The oh-so romantic proposal, the sparkly diamond, the initial giddiness, and then reality sets in. There is a wedding to plan, requiring countless decisions, finding and hiring the right vendors, and, most of all, trying to figure out how to pay for it. This is when a wedding planner rides in on their white horse prepared to save your sanity and wallet. While some may consider this service a luxury, more couples are seeing these professionals as a necessity. According to a survey on TheKnot.com, Philadelphia made the top 10 list for priciest areas to get married, with the average cost of a wedding tallying $40,350 (a steal compared to the $86,916 couples spend in NYC). With those prices, it seems only right to want an expert in your corner, someone who will look out for your best interests. We asked three local wedding planners, who collectively have sent hundreds of brides down the aisle, to reflect on their experiences and share their wisdom. They had plenty to say. Here’s their invaluable advice—free of charge.
Know your budget: Before any wedding-day-related decision is made, a couple should come up with a realistic budget. Erin Proud, owner of Proud to Plan in Delaware, has executed weddings with budgets ranging from $8,000 to exceeding $150,000 and says that every couple has one thing in common. “They all get sticker shock once they start hearing what things cost,” she says. It’s standard that about 50 percent of the wedding budget is allocated to the venue and catering. “A couple may fall in love with the Hotel du Pont, but then they don’t have money for any other vendors,” she says. “So it’s silly to have a Hotel du Pont wedding with a $500 DJ and a $1,000 photographer.” Proud advises her couples to stay within their price parameters. Lynda Barness, owner of I DO Wedding Consulting in Philadelphia, created her own detailed wedding budget worksheet for the bride and groom to be. Typically, couples focus on the obvious costs like venue, entertainment, flowers and photography, but they overlook the less obvious expenses. “Things like presents for your bridal party, tips for your vendors, even the items to put in the hotel bags for your guests,” says Barness. “That money has to be coming from somewhere.”
Research your date: Although it may feel like the world is revolving around your wedding, there may be other events going on that same day that could have a major impact on your plans. When Jay-Z performed on the Saturday of a Fourth of July weekend in Philadelphia, Barness had a couple getting married nearby at The Franklin Institute. “I did so much homework prior to that wedding,” she says. “I contacted everyone I could in the city to find out about road closures and anything else that could affect the wedding.” She had the wedding bus drivers carry invitations, so if they were stopped for some reason they would be let through. Thankfully, her precise attention to detail resulted in zero problems for the wedding party that day. Couples need to be aware that when their date coincides with a big event in the city, like the Philadelphia Marathon, they may have difficulty securing blocks of hotel rooms for their guests. The one date that is causing a lot of wedding drama this year is Saturday, Sept. 26, when Pope Francis is making a visit to Philadelphia. “I’ve had a few couples say they were considering the end of September to have their wedding, and I’ve said, ‘No, you’re not,’” says Susan Norcross, wedding director of Styled Bride in Philadelphia, with a laugh. “Pretty much everyone in the wedding industry is calling that Saturday a blackout date because there are no hotels left, and you can’t find transportation.” If you’re determined to have your wedding on that date, Norcross advises getting married in Delaware or at the New Jersey Shore. And for brides who already had that date picked? Norcross says that most venues are willing to move the date at no cost. “This was simply an announcement you couldn’t prepare for,” she says.
Timing is everything: For every wedding Barness plans, she puts together a detailed timeline (usually about 10 pages long) of the wedding weekend for everyone involved in the festivities. One planning fact she knows to be true: Everything takes longer than you think it will. If it usually takes 10 minutes to get from the spot where you’re taking pictures prior to the ceremony to the venue, it may take additional time when you add in traffic on a Saturday afternoon. “You have to think of everything when it comes to the timing of a wedding, including the smallest details, like how long it takes the bridal party to get in and out of the limo or trolley,” she says. “It sounds silly, but it could be an extra five or 10 minutes that delays getting to the ceremony on time. I always pad my timeline so we have extra time, and everything stays on schedule.”
Make it your day: Couples may feel pressure to do certain things because they think that’s what everyone does. Proud tells her couples they may regret that approach. “Don’t get caught up in the ‘I have to do this or that’ mindset,” she says. “You don’t have to do anything. It’s your day, and you can do things whatever way you want. Make the day a reflection of the two of you.” Personal touches are what guests will remember from your wedding.
Go beyond the traditional: Yes, weddings usually are held on weekends, but there’s no rule that says they have to be. Last July, Proud planned a daytime wedding on a Thursday at Curtis Hall in Wyncote, Pa. “It was an art deco, ’20s themed wedding, and it was so cool,” says Proud. “Everyone dressed up.” The couple decided on a cocktail-style reception with hors d’oeuvres instead of a sit-down dinner. Having the wedding on an off day allowed the couple to get a discount from most of their vendors. Since it was during the day, the couple didn’t have to offer a full bar. They had wine, beer and a signature cocktail. “I feel like more than ever people are throwing caution to the wind and saying, ‘I don’t care. This is what we want to do,’” says Proud. “If family and friends really love you, they’ll make it work and show up. And they do.”
Always expect the unexpected: Weather is the most unpredictable factor of a wedding. “You just can’t plan for Mother Nature,” says Norcross. “You plan for the worst and hope for the best. You never know what you’re going to get.” In 2011 during Hurricane Irene, Proud had a wedding at Brandywine Manor House in Honey Brook, Pa. The reception took place in a permanent tent structure, and everything that could go wrong did. The tent leaked due to the soaking rain, and power was knocked out. “I’m glad we were there because I think we took a lot of the stress off of the bride and groom,” Proud says. In these situations, couples just have to go with the flow.
Be open to good surprises: The unexpected doesn’t always have to be negative. Choreographed first dances, a team mascot popping in during the reception and a romantic serenade from a groom to his bride are all welcome bonuses that make a wedding memorable. “Once we had a groom book the Mummers to surprise his bride during the reception,” says Proud. “We also had a bride who was an excellent singer, and she recorded their first dance song before the wedding. So when the couple started their first dance and the groom realized it was the bride singing, he