Let me preface this story with – I have always wanted to get married. Ever since I was little. Since the impressionable age of six when my parents finalized their divorce, I knew from that moment on that life was never going to be the same and I’ve longed for that nuclear family dynamic ever since.
I think from that moment on I told myself that my life would be different. Although my family is amazing, I so deeply wanted to create a family structure that was solid and all in one household. The thought of not driving around to 4 different homes on Christmas just seemed like a dream. The truth is, I’ve always loved love and always believed you can write your own story. No matter what the odds are and no matter what everyone else says. It may sound cheesy but I firmly believe that you can create your own destiny. You pick the players; you call the shots. This is the book of your life and it is up to you to write every chapter.
So fast forward 24 years, to the morning I got engaged at 6:45 am with nearly 100 candles lining the floor all around my living room on my 30th birthday. Kind of a surreal moment. I was blindfolded and while I could feel Muhamed down on one knee proposing I thought to myself Wow, I can’t believe this is happening right now. It was like one of those once in a lifetime moments when everything becomes very slow and still; you can feel your heartbeat in your throat and you wonder if you are acting the right way and saying all the right things. But then you are just straight shell-shocked for 12 full minutes afterward and you keep repeating random comments like “WOW!” “Are you serious?” until you start randomly crying. Sounds about right. That was such a good day, and I’ll never forget it.
I guess this is a love story of sorts but this is mostly a wedding planning story. Because the truth is, I really wanted to get married, but I also very much wanted to elope. If you can believe that. And Muhamed, the one who didn’t quite want to get married apparently couldn’t live without a huge wedding. Go figure. That is life for you. So here we were. Knee deep in planning a gigantic wedding, which was throwing my detail-oriented, perfectionist OCD tendencies into a full-blown tailspin.
And while my wedding is still very fresh in my memory, I want to give you all the best takeaways and learnings I can possibly think of so that your big day can go as smoothly as physically and emotionally possible.
First things first! Pick your venue. I did this right away and it helped set everything in motion. When you pick your venue, you simultaneously set your wedding date and you also figure out what the venue can offer you when it comes to catering, drinks, music and every other accommodation under the sun. So really picking your venue gets the proverbial ball rolling. We decided on Mayowood Stone Barn in Rochester, MN. It was the perfect mix of old-fashioned elegance paired with the rustic outdoors. I loved the European equestrian style and feel of the location which opened up to a huge farm field surrounded by picturesque woods. The staff was also wonderful to work with which was a huge plus.
Next thing to do is find your dress! They say it takes 5 months for design, shipping, and then a couple additional months for alterations. And if I am going to be completely honest with you – finding my dress was an ultimate nightmare. I went to 11 stores. Some women find their dress at the first store, well, that was not me. Give yourself enough time not to feel stressed. I say start early on this one. Also, you will need your wedding shoes before you begin dress alterations; I decided on a pair of Badgley Mischka’s which were comfortable and had just the right amount of sparkle.
Right around the time you say “yes to the dress” (roughly 9 months before your wedding date) is when you should begin interviewing potential photographers and videographers. My good friend Colleen Eversman of 2ndTruth Photography offered to shoot our wedding as a gift which was amazingly kind of her. She and her second-shooting side-kick, Josh Olson Photography, did such an incredible job. I would highly recommend interviewing a handful of photographers + videographers and really taking a peek at their portfolios and pricing packages before you go ahead with your selection. The main takeaway is you want to feel unbelievably comfortable shooting with them. In an attempt to save money, I said no to hiring a videographer which I deeply regret! But I had to draw the line somewhere when it came to our continuous spending. I think in the wild world of wedding planning weighing the pros and cons and asking what is most important to you and your partner helps a great deal when you’re attempting to finalize the plans and make some of those harder last minute decisions.
I would advise that you start your wedding invites and address list asap. This took me WAY longer than anticipated. Perfecting the addresses and invites took me nearly 3 months. I would also highly suggest sending out “Save the Dates” at least 6-8 months before the wedding, some sites even say 8-12 months before. I did not do this and this is one of my biggest regrets. Begin reaching out for all your loved one’s addresses now and compile that list! After I finally sent the wedding invites out (4 months before the wedding) I received several replies that potential attendees already had plans, which totally bummed me out.
I asked my good friend, design maven and colleague at W&D, Judith Marilyn to create my invites. She was striving for a classic bohemian elegance with them and I was so happy with the way they turned out. I loved the feel of the vintage font and flowers.
I highly recommend reading this book at the beginning of your wedding planning journey Love, Lust, Wedding Planning for the Wild at Heart. Because it’s just fun and it gets you in the mood. Molly Guy is hilarious and just an all-around badass writer and human, not to mention a total inspiration to me. But in all seriousness, this book really opened my eyes to creating your very own dream wedding just the way YOU want it. Not anyone else. It reminds you that you don’t need to follow any rules and you can make your big day everything you want it to be. Even if you want something avant-garde like a Batman cake or a bohemian bungalow to hang out in for your reception. Because after all, your wedding should be a special celebration of the unique love between you and your partner and not just a replica of someone else’s nuptials.
Before you send out your invites makes sure you create your wedding website and registry. I made mine on The Knot and it was pretty simple once I actually sat down to do it. The Knot also offers you quite a few project management tools and reminders of to-do items that I would have most certainly forgotten. You can go as deep into the woods with this website as you’d like.
I was lucky enough to have my catering and cake/desserts included in my wedding venue package, but I would suggest seeking these vendors out 7-10 months before your wedding date to be safe. Asking around to friends and family for recommendations was super helpful in finding the right vendors. It’s fun and romantic to experience these tastings with your partner as you craft what your perfect day will look like each step of the way together.
Pick your florist at least 8-9 months out and I would definitely hire at least a day-of coordinator, if not a wedding planner. I went with Maven Events for both and they were phenomenal. Very laid back and easy to work with but when it came to the big day they nailed every minute detail. Their florals and decorations were absolutely stunning, effortlessly classy and beyond beautiful. I cannot say enough good things about Kelly and her team. I received a myriad of compliments regarding the decor, thanks to them. Combining our florist and coordinator was a dream-like experience, too. With wedding planning, it’s helpful to kill two birds with one stone as often as possible, because that means fewer people to talk to and less projects to manage.
Also, if you have time, it’s fun to get crafty with your wedding. I thrifted nearly twenty vintage medicine bottles for each table, Kate then designed the gold table numbers, printed them out on the Cricut and we placed them onto my vintage bottles. This was an extremely rewarding and effortless project which saved us time and money and I’m happy to report they turned out perfect! Muhamed and I also decided to make our own name cards which turned out to be a success but this was rather time-consuming. We bought vintage-looking postage stamp paper from Michaels and I used a calligraphy pen to write everyone’s name in cursive. During the reception, we asked everyone to write us a handwritten note on their name card and place them in the envelope on their table. It was so entertaining reading all of the humorous and heartfelt letters the next day.
Figuring out my hair and makeup was a little tricky for me. I went back and forth with should I save here or should I splurge? In the end, what is a couple extra hundred dollars within a wedding? I would definitely recommend splurging on this one. I think feeling and looking amazing on one of the most important days of your life is 100% necessary. Especially a day that is wrought with extreme nerves and unexpected emotions – looking my absolute best definitely helped ease my nerves quite a bit. When you feel good about yourself that confidence seems to exude outward, so I highly recommend getting a few consultations and going with a team of artists that make you feel the most beautiful you’ve ever felt, and most importantly, the most like you. You should feel like a movie star version of yourself. Anything less is not good enough! I ended up going with my good friend Sal Rodriguez for makeup and local all-star Jen Hughes for hair, I like to call them the dream team, because they really are! If you live in the Twin Cities area I highly recommend hiring these two for your glam squad.
Rewind to 30 days before the wedding. I was officially stressing big time. Every day counts when you are at the month countdown. Every night after work was spent doing something wedding oriented and at this point, my wedding day and my remaining to-do list were beginning to haunt my dreams, ha literally.
Now it was time to write the ceremony, finalize the music, print the table numbers, complete the name cards, create a shot list for our photographer, and I was still following up with people who didn’t RSVP. I was also planning my bridesmaids’ presents at this time. And really taking a close look at timelines (which my coordinator helped me to create.) Another positive aspect about a coordinator is that they educate you on all of the little things that there is no way you would ever know even exist! Like how long the dinner speeches should be, telling your officiant to remind your guests to be seated before they begin speaking and interesting things like when to cut the cake so the caterer has time to slice up the entire cake. Day of coordinators and planners are so worth it! Unless you are hyper-organized, but either way, you will need to hire a helper to set everything up on the day of if you do not have a coordinator. The last thing you want is to feel stressed about anything (besides yourself) on your big day.
Also, a word to the wise, budget smartly friends, because no matter what you do weddings are ALWAYS more than you think they will be, so I highly suggest saving as much as you can, as soon as you can, and possibly having those hard conversations with your parents pretty early on as to how much they are all planning to contribute.
Another experience I want to echo is that planning a first look with your partner before the ceremony really helps release a lot of the nervous tension and built-up emotions before you have to walk out in front of everyone. I felt really calm and at ease during our ceremony knowing that Muhamed and I got to spend an hour together before the wedding. It was also nice to get all our photos out of the way before the guests arrived that way after the ceremony we got right into socializing and sipping on that celebratory glass of Prosecco.
Finally, everyone always says your wedding day goes by in a blur, which couldn’t be more true. After the wedding I found myself searching every crevice of my mind to remember who I talked to and if I got to say hi to each guest. I almost felt as though I blacked out when I couldn’t remember certain conversations, it is such an overstimulating blur but in the best way. After the big day, I thought I’d be relieved that all the planning and stress was finally over, but the first thing that came to my mind that next morning was how I wanted to do it all over again. If I wasn’t so exhausted of course.
It was such a magical day filled with all the people I cherish most in the world. I’ve never felt so much love in one collective space. After fighting Muhamed tooth and nail to elope I had to say those dreaded words to him the next day, “You were right.” I don’t regret the large wedding in the least, it was worth all the stress and every single penny. It was the party of a lifetime that I’ll hold close to my heart forever.
I was so happy that all my beautiful W&D girls came out for the wedding too!
What happens after it’s all over, you ask? Well, I’m finally on to making sure I get out those 250 “Thank You” cards out before the end of August! Another wedding hack, make sure you write down everything you’re gifted as all the presents roll in, from your bridal shower to your big day, there is a 3-month window where all the gifts begin to arrive and if you don’t document everything carefully your long-list of presents can become a bit unorganized and overwhelming.
Well, I hope this list helps a few of you that are currently wedding planning! I would love to hear your favorite wedding memories or any tips and tricks you have for future brides in the comments below!
Must-have wedding book for inspo: Love, Lust, Wedding Planning for the Wild at Heart.
Favorite wedding website to create your website and registry: The Knot
Here are a few different wedding checklists to make sure you have everything covered! I scoured the internet and then collectively created my own. The Knot has a great list too that is catered around your personal wedding timeline: The Only Wedding Planning Checklist You Will Ever Need // The Ultimate Wedding Planning Checklist // Wedding Checklist
BY Stefani Hodzic // W&D Editorial Director - August 10, 2018
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.