Wedding Advice for Newly Engaged Couples: Liz Lewis {The Ranty Bride}

How long after your got engaged did you begin planning the wedding?

We were engaged for a year and a half before we got married. We decided on a Fall 2011 wedding fairly quickly, so after that was settled, the planning didn't really start until a year out.

I should clarify – OUR planning started a year out, to the complete chagrin of the mothers. There were certainly attempts to force the planning earlier, but I was comfortable with the timeline we established.

How did you determine the wedding’s budget and who contributed what?

  Well, I randomly ended up buying my dress the weekend after we got engaged – I had intended on just seeing what was out there, I swear – so that budget was established pretty early! Whoops.

We started by operating on the assumption that we would have to pay for everything ourselves, so we were looking for budget-friendly EVERYTHING.

Along the way, we ended up buying a house, and my parents ended up having money saved that they planned on contributing either to a house or a wedding, our choice. That triggered the money discussion with the in-laws. Both families ended up contributing some, which gave us a bit more wiggle room in the budget, but there was no way we wanted to spend over $10K. I mean, we were scrambling to make a down payment on our house and scraping together every last bit of cash we could, so it just seemed nuts to negatively impact our house for a party.

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Image Courtesy of: Alevtina Photography

How did you keep track of your wedding planning?

I used WeddingWire for any spreadsheet-based planning and for our wedding website, and I thought it worked really well. I ended up using way more on the site than I thought I would. Pinterest happened to come out as I was planning, so I used that site to house crafty ideas, photos I liked, makeup and hair stuff – pretty much anything visual, as I'm a visual person. Before Pinterest, I had been bookmarking sites left and right, but that became overwhelming quickly. Pinterest was a wedding godsend.

When you discussed the wedding, what 5 things where most important to the two of you and how did you incorporate them into your day?

  1. The guest list.
  2. Budget.
  3. Venue.
  4. Good food and beverages.
  5. A good candid photographer.

Regarding the guest list…the boy wanted a family wedding. If I had to deal with all the family (see: previous posts/rants), I definitely wanted friends there to balance out the crazy. Once that was established, we knew that the small wedding we both wanted just wouldn't happen, and it ended up shifting the planning significantly. Setting the guest list impacted budget allocations, the city/state/country of the event, the date…everything. 99% of our wedding-related arguments involved the guest list somehow.

Seriously, if I can offer one piece of advice: set your guest list before ANYTHING else, as it impacts SO much. Make cuts if you need to based on budget, and make the cutting line clean and fair (for us, if we didn't know a last name or hadn't spoken to someone in 2 years, they were off the list, with very few exceptions). And you both have to be in agreement, because when your well-meaning (or not) friends/family members start  to try to change your list, it can throw everything else out of whack.

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Image Courtesy of: Alevtina Photography

On budget, it wasn't SO strict that we didn't allow for any wiggle room, but neither of us wanted to go into debt over the wedding, either. So, I'd be lying if I said budget wasn't crucial to our planning. Once we knew what components we wanted, we ended up shifting money around quite a bit to make everything work. For example, we cut back on the DJ and rehearsal dinner a bit in order to make room for a few more things we wanted – buttons and sparklers for the guests, and a cake delivered to our hotel room for us to cut after the reception.

Venue ended up being more important than I thought, from a pickiness standpoint. The boy wanted a church wedding and could not have cared less where we had a reception. I wanted something picturesque and would have sold organs to avoid having a reception in a conference room or VFW Hall (a downside of all the wedding porn, perhaps). Luckily, the church we ended up joining is gorgeous (built 100+ years ago with stained glass and black walnut ceilings) and is in a ridiculously quaint city that still looks like a small town despite being a suburb in a major metropolitan area. For the reception, I found a rustic-looking park building with huge stone fireplaces, wood beams, room to accommodate our party size, alcohol allowed…and it was open on ONE Saturday in October, which set our date after a panicked call to the boy about how EVERYTHING ELSE IN THE CITY WAS ALREADY BOOKED A YEAR OUT AND WE NEED TO BOOK SOMETHING NOW.

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Image Courtesy of: Alevtina Photography

We both hate crappy wedding food. The boy was insistent on having a particular BBQ place do the catering, and he therefore offered to take on anything having to do with food planning, so that's how we ended up with our caterer. Neither of us particularly likes cake, so I ordered 13 pies from a semi-local vendor. We brewed our own beer to keep costs down and awesomeness up, I asked my favorite wine vendor to pick our wines for us…and we got so many compliments on the food and beverages. I wanted a nice rehearsal dinner, and we paid quite a bit for it, but it was important to me to have a great meal to really thank the people who contributed to our wedding, and the restaurant where we had it more than exceeded expectations.

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Image Courtesy of: Alevtina Photography

Given a wedding is pretty much a one-shot deal, both of us were willing to pay a good amount for professional photography. Apparently, "a lot" is relative, as I was absolutely SHOCKED by the cost of photographers. So, I asked friends/tweeps for referrals, and we found our photographer through a referral from another photographer who came highly recommended and was already booked on our date. We met up, looked at her portfolio, and she really seemed to match what we had in mind. In the months before the wedding, I used Pinterest to collect photos I liked, so I was able to get those to her before our wedding. Beyond that, we told her to do what she thought was best. She got some great shots!

Did you register for gifts and was it a good experience?

Have I mentioned I LOVE Crate and Barrel? (disclosure: they have not compensated me for this shout-out, but, if you're reading this, Crate and Barrel, feel free to send me all the black and white boxes you'd like!) We went to one of their Wedding Parties, where they allow couples dedicated time in the store to try out items and build their registries. The boy was quickly overwhelmed, so all registering beyond that point was pretty much done online. However, they've been great with returns and exchanges so far, so I'm very happy with them.

We also registered at Macy's, and I've been pleasantly surprised by them as well. Unfortunately, I was pretty much against registering there due to the fits thrown by certain guests who shall remain nameless that we had not registered at a place that was local for them. As someone who does pretty much all shopping online, needing a local brick and mortar store is a foreign concept to me, but I threw together a registry online, and I'm glad I did. Macy's has also been great with returns and exchanges. Their online customer service is kind of iffy, but I've gotten great help from their social media team. I've also been told that their Bridal Registry associates can MAKE THINGS HAPPEN. So, I would 100% recommend Macy's, too, if you're looking for a registry option.

Now, the boy would likely describe his experience differently, as he wanted "manly" items…so, I promised him that if he ever legitimately NEEDS a biscuit jointer, he has my permission to just go and buy the damn thing.

The only downside I've found with registering is it's easy to start picturing all of these awesome items in your house. And, if you're a stress spender like me, you'll be constantly tempted to buy things off your registry, especially if you have a new house you're trying to decorate/fill. On top of that, you may find yourself getting salty when people don't buy off the registry because, in your mind, they're not getting you what you NEED and are already 100% in love with. So, try not to get too emotionally attached to that cookie jar. You'll look at that registry totally differently when all that stress is over, I promise.

Could you share some wedding planning advice for newly engaged couples?

If you can afford it, get a wedding planner, or at least a day-of coordinator. I wish we had done that, as trying to corral family members and friends is WAY more difficult when they're YOUR family and friends. Plus there's something about weddings that turns reasonable, intelligent adults into – pardon my language – total shitshows. A good friend compared it to a goat rodeo. That's accurate.

Seriously, day-of, I would have sworn the parents had some sort of frontal lobe damage. After many attempts at gently suggesting they get their crap together, we ended up barking orders and hurt some feelings, but they otherwise DID. NOT. LISTEN. A coordinator could have kept the parental tantrums to a minimum.

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Image Courtesy of: Alevtina Photography

Where did you splurge and where did you save?

I convinced myself, over the course of a year and a half and changing seasons and lots of cute photos on "real wedding" blog entries, that I needed Frye riding boots. And Hunter wellies. And Badgley Mischkas…all in addition to the dyeables that I bought with my dress, and the coordinating flats I bought from Kohl's.

But, whatever. They are totally purchases I can use again and again. Did I mention I'm a stress spender?

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Image Courtesy of: Alevtina Photography

We saved by DIYing almost EVERYTHING. My maid of honor and I DIYed the fresh flower bouquets. I made fabric flowers that I turned into boutonnieres and corsages. With some help from coworkers, I painted birdhouses and birdcages, and wrapped jars and votive holders with twine and lace for centerpieces. We made crepe paper flowers, Martha-style. I used school glue to make my own crackle paint for picture frames. I made confetti packets out of kraft paper and doilies. We made buttons and chalkboard painted a pallet of mason jars for guest favors (which were tagged with hand-stamped kraft tags, and, for the record, I made the stamp, too). I made earrings for the bridesmaids and cufflinks for the groomsmen. I made my own shoe clips, one of which disappeared in approximately 30 seconds courtesy of the cats. I sewed my own garter out of lace. I made three burlap pennant banners for the reception. I glued mushroom birds on twigs. My aunts and I sewed tiny bird ornaments. We wrapped, tagged and tied all of our silverware. I made a wishing tree plus tags for people to sign in lieu of a guestbook. We brewed and bottled our own beer, which was labeled with some awesome and witty labels designed by yours truly. Oh, and I designed and printed all of our invitations and programs.

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Image Courtesy of: Alevtina Photography

Go big or go home, right?

What specific cost surprised you (pleasantly or unpleasantly)?

Limos. Seriously, it's ridiculous how much they charge. It's cheaper to rent a car for a week!

I was also shocked – in a good way – when we went to a local restaurant/paper supply store to get things like bottles of water, paper goods, drink mixes and so on. If you have one near you, seriously check them out. We got a box of 3,000 moist towelettes for $6! We also have about 2,950 left, if anyone needs some.

Could you share a favorite DIY project from your wedding?

Check out my "Wedding Ideas" board on Pinterest for most of the things I did - I've added more awesome finds since the wedding, too.

Did you have to handle any tricky or delicate issues while planning your wedding and how did you cope with them?

Xanax.

Just kidding. (it was Ambien).

Goat rodeo, I swear to god. If you've seen my previous rants, you know a lot of the pre-wedding issues we had. On the day of the blessed event, we just hit the breaking point with the issue-causers (read: parents) and started FLIPPING OUT ON THEM when they commandeered our photographer at the church for their own personal Olan Mills-esque portrait session, or didn't want to receive guests, or decided the best use of their time would be to wait in a parking spot for literally TWO hours so Grandma would know where to park…in the spot that was already RESERVED for her, or refused to let us eat at the reception by turning into stalkerazzi and/or clanging on their glasses every ten seconds because they thought it was cute to keep interrupting us every SINGLE time a fork approached our mouths. Ugh.

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Image Courtesy of: Alevtina Photography

The most delicate issue, in my opinion (the boy may not agree), was the expectations of my in-laws. They're out of town and don't travel much, so they – understandably - wanted to spend time with the boy while they were in town. Unfortunately, we ALSO had a wedding to contend with, so I felt like I was constantly killing their dreams by saying we couldn't get together for dinner on Wednesday, or hang out with them on Thursday, or entertain them at the house on Friday, or stop and chat when they showed up at the church 2+ hours early, or visit the morning after our wedding.

The expectation needed to be set that a wedding is just not a great time for a quality visit with the groom. It sucked for the boy because they were requesting things through him, so he was stuck in the middle, and he was frustrated because he didn't think he would be too busy at all. He didn't want to hurt their feelings, especially when so few family members were attending. Anyway, he now has a better appreciation for the running around that takes place in the week before a wedding, as we did end up running around like chickens with our heads cut off, but during the planning, it caused a lot of arguments and stress. But, I'm glad we told them no in advance instead of canceling at the last minute.

Could you share some wedding day advice for newly engaged couples?

Make sure you get to see the reception venue before the day of your wedding. Ask me to plan your list for the DJ, because I SERIOUSLY picked the BEST music. I mean, our recessional was by Depeche Mode. Also, don't interview for a new job the week of your wedding (actually, that part worked out just fine).

A friend told me, "Just stay away from the mothers. They'll do nothing but piss you off."

Could you share your favorite photo from the day and tell us why you love it?

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Image Courtesy of: Alevtina Photography 

This is how you rock the cardigan, motherfuckers.

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Image Courtesy of: Alevtina Photography

Is the one that made me go, "eat my fucking cardigan, haters."

Thank you, Liz! The Ranty Bride ROCKS a cardi, y'all.

Would you like to ask Liz any questions about her wedding experience? Leave a comment and we'll try to get back with you!