Planning Articles

The Rehersal Dinner

A formal dinner that follows the wedding rehearsal is a very old tradition. It represents an opportunity to bring the parents of the bride and groom, and possibly the best man and maid of honor, together. In some cases, it will be the first time these wedding party members have even met.

A rehearsal dinner isn't mandatory. But it is an excellent way to bring together some of the wedding party and thank everyone for helping out. It also can cement or initiate some social bonds that will make the marriage easier during its early days, which can be bumpy.

No specific practices are set in stone, but there are some common elements.

The dinner often presents the perfect chance to toast all those present for their support. Add a practical element to that important emotional gesture. The dinner is a good time to give gifts to many of those involved in the actual wedding.

The groom's parents traditionally paid for the rehearsal dinner, but times are changing. As social rituals evolve, more couples have elected to incur the cost themselves. In most wedding budgets it represents a modest percentage of the total, so financially it's usually feasible.

Similarly, planning the event has shifted. It was often seen in days past as a way of celebrating the bride and groom, and particularly her efforts in planning the wedding. So, the task was taken up by the groom's mother. This relieved the bride of at least one item on a very long list. Today, many couples choose to plan the rehearsal dinner along with the rehearsal. That puts it back on the prospective bride's shoulders, but many prefer it this way.

In theory, anyone who has a part in the ceremony may be invited. But again there are no rules set in stone here. Some couples choose to open it up to include close friends. Others want to restrict the rehearsal dinner to a much more intimate setting that includes only parents and the bride and groom.

Printed invitations are still a good idea, though some of that activity has shifted to the Internet. This makes it easy to track who is coming and who isn't and saves on printing and mailing costs. Be sure to send them out well in advance in either case. 

It isn't mandatory to eat at the most expensive restaurant in town. But if you plan to have a rehearsal dinner at all, something a little nicer than the usual is appropriate.

Here again, reservations should be made at least a week in advance. Few fine restaurants can accommodate a party of 6 or 8 or 12 with only a few hours notice. That's especially true for the majority of wedding rehearsals that take place the Friday before a Saturday wedding or during the highly busy summer season.

Relax at your wedding rehearsal dinner. It's probably the last time you will before the big day.



Planning Your Ceremony

Many aspects of wedding planning can engage your interest. You want the catering at the reception to be just right. You want to select just the right wedding favors. You need to coordinate the transportation very carefully. But the wedding ceremony is the very heart of the entire enterprise, in both senses of the word.

But, far from creating anxiety, this task can be carried out with great success by anyone who takes it one step at a time.

Those first steps will involve considering the decorations for the actual ceremony. That can be something as simple as colorful bows tied onto the pew. Or, it can involve an entire sub-contractor completely decking out the venue with flowers, ribbons, a lovely arch or chuppah, and more. Much depends on the venue you reserved.

Most will want to give some thought to music. While reading poetry or literature is an honored and delightful custom, the music helps set the mood from the moment the first guest enters. It can be the traditional tunes or it may be your favorite Beach Boys song to enhance your chosen theme. Whatever you choose, don't overpower everyone with it. It should be in the background. You are in the foreground.

You'll want to sketch out and rehearse the processional. The ring bearer and flower girl are still part of many ceremonies. The parents of the bride and groom often walk down the aisle. Naturally, the entrance of the bride needs to be coordinated. 

Many choose to add personal touches within each of these standard steps. For example, the priest and groom may enter from the side door, then the groomsmen and bridesmaids enter. Usually those furthest from the bride and groom go first. But there are many variations depending on religion, custom and personal choice.

You'll want to plan out your vows. Many choose to follow the tradition of repeating the chosen words of a priest or pastor. Others prefer a more contemporary ceremony in which the bride and groom read or speak something that carries a deep personal meaning for them.

You may create your own small speech from scratch. Or, you can choose from hundreds of sources. There are the classics of Shelly or Keats, and the modern poets and writers to help you find those words just out of reach.

That part of the ceremony may include actions as well. Lighting a pair of candles, pouring different colored sands into a single container and many more simple actions all help convey the symbolism involved in the wedding ceremony.

Then there are the actions that are still part of nearly every ceremony, an exchange of rings. This is easily ironed out in rehearsal, but take care to ensure that all are informed of and practice their roles. The best man fumbling for the ring for two minutes is only amusing in the movies.

And, don't forget that all important moment: the first kiss. Practice removing any veil, how long the kiss will last and other actions. Some things about the wedding should be spontaneous. This part should be choreographed so that the guests remember what you want them to remember.


Your Wedding Budget

A significant task in planning a wedding, among so many, has to be developing and maintaining a wedding budget. Even those skilled in the use of spreadsheets or other tools can't get around the fact that there are simply a lot of details to track. If they're not tracked accurately, it can cost thousands of dollars extra.

Fortunately, taken one step at a time, it is possible to create and keep a budget under control. Just devote a little time every day, or at least once a week, to doing what's necessary.

And what is that?

First, it's necessary to list a year or more in advance everything you can imagine that will have to be paid out. Don't worry that there are many items you'll forget or not be aware of. You'll revise the budget many times over the course of that year. But you have to start somewhere.

Keep that list in a spreadsheet or a wedding budget tool of your choosing, whatever makes it easy to you to account for everything in one spot. With the average cost of a wedding at around $27,000 today, things can quickly spiral out of control. Using tools is one way to help prevent that.

It can help to make more than one budget. Different items are traditionally paid for by the bride and her family, and others by the groom and his family. At the same time, it's helpful to be able to combine or merge them to see the overall costs.

The bride's portion usually includes such things as a wedding band and gift for the groom, the wedding venue and reception, the gown, photographs and less costly items. The groom's part typically includes the bride's engagement ring and wedding band, and a gift, along with a tuxedo, gifts for the best man and groomsmen, bride's bouquet, the marriage license fee and blood tests, and the honeymoon.

Each side can easily spend thousands. To keep the figure down to within budget all of those items (and many more) need to be recorded and updated. Even the smaller items that are not expensive individually can add up to a substantial amount.

For the bride, 40% of her side's budget can often be taken up by the caterer. Include food and drinks and the figure can run anywhere from $200 to $20,000 depending on the size of the wedding and the type of catering. About 15% for clothing is not unusual between a gown and a reception dress.

The photographer alone can consume 5% or more. $1,000-$3,000 is normal, which includes his or her time all day plus post-wedding development, mailing and more. Another 2-3% for wedding invitations has been traditional. Costs are dropping, though, thanks to the Internet. It is helping to reduce printing costs, eliminate some mailing where emailing is sometimes substituted.

Entertainment can be anywhere from virtually free - a few music CDs played on a portable or built-in stereo system - to 10% or several thousand for live entertainment. A good 5-piece jazz band, for example, can easily cost $2,000 for the evening and that's a bargain. Of course, it never hurts to have musician friends who will play for free. Provided they get free food and drink, at least!

Costs can be kept lower, obviously, by having a smaller wedding. Fewer guests means less food and drink, a smaller venue and other savings. A cash bar, rather than free unlimited drinks, is one way to cut down. At least one free glass of champagne for everyone should be included, however, to toast the bride and groom.

Setting a date for off-season can result in big savings. Most wedding and reception venues are booked in the summer months, especially the traditional June. Getting married in January can lower costs quite a bit. Even a non-Saturday date can help a lot.

And, oh, by the way. Don't forget to pay the preacher. You don't want him to forget to sign the license!

Wedding Decor

Many aspects of planning a wedding are not a lot of fun. Luckily, others more than make up for the unpleasant parts. Wedding decorations is a prime example. Choosing them is one of the most delightful aspects of wedding planning. Favors, flowers, centerpieces and even the tablecloths can be a joy to review and select.

Imagine you've planned your wedding and reception around a beach theme. You can select starfish-shaped placecard holders, flip flop keychain favors and tons more great things to flesh out your theme.

You can carry that theme forward in many other ways. Rather than just select nice flowers that happen to be in season, go for a species that specifically evokes the beach. That can be anything from a delicate hibiscus or the Japanese Sweetbriar that blooms along the beaches of Hokkaido. Red with a sweet scent, they make a perfect choice.

Or, you may have planned a Las Vegas wedding. You'll find chocolate dice favors are perfect for the bowls on the guests' tables. There are no shortage of desert plants and flowers from the area, either. Everything from the pink Beavertail cactus flower to the yellow Desert Sunflower can liven up the room.

Decorations can follow the theme if you've chosen a season to revolve around, as well.

Suppose your wedding has a Fall theme. Place some sheafs of wheat near the entrance. Place potpourri on the tables. Put some delightfully scented candles in the center and let them bring on the aromas of October.

A Spring theme opens up thousands of possible floral choices. Irises make for a flexible and beautiful choice. Long stemmed, they can be placed in tall vases near the entrance or at the bottom of the stage where the entertainers perform. Or, they can be clipped and add color to the tables.

Centerpieces open still another vista of choices for decorations. 

Flowers are a popular option. A bouquet of daisies is great for a summer theme. A vase filled with roses can complement your color scheme, since they're available in white, red, pink or yellow.

But a floral display is not the only possibility. Ice sculpture make for the perfect centerpiece for a winter theme wedding. It can get expensive, so you can limit this to the wedding couple's table. Or, you can have a small sand castle in the middle to go with your beach-oriented wedding favors.

There are hundreds more areas where wedding decorations can add an even greater uplifting spirit to an already joyous occasion. 

Consider scattering some tiny crystal spheres around the tables. They may not remind anyone of any natural object in particular. But their beauty still dazzles. Select the right color, material and size for the bows that will be tied to the entrance of the wedding march. Design a multi-candle display for the wedding altar.

Let your creativity flow to the maximum for the big day. You deserve the reward after all the hard work in other areas of wedding planning.

Wedding Planning Tools

The tools that can help you plan your wedding cover a wide range. Everything from a simple pen and paper to the most sophisticated software could be included. You can benefit from taking advantage of many within that broad spectrum.

A simple spreadsheet can go a long way, provided you lay it out logically and keep it up to date. No tool will substitute for your creativity and input. But some are easier to use than others. 

Microsoft Excel is still hugely popular, but Open Office Calc ( is just as good and it's free. It also runs on Mac, Windows and Linux so there are no limitations. Google Docs and Spreadsheets is newer and less functional, but it has the advantage of being accessible from anywhere you have a computer/Internet connection. 

More sophisticated planning software is available at various prices from free to outrageous.

Microsoft's Project is a powerful project planning tool that can be used for weddings or any other effort that requires coordinating multiple people and events. It does have a learning curve of a few days to weeks depending on your computer expertise level and it has a hefty price tag.

Other 'total package' software, chiefly online or web-based, is available, too, and many are oriented towards weddings in particular. Prices run everywhere from free to $25 per month or more. That may not sound like much, but keep in mind that you may be using it for 1-2 years. It can add up. 

Wedding Wire has a number of discrete tools. ( A comprehensive package is available at Wedding Soft (

Online software applications differ in other ways. Some are for specific purposes. For example, they may be geared to allowing for web-based RSVP, making it easy for your guests to respond online. That makes tracking much easier. Others help you keep track of seating arrangements at the reception. 

Keep in mind when evaluating software one simple rule: you have to use it. You may already be familiar with a word processor or text editor that allows you to make lists. You might already know Excel. That makes Calc or Google Spreadsheets equally easy to use. But wedding planning software will have some things that are simple and familiar and some things that operate differently. The time you spend learning or struggling with software is time taken away from other things. It's always necessary to strike a balance somewhere.

The best way to decide which, if any, suits your style and your needs is to spend a few hours using different ones. Free trials are available on just about anything. Reviews can be helpful, but each person and each wedding is just different enough that a short amount of time spent actually using the site/software will give you much more information.

If you find one you like the (often low) price can well be worth the investment. Free software is usually very limited, though occasionally it will have everything you want. A product that costs $30 can be the best investment you can make in your wedding. After all, the savings in stress by staying organized is well worth that. If you need more financial incentive, just consider how much you'll save in aspirin...

Your Wedding Is Worth It

How do you plan a wedding? As the old joke goes: carefully.

Before you can plan a wedding, you have to plan your plan. That convoluted sentence means: you have to have some tools and some idea of how to use them. In some cases, that will mean using software to plan your wedding. In another instance, it may refer to getting help in the form of a wedding planner or bridal consultant.

A wedding planner can help you with any or all of the things you will have to do. They have the skill, the experience and the contacts to help keep things running smoothly. But they can only do that effectively with your input. Your goals for the wedding are paramount. They can suggest themes, but you must select. They can make arrangements, but you decide what you want or enjoy.

Getting or developing a planning guide will help. It's essential to get and stay organized. The entire effort can take months or as long as two years. No one could track all the details in their heads, even with consulting help.

But before you can use tools or assistants, you have to know something about what you want to use them for. Selecting a theme, choosing a destination and considering locale specific issues, and more are all part of the process. You won't know how to use the tools unless you can creatively input the items they help track and arrange.

You'll need to track budget, develop to-do lists and more. You'll need to make arrangements with a number of professionals who are part of the big day and events leading up to it. A photographer, caterer and more are all very busy people. Wedding and reception venues get booked up far in advance.

Just about everyone will want to select a theme for the wedding and reception and arrange for decorations consistent with that. The ceremony and the reception, and maybe even the bridal shower or bachelor parties before them, can benefit. Even getting to the wedding, then to the reception will take some forethought. All that takes careful planning.

If you plan to have your wedding close to home, or in another state, or even in faraway Italy or Japan, that planning effort reaches a higher plateau. Some legal issues are relevant, but generally a very simple part of the process. Making arrangements for venue, hotels, transportation and more in another country is still challenging.

Fortunately, the Internet has made the process much easier than it was in the past. Email to France is as easy as one to someone across town. They can email photos, addresses and contracts. Sooner or later, though, a visit will become necessary. That can mean going there twice, or leaving a couple of months in advance of the big day. 

But with all the items to track, all the expense and effort involved, one thing remains true. Your wedding is worth it.

Your Wedding Planning Guide

If you're not the most organized person in the world, prepare to change your ways. You'll need every ounce you can muster to plan your wedding. It can be great fun, but it does require keeping track of a lot of elements. Those elements often have dependencies - you have to set the date before you can reserve the caterer, for example. Set it all down and tackle it one by one and you'll do fine.

Step 1 – 9 months to a year or more ahead of The Big Day

'Prepare your preparation'. What that means is gather the tools you need to plan well. If you're familiar with how to use a spreadsheet, it makes for an excellent tool to keep track of things. You can list events and/or items and costs. With more sophisticated tools, which aren't hard to learn, you can build in dependencies so that you'll be aware of what has to be done in what order.

Book a photographer.

Step 2 – 6-9 months or more in advance

Use the tools. 

List, off the top of your head, what you know you'll need to do. Prepare to revise it many times, filling in gaps and including things you didn't know about up front.

That will include such things as: buying rings, reserving a venue for the ceremony and reception, renting and/or buying clothing, and many more. If the wedding is catered you'll need to make arrangements, usually months in advance. That can turn into as long as 2 years ahead for larger weddings that hire a very busy catering company.

Associate with each of these items and/or events a date or date range. You don't have to get rings on a specific day (until the wedding, that is). But you should have them by an approximate date months ahead so you can move on and not worry about it. Ditto with the wedding gown, the bridesmaids' dresses and more. The more time you allow, the lower your stress level will be.

Keep versions of your list and back it up to email or a flash drive. You don't want to lose it after weeks or months of effort. Keep the versions straight by naming them, v1, v2 or some such scheme.

As you build and modify your list, keep a running budget. You may have an initial target. That will change as the guest list shrinks or grows, and as many other items come and go. Always have a buffer, or be prepared to forego items you had planned.

Make a guest list.

Step 3 – 4-6 months or more ahead

Make arrangements.

Reserve the locations. Anchor it so you know your target. The same applies to the caterer, the priest or pastor or Justice of the Peace. Naturally that doesn't apply to those who just go down to City Hall, but even then reservations are sometimes needed. 

Check in with the photographer and caterer.

Have a backup plan in case someone you depend on doesn't follow through. Have in mind a second caterer, or another wedding ceremony official. People get ill. Accidents happen. Don't go crazy trying to ensure against every contingency, but knowing of alternatives gives peace of mind.

Revise your budget as you execute these steps.

Send out invitations at least two months in advance and keep track of how many are coming. Keeping track of who is helpful, but can drive you crazy. Worry only about the ones who absolutely have to be there.

In most cases guests will have to make transportation arrangements, hotel accommodations, arrange their own plans and so on. Give them as much notice as possible.

Step 4 – 2-4 months or more ahead

Buy stuff.

Ah, now we're approaching the fun part! Buy that wedding dress. Purchase those rings. Put down money for a honeymoon trip. Make a deposit with the wedding cake maker and so on.

Revise your budget again.

Step 5 – One month and counting

Execute your final steps starting a month before the big day.

Get that final wedding gown fitting. Check with the wedding party, but don't drive everyone (or yourself) crazy asking over and over again if they are ready. Allow for the fact that some things will go wrong. You don't have to control every step, but don't allow chaos to reign either.

Step 6 - The Big Day

Go there. Get married. Enjoy your big day to the fullest!

See, wasn't that easy?


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