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How to plan your own wedding. No planner? No problem!

How to trim costs and realize your vision by planning your own wedding

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Some vendors say dealing directly with the bridal party gives them a better sense of the vision for the wedding.
  • Some vendors say dealing directly with the bridal party gives them a better sense of the vision for the wedding.

In my living room, a tall stack of wedding magazines stands in the corner like a dusty pyramid. I am supposed to get married in exactly 287 days (there's an app), and the reality of the situation is bearing down on me: Since I don't intend to hire a wedding planner, this event isn't going to happen unless I start to put it together.

  Fortunately, I'm not the first procrastinating bride to stumble toward the altar this way. Being your own wedding planner (or, as many venues call it, "going direct") is a growing trend in the wedding industry, as highly personalized ceremonies become commonplace and brides look for way to get hands-on with the planning process.

  Heather Dragna, who got married in New Orleans in 2011, says being your own wedding planner is filled with advantages for those willing to put in the time and effort to make their arrangements.

  "I decided to plan my own wedding because I'm a very detail-oriented person and I doubted that a wedding planner would be as thorough or as cost conscious as I was," she says. "I'm also a bit of a perfectionist, so being able to control all of the various details was important to me."

  Dragna says planning her wedding became like a part-time job, filling her lunch breaks with phone calls and quote requests. But the flexibility of the process allowed her to come up with creative solutions to unexpected difficulties. Since her wedding date conflicted with Mother's Day, driving up floral prices, she sourced paper flowers on Etsy. She was free to look for workarounds to established fees; for example, she booked her venue at a lower rate after learning the Women's Guild of the New Orleans Opera Association offered a discount for members.

  From a vendor's perspective, working directly with a wedding party offers its own benefits and challenges. Perry Culbertson, director of special events at the Audubon Nature Institute, offers insight into this increasingly common process.

  "We have a lot of brides who go direct," Culbertson says. "It gives us more of an opportunity to get up close and personal with the bride ... to talk to her and figure out what she wants to do."

  For Culbertson, a bride should arrive at a consultation with numbers: a date range, a rough head count and a working budget. It doesn't have to be a firm number. A general idea of what you'd like to spend is enough to give the vendor an idea of the event's concept and scale.

  "It's also helpful to know the format of their reception," Culbertson says. "When people come in and don't know if they want to do a seated, served dinner versus reception-style versus buffet, or even what the difference is, we have to educate them on that. Having some idea of their vision [ahead of time] helps, so we can make it happen."

When working with wedding vendors, make sure you have a date, head count and approximate budget in mind.
  • When working with wedding vendors, make sure you have a date, head count and approximate budget in mind.

  Though many brides who plan their own weddings are also interested in crafting and DIY, Culbertson recommends delegating the more time-sensitive tasks, such as the wedding cake and floral design, to professionals. She urges clients not to take on more than they can handle, using outside vendors as necessary. (Like many venues, Audubon has a list of recommended vendors, but brides are not obligated to choose from this list — make sure to check this policy wherever you book, because it varies from place to place.)

  "[On your wedding day], there's a lot of pressure, there's a lot of stress, and there are a lot of time constraints, and you have to worry about a lot of different people," Culbertson says. "[Why] have the stress put on you when you could hire a professional and have it done right?"

  At Sucre, home of exquisite custom wedding cakes, customer service coordinator Zack Pontious agrees that minimizing stress is key. For those forgoing a wedding planner, he suggests designating a "point person" who isn't a member of the wedding party as a contact for cake delivery and other related tasks.

  "For us, there's some coordination that goes on as far as where we're dropping the cake off, [at] what time, who we're meeting there, that kind of stuff, and it's nice to have a contact who isn't getting ready for the wedding," he says.

  Before the big day, he encourages flexibility and open communication regarding the cake's design. It's helpful to have some idea of the style of cake (for example, the color or how many tiers it should have), but brides should keep an open mind when planning this creative aspect with their cake vendor.

  "If you come in [with a photo] and say, 'I want this exact cake,' I think it ultimately ends up being a little bit uninteresting in the end and certainly it's less exciting," he says. "It doesn't leave a lot of room for the little nuances that we can do."

  Pontious often prefers to work with the bride or the bride's mother directly, as one less "filter" to help understand a vision. John Harkins, owner of Harkins the Florist, feels the same way: He actively discourages clients from working with a wedding planner, saying planners can "muddy the waters." He suggests brides work directly with a vendor's in-house professionals like his manager Peggy Hamilton, who handles the company's wedding business. She directs brides to the company's website and wedding magazines for inspiration.

  Harkins also offers a three-tiered pricing strategy at initial consultations, another benefit to look out for when selecting vendors.

  "What I've been doing is giving three prices on each and every item in the wedding, so that the bride has all these pieces they can play with and crunch the numbers," he says. "I suggest she figure the entire wedding using the low cost, then figure it using the high cost, so she'll see the range that we're talking about."

  The takeaway from these advisers comes down to a few main points: have a budget and a vision in mind, be flexible, and be ready to delegate responsibilities. In 287 days, I'll let you how their advice worked out.

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