Whew! What an unintentionally long hiatus! I won’t get into why I was gone, but I do have at least a few more posts in me… So I’ll jump right in.
Today’s post is about being a DIY bride. Doing it Yourself sounds like a great idea to many; it’s creative, it’s personal, and most of all – it’s cheap. But if you are planning a Do-It-Yourself wedding, you’ll need to plan things out meticulously. When done right, DIY affairs are beautiful, fun, and not as hard as you might think. But without excellent planning, they can end up being stress-filled and messy. Not at all what a bride wants her wedding day to be.
There is a very good flow chart out there describing reasons to DIY or not. I don’t intend to reproduce or replace that; in fact, I don’t think I could. But it’s worth checking out (sorry, I’ve seen it in a couple of spots but I don’t have a link right now). Just make sure that you DIY for the right reasons; it’s not always cheaper and it’s usually not easier!
Come Up With a Plan
Every bridal publication tells you to plan, plan, plan. Endless lists and budgeting tools exist online. Tons of “shoulds” and “should-nots” abound. But those lists usually assume a set of perfect conditions: a year or more to plan, a median budget for your area, a ready theme, a location that doesn’t need fixing up, etc. This will be YOUR wedding, with YOUR ideas, YOUR location, and YOUR requirements. Use those lists as a starting point only.
When we planned our wedding, we had exactly nine months from the proposal to the wedding date; eight, once we chose the location. That meant we were already way behind when it came to the lists in any bridal magazine. I started off being stressed, until I made my own list. I won’t share the boring details with you, but I came up with my own priorities and went from there. As a DIY bride, you’ll have to do the same – but your planning is even more intensive the more things you do by yourself.
Think about your location. DIY brides often go for a less traditional venue (although it could be argued that most weddings in the 19th century took place in the bride’s backyard, today our venues tend toward structures with catering kitchens and bathrooms). Whether it’s a friend’s yard or a rented barn or a campground or a park, a venue for which weddings are not a regular occurance may be inexpensive and full of character – but it will inevitably have more hurdles.
Is the ground even? Do you need a sub-floor? A dance floor? Astro-turf? Even if you’re planning to do everything on the grass, you will probably need to consider shoes, as heels will sink. Do you have a plan if it rains? If it’s 100 degrees? How many bathrooms are available (you’ll probably want one stall for every 30-40 people, with plenty of extra toilet paper, so you may need to consider renting)?
Do you need any permits for cooking, serving alcohol, taking photographs, or playing music? You can usually determine that through your police department or your city’s recreation department – and typically if you’re doing a backyard shindig you’ll just have to worry about alterting the neighbors. But any sort of event on public property usually needs to be approved well in advance.
Then, of course, you have the inevitable onslought of projects. Want to make 250 hand-sewn napkins? You’d better consider how long each one takes and add on at least half the time to the finished project, since you never know when you’ll hit a snag (run out of fabric, change your mind about stitching, realize you have to sew 300, etc.); in other words, if it takes you 1 hour per napkin, give yourself 375 hours to finish. Don’t forget to let yourself sleep.
The biggest stressor for DIY brides is that they simply extend themselves too far – you can make your own invitations, dress, bouquet, cake, and favors (well, if you’re awesomely talented!). BUT you need to give yourself enough time and plan it out extremely well.
Work It Out In Advance
Something I’ve noticed with every DIY bride I know is that it’s incredibly easy to think “Oh, I can finish tomorrow.” Tomorrow becomes the next day, which becomes the next week… And before you know it, you’re three days from the wedding with three months’ worth of things to do. If you’re there – well, keep reading. But if you’re several months away from your DIY wedding, I want to try to impart some wisdom on to you.
My message, simply, is this: Do as much as you can, as early as you can.
I know, it sounds rediculously easy. But it comes down to time. You see, a month or two or three before your wedding, it seems like you’ll have plenty of time. Use that down time to get done the small details: the hand-sewn napkins, the calligraphed menu cards, the program, the card box, the paper flowers. Stuff favor boxes (seriously – they’ll keep!). Bake cookies for your bridesmaids and stick them in the freezer.
If you see something you’ll want for the wedding on sale at a store, BUY IT. You never know when it’ll be gone, you never know when it’ll be more expensive, and you don’t want to be running to five different stores in a crazy effort to find it three days before the wedding. This may involve a little extra storage room for wedding stuff, or taking things back to the store when you find them cheaper elsewhere or change your mind, or even breaking out the credit card. And I understand that because of those three conditions, it’s not necessarily the ideal solution. But trust me, it’s a heck of a lot easier to return something to the store than it is to find it online because all the stores around you are completely sold out.
This is also part of the planning process. If you want details X, Y, and Z for your wedding and you plan to get them done well in advance, you won’t be scrambling at the last minute. Things to do well in advance include: sewing (a wedding dress, a bridesmaid’s dress, handkerchiefs, napkins, etc.), favors (chocolates and candy almonds hold up just fine for a few months in a box, as does anything non-organic. Baked goods can be put in the freezer until they’re needed), purchasing (of vases, tablecloths, tableware, favor boxes, confetti or rice, favors and gifs, and miscellaneous other decor). Obviously you can’t put together your bouquet a month before the wedding (unless you’re using paper or silk flowers, in which case you definitely should). But many of the other tasks involved in a DIY wedding can be done well in advance. For every extra thing you cross off your list, you’ll be taking one less stress away from yourself the week of your wedding.
If you have never baked a cake that doesn’t fall flat or burn, don’t plan to bake your own cake. Unless you’re an accomplished seamstress, don’t plan to make your own dress. The same goes for all aspects of your DIY wedding – don’t set yourself goals that you can’t attain. You’ll only get completely stressed out when they don’t turn out as you want them to. I can’t sew to save my life – my mom can’t sew and my grandma couldn’t sew. It’s okay to admit that and move on – there are plenty of dresses available for under $300 (Hello, David’s Bridal $99 sale? Or how about a pretty short cotton number at Ross for $25? Or a full-length bridesmaid’s gown at Alfred Angelo for $150?). You just need to think out of the box. Likewise for cakes or flowers – you can often find someone who is just starting out or just learning the business, willing to bake or arrange flowers at cost (or worst comes to worst you can buy a ready-made grocery store bouquet… I’ve seen beautiful ones!).
The point is that there are plenty of ways to save money and have a fun personal wedding style – but you have to set yourself goals that can be achieved. Sometimes this means revising the goals, and sometimes it involves thinking even further outside the box.
Ask for Help!
“That’s fine,” you say, “but what about me? I’ve got two weeks until my wedding and so much to do!” (substitute days or months for weeks; you are the only one who can say how much you have to do and how much stress you’re under!). The first advice I can give you is to ask for help.
Ask around at work for anyone who is willing to bake your cake. Put out an All-Points-Bulletin on Facebook asking your buddies to gather to put together your favors or fold your programs. Most people would love to help, especially former brides (we know how it is!), even if they’re not invited to the wedding (no, really!). And if you get several friends together to help at once, it can be a mini-party!
Don’t be afraid to use your friends as a resource or as manpower – it’s fun to feel like you’re involved in a friend’s special day, and no one wants to see their friend stress. Plus, you never know what talents you’ll uncover!
Get a Coordinator
I know most DIY brides feel like they just don’t have the money to spend on someone to be in charge of coordinating their wedding. It can be expensive to hire a professional, and often times until you’re a bride on her wedding day you just don’t see the need. As a guest at weddings, I never even noticed the coordinator.
Until I started planning my own. In my day job, I was an event planner, so I’m sure it helped me to realize what they were doing a little more readily. But even so, I started realizing all the things that needed another pair of eyes. On my wedding day, I didn’t want to worry about whether a vendor (or a grandparent!) was lost, whether the favors or the programs were in place, whether the music was cued at the proper time, whether the tables went to get food in order, or whether the cake was set up as we wanted it.
This is not meant to scare you – I want to make sure you realize how vital it is to have someone there to make sure your wedding goes as you want it to. This person should NOT be you – you can’t take photos and set up your reception at the same time, or enjoy your first dance whil making sure the cake table is set up properly. But it doesn’t have to be a professional, either.
Granted, a professional wedding coordinator has done a dozen or a hundred or a thousand weddings – she knows how things are supposed to go, has a list of what needs to happen, and isn’t afraid to do what needs to be done. But a friend (especially one who has been a bride herself) with a good understanding of your wedding plans and an assertive nature can easily act as your coordinator. Just go over your timeline with her (or him!), give her a list of expectations and emergency contacts, and trust her.
A friend of mine had a potluck backyard wedding recently, and I volunteered to be her acting coordinator when I was helping her stuff favors the day before. My job was to make sure the tables were set up properly, the food was organized, the cake was put out, and everyone knew to hang out while she and her husband took photos. It was actually pretty busy, but I had such an incredible time. My husband helped move chairs and clean up the ceremony site, and at the end of the day we both felt like we had been able to help the bride and groom have a great wedding day. No compensation needed except to see them smile. You probably have a friend or two who can handle just that.
When All Else Fails, Have a Backup Plan
Stuff happens. The farmer’s market doesn’t have enough orange flowers. The party supply store runs out of your favor boxes. You end up not having time to hand-punch three pounds of confetti or sew 250 napkins or buy enough kitschy vases for every table.
Give yourself a deadline for each DIY project – whether it’s two days before the wedding, to find flowers for your bouquet, or a week before the wedding, to finish favors. Give yourself a deadline and stick to it. And once that deadline passes, reevaluate your plan.
If something has happened to get in the way of accomplishing your goal, figure out what you can do to accomplish it. Can you call in reinforcements? Go to the store? Use a slightly different product than you intended? Completely ignore the plan and not bother to use that element?
Something every former bride knows that every future bride must learn is: no matter how important a detail is to you, most of your guests won’t worry about it one way or another. Favors often get left behind or forgotten. Bubbles often get blown only after the bride and groom have made it down the aisle (or out the door). I love printed materials (programs, menu cards, escort cards, etc.) but they tend to litter a wedding site after the fact.
When I got to my own wedding, I noticed that the flowers were completely unlike what we’d discussed with our florist. I wanted muted colors, burt oranges and rose pinks. I got fuschia and pumpkin. And you know what? It didn’t matter. No one else knew what the flowers were supposed to look like (even my husband, when we were looking at the photos later and I commented about them, said, “oh, really? I thought they looked good!”). They really did look nice, even though they weren’t what I had in my head. And at that point I could either stress out and make myself really upset, or I could breathe and go with it.
In every wedding there will be times like that – in a DIY wedding, it seems like there will inevitably be more points where you can choose to stress or go with it. Your guests aren’t judging you by how your wedding looks or how perfect your details are. In fact, your guests shouldn’t judge you at all – they’re your friends and family and if you’re happy, they should be too.
So if a detail doesn’t get done exactly how you want it to, go for plan B. Or nix it altogether.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t work hard to get your wedding to be the way you want it to. But the number one piece of advice I’d give to any bride, DIY or not, is to just relax. Like I said, there will always be something that didn’t go exactly right (no matter how much you spend on a wedding). If you relax and enjoy it, you’ll have good memories of the day (and of the process leading up to it). It’s YOUR wedding – you should be happy on your wedding day. Even if you decide to get married in a $5 thrift store dress in your living room with a grocery store cake, don’t let anyone – or anything – make you feel otherwise.