A wedding to plan.
Ideally, those words elicit joy. “Hip hoorah! Yes! A wedding to plan!” But also, this opportunity can (and should) trigger concerns. Most weddings are expensive and complicated. The average cost of a Chicago wedding in 2014 was $50,000, according to a study by The Knot. The average cost of weddings in North Shore suburbs, though, is several times that.
What should be a most glorious celebration quickly can be ruined if the planning process is arduous and the event isn’t well executed. The vendors you hire can minimize stress and maximize joy. But, the wrong ones can lead to disaster.
Before launching your plans, please read “Miss Manners’ Guide to a Surprisingly Dignified Wedding.” It will help put your plans in perspective. Judith Martin and her newlywed Second City-trained daughter, Jacobina, explain how to have “a dignified ceremony and delightful celebration without succumbing to the now-prevalent pattern of the vulgar, money-draining wedding that exhausts families and exploits friends.”
Yes, less can be more. Reading this book at the beginning of your planning process is a good reminder of that.
No single resource can make a greater difference in any wedding than a wedding planner. Hire someone who is the right fit for the couple and their families, and the entire planning process and event will be a dream. Not so, though, if the planner lacks necessary skills, listens poorly or prioritizes themselves over your family.
Wedding planners vary in scope of service and cost – from just helping with the day of the event to guiding you through the entire planning process. Some planners charge flat fees, some a percentage of the overall budget – usually 10 to 15 percent, according to Martha Stewart Weddings. At least one Chicago-based planner charges a minimum of $40,000 per wedding.
Three of our children married in the past three years. I wish I could tell you that each was the happy event of our dreams. But that would be a lie. One was good, one was great and the other was … well, the above-referenced disaster. In hindsight, the wedding planners we hired for each event contributed mightily to these dynamics.
With the hope that knowledge earned from our mistakes will become your gain, we offer the following tips on how to find and work with a wedding planner.
1. Destination resorts can serve as excellent free wedding planners.
Want to make the planning easy, fun and free? Get married at a destination resort that regularly hosts weddings. Well-trained staff will guide you through choices and run the event – usually at no extra cost.
Bonus: You will have more time before and after the actual event to enjoy family and friends who are all staying at the same venue.
2. Set the budget first. Decide what percentage or amount you’re willing to spend on the wedding planner.
Good event planners exist at every price point. Unless you are doing a “price is no object” wedding, ask for the details of how (s)he charges before scheduling the interview. Also, please be mindful that many planners also have compensatory relationships with vendors. If so, they are incentivized to recommend these resources. This can help you reduce the fees you pay directly to the planner.
3. Interview as many event planners as it takes to find one with whom the bride, groom and their families feel comfortable.
Much time will be spent with your wedding planner – communicating dreams, learning options and making choices. You need to enjoy this person’s company. Just as importantly, though, (s)he needs to communicate that they want nothing more than to give the couple the day of their dreams within a thoughtfully-developed budget.
The ideal wedding planner listens well to the couple, quickly grasps what makes them great together and develops a fast, easy rapport with them. Family members who are paying the bill also need to be comfortable with the planner.
4. Listen for whether the planner’s answers are direct, clear and focused on the couple, as opposed to being all about themselves.
Good planners put the couple first and answer questions with clear, direct responses. Avoid planners who give long responses that lead back to how brilliant they are or otherwise put the focus on themselves instead of the couple. Inevitably, they won’t really put the couple’s needs first. They are likely to push to spend more and do more than originally discussed in order to grow their own reputations.
And speaking of reputations, do not skip the next step in the hiring process.
5. Ask for and check with references. Don’t just trust online sources of information and awards.
Talk to other families who have used the event planner to put on a wedding similar in size and scope to the one you envision. Ask about the planner’s strengths and weaknesses. Ideally you will hear, “Loved them! They feel like family to us now.”
Do not rely solely on online references and awards. It’s easy for planners to self promote through these channels. (S)he who has the most online followers and “Best Wedding Planner” awards may be so busy burnishing her own reputation that she isn’t focused enough on her clients. This certainly was the case in our wedding disaster.
6. See examples of their decision timelines and other organization techniques. Be confident that the planner will keep you on task and on time.
Every step of the wedding process takes more time than most people anticipate – including booking a venue, designing the event, finalizing a guest list, creating and mailing save the date cards and invitations, selecting food and entertainment and choosing bridal party attire.
Not every event planner has the personality, organizational skills and tools to keep the planning process on schedule. During the interview process, ask what schedule the planner recommends and review examples of the timeline, master document or spreadsheet that (s)he uses to drive the process.
7. Confirm that the person paying the bill will be appropriately kept in the planning process loop.
Wise wedding planners make the couple feel in control of the planning process. But, if parents or others are paying for the wedding, the planner needs to genteelly demonstrate that they know who truly is the boss.
Once budgets are set, the planner shouldn’t let the couple choose options outside the budget without circling back to get the payer’s permission.
Ultimately, weddings reflect the people being celebrated – full of personality, life and (likely) a few imperfections. Selecting an enthusiastic, experienced planner with strong organizational skills, a genuine focus on and empathy for the couple can eliminate stress and maximize joy for all.
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