wedding 101 | how to begin planning a wedding

Raise your left hand if you just got engaged!  With that new sparkler on your finger, you probably don’t need another excuse, am I right?  Congratulations and welcome to one of the most fun, exciting and, let’s face it, stressful times of your life!  Odds are, you’ve never done this before and once you get past the dreamy first week of staring at your ring and the weirdness of using the word “fiancé”, the panic of “what do I do now?” might begin to set in.  There’s the dress, the date, the location, the invitations, the bridesmaids, the favors….where do you even start when you have so much to think about?

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Before I fell in love with photography and moved to Seattle, I owned a wedding planning business in South Florida called Miranda Hattie Events.  After helping dozens of couples get from the “Yes!” to the “I do”, I learned a thing or two about this process and I want to share with you some of my best tips for planning the wedding of your dreams without losing your mind or becoming the dreaded and cliche “bridezilla.”  This will be a fun series I’m calling Wedding 101, and it will cover everything from where to begin, to budgeting, to figuring out your personal style and making it happen.  But before we get too far down the tulle-lined path, let’s tackle what to do during those first blissful weeks of your engagement.

  1. Hey, you’re engaged!  It’s ok to shout it from the rooftops, show your ring to everyone you meet and truly ENJOY THE MOMENT!  If I could give you just one piece of advice, it would be to truly be present during this time, let the excitement sink in and realize that you are about to begin a journey toward forever.  Is there any better feeling than true love?  Don’t take it lightly, recognize that it’s really what this wedding is all about.
  2. On that note, make sure that the wedding reflects the both of you.  I have worked with many, many brides and often the groom is left on the periphery.  I get it ladies, maybe you’ve been dreaming about this day your entire life and you want it to be perfect with a capital P, but he’s been dreaming about finding someone exactly like you.  Start off this planning process with a real heart-to-heart, lay it all out on the table.  Find out what is important to each of you and make sure that both of your priorities are represented on your wedding day.  
  3. Sounds easy enough, but how do you really make that happen?  During my first meeting with a couple whose wedding I was planning, I would have them do the following exercise.  Put down on paper (make a real, physical list, not just a verbal one) five words that you want to represent your wedding day.  This might be how you want your guests to feel, how you want to feel, how you want it to look or even how you want it to be remembered.  Now, write down all of the things that you don’t want it to be.  This might include traditions that don’t resonate with the two of you, certain colors or theme, even things you may have witnessed at other weddings where you thought “I will NEVER do that at my wedding!”
  4. Once you both know what you want your wedding to be on a conceptual level and what you don’t want, start prioritizing.  Make a list of every component of the wedding (venue, food, drinks, cake, attire, decor, music, photography, cinematography, invitations, the ceremony, rings, transportation, lighting, honeymoon, rehearsal dinner) and talk over how important each one is to you.  This will be crucial during budgeting, as it makes sense to spend more on those things that mean the most to you and to economize, or even skip, those that don’t.
  5. And last but not least, before you get too far down the planning road, choose a few wedding dates.  Don’t begin to look at venues or even your budget, until you know a few dates that will work for you and your families.  Think about what time of year you want to get married, any significant holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations or any other days important to you and those closest to you when selecting a date.  You don’t have to make sure that every last distant cousin will be able to attend, but be sure to consider if you want to have your anniversary on a holiday or the same day as your nephew’s graduation.  There are pros and cons to every date, so choose a few that feel right to the two of you.
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I hope this has been helpful so far!  I have so much to share with you over this series, stay tuned for the next installment when we’ll go over everyone’s (least) favorite topic—budget!


Let’s face it, having the budget conversation with your fiancé is going to be a lot less fun than, say, dress shopping, but it’s just as important (really!)  Weddings are expensive.  Everything costs more than you imagine and it adds up fast.  Deciding what you can realistically afford should be one of the very first things you do after the ring is on your finger.  Here are a few tips for setting your budget and sticking to it.

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  1.  Sit down with your fiancé and everyone else who may be contributing financially to the wedding and have an honest discussion about the bottom line.  Figure out what each party can afford to contribute and calculate your maximum budget.  This is also a time to go back over your list of priorities and share them with your family.  No matter what you can afford, plan to spend on the things that matter the most to you.
  2. When it comes to sticking to a budget, it’s all about the guest list.  This may sound obvious, but the more people you invite, the more your wedding is going to cost.  The largest chunk of your wedding dollars will go toward the venue, food and drink (about 40%) and your catering costs will be calculated per person.  If you want a foodie paradise feast in a jaw-dropping location, you may want to consider a small, intimate wedding in order to make your budget fit your dreams.  If you have always dreamed of a huge celebration, you might consider a brunch wedding or a cocktail reception to keep your large guest list on a limited budget.  More guests don’t just equal more food, they also equate to more rentals (tables, linens, etc), more tables to decorate, more invitations and postage, more wait staff and a bigger space to hold them. 
  3. A few tips for a limited budget; consider getting married on a weekday or a Sunday morning.  You can often save on the venue rental if you choose a less popular day.  When it comes to location, look into museums and restaurants for the reception.  In addition to already being attractive and partially decorated, they often have lower fees than your typical hotel ballroom.  Restaurants work well for smaller groups, as do private homes.  Do you have a friend or relative with a gorgeous home and a lovely yard?  Some of my favorite weddings have been at private homes, they have a great, relaxed vibe and special meaning to you.  Don’t have the space?  Look into renting a private home (be sure to research the rules ahead of time to make sure they allow events.) 
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Next week I’ll go over some of my favorite tips for gathering inspiration and how to conquer Pinterest!

wedding 101 | tips for defining your wedding style and decor

With that budget discussion behind you, it’s time to focus on the fun part—style!  There is SO MUCH wedding inspiration out there, on blogs, the deep, dark hole that is Pinterest, Instagram, magazines, bridal shows…it just doesn’t stop.  When it comes to inspiration, it’s not a problem finding it, the difficulty comes in trying to narrow it down.  Where do you start and how do you find your own unique style?

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I think one of the best places to begin are with a few awesome wedding blogs.  I’m sure you’re already all over Style Me Pretty, it’s the biggest and most well-known one out there and is chock full of amazing inspiration.  Be sure to look at their local pages as well as the main page.  It’s a great source for looking at how brides were able to transform venues in your area.  Style Me Pretty has the classic and romantic look down pat.  If you are looking for something with more of a modern boho flair, check out Green Wedding Shoes.  I love this site for their superbly curated collection of unique wedding celebrations, from rustic to urban glam.  If you find yourself gravitating toward simplicity and finely-crafted details, try Once Wed.  It’s an amazing source of beautifully photographed weddings, with elegant and organic touches.  Some of my other favorites include Wedding Chicks, Ruffled, 100 Layer Cake, Elizabeth Anne Designs and Snippet & Ink.

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Choose your favorites and follow them on social media, especially their Pinterest and Instagram accounts.  It’s a great way to find the vendors that are creating the looks you love.

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Speaking of Pinterest, I’m sure you’ve fallen down that rabbit hole already!  How to tame that beast and actually create a curated collection of images that truly encompass your style?  My biggest tip is to try not to follow too many people.  Definitely follow your favorite wedding blogs and follow the wedding planners that are behind your favorite weddings on the blogs you follow.  As a former planner, I can attest to the crazy amount of time I spent on Pinterest finding the perfect inspiration images for my couples and planners have great collections of images.  I’ll even share a few of my boards to help get you started!  Are you a classic, white wedding kind of girl?  Start here.  Beachy, modern organic?  I got ya.  Rustic glam wedding?  Here you go!

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I would suggest that you really hone in on your style before you meet with a florist or decor company.  It’s easy to get derailed from what you want when you go to them with a vague idea or, even worse, too many ideas.  Spend some time collecting images that really define your style (even if it’s just a handful.)  I really think that less is more when it comes to Pinterest and wedding inspiration.

Next step once you have a handle on your style?  Finding a venue!  Let’s talk about that next week.  Happy planning!

wedding 101 | tips for finding your wedding venue

Finding your wedding venue—it’s kind of a big deal.  It’s definitely the biggest piece of the puzzle and once you have that wrapped up, you’ll feel a million times better, trust me!  It’s important to keep a few things in mind when you are researching locations and I also recommend getting really organized for this step.  You want to be able to easily compare the pros and cons, costs and stats.  

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1.  Style.  In my opinion, style is the most important decision-maker when it comes to choosing your venue.  There are so many options to choose from in the Seattle area, even more in the Pacific Northwest.  From waterfront to winery, warehouse to gallery, the possibilities are endless.  If you’ve been following along with this series, you’ve already begun to hone in on your particular style, now’s the time to use that inspiration!  Stay true to your style and don’t waste your time by visiting venues that don’t have the look you’re going for.  

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2.  Size.  This is huge.  By now, you’ve begun to think about your guest list and you know if you are having a big or a small wedding.  Don’t bother falling in love with a venue that is either too big or too small for your group.  Also be wary of choosing a space where you might fit, but you’d be at maximum capacity.  A crowded dining room with no room to dance is just going to disappoint you in the end!  Be sure to keep in mind that table style and layout have a huge impact on how many guests can fit in a space.  You can squeeze a bunch more round tables into a room but if you have your heart set on royal or farmhouse tables, far fewer will fit into the same space.

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3.  Rules.  Every venue has different rules.  Be sure to ask about all of their policies including: Do they have a list of approved vendors that you must work with?  What furnishings and equipment are included with the space and what do they look like?  What is the window of time your vendors have to set up and break down?  Are there additional charges to set up earlier?  Must you use their caterer or can you bring in your own?  Can you supply your own alcohol?  What are the restrooms like?  Do you need to rent portable restrooms?  Where will guests park?  Is there an additional charge for parking?  Is there a space for the bridal party to get ready?  How do they utilize the event spaces?  Will you have to “flip” the ceremony space to become the reception space?  How much staff do they have?  Is there an additional service fee on top of the rental cost?  Is the rental cost the same for all days of the week and times of the year?  If it is an outdoor venue, is there a rain plan?  Will you need to bring in additional lighting?  What layouts are most successful in the space?  

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4.  Cost.  Of course, the biggest deciding factor will be cost.  I recommend that you call or email a venue to get a ballpark idea of cost before visiting.  You don’t want to walk away heartbroken when you can’t afford your perfect location, so it’s best to pre-qualify your options.  Be sure to take into account all of the “hidden” costs, such as service charge, tax, fees for using outside vendors, parking/valet, transportation if the venue is remote, rental furniture and tents.  Sometimes a venue that seems expensive up front might actually be the same cost as a cheaper venue where you will have to bring in all the rentals, use a specific caterer, get a tent, etc.

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I know that this can seem daunting, but jump in there and try to have fun with it!  Getting this piece crossed off your list will be a huge relief!  And if you find yourself overwhelmed, now is the time to consider hiring a wedding planner.  In the end, the cost of hiring a planner really pays for itself when you consider their wealth of inside information, vendor relationships and the general piece of mind you will have on your wedding day knowing that everything is taken care of!

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