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The other day it hit me like slamming into a brick wall going 70; this Sunday, Russell and I will celebrate six months of marriage. That’s crazy to me, thinking that it has been half a year since we tied the knot. I suppose a 3 week honeymoon and the long process of buying and moving into a house since has helped time become a blur. It seems like we spent forever planning that one momentous day that forever alters your life, to be dramatic. Every little girl dreams of what her big day will be like, what kind of white dress she will wear, and who will be standing at the altar with her. Decades and a few (or more) thousand dollars later, and The Big Day arrives. To tell you the truth, it does go by fast, but if you savor every moment, you can really appreciate it 6 months, or 6 years later.
So in honor of a small milestone in my marriage, I want to share with you 6 tips from my big day that will help yours go off WITH a hitch.
1. Plan and Save for Your Honeymoon All At Once.
This was a stroke of genius on Russell’s end. Weddings can cost a good chunk of change. Not wanting to begin our marriage in debt from the big day, we agreed to save the money before booking, so that we never spent more than we could afford (very necessary when you invite 300 people). We opened a number of credit cards through different companies for the wedding. Some things, you just have to pay with a credit card for, so keeping separate cards for the wedding allowed us to keep track. These cards all came with perks: zero percent interest for 18 months, airline miles, hotel points, as well as international cards with no overseas fees.
The beauty of it was all the money spent from the wedding earned us rewards that we put towards the honeymoon. And while a honeymoon in Egypt can be expensive, we were able to get basically free hotels and discounted airfare. All of this while staying debt free! This is seriously such a smart thing for engaged couples to do, whether you are in the beginning process, or over halfway through planning! The key is to save the money ahead of time (as much as you can), and only charge what you plan to pay for right away. Plan the honeymoon as you go, so you know how much to spend on each card for airfare, hotel rooms, etc. When you call to book, or when you arrive, tell them it’s a honeymoon stay. We got multiple FREE room upgrades at some places (the Ritz!) and other places brought us cake and champagne. Russell and I are just beginning to cancel the cards, one here one there so we don’t have a million cards. (Please don’t cancel them all when you get home, it will really affect your credit score.) Specific card information is at the bottom of the page if you’re interested.
2. Have a Go-To
Nowadays, with Pinterest and experienced friends, you don’t need a wedding planner. You can plan it all and save yourself a few grand. We definitely went this route, and I’m glad we did, but there is one essential part of a wedding planner that you have to account for: presence. Part of what you pay them for is not just the pre-wedding planning, but having an experienced person there to coordinate, setup, and handle crises. While you can get around all of the other parts of needing one, this is one part you cannot ignore. Multiple weddings I have been to (including my own) would have really benefited from having someone, anyone, to be a go-to.
This is not your maid of honor, not your mom or your grandma. This has to be someone who doesn’t have any responsibilities that day. You can pay a few hundred dollars for a day-of planner, ask a friend not in the wedding party (and give them a gift for their help) or ask an aunt. Ask them to help you setup a few days before. They may need to line up the processional and cue each person when they walk down the aisle. One wedding we didn’t have enough plates, so there was a morning-of run to Walmart. They will need to have contact phone numbers of the MoH, caterer, musicians, etc in case someone doesn’t show. I would also recommend if it isn’t an all inclusive reception to ask a few non-invited friends to help with setup, refill/restock and cleanup to keep the reception running smooth. You don’t want to ask your mom or bridesmaids to run around and refill glasses and handle emergencies when they should be relaxing and having fun with you. No one should have to worry you with problems while getting ready. It is your day, and it should be as stress-free as possible. Do yourself, your friends, and family a favor and find someone to be your fill-in coordinator for a day. ( If you don;t have someone to ask, I live near Northern Illinois, I would love to be that person for you! Visit the Services tab!)
3. Let Guests Take Pictures
Picture hoarding runs in my family. We spend holidays labeling pictures and putting them in sentimental albums, so I would say they have a bit of meaning. I am also picky on what I want pictures to look like, so wedding pictures were no small deal. The phenomenal Lisa Beth took our wedding (and engagement) pictures, and I was so happy with them. Originally I considered asking family members not to take pictures. Both of our grandparents really enjoy photography and we just decided to let them. Let me tell you, I was really thankful I changed my mind.
The morning of our wedding we had an unexpected problem. The church’s wedding coordinator told the photographer she wasn’t allowed to take photos closer than six rows back from the alter. This church policy was never explained to us, and the photographer wasn’t prepared for an issue like that. The coordinator also didn’t let Lisa know that Russell had begun to walk the mom’s down the aisle to start the ceremony, so she couldn’t get set up in time. All this and since seats had filled, she had to try and take pictures on the side of the church across rows of people. I was definitely freaking out.
Thankfully, multiple family members and friends captured the moments that were missed. I’m so glad too, because they could get front-row and aisle-side pictures of the whole wedding. They weren’t in the way one bit, and it was fun to see the pictures we were tagged in online with our hashtag #winterinjune. Plus they were able to get a very important moment front and center that would have otherwise been lost but in memory: my dad walking me down the aisle.
4. Don’t Pay Full Price
Imagine how much money you could save if you didn’t have to pay full price for anything at your wedding! Let me tell you, it IS possible. It comes down to your personal preferences, who you know, and your negotiating skills.
If you imagine a lavish and extravagant wedding, but your wallet (or your parent’s) isn’t going to allow you to say yes to a everything on a whim, then realize right off the bat that you will have to compromise on the wedding in your head. In some instances, what you pictured might not exist (a bridesmaid dress, specific shade of a color, etc) or its almost impossible to find. Open your mind a bit instead of getting too picky, and you can actually be happier with a different, or even cheaper find.
A whole lot of planning a wedding involves calling and booking people for various parts of the day. Catering, cake, venue, flowers, alterations, basically everything involves personal interaction. The key is to find contacts you have a personal connection with and book through them. More often than not, if you know them and choose to go with them, they will give you a family or friends discount. You may not personally know many people in the industry, but your fiancée, parents, in-laws, aunt, siblings or friends may be able to recommend someone. If you know someone who used them for a wedding you can also know what to expect, which is a huge plus. My dad knew a caterer who worked with us on pricing and had incredible food (Chef John of Pub 47 in Huntley, IL if you’re wondering). My grandma knew an alterations lady who was incredibly cheap and saved us a ton of money. A close friend officiated our wedding (Dave of Cadre Ministries), my dad’s hairdresser (don’t ask)(Carrie of Shear Success) did all our hair, his coworker’s wife did our flowers for half the price of a normal florist, and my friend Lisa Beth did our photos and gave us an incredible price. Oh and we made our cake with the help of our baker friend Caitie which was so fun. My point is, you can save thousands of dollars (literally) by using friends and referrals.
After mastering the first two parts, you need to refine your negotiating skills. A rule of thumb is to ask twice if they can help you out with a discount. Remember they are trying to make money too, but there is always a little wiggle room. If you aren’t happy go home and think about it. Don’t make a pressured decision on the spot, its expensive to back out of if you change your mind later. From rentals, to the limo, to your food, you can find a place that will give you a good price, or has a special deal going on to save you money.
5. Make it Personal
The more creative and unique you get, the more you make a wedding something special for you and guests to remember. Use a venue that has personal meaning to you. Get a photo booth (or use a Polaroid like we did) for the guest book. Everyone got one to take home and one to leave with us, and we can look back and see some really fun picture of friends and family. If its something you are interested in, add personal touches to the ceremony. It gets away from the monotony that you, and guests are used to at every wedding. Have the wedding party or grandparents walk down the aisle to a fun song, write your own vows, or put games and fun facts on the back of the programs. There really are no rules (some churches will have specific rules about what they deem appropriate for a wedding so be sure to check on that first.) Make your day unique and special. All those little touches will be things you, and your guests will remember for years to come.
6. Do What YOU Want
Let’s take a minute and be a little self-centered. A wedding is about the bride and groom. It’s not for the parents to make up for something they wish they did, or to fulfill their lives through you. It’s a day for YOU to do it how you want it (and your husband-to-be). In the end, you really do end up being married, and that what truly counts, but you are also allowed to have fun that day. If you want a red dress instead of white, rock it. Want the guests to come in costume? Put it on the invites. Maybe you just want a small ceremony in the woods with people you care about instead of extended family, then do it. The truth is, there are very few required elements to legally get married. The most important thing is to have no regrets. Not everything will be 100% perfect, but you can’t do it how anyone wants but you.
*Bonus tip: buy a nice, small journal to keep all your wedding stuff in. Tape receipts, sketch dress ideas, create a rough draft guest list, and write all the numbers down. It’s great to have it all in one place when meeting with caterers or coordinators, dreaming, and writing final decisions down. You can also compare prices of different venues or services while you are looking into other options. Just don’t lose it!*
For us, the dream was to get married in a church, and a reception on the family farm. It took a lot of work, and help from gracious family and friends. In the end it was exactly what we wanted, and I couldn’t have been happier. I didn’t want to look back in 30 years, and tell my kids when it’s their turn what I changed for someone else or wish I did. Do everything in confidence, and live with no regrets. And smile too, because getting married is a whole lot of fun!
Card Required Spending Rewards
Barclay Arrival Plus $3000 $400
Marriott Rewards $3000 80,000 points
Starwood Preferred Guest $3000 25,000 points
Delta Skymiles Gold $1000 30,000 points
PNC Core none no interest 18 mo
Capital One Venture $3000 40,000 points
We used these rewards to stay for free our first two nights of the honeymoon at the Ritz-Carlton. Plus we were upgraded to a suite for free since we mentioned it was our honeymoon! We got multiple other discounted or free hotel rooms with our points, and discounted airfare. I’m so glad we were able to have an amazing wedding that also helped us pay for our honeymoon in Egypt!
Photo: LB Photography
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