After the excitement of being engaged has worn off you now have to face the daunting task of planning your dream wedding. If this is your first time getting married then it’s totally normal to feel overwhelmed at this point. There are so many variables that you have to manage and it’s okay if you don’t know where to start! Now I’ve never planned a wedding so I met up with my friend Cassi Dunbar of Cassandra Mae Events to give you a detailed outline on how to plan your dream wedding and how to stay on top without getting overwhelmed!
Cassi is a wedding planner based out of Lincoln, Nebraska (just like me!) who’s top priority is to make sure that her couples don’t have to worry about their wedding day going the right way. Whether you hire her to gather all of your vendors or to just have that person by your side on your day, Cassi will make sure that you leave your wedding with everything you could have wanted!
DETERMINE YOUR GUEST COUNT
Cassi and I both agree that your guest count will largely influence the venues you are able to pick for your wedding. If you plan on inviting 500 guests, your choices are far more limited than if you invited 300 or 200. Most venues in Lincoln typically max out between 275 – 325. A lot of venues also post their maximum guest count on their website.
Determining your guest count can be very difficult to do in the beginning stages but it’s so important to have at least a tentative number before you start looking at venues. That being said, your guest count should not be 100% locked down before you’ve booked a venue. There’s a good chance that you might find a venue that you absolutely LOVE but that is just a bit too small for your guest count. In this situation it would be a good idea to see if you can lower your guest count to make that venue work. Fun fact, lowering your guest count is also one of the best ways to save money!
Cassi has an amazing method for getting your initial guest count written down fast so you can start looking at venues as soon as possible. She recommends doing this on a physical piece of paper or a spreadsheet. Something to get it out of your mind and onto something you can see.
Cassi says to start with the essentials. People who you would change your wedding date for if they couldn’t make it. The definition of essential varies from couple to couple, but for example this could be the immediate family on both sides + grandparents. So parents, siblings & grandparents might be a good place to start! Also consider making truly close friends a part of your essential list as well. Be very picky with this list and remember that no one is entitled to be at your wedding.
Once you’ve got your essential list written down, grab another piece of paper or make a new spreadsheet and write down every single person that you want to invite besides your essential list. So think aunts, uncles, cousins, co workers, friends, nieces & nephews, etc. Write down all of their names from both sides and take a look at that number + your essentials. If that number seems way too high, consider cutting some people from that list. Once you have this number in hand it will be much easier to find a venue that works for you!
BOOK YOUR VENUE & SET AN OFFICIAL DATE
After getting an estimate of your guest count booking your venue should be your next step. Venues book up faster than any other vendor in the industry so it’s important to act fast to get the venue you want.
The venue is a unique vendor because no other vendors can truly be locked in until you have your venue booked. By booking your venue you will have also chosen an official wedding date that will allow you to pursue your following vendor choices.
When looking for a venue it’s important to keep a few things in mind. Think about where the venue is located and the logistics of getting yourself and all of your guests to that location. If a lot of your guests need to fly in to attend your wedding it would be smart to host at least your reception somewhere close to those hotels, or within Uber/Lyft distance.
Transportation is such an overlooked topic in wedding planning but it can cause a huge problem if not handled properly. A great way to avoid a lot of transportation is to book a venue that can host both your ceremony and reception. Some of these venues will even allow you, your partner & your wedding party to get ready there as well. This massively cuts back on your need to travel and will save money and time.
Cassi pointed out that when looking at venues your priorities are the most important thing. Look at a number of venues that you resonate with and look at their guest capacity and compare that to your existing estimate. If your number is under their’s then great! Otherwise you need to decide if you want to lower your guest count to make it work. Repeat this process with multiple venues until you’ve found the one that checks most of your boxes!
Need recommendations on wedding venues? Click here for my top 5 favorite wedding venues in Lincoln!
BOOK YOUR PHOTOGRAPHER
Once your venue is booked you can take a breath and relax knowing that the most critical part of your day is locked down. For many couples their photographer is the next vendor they hire. Picking your photographer is a HUGE decision! Luckily for you, I wrote an entire blog post dedicated to finding your perfect photographer, click here to read it!
When looking for a photographer it’s important to identify what parts of the day are most important to you. For example, would you rather have more pictures in the morning while you’re getting ready? Or would you rather have more pictures at night during your reception? Most photographers base their pricing on how much time you have them for and how many photographers are present. The average photography package will include between 8-10 hours of coverage and a second photographer. 8 hours is the sweet spot for being able to capture a good amount of both getting ready and the reception. 10 hours gives you a bit more flexibility in both directions.
Many photographers also have the option to add a second photographer to your wedding photography collection. This is someone who is hired by your main photographer to work under them throughout your day. This is great if you and your partner are getting ready in different locations. It is also great to have a second angle during the critical moments of your ceremony! After the ceremony I will typically send my second photographer directly to the reception before any of the guests to capture photographs of all of the decorations! Again, this comes down to your specific wedding and your photographer will be able to identify if you’ll need a second photographer or not.
With all of that being said, Cassi and I both agree that you should NOT try to save money with your photography. Your photos are the one thing that you will keep after your wedding that will constantly remind you of how you felt on your day. This is not something you should try to do on the cheap. Cassi and I have plenty of suggestions on more effective ways to save money coming up!
HOW TO NOT GET OVERWHELMED
It’s common to get overwhelmed at any point during your wedding planning so Cassi gave me great tips on how to manage the stress of planning!
The first is to hire a wedding planner. You do not have to do this by yourself. Hiring someone like Cassi to assist you in designing your dream day is such a worthwhile expense as it will allow you to enjoy the process. Also remember that Cassi plans a lot of weddings and has seen a lot of weddings so her advice is backed by real experience. Having her by your side both before and during your wedding is an invaluable way to stay on top.
If you decide to not hire a planner, it would be smart to have someone to talk to about the stresses of the process. Similar to writing all of your guests down on paper, venting all of your frustrations to a friend will help you break down your tasks into your manageable pieces and allow you to achieve your goals faster. This person should be someone who is not related to anyone in either of your families as that could create unwanted biases.
Cassi also suggested the use of Pinterest if you don’t know where to start with the aesthetic of your wedding. Oddly enough, you simply might not know what a certain decoration is called and finding it on Pinterest could give you some insight on how to pull that off on your day. Bringing Pinterest boards to your vendors can give you an idea on what is possible and how to do it.
These are all tips on how to manage stress BEFORE your wedding. Click here for a blog post on how to remove stress DURING your wedding!
HOW TO SAVE MONEY
It’s no secret that weddings are expensive. That being said, there are plenty of areas where you are able to cut back to save money without damaging the experience for you and your guests.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of these tips I want to preface with the following:
Cassi and I talked a great deal about managing your priorities and identifying areas of your wedding where you can scale back to save money and stress. What I want to emphasize is that if there is something that you care about and you don’t want to scale back on it, you don’t have to! We are making general suggestions based on both of our experiences at various weddings. We’ve found that most couples overspend in areas to try and make their guests happier when most guests don’t care about these certain things. Please keep that in mind as we go through these tips!
1.) Opt for buffet style catering
Catering is one of the largest expenses you’ll have to make on your day. Going for a buffet style dinner at a lower cost per person can be an amazing way to save money especially if you have a lot of guests. One of the reasons why lowering your guest count saves you money is because of catering costs.
2.) Don’t have an open bar
This is a huge one. Cassi pointed out that when couples have a full open bar, so much alcohol goes to waste which means wasted money for you. Instead, consider having free beer & wine and a cash bar for everything else. Your venue likely has many options other than an open bar so it’s worth exploring those.
3.) Don’t send Save The Dates
There are so many ways to save money on stationery. Cassi recommends against sending save the date cards and instead sending out your actual invitations earlier.
4.) Combine smaller paper items into one larger piece
Following from the last tip, instead of making individual table number cards, consider making one large table arrangement sign for your guests that is displayed at the entrance of the reception. Instead of individual programs, make one large sign at the front of your ceremony.
It is typically much more affordable to order one large thing than a bunch of small things. Hiring an amazing stationery designer can help make this a reality if you aren’t sure on how to condense these items into one. Click here for my recommended designers!
5.) Scale back your centerpieces
Similar to your stationery items, you can take a similar approach to your florals. Prioritize the big things and then see what is left over for the smaller things like your centerpieces.
If budget is an issue, I’d recommend using silk flowers where you can and leave the real flowers to big things like your bouquet. An amazing florist will also help you with this as well! Buying bulk greenery from your florist is also an amazing way to decorate your tables.
If you are having a beautiful floral arch at your ceremony, consider bringing that to your reception as well! Click here for my recommended florists!
Cassi & I both recommend using a rental company for most of your decorations. Things like vases, linens etc. These things take up a lot of space and are difficult to sell after the fact. Often times your rental company can also take care of setting up these things for you which saves you time!
7.) You don’t need party favors
You do not need favors for your guests. You’re already giving your guests a free meal and free alcohol. If you are passionate about gift-giving, consider creating some amazing gifts for your wedding party instead.
I hope this gives you a good outline on how to approach planning your wedding from the beginning! I want to give a HUGE thank you to Cassi for sitting down with me and giving me all of this amazing info! If you are looking for someone to assist you in planning your day, start with Cassi! I’ve provided her contact info below!
Cassandra Mae Events