Competent People Don’t Need Wedding Planners (Wedding Advice Pt. 1)

I’m taking a quick break from blogging about our Euro Trip because I’m in the midst of something just as exciting: WEDDING PLANNING. (Don’t you hate it when life gets in the way of nostalgia?) With less than ten months until July 2016, the countdown to the big day has begun, and it finally feels real.

Despite how daunting this wedding is — a destination wedding in Hawaii for over a hundred people, on a very limited budget — I’m enjoying every minute of planning. It helps that I’m probably the most organized person you know. A once-in-a-lifetime party is just another excuse for me to hyper-plan.

I’m not hiring a wedding planner because I’m one of those strange people who actually enjoys doing extensive research. I also know my tastes and Anthony’s preferences well. For those who are like me and stubbornly refuse to spend money on someone who pretty much does what any competent person can do, here’s some wedding advice I can give so far:

As soon as you decide on your wedding date, look for possible venues. I quickly learned that my childhood dream of getting married at The Kahala Hotel would be unfeasible — mostly because the cost of a ballroom at the Kahala is more than our entire wedding budget, but also because we’d have to select all our vendors from their list. As a compromise, we decided to just stay at the Kahala for a couple of nights and have our wedding elsewhere. Inconveniently, I couldn’t bear the thought of getting married at any other hotel, so we had to get creative.

When people think of Hawaiian weddings, most envision beaches. No one actually does this except tourists and those who invite, like, ten people to the ceremony. Since we’re expecting a large crowd, a beach wedding was not an option. I’ve seen weddings in lush gardens (my parents got married at the Moanalua Botanical Garden) and quaint ranches, but, honestly, I’m not a nature person. I grew up in Honolulu, a fairly cosmopolitan city, and have lived in New York for the past few years. It wouldn’t really be me (or Anthony) to have our wedding surrounded by secluded mountains, or with horses and chickens roaming around. Plus, mosquitoes love Anthony; who wants to get bug bites at a wedding?

After deciding against an art museum and an aquarium, we chose Laniākea, a historical building in the middle of downtown Honolulu, designed by renowned architect Julia Morgan (she designed the Hearst Castle in California!). Though I was a bit turned off that Laniākea houses a chapter of the YWCA, I couldn’t help but fall in love with it more and more. The venue is lovely, with a large Mediterranean-style courtyard and open-air hallways. Plus, it’s quite fitting for us to support an organization known for social change and women’s rights.

Ask the venue every question you can think of before deciding. There are so many questions you should be asking. How many people can it accommodate? How does catering work? Does it provide audio visual equipment? When does the event have to end? Does it allow live performances, sparklers, etc.? Where can the wedding party get ready before the photos? Who cleans up at the end? I flooded our venue’s inbox with questions. Don’t feel bad about it. This is their job. Plus, it’s a good sign when they get back to you quickly. You don’t want to work with someone who is flaky.

Read every single review you can find about the venue and see if other events had good experiences there. The venue is one of the most important aspects of your wedding, so you want to make sure it’s right for you. When you’re completely sure about your decision, the venue will probably have you sign a contract and turn in a deposit. It’s beneficial to reserve early because the venue may raise their fees.

Our venue requires us to cater through them. I don’t mind because I won’t have to worry about finding a caterer, and we’re pretty excited about the menu. It’ll be a small buffet consisting of local Hawaiian food, as well as some hors d’oeuvres during cocktail hour. While sit-down dinners feel more lavish, they’re tricky because you have to cater to dietary restrictions. Plus, I like the idea of our guests getting up and mingling with others at the buffet.

For a while, we assumed we weren’t going to hire a DJ. We could just make a playlist and have my brother be our DJ by pressing “play” on my iPod. Eventually, we changed our minds after remembering the recent weddings we’ve attended. Good DJs and emcees can make the wedding. They feel out the crowd, play the perfect song at the right moment, and can entertain a variety of guests. After perusing Wedding Wire, I found a DJ who had amazing reviews and fit our budget. Wedding Wire is a great resource for weddings. It works like Yelp but has way more information involving any wedding-related vendors. I only consider vendors that have gotten mostly 5-star reviews on Wedding Wire. Using this tactic, I’ve been able to hire our DJ, hair and makeup artist, photo booth company, and florist.

Figure out which aspects of your wedding you really care about. Unless you have an unlimited budget (lucky you!), you’re going to have to pick and choose what is worth spending more money on. We think a DJ is really important, so we are willing to spend a bit on that. Since we don’t care about flowers at all (when was the last time you actually remembered which floral arrangement was at the center of your table?), we are unwilling to spend the going rate of wedding florists. Many florists told me they could not work with my budget, and that was fine. Fortunately, I finally found one florist who was willing to create some gorgeous bouquets that won’t cost too much. Don’t cave in and pay for anything you don’t want to. In the end, businesses care more about maintaining good ratings, so it’s in their best interest to work with you.

As for keeping everything organized, I use Google Documents obsessively. I have a Wedding Timeline, Wedding Budget, Wedding Day Timeline, Guest List, Centerpiece Ideas, and various documents comparing different vendors. It’s handy to have all this information on hand and ready to edit. Plus, it’s easy to share Google Documents with other people, such as parents and bridesmaids.

It’s only September, so we’ll see how this goes. Who knows? Maybe I’ll completely regret not hiring a wedding planner in a few months. 289 days to go…

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Wedding planning on the beach. Who says this has to be stressful?
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