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15 Steps to Your Perfect Wedding

Congratulations! You’re getting ready for the happiest day of your life. Unfortunately, the year or so leading up to that day might be filled with stress, confusion, and exhaustion. Don’t worry. Planning the perfect wedding doesn’t have to be that bad. I recently planned a wedding myself. The seemingly endless little details may drive you crazy, but I found that there are just 15 things you need to concentrate on in order to have a perfect wedding.

Step 1: Budget. Whether you are spending $30,000 or $3,000 you can have a beautiful, meaningful wedding. Decide what is most important to you and then be creative. When planning your budget you will need to decide which of these items you want to include in your wedding and how much money to spend on each:


Wedding dress
Undergarments—special bra, crinoline, garter
Veil/Hair Jewelry

Church Rental/Fees

Reception Rental/Fees

Catering Fees

Alcohol, Drinks


Bridal Bouquet
Bouquets for the Bridesmaids Maid of Honor
Bouquets for the Mothers of the Bride and Groom
Boutonnieres for the Groom and Groomsmen
Reception Tables




Cocktail Hour

Wedding Cake

Cake Topper

Wedding Favors

Gifts for Wedding Party Attendants

Gifts for the Parents of the Bride and Groom

Hair and Makeup

Stationary Items:

Save the Date
Wedding Programs
Place Cards
Menu Cards
Thank you Cards


Serving Set
Toasting Flutes
Ring Bearer Pillow
Flower Girl Basket
Flower Petals or other item to toss on Bride and Groom


Maitre d’
Limo Driver

You do not need to include or buy every item. Wearing your mother’s wedding dress or using your parents’ cake topper will save money and add meaning to your day. There are also things that you can make; such as the ring pillow or wedding favors. Some items you can exclude all together. My husband and I decided to hire a photographer but no videographer.

Step 2: Size. The size of your guest list will depend on personal preference and budget. Some brides dream of a huge wedding with 300 guests, while others prefer an intimate ceremony with only close friends and family. We settled on 100 guests–large enough to invite who we really wanted to come and small enough that it still felt personal.

Step 3: Planning and Scheduling. Planning and follow-up are the most important factors in getting the wedding you want. That beautiful atrium in the park is probably booked years in advance as are many beautiful, old churches. Even if you are planning to get married in your own church and use its reception hall, you’ll need to find out about fees and availability. Research reception locations by looking in local bridal magazines, newspaper bridal sections and online. If a friend or family member has a beautiful back yard, you may want to have your wedding there. It would make an excellent wedding present. Choosing the locations of your ceremony and reception should be the first thing you do after settling on a budget. You can not plan or schedule anything until you know when and where everything will happen.

Step 4: Food and Alcohol. The food you give your guests does not have to be expensive. They are there to witness your marriage and celebrate with you. If you serve Chicken Francaise instead of Filet Mignon they will not enjoy themselves less. For drinks, you have many options. You may decide not to serve alcohol. Or, you may serve one or two special drinks—you can even name one after yourself and your groom. You may also decide to offer an open bar. Remember that alcohol can eat up a large portion of your budget. Talk to the caterer about your options.

Step 5: Wedding Party. The size of your wedding party should match the size of your wedding. If you have 300 guests, 10 bridesmaids and 10 groomsmen will fit right in. But, if you have 80 guests in a small church, it may look comical trying to fit those 20 attendants on the small church alter.

Step 6: Music. If you are having a church wedding, ask the priest or pastor if he can recommend someone to play the ceremony music. Or, you may know someone who could play at your wedding as a wedding gift. For your reception, should you choose a band or a DJ? Having a live band at your reception can be special, but expensive. We chose to have a DJ, not just for the savings but because he could play any song and it would sound great. Whatever you choose, go over what is required. Are there any songs you DO NOT want played? Do you want the DJ or musician to introduce the wedding party, start off the first dance, and announce when it is time to cut the cake? Often this is included, if not—speak to whoever is in charge of your reception location and find out if they offer this service.

Step 7: Traditions. Some couples disregard traditions. Other couples want to include them or even start their own. The biggest tradition is probably the bride carrying “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.” But, there are many other traditions you can incorporate. If you don’t wear your mother’s wedding dress, you may want to pin a piece of its lace onto your slip or tie it around your bouquet. You can wrap a family locket around your bouquet with pictures of you and your groom. I attached my mother’s antique brooch, which had been handed down from my grandmother, to a chain and wore it as a necklace. It made me feel as if they were with me on my wedding day and it meant a lot.

Step 8: Invitations. Invitations are another item that can be surprisingly expensive. They don’t have to be. I knew exactly what type of invitation I wanted, but at a stationer, it would have cost $800 to $1000. I did a lot of searching online and was able to order two less expensive sets of invitations, put them together how I wanted and ended up spending less than $400. Places like Staples and Michael’s also have nice invitations that you can print yourself at home for less than $100.

Step 9: Photographer. This is where we spent a bigger portion of our budget (Only the reception location, with food included, cost more). Even if our wedding was the best wedding in the world, it would only last for a few hours. With good pictures, we could relive it over and over. When you look for a photographer, ask questions. Who will be the photographer? What if he is sick? If you hire a company that has several photographers you may be shown sample wedding photographs from the best photographer. You sign up. Then on your wedding day “your” photographer can’t make it and someone else shows up—someone probably much less talented. Also, ask if the photographer will shoot in color, black and white, or both. Will he shoot traditional shots, photojournalism, or both? Will you be able to keep the proofs? Can you buy the negatives? How much time will the photographer spend at your wedding? Will he also take photos of the bride and groom preparing for the wedding?

Step 10: Dress. Some brides feel they need to spend a lot of money on “the dress.” My husband thought my dress would be the biggest expense, but it was one of the smallest. The dress I fell in love with happened to be on sale because it was discontinued. It was just my size! I didn’t even need alterations. How often does that happen?! Even if you are not that lucky, there are thousands of beautiful wedding dresses between $150 and $850. Check out the large bridal stores as well as your local bridal shops. If you like tradition, you can wear your mother’s wedding dress and have it altered to fit your style. You want to love your wedding dress, but remember—you will only wear it one time for about 8 hours.

Step 11: Flowers. Choose flowers that match your wedding colors. Your local florist can make suggestions and tell which flowers will be in season (they will be less expensive). The flower arrangements were one thing I should have followed-up on with a second meeting. I told the florist exactly what I wanted for my bridal bouquet—deep red roses, no greenery, long matching ribbons (which I provided), and how I wanted the roses gathered. I even gave her a picture. We also discussed the attendants’ bouquets and flowers for the reception tables. The day of the wedding, the attendants’ flowers were more beautiful than I imagined and the table flowers were gorgeous. My bridal bouquet was almost nothing like what I had asked for. I had red roses, but also plenty of greenery, no ribbons, and an ugly plastic piece that held the flowers. The wedding was in an hour and there was nothing I could do. I tried to put it out of my mind and concentrated on everything else that was wonderful about that day. Remember—follow up is one of the most important factors in getting the wedding you want.

Step 12: Hair Makeup. Many brides go to a salon and have their hair and makeup done. If you do, have a trial run so you know you will be happy with the results on your wedding day. Going to a salon is not a necessity. You may decide to do your own hair and makeup or have a friend do it. You can schedule practice sessions and try several hairstyles to get it perfect.

Step 13: Cake. Many reception halls provide the wedding cake. Mine did. However, I was not happy with my choices. They agreed to make the red velvet cake I requested, but not the decoration I wanted. I had seen exactly what I wanted in a wedding magazine so I called the bakery listed in the back. The baker was able to make the decoration (without the cake) and ship it to my reception hall. The nice people at the hall, accepted the shipment and put the decoration on the cake. It was perfect! If you plan to do something like this, make sure everyone involved is willing to do their part. Then follow through and make sure the shipment is sent, that it arrives, and that the cake maker knows how to arrange the decorations (give her a picture).

Step 14: Favors. These little mementos are small tokens of appreciation to your guests for sharing in your special day. There are many options to choose from. You can give something that matches the theme of your wedding, such as starfish wine stoppers if you are having a beach wedding. Or, you can give something that symbolizes the love you share with your new husband such as a scented candle with the monogram you share as a couple. You can give something edible such as the traditional chocolate covered almonds, or you can make your own favors. Just try to give something your guests will appreciate and use. A wine glass with your and your groom’s name and wedding date may be pretty, but not very practical to a guest.

Step 15: Relax! You’ve done the research. You’ve done the planning. You’ve done the shopping and creating. And, you’ve done the follow-up. It’s now time to relax and enjoy the day. Don’t worry about the little things that go wrong—because something will go wrong (remember my wedding bouquet?). The important thing is that at the end of the day—after the ceremony that is witnessed by your friends and family, after the dancing and laughing and partying—you will be married. You and your groom are starting your new life together. That’s the most important thing.

diane farley owns and operates http://www.smashwedding.com where brides can find memorable wedding favors, quality attendant gifts, and other wedding necessities.

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Listed: October 24, 2008 4:08 pm