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Tools and tips for stress-free wedding planning

Published in The Jewish Voice Rhode Island on January 22, 2016.

While planning a wedding can be fun, it can also be stressful and expensive. With websites and blogs such as Pinterest, it is easy to stack up an overwhelming amount of details. And, according to the wedding-calculating website CostOfWedding.com, the average cost of tying the knot in the United States has grown to $26,444.

But it doesn’t have to be that expensive. First things first: Start with a budget.

“Couples should actually set a number to how much they want their wedding to cost,” said Tracy Dapp, owner of Inked Events and a professional wedding planner. “Figure out how much money you and/or your parents are putting in and who is contributing to what.”

Newlywed Sarah Maloney and her husband stood firm on their number, and she encourages other couples to do the same.

“I budgeted $1,000 for the dress, alterations, jewelry and hair accessories,” said Maloney, of Newton, Mass. “That made dress shopping easier because they knew from the beginning what to show me.”

Once the budget is set, determine what areas are the most important to you. For some couples, it could be photography, for others it could be flowers. Dapp says once a couple knows what’s important to them, they will know where to allocate their funds.

“We used different tools for our wedding,” Maloney said. “ ‘The Wedding Book’ by Mindy Weiss answers any and every wedding-related question and gives you a list of questions to ask different vendors when you meet. I also used a budget worksheet I found on RealSimple.com, which allowed us to track all of our spending from the very beginning.”

Next, remember to research your venue options.

“Seek out venues that allow you to bring in outside vendors,” said Melissa Arsenie, a special events planner in Boston. “Sometimes there are venues that require you to do everything through them. But if you are allowed to bring in your own caterer, DJ, florist, etc., that gives you more opportunity to negotiate a lower price, leverage a connection for a discount, or be creative with what you are doing for things that can add up, such as centerpieces.”

Maloney began contacting potential venues soon after getting engaged.

“We got engaged in September 2014, and we started emailing venues two days later,” she said. “We got priced out of Boston very quickly. Most venues we looked at required a large room rental fee on top of the fees for catering, bar, etc.

“Finally, we booked a hotel in Worcester, and everything was included in the cost per person, including our wedding coordinator at the hotel, who ended up being incredibly helpful.”

Dapp recommends reading and rereading the contract to understand any fees. For instance, some hotels may charge a delivery fee if a couple wants to have welcome bags placed in the rooms of out-of-town guests.

“Non-traditional venues are a good way to save some money,” Arsenie said. “Many smaller bed-and-breakfasts and even summer camps will work with you to plan your wedding during a low season. However, if you see a venue that you love that is out of your price range, ask if there is a carriage house, barn or garden on the property. Most of the time it is less expensive to book, but equally as beautiful.”

Next, keep “unexpected” costs in mind.

It’s easy to forget certain costs, such as delivery fees and postage stamps. However, these expenses can quickly add up.

“When you are picking out an invitation, look at how big and how thick it is, because it may not be your standard stamp,” Dapp said. “Get a sample of the invitation you are thinking of and take it to a post office to have it weighed.”

Keep the guest list at a comfortable number and keep an eye out for coupons and discounts.

“I did splurge a little and used Minted for our invitations, but I received a discount coupon,” Maloney said. “We also wanted the food to be nice, so the food and open bar were the most costly. That being said, our guest total was under 100, which helped keep costs down.”

Don’t be afraid to get creative.

Websites such as Craigslist, eBay and RuffledBlog.com allow newlyweds to recycle their gently used wedding supplies, which can save you a bundle.

“We saved money by using books as our centerpieces instead of fresh flowers,” Maloney said. “We also had a small bridal party, which lowered the cost of gifts. My husband’s mom made homemade apple butter as our favors, and I designed the ‘Save the Dates’ and printed them through Vistaprint, which was really cost-effective.”

To reduce stress, don’t get caught up in the small stuff. Maloney said she stopped looking at Pinterest once she started planning.

“It makes it hard not to get swept up in the small details,” Maloney said. “I remember a couple of times there were things I saw other people do that was out of our budget, but looked nice.”

However, don’t stint on the big stuff: It is important to hire professional vendors, especially on the bigger items, such as photographers, wedding coordinators, DJs, etc.

“We are there to work,” Dapp said. “It’s important to hire people who know how weddings operate and who won’t take advantage … This lets your guests enjoy the wedding with you.”

Finally, it is also important to enjoy the process.

“The biggest advice I can give is to just enjoy the planning,” Dapp said. “You get so caught up in the details and stress, you lose sight of the bigger picture. Take a breath and enjoy it.

“It’s always a beautiful day when two people are coming together to spend the rest of their lives together.”

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