DIY Wedding Planning: Tips From a Pro Planner

A veteran wedding planner shares her pointers for making your special day a success.

By: Lisa Frederick

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Photo By: Dana Burns

Dana Burns

With dozens of decisions (colors! cake! flowers!) and dozens more logistical details, planning nuptials can daunt even the most intrepid couple. It's no wonder that so many choose to hire a wedding planner to coordinate their big day so they can focus on the fun. But if you're up for handling it on your own, you can pull it off — as long as you approach it with a pro's mindset. Consider these tips:

Look into hiring a professional planner on a limited basis. You may find that the investment pays for itself. "The money and time a planner can save is valuable," says wedding planner Lisa Milko, of Event Perfect in Atlanta. "I can negotiate discounts a couple cannot and make recommendations on DIY and budget-saving places that many people would not consider, or be able to do without a little direction."

If you choose the DIY route, know where to start. Bent on doing it all on your own? You'll need a place to jump in. Lisa recommends two key launching points: "A budget and a guest list," she says. "The two are related, and cutting the guest list is the single best way to save money." Once those details are in place, you'll have a better sense of the type of wedding that suits you best.

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Photo By: Nancy Kennedy

Nancy Kennedy

Think twice before hiring family and friends. Someone who's emotionally invested in your wedding lacks the objective judgment that's necessary to handle the process smoothly. "I try to steer clear of the recommendation of using family or friends," Lisa says. "It never works out like you want, and you are strapped with the emotion of trying to express dislike or needs. It's hard enough expressing wants and needs using a professional for the work, let alone a family or friend."

Be ready to tackle the basics. From the outset, couples need a firm timeline and some general ideas about the type of wedding they want, Lisa says. This helps take the stress out of making fast decisions when necessary. "So many couples get engaged at the same time, and they are up against each other for the same pool of vendors and venues," she says. "If the (bride and groom) can prioritize what they want, they will be able to make decisions faster and get the vendors they really want for their wedding." Have one or two backup dates in mind in case your first choice isn’t possible.

Choose organizational tools wisely. Brides and grooms who orchestrate their own wedding need to stay on top of invoices and receipts, keep copies of contracts, track costs and deal with countless other details. Lisa likes the Web-sharing tool Google Docs for keeping important information consolidated and accessible. "It’s a great way for couples, parents and anyone else who is involved to share documents," she says. However, if you'd rather go old school, wedding-plan journals are available in bookstores. A plain three-ring binder works too.

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Photo By: Francisco Caravana

Francisco Caravana

Be diligent in hiring vendors. The last thing you want is a band whose lead singer cracks off-color jokes, or a caterer who puts out dry, cold food. "Get references and check them," Lisa says. "Taste food, sample product, ask questions. You are spending a lot of money on this day, even on a budget."

Anticipate challenges. Things can and do go wrong, and you'll need to prepare as best you can. One of the biggest tasks a planner takes on, Lisa says, is day-of logistics. "Who is going to put out the place cards?" she says. "Who cues the band? Who loads the leftover favors and alcohol in the car at the end of the night? Who sews a bridesmaid into a dress with a broken zipper? Those are just a few of the many — many — things that cross my plate almost every weekend."

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Photo By: Eric LimAn

Eric LimAn

Keep the process in perspective. No wedding, however well planned, is perfect. Yours won’t be, either, and that's OK. "It's important to remember that this is just one day and one party," Lisa says. "Try to enjoy the process of planning. It should be a fun time of decision-making and celebrating your engagement."

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