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The First Three Things You Should Do to Pre-Plan Your Wedding Before You Announce the Date

It's too early to announce the date and location of your wedding before you've got things all locked down. Just because you have written down your wish list, doesn't mean that it will have the slightest resemblance to a real wedding budget when it all comes down to it.
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Have you started pre-planning your wedding already? Have you announced the date to anybody? Are you trying to figure out the budget you're going to need? Think you know what it all should cost? You've probably created an Excel spreadsheet and you're feeling quite smug. But have you remembered to put in lines for the following items: feeding the staff, setup/teardown/cleanup crew, service staff at your event and tips? What about lunch for you and the bridal party while you're getting ready on the big day? And transportation for your "over-served" guests to/from the After Hour you've planned? Oops. There's a lot going on that you might not have thought about. That's why you need a wedding planner from the beginning.

To quote Antonique Smith's new single "Hold Up - Wait a Minute!" It's too early to announce the date and location of your wedding before you've got things all locked down. Just because you have written down your wish list, doesn't mean that it will have the slightest resemblance to a real wedding budget when it all comes down to it. I'm always amazed by the brides who have calculated to the penny the cost of their personalized wedding favors, but haven't actually done the math on feeding and watering all their guests. Look, I applaud the fact that you're worried about the budget and have taken initiative, but unless you're getting married at your local country club and home church where everything is standard and spelled out for you (or you've already helped plan three weddings for your sisters), try not to go too far down the planning road until you establish the following three things:

- The actual destination -- where are you getting married?
- How much money you actually have to work with?
- Should you hire a wedding planner and if so, which one?

Destination or Home? Of course you need to figure out your wedding location first. That may sound easier than it is. I've done so many consultations with excited brides who are all ready to sign on the dotted line... but they haven't discussed their tropical destination with their families yet. And when they do, not everybody is as excited about it as the bride and groom. Sometimes it's unfair -- the family insists on their local church because it's important to them. But sometimes, enthusiastic brides and grooms haven't stopped to consider that Grandma (who will not miss your big day if it literally kills her to be there) is wheelchair bound and on an oxygen tank most of the time. Or your sister-in-law is struggling with a chronically-ill child who must travel with equipment, refrigerated meds or shouldn't really be a helicopter ride away from the nearest medical center lest something terrible happen. These are all very real concerns by close family members that you have to take into account when planning your big day. I'm not saying that you shouldn't have a destination wedding because a couple of people cannot come to the island, but I am telling you to think about who is on your guest list before you get excited and start having visions of an aisle on a white sand beach with palm trees. Hiring a great wedding planner can make it easier for you to facilitate assistance for special needs guests because she should know what's accessible, how to get immediate medical care and generally triage anything that pops up. But still... you have to think about these things before you lock in your date in paradise.

The Bugaboo Topic: Budget. Okay, let's talk about how much money you actually have to spend. Some people have $20,000 but try to plan the wedding on half of that so they can put the rest in to buying a house, taking an around the world honeymoon or just saving it for a rainy day. They know from day one that they're going to spend more money but they won't commit to a number and do everything possible to cut corners and save pennies, taking away from some of the things they've done that need just a little bit of extra jazz and expense.

Others actually have more like $5,000 to work with, but they start out planning a $15,000 wedding from day one thinking they'll either come up with the money or their parents will help. Unfortunately, in this economy, free-range money trees are in short supply and the second you count on having money that you really don't, you will find yourself in a pickle. Especially if you've signed contracts committing yourself to these various expenditures.

Professional Help. Finally, you need to decide early on if you're going to hire a professional wedding planner. Remember, there's a fee for this too (sometimes it's a percentage, sometimes it's done as markups), and you have to be prepared for that. You can't tell a planner you have $9,000 to spend on the actual events but have nothing left to pay her fee. That won't work. And when you do a consultation with a planner and she tells you her best guestimate of how much your wedding is going to cost, listen to her. If she's reputable and experienced, she has no motive to lie to you. And she does this every weekend so she actually knows what it costs. A wedding planner's goal is to make you happy and that means keeping you as close to your budget as possible so that you will refer her to your friends. It doesn't help a wedding coordinator to tell you that you can plan a wedding for an impossibly low amount and then throw her hands in the air like "not my problem" when the much higher bill comes due. She's the one that's going to have to go back to your vendors and explain that you're cancelling or reducing your contract. It's double the work for her and less money, actually.

My all-time favorite example of this (that actually worked out well) was a really fabulous girl from New Jersey who wanted a four-day extravaganza with lots of guests and all the bells and whistles. I gave her a realistic guestimate and she came back to me and said "I'm cutting my guest list in half and I want half the budget." Doesn't work exactly like that, but we were able to come to a compromise and agree on a number we could work with for the contract. Flash-forward six months. The bride has actually got 20 more guests than her original highest estimate, and she's added everything you can imagine including audio visual at her rehearsal dinner for a slide show. After being told "you're over budget" and "you really can't afford to do that" more times than I want to remember, the bride lost her temper. She told me she didn't want to hear one more word about her budget or her choices, that she just wanted me to plan the "damned wedding." I told her to give it to me in writing -- and she did. A letter absolving me of any responsibility for her budget (only one I've ever gotten, I assure you). And we had an amazing time planning the rest of her wedding -- I mean seriously, who gives me a blank check? The wedding was to-die-for and she loved every minute of it. But she was a lucky little girl because Daddy paid the $20,000 she went over on her $15,000 budget. Most of us don't have a parent who can do that for us, but it sure was nice in her case. What a wedding!

I know that everybody is getting engaged right now and over the next two months. Friends give newly engaged brides and grooms these random planning guides that tell them how much things should cost and how many months ahead they should be doing each thing without any reference to the where or how or what of it, and so the recently affianced can't help but sit down and try to start filling in those blanks to plan. For most women, wedding planning is something they have looked forward to for a very, very long time. But it's sad and frustrating as a planner when I meet a potential client who absolutely, positively believes she is going to have a destination wedding with all of her loved ones for about half as much money as she actually needs. Sometimes, they've already mailed Save-the-Dates and now they have to live with the decision or be embarrassed. It doesn't ever have to be like that.

Get engaged. Figure out if you want to get married home or away. Figure out how much money you have to actually spend on the wedding. Consult with a wedding planner wherever you're getting married and crunch numbers to see if you can do what you think you can do with however much you have to spend. Commit to it if you can do it and you want it. Then, and only then, should you start formally announcing your wedding date.

We've just launched an "Ask Sandy" section on the new Sandy Malone website. Come check us out and get answers to your questions from a professional, experienced destination wedding planner -- me! If the question is challenging or common enough, I might just blog about it too!

Until next time, happy wedding planning from Weddings in Vieques and Weddings in Culebra!


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