures, or special filters all offer unique and captivating results.

Once you both have determined which specific shots are important and when you would like the photographer to take these shots, create a photography schedule to keep him or her on track. And while you're at it, make a contact sheet with the details of your wedding package along with basic information about the photographer. This will make sure you and the photographer are on the same page and eliminate any potential for surprises.


The Videographer

Like the photographer, the videographer is responsible for capturing memories. What sets the video apart from the wedding album is that video tends to be more action- and sound-oriented and thus has the potential for being more spontaneous and candid. There's no better way to remember the informal but nonetheless remarkable moments of your day.


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