So You’re Engaged… Now What? Everything You Need To Know About Wedding Planning, Part 1

Get the wedding day of your dreams with less stress, more success.

You’ve celebrated the engagement, toasted your future with numerous glasses of champagne, and are absolutely certain that this is the person you want to spend your life with, but are you certain about what comes next? Planning a wedding is unchartered territory for most brides, given the fact that most of us only plan on getting wed once, and it can be a tricky road to navigate, often wrought with money concerns, family politics and unexpectedly tricky decisions about flower arrangements, bridesmaid dresses and cake toppers.

How do you chop that guest list in half without offending a decent chunk of your social circle (and that cousin you haven’t played with since you were 13)? Is splashing out on a Ferrero Rocher pyramid (extra large) really necessary? Will all your guests hate you if you don’t organise a free bar? Wouldn’t it be easier if you just eloped? We asked the experts.

How to budget for it

What’s the difference between the wedding you want and the wedding you can afford? In Ireland, the average amount couples spend on their big day is up to €21,000 but as tempting as it is, there’s no point having ultra lavish ‘I dos’ if you’ll have little cash to put towards your future together. So how do you set yourself a realistic budget? “On a basic level it should be made up of how much you can afford to save during your engagement and also take into consideration the things that are most important to you for your wedding,” says former wedding planner and author Bláithín O’Reilly Murphy. “Figure out your top three wedding priorities; the things that are most important to you.”

Then you’ll need to suss out your biggest wedding spends and how much you’ll need for each one. “The single biggest expense is the reception; food and drink for the guests. This alone takes 35 to 50% of most budgets,” Bláithín points out. “After that it really depends on the couple’s priorities but among them would be things like the photographer and videographer, band and wedding attire.”


As for what to splash the cash on and what to not, “most weddings are judged on food, drink and the entertainment, so definitely getting the best available for your budget is worthwhile,” says Bláithín. “After that it’s your memories, so a good photographer and videographer are essential.”

As for cutting costs, the most effective way, says Bláithín, is to invite less people. “It’s not necessarily the easiest way,” she points out, “But it will save you money. The less you invite the more you potentially save. Regardless of how much you have to spend, €10K, €25K, €50K, every couple has a budget and every couple has to make difficult decisions.”

Her advice for dealing with mounting costs? “Always have a contingency in your budget. The wedding will cost more than most think and even if you do all your research there will be something you want or need that you hadn’t factored in. A contingency will allow for some of that.”

How to plan it

It’s time to plan your dream day, but where do you even start? Before you get carried away planning your favours and shopping for your dream dress, sit down and get a really detailed idea of what you want your big day to look like first, says Bláithín. “Basically plan on paper your dream wedding. Before you even consider a cost, service or guest list, sit down together and really talk about what you both want. It’s easy to get caught up in tantalising options, especially under the influence of friends, family and good sales people, but, believe it or not, it’s ‘the dream’ that can keep you focused and reigned in when the suggestions start to fly from others.”

After that it’s the wedding date that is your first big decision. “This sets the amount of time you have to research, save and plan the biggest and most likely, most expensive day of your life.” Once you’ve locked that in, “booking your ceremony, celebrant and reception will be key so that you have dates and locations to discuss with others. Then research and book the services and people that are most important to you first.”

As for making the whole process as easy as possible, Bláithín has several tips to share. “Be open and honest with each other as a couple, and remember, it is both your day,” she suggests. “Give your wedding ceremony serious thought and consideration, and do your research on what wedding services cost. Remember to compare services and not prices too and remember to only book suppliers who offer contracts/booking forms and receipts.”

When it comes to the guest list, be realistic, she says. “Even if your families are not contributing to your wedding financially they may have an expectation of inviting certain people. You’ll need to decide as a couple what your approach to this will be. Don’t drown yourselves in plus ones either, but the same rules should apply to all,” says Bláithín. In other words, don’t give the okay for your friend to invite her new fella if you’re not going to allow others to invite their other halves too.

Crucially, “do not fall into the assumption that the more people you invite the more money you will get and do not invite people in the hope of their collective presents paying for your reception,” Bláithín advises. If it helps, “create three lists to help you identify who is most important,” she suggests.

List A are people you must have at the wedding: wedding party, close friends and family. List B is everyone else you’d like to come to your wedding, and List C are those you feel you have to invite but wouldn’t be upset if they didn’t attend. Around 15 to 20% of those invited will decline. If budget or numbers are tight don’t invite those on list C until the people begin to decline on lists A or B.

Perhaps Bláithín’s most vital piece of advice is to ensure you enjoy the day itself. “Your wedding day is the fastest of your life. It will go by in the blink of an eye for a couple. Take stock of the moments. Don’t worry about the details on the day, the professionals you’ve hired will look after you. Assign people to bring you drinks throughout the day. Enjoy yourself and remember what the day is all about. Once you have your special someone, the paperwork and the celebrant absolutely everything else is just icing on the cake.”

But of course, there’s more – find out how to pick a dress, navigate the politics of weddings, and potentially elope in part two


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