In the early stages of preparing for our big day, we decided not to employ the services of a wedding planner... but in hindsight, oh, how I wish we had!
Why we didn't
We had very little debate about whether or not to bring a wedding planner on board. Quite simply, I wanted us to handle all the preparations and vendor research ourselves. I thought it would be fun to do the research, and also felt that us looking into the suppliers was the only way to know all the options... so that we could make a truly informed decision and ensure we got the style we liked at the most reasonable price -- not simply a wedding planner's "usual" contacts. My groom was more than happy with this conclusion, since it saved us an extra line item in our bridal budget... and we were indeed worried that a wedding planner would be quite expensive.
Why we wish we had
• Wedding tasks aren't always fun. Sure, it's a ball to ooh and aah over cake designs, but there's nothing enjoyable about researching mini-buses for guest transport or making seating charts. There isn't much joy in reviewing vendor contracts or keeping track of payments, either. Contrary to what I had thought, hiring a wedding planner doesn't mean outsourcing your entire wedding; a wedding planner only handles what you want them to (support at the start to get you on the right track, on-the-day coordination only, or indeed the whole shebang) so won't take over and choose your final bouquet design for you. So if do you want to drive your wedding planning, you can focus on the fun parts... and leave the boring bits to someone else.
• Wedding planning is stressful. Wedding planning is not the romantic experience one expects it to be. There are many details to take care of, meddling family and friends might drive you crazy and vendors can be a source of drama. During our engagement, several recently married friends told me that in the final month before the wedding they had been so exhausted that they just wanted the day to be over. This ended up being true for me: in the final week I lost five pounds from stress, burst into tears a few times and my groom and I were snapping at each other. This is not how anyone's planning should be. Bringing on board a professional planner to help and take some of the workload off our hands definitely would have made sense (and they probably could have given advice on managing family drama).
• We weren't that great at choosing vendors after all. Despite thinking that researching vendors ourselves was the only way to ensure we could make the best supplier decisions, this didn't work out so swimmingly. Out of 15 or so wedding day vendors, there were only three that we were actually totally happy with... and some others we were extremely unhappy with. When we started out planning, we had organized less than one wedding... why did we think our judgment would be better than that of a professional, who has seen these vendors in action at more than one (and perhaps several, and perhaps many!) weddings? Why did I think a planner would force us into choosing a vendor we weren't completely happy with?
• We didn't know what to look for in a vendor. Other than a little Google research before interrogating potential vendors via email, we really had no idea what to ask. For example, after contacting 20 different hairdressers for quotes, I realized I had to specify if I was planning an up- or down-do to get accurate pricing... so had to email them all over again. We asked cake makers for price quotes for a three-tier cake, but it didn't occur to us to ask about the height of the tiers... until two months before the wedding, when we found out the "magnificent" wedding cake we were paying hundreds of dollars for was only nine inches tall, and we'd now have to shell out twice as much money to get it to the grandeur that we wanted.
• Wedding planning takes time. Until you really get into the preparations for your big day, it is impossible to fathom how much work is involved and how many details need to be taken care of. I know brides who have taken leave from work in order to have more time to prepare their weddings. If you work long hours, have lots of hobbies or have children to look after, and don't want to be completely drowning in to-do lists during your engagement, a wedding planner handling some of those tasks for you could be a real lifesaver. Also, you really don't want to get in trouble at the office by getting caught doing wedding planning on company time!
• Things do go wrong at the last minute. The day before the wedding, the baker for our cake buffet claimed they never received our order, and our dance floor provider phoned halfway through our bridal party lunch claiming they hadn't been paid. That night while setting up the reception room, we realized one table setting was missing, so had to frantically call the decorator for extra chair decorations, and re-confirm guest numbers with the kitchen. Tiny things, but they were unnecessary and brought a general feeling of stress on a day my groom and I had planned to be lovely and relaxing. Someone to handle those details for us would have been amazing. We were lucky nothing went wrong on the wedding day itself, but -- yikes! -- what if something had?
• A wedding planner can help with costs. The imagined price for a wedding planner was a reason we decided against hiring one. However, here are two things that I realized in hindsight: 1) Planners know what different services cost, and can better spot when a vendor price is exorbitantly high or too good to be true. They know most local wedding vendors, and can help you get the best value for your budget. 2) As with any other wedding vendor, you will agree in advance what services you want from your planner and how much that will cost. It is not in their interest to hand you a bill at the end of the wedding that you can't afford to pay. Wish we'd realized all that earlier!
• It can be difficult to find help elsewhere. There is much to do in preparing your special day, so without a planner you either must ask help from others or handle everything yourselves. Occasionally we asked our family or bridal party to help, but none actually themselves offered assistance, so we soon felt awkward asking. On the wedding day, when my groom should have chilling out, he was driving all over town picking up cakes and buttonholes, and when he arrived at the ceremony had to set up our refreshments table. We asked one friend to reach the ceremony early so she could SMS us that the officiant, musicians and decorator had arrived on time. These are all tasks that an on-the-day wedding planner could have coordinated for us, rather than burdening ourselves or our guests.
At the beginning of your wedding planning, sit down as a couple and consider how much time, how much budget and how many helpers you have available for big-day preparations. Consider which areas you could do with professional support, and which planning areas you're less interested in and happy to outsource to someone. Look into wedding planners in your local area; even if you're hesitant, it won't cost you anything to give them a call and find out the range and price of their services. It could be your best way to a smoother, less stressful and more romantic wedding planning experience.