Wedding Planning Tips From Claire

Wedding Planning Tips From Claire

Wedding planning tips are invaluable when you’re working to plan your wedding day and even more so from someone who has been there and done it. Claire and Max were married at First Congregational Church and held a reception afterwards at The Margarita at Pine Creek. Check out her wedding planning tips below and her wedding photos! With a self-imposed, strict wedding budget learn how they pulled it off beautifully and in grand style.


  • The Offbeat Bride Wedding Checklist was a huge time-saver. It’s detailed, it was compiled by experts, and it really is comprehensive. We didn’t hire a wedding coordinator, but using this checklist was like having one in our pocket.
  • That said, ditch the wedding websites. You can browse gorgeous Pinterest photos of woodland-themed industrial-chic hand-crafted thousand-dollar centerpieces until you get carpal tunnel syndrome, but there’s always a point where it passes from “fun inspiration” to fuel for stress. Ditto all the bridal e-newsletters you’ll somehow mysteriously start receiving in your inbox. They may be gorgeous, but a lot of them are designed to play on your insecurities (and buy more wedding-related merchandise to assuage them).
  • Instead, spend some time with your fiance talking about what’s most important to the two of you. For Max and me, it was tasty food, music that didn’t suck, and reflecting our Colorado heritage with a relaxed, outdoorsy venue for the reception. Start by thinking about the best parties you’ve ever attended — what do they have in common?
  • Figure out how to celebrate the rest of your family, too. We’re lucky to be very close (geographically and emotionally) to both of our families, so it was important to us to honor them during the wedding. We know not all families are like that, but it felt extra-meaningful to give special emphasis to the people who’d been there for us all along. A toast at the reception to the loved ones who supported you is a great start, but we took it a little further. My engagement ring once belonged to Max’s grandmother Doreen, and his wedding ring was handed down from my grandfather Dick. Because of that, it felt like a natural choice for me to wear my grandmother Claudine’s wedding dress, and for Max to wear his grandfather JD’s tuxedo. (In fact, the whole wedding party ended up wearing vintage clothes — which was much more “us” than matching gowns and suits!) Claudine was so proud that I’d be wearing the dress her mother sewed for her in 1956 — seeing the look on her face is one of my most cherished memories of the wedding. My mother had a copy of Claudine and Dick’s wedding portrait, so we decided to create a “family photo table” at the reception with wedding portraits of as many parents, grandparents and ancestors as we could find. Meanwhile, one of my bridesmaids who is a graphic designer created a giant family tree so everyone could see how they were now “connected” through Max and me. We were so glad to be able to include our parents, grandparents, siblings, and cousins in this way, while honoring those who have passed on. Plus, it was really fascinating to learn all about my fiance’s family history from his older relatives!
  • Find a pre-marital counselor. We were so busy planning the clothes, the food, the party and the decorations that we nearly forgot to think about one little thing: the actual wedding ceremony! Luckily, we had an amazing counselor who encouraged us to reflect on why we were getting married and how our hopes for our marriage would be reflected in the ceremony. Since we’re an inter-religious couple, we spent a lot of time thinking about how to incorporate both of our belief systems into the rites in a way that would make our families comfortable. We broke bread with all of our guests, asked our family members to sing, and used the Throne Room suite from Star Wars as our recessional (one of our groomsmen even did a Wookiee yell!). Many of our guests later told us that it was one of the most beautiful, most thoughtful, least boring weddings they’d ever attended.


  • Figure out how much you have to spend, before you start making decisions. We started by having all four of our parents over for dinner and discussing the look and feel we wanted for our wedding. (To be fair, this was their idea. Other families may be more sensitive, so it’s a good idea to ask them how they want to approach the topic.) We told them that we didn’t expect them to contribute a dollar more than what made sense to them, and that we’d be completely accountable in terms of how their money would be spent. We then figured out how much of Max’s and my paychecks would get auto-transferred to our wedding account — no way to spend the money on something else if it’s not there!
  • Make a realistic, detailed budget.  After getting commitments from our parents, we created a budget with line items for all of the known hard costs associated with a wedding, from postage for the invitations to an honorarium for the officiant. We then called around to get quotes for flowers, food and all the other big vendor expenses that could be negotiated. (We’d known from Day One that no one but Sean could be our photographer, so that was inked into the budget right away.) Once we subtracted hard costs from the total capital available to us, it became less difficult to make decisions on scalable services like the venue, the menu, and optional extras. We’re not really deluxe-package kind of people, but having a budget and a clear list of priorities made it easier to avoid over-spending.
  • DIY smarter, not harder. Real talk: It might be cost-effective to hand-make every aspect of your wedding yourself, but It. Is. Exhausting. From the get-go, divvy up your wants and needs into three categories of what you can make yourself, what others can make for you, and what makes more sense to purchase instead. For instance, I knew my mother could make the needed alterations to my wedding dress, but did either of us need the stress of her taking on that task at such a busy time? Absolutely not. Finding a fantastic tailor accustomed to working with vintage clothing saved us time and allowed her to focus on things only Mom could do (like singing at the wedding). Ditto designing the invitations, making the decorations for the reception, and assembling lunches for the wedding party on the big day — be ruthless in deciding what you have time to accomplish and what’s going to require some extra help (or the services of a professional).


  • LOTS of help from family and friends.  Every couple hits a “total freakout” point in the months leading up to the wedding, when the to-do list seems too long and the number of details to track gets too large. When we hit ours, my fiance’s cousin saw it right away and gave me some really wise advice: “I was just like you,” she said. “Totally in-control and hesitant to ask my family for help. But LET US HELP. Tell us specifically what you need done. We’re here for you and we’ll do whatever you want!” So I stopped feeling bad about asking for assistance, and delegated whatever I could, knowing that my family, both old and new, really did take joy in lightening my load. That wise cousin marshaled my siblings and my sister-in-law to decorate the venue, my parents flexed their carpentry and sewing skills to make lawn games for the reception, Max’s parents (and a few of their friends) took care of the rehearsal dinner, Max’s cousin’s wife handled flowers for the flower girl, Max’s dad found a beautiful choral arrangement for the ceremony (and got his brother-in-law, his son, his daughter-in-law and my mother to sing it), and Max’s brother had his jazz band play a set at the reception. Our friends picked up lunches for the entire wedding party, took over DJ, audiovisual and organist duties, ushered the ceremony, emceed the party, and handled set-up and clean-up without us lifting a finger. One friend even pulled some strings to publish a gorgeous full-color engagement announcement for us in the paper. By communicating specific needs to our loved ones, the wedding became something to enjoy, instead of something to stress about.
  • Flexibility. Not everything about the day went according to plan, and that was OK. None of your guests are going to care if the flower girl loses her crown, if you forgot to buy bubble wands for the recessional, or if your custom cocktail gets 86’d by the bartender at the reception — the hiccups are only a problem if you let them keep you from enjoying yourself. Due to some delays in the morning’s preparations, the 45-minute window I’d scheduled for pre-wedding portraits turned into a 15-minute sprint before the ceremony was due to start. I worried that the photos would look rushed, that we wouldn’t get the shots we wanted, and that we’d be late to our own wedding. In the end all my worries were for naught — the images from the first look and family portraits were  beautiful, we got to the church with time to spare, and the make-up portraits we took with our wedding party in the back lot of the reception venue turned out way more fun than anything I could have planned ahead of time. (Of course, it helps if you hire a professional wedding photographer who knows you well and won’t lose his/her cool. I knew I could trust Sean to make sure it worked out all right in the end!)
  • Vendors we could trust. Haven taken the time to meet in person with our officiant, our photographer, our florist, our stylist, our DJ and our chef before the big day, we could relax knowing they were on the same page with us. It’s always a great idea to follow up meetings with an email that states all the details in writing, but that personal contact gets rid of a lot of worries.
  • Eating dinner together. I lost track of how many friends offered us this piece of advice beforehand: “Don’t forget to eat during the reception!” Turns out the best part of this advice is the excuse it gives you to sit down for a few minutes and make eye contact with your new spouse. You’ll remember that long after the day is over. — Claire