The good, the bad and the ugly. What to do – and what not to do – when it comes to planning.
DO remember that ‘this is a joyous celebration, not a competition about who can throw the most lavish party,’ as money expert Joan Baker points out. ‘Think affordable fun and think outside the square – a wedding on the beach, in the bush or at a bach...’ Another way to keep costs down, Joan suggests, is by choosing a more economical catering option, such as a barbecue or good old-fashioned picnic rather than entertaining guests at a five-star hotel or restaurant.
DON'T blow the budget! ‘Never lose track of your other financial commitments, such as a deposit on a house,’ Joan says. ‘They are much more enduring and important than dresses, cakes and flowers. Remember, this is about a single day versus your financial health during the years ahead.’
One more thing Use a budget tracker to help with your wedding planning.
DO include your family and friends in the planning process. Delegating will make things easier for you and the earlier you distribute responsibilities, the less stress you (and those who are lending a helpful hand) will experience.
DON'T be swayed too much by others’ opinions. ‘From parents to friends – although they mean best, don’t let a “been there, done that” attitude put you off following your personal wedding vision,’ says professional life designer Sian Jaquet. ‘If that translates to a medieval-themed celebration complete with a three metre-long train and grand entrance on horseback, so be it.’
One more thing If your parents are financing some of the wedding day elements, they may have a vested interest in their voice being heard. Before you accept any cash contributions from them towards the celebration, Sian insists you need to be clear about any expectations they may have. ‘Whether that’s inviting 20 of their closest friends or deciding on the menu, the beverage selection or the venue, communicating boundaries will help make sure that you’re all on the same page.’
The bridal party
DO choose people who love you, can be trusted and will be honest with you yet respect your feelings. ‘It’s important that you let them know how much they mean to you in the lead-up to the wedding, too,’ says wedding planner Emma Newman.
DON'T forget to communicate with your bridal party. ‘Ask for what you need without sounding like a control freak – be individual, be specific and use a little humour,’ advises Sian.
One more thing ‘If you have very clear ideas or are focused on having traditional roles and responsibilities for everyone in the bridal party – tell them,’ says Sian. ‘A short, one-page note explaining what you need them to do will do the trick.’
DO position the bride’s name before the groom’s on the invitations. ‘It’s a common misconception that the man’s name comes first,’ says Lucy Thornton from Cocoa Berry Design. ‘Traditionally, it’s women before men!’
DON'T get overly wordy with your invite. ‘Keep it clean and simple – if you have a lot of details to give to your guests, an extra information card will come in handy,’ Lucy says.
One more thing If your parents are hosting the wedding it is customary for the invitation to be from their perspective. It would read something like this: ‘Mr John and Jane Smith cordially invite you to the wedding of their daughter, Justine Smith…’
The out-of-town guests
DO provide welcome bags for those travelling from afar. Include items such as a local map, a culinary treat reflective of the region, and recommendations of local restaurants and activities that will appeal to a variety of intents and budgets.
DON'T forget to mention them in your speech. ‘If guests have travelled a long way to attend the event, it’s a nice gesture to let them know how much you appreciate their attendance,’ suggests Emma.
One more thing Consider setting up a bridal registry online. Whether it’s a contribution to your honeymoon or a present for your first home as a married couple, overseas guests can buy you a gift via the net and avoid the hassle of bringing it with them.
DO be upfront about whether you want kids to attend the wedding. ‘If you don’t, then just say so,’ advises Sian. ‘I once received a handwritten note with a wedding invitation saying that the bride and groom loved our kids but had decided not to include children at their wedding. They asked if instead, they could take the kids on an outing a few weeks after the day to spend some time with them on their own. It was a nice gesture – it made us as parents feel that our little scallywags were special and it gave us a weekend away as a couple. Just don’t feel pressured either way, it’s your day, so do it your way!’
DON'T make exceptions when it comes to including children on the guest list – have a rule and stick to it. It’s not fair to include your sister’s children but not your best friend’s.
One more thing If you choose to invite children to your wedding, consider hiring a babysitter for the reception, or set up a children’s entertainment table so they can have fun playing games or with toys while the adults enjoy themselves.
The suppliers and service providers
DO track your correspondence and have all your contracts in writing – including agreed rates. Keep your receipts to cover yourself legally, and file them together so you can refer back to them when needed.
DON'T feel embarrassed to ask for an option that is not included in a vendor or service provider’s package. By clearly communicating your needs, you’ll maximise the opportunity for the best results.
One more thing Mind your manners. ‘Suppliers are not your entourage,’ Emma says. If they are providing a service for more than four hours, organise food and beverages for them to show that you appreciate their hard work.
The seating plan
DO distribute genders evenly. ‘It will guarantee a good flow of conversation and fun,’ says psychologist Sara Chatwin. ‘And if there are singles attending, you could even match-make a little.’
DON'T group people together who have dramatically opposing religious or political views – it can be a recipe for disaster. ‘What may start out as harmless banter at the beginning of the evening can take a turn for the worse and end in tears, especially as more alcohol is consumed,’ Sara says.
One more thing Do you plan to seat guests at particular tables but don’t want to designate specific seats? Then reserve place cards only for your parents – traditionally they’re the only ones who need preferred seating, at the reception as well as the ceremony.
DO think outside the square. ‘Aside from the words you are legally required to say, the ceremony should reflect your personalities,’ says celebrant Kay Gregory. ‘Don’t be drawn into doing things the way all your friends have done them. You can work with your celebrant to create a ceremony that you feel comfortable with. Often, elements such as readings or songs are incorporated into a ceremony because that’s the way it’s always done – but that doesn’t have to be the case.’
DON'T forget that a good MC is vital for the ceremony to run smoothly. ‘They should work with the celebrant to make sure everyone is within earshot, that immediate family members are in the right place, and that the sound system and music are working properly,’ Kay says. ‘The role of the MC has changed from just being involved in the reception, to helping ensure that the entire ceremony goes well. This role needs someone assertive!’
One more thing ‘Make sure you spend time on your vows and what you want to say – after all, it is the most important part of the day,’ Emma says.
DO compile a list of the guests you want to feature in the group and family photos, suggests photographer Bruce Gabites from Fine Photography. ‘That way your photographer’s assistant or wedding planner can make sure that no one is missing in any of the frames.’ And don’t forget to have a group photo taken, featuring all of your guests.
DON'T disappear to have your bridal photographs taken for hours on end. ‘It’s not fair to your guests,’ Emma says. ‘If you want to dedicate more time to the pictures, book your photographer for a session on another day, or organise to have the shoot before the ceremony.’
One more thing Consider the time of year that you are getting married so you have enough light to take the photos. Sally Blake* learnt her lesson the hard way: ‘Once we’d sent out our invites, we realised that our wedding coincided with daylight savings. This meant we had a whole hour less light to have our photos taken and had to book a time with our photographer and bridal party to finish them on another day.’
DO organise a microphone, especially if you’re outside – you won’t want guests to pull a muscle from craning their necks to hear the speeches. Ask your MC to have the mic ready and set up for your height well in advance.
DON'T feel the need to thank each and every guest separately – this could go on for hours and is unnecessary. Instead, mingle with your guests during the reception so they feel acknowledged.
One more thing Consider leaving the floor open for others who wish to put a few words in after the formal speeches have finished. But be careful not to leave it too late in the reception – otherwise you may be faced with alcohol-fuelled ramblings!
DO provide non-alcoholic drinks and make plenty of food available if you’re serving booze. For Lara Tolich* and her partner, serving refreshing, non-alcoholic beverages to guests before the ceremony was a priority. ‘We married in summer on an incredibly hot day, so we organised for our guests to be greeted with a cooling lemon and barley drink before the ceremony. It made a big difference to them, because by the time the reception started they were well hydrated and ready to party with some champagne!’
DON'T be overly worried about which types of alcohol to serve. Select one varietal of wine (one red; one white), one beer option and some non-alcoholic drinks. This will help keep the budget down, too.
One more thing If you’re planning a celebration that will go into the wee hours of the morning, serve late-night snacks. Whether it’s fish and chips or sausages over a bonfire, have something ready to soak up the booze and to keep those energy levels stable.
The comfort levels
DO make sure your guests are well looked after come rain or shine. In mid-summer, distribute parasols to provide shade from the scorching sun, and have cold water on hand. In cooler months, place baskets with blankets near the entry of the reception venue to ward off a chill.
DON'T turn your back on your guests during the ceremony. They should be able to see the bride and groom’s face, either from the front or side-on. Also consider the level the sun will be at if you’re marrying outside – you don’t want your guests squinting.
One more thing Remind your bridal party and guests to remove their sunglasses for the portrait session.
DO take time out from all the wedding talk and wedding planning by going to the movies, strolling along the beach or eating out, Emma says. And make sure you keep your partner up-to-date with your plans so there are no surprises, Sara adds. ‘Be specific about what you want and expect from him, and give him some positive reinforcement for his input. After all, a happy man is a handy man to have about!’
DON'T expect your fiancé to be as excited about the wedding details as you are, Emma says. ‘This is not to say you can’t take him on the journey with you.’ Sian says it’s important not to be patronising or bossy: ‘Don’t treat him like a hired extra on a film shoot. “Wear this, stand there, say these lines – enough said!”’
One more thing Emma suggests giving your fiancé a card or small gift to open on the morning of the wedding when you are not with them, to let them know how much you care.
*Some names have been changed.