How We Planned Our Wedding Without a Wedding Planner

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Our wedding day – by Jadie Jo Photography

Keith and I married five months ago on September 8, 2018. It was easily the best day of our lives. I know that sounds cliche, but there’s truly nothing more wonderful than proclaiming your love and devotion in front of everyone you care for most.

And – from what we heard – all in attendance had as equally as great of a time. So much so that our siblings continuously ask us to get re-married (to each other, of course) so they can party again like they did that weekend. Which to us is the ultimate compliment considering all we truly wanted from the wedding was for our families and friends to have a great time.

Of course, pulling off our wedding wasn’t nearly as easy as I thought it would be. (Especially considering my parents were living in Japan at the time, I had recently changed jobs, Keith was in the midst of a promotion, and we had just bought a new home). But with careful organization, everything came together perfectly.

Why I Chose Not to Hire a Wedding Planner

We chose not to use a wedding planner for our wedding so we could save money since we were on a budget. I’m super organized and had a vision, so I knew I could do it on my own.

Plus, my angel bestie, Sage, freelances as a wedding planner and generously reviewed my plans, hosted my bridal shower, and met with my Mom and me at the venue to make sure we didn’t drop the ball anywhere. I definitely couldn’t have done it all without Sage!

Quick, cute story: the day of our wedding, I called Sage in a panic because I needed back-up decorating and had also forgotten a steamer. Sage had just run a 1/2 marathon that morning, but she didn’t hesitate. She rushed up the canyon, steamed my dress, hung lights on the balcony with my Dad, and kept me sane before I walked down the aisle. Seriously, couldn’t ask for a better best friend.

So in summary, this post is not a knock on wedding planners. After planning my own wedding, I honestly don’t know how these professionals do it all the time. It’s quite a lift! I have so much more respect for my friends in the wedding business now.  If you’re looking to make your life a million times easier before your wedding, I highly recommend hiring a planner. But if you’re a masochist like me (who also wants to save some money), read on.

How I Organized Our Wedding Plans

If you know me, you know I love spreadsheets. Spreadsheets are the label maker to my Monica (if you know, you know).

I created a Google Sheet the moment I started planning and updated it regularly.

Google Sheet for Wedding Planning

This sheet grew as the year went on, and ultimately consisted of 10 tabs:

  • Guest List
    This tab held the names of our guests, their relation to us, their addresses, and the amount of alcohol I estimated for each individual. It also helped us keep an eye on whether or not we had sent out our invites yet and/or received a reply. (BONUS: I still use this tab when I send out holiday cards).
  • Guest and Alcohol Totals
    This is where I estimated the total number of guests we’d be receiving at the event and the amount of alcohol we’d need to buy (we covered the beer, wine and prosecco. Guests also had the option of a cash bar for cocktails and liquor). I did this by applying the total number of RSVPs and then subtracting 20% as I knew not everyone would show up. I then estimated the amount of alcohol to purchase.
  • Rehearsal Dinner Guests
    My sister-in-law used this list when she was mailing out the invites to the rehearsal dinner guests. (I suggest hiding your other tabs if you’re going to have someone else working in your sheet. You can do this by navigating to the bottom tab, right-clicking on it, and clicking ‘hide tab’).
  • Hotel Reservations
    My in-laws generously covered a night’s stay for those who attended our rehearsal dinner at the Alta Club. I used this tab to keep track of the assigned rooms. You could use it for something similar if you’d like.
  • Budget
    I think you’ll find this tab the most useful! This is where I documented everything we needed to purchase for the wedding, the date of each down payment (if applicable), the date of full payments, the cost of the item, and who paid for it. I also created a calculator at the bottom which subtracted the total cost of the wedding supplies and services from the generous amount my parents had gifted us for the wedding. This helped us keep track of what my husband and I would owe vs. what they would pay for.
  • Vendors List
    Use this tab to lay out which vendors you’ve chosen, what service they will be providing, their names and websites. It’s also a great place to keep track of their costs and whether or not they’ve been paid in full yet.
  • Playlist
    Our DJ, All Star Events, was thankful we had put together a few suggestions to help him create our playlist.
  • To Do
    I used this as a way to keep track of what we still needed to do before and after the wedding + the date we needed to complete each piece by.
  • Gifts
    This tab is meant to track the names of those who send gifts and whether or not you’ve sent them a thank you in return yet. I highly suggest writing a thank you the second you receive a gift. It makes it so much easier in the long run rather than writing all of your thank yous at once.
  • Honeymoon Plans
    I removed this tab from the final spreadsheet since I wrote about it in a separate post. You can find it here.

I made a copy of this spreadsheet for each of you. You may open it in Google Sheets or download it here.

Narrowing Down Our Wedding Vision

Ever since I was a little girl, I knew I wanted to get married in my grandparent’s backyard in Italy. I wanted a big Italian fruit cake with lots of drinking and dancing. Sadly, Italy was out of the question considering family health concerns. So instead, Keith and I chose to get married in our home state of Utah. We knew this would be easiest for everyone – especially for me as I coordinated with the vendors.

Our ultimate goal was to host something similar to a family reunion. We wanted it to be an intimate summer party in the mountains. Formal, but not too stuffy. This wedding recipe called for tradition, heritage and lots of love.

It’s so important to narrow down your wedding vision before you go about hiring your vendors. Otherwise, you may end up with a disjointed idea of what you’d like your wedding day to be like. Start by browsing wedding magazines, websites, and social media. Then, build a vision board with images you love most. From here, decide what your theme and colors will be.

I constantly referred to the wedding ‘bible’ – Stone Fox Bride – to bring our vision to life and make sure it was cohesive. I also spent lots of time browsing June Bug Weddings.

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A private moment after our ceremony captured by Jadie Jo Photography

How We Chose Our Wedding Vendors

Before we chose our wedding vendors, we finalized our budget. Both of our parents were extremely generous and helped us with wedding costs. However, we knew we’d still have to spend a bit ourselves. But of course neither of us wanted to go into debt for our wedding, so we wanted to be sure we knew what our guidelines were before we hired any vendors. Having a budget in mind is helpful as it allows you to understand better where you’d like to allocate your funds. For instance, I knew I definitely wanted a fantastic photographer and videographer. Therefore, we chose to spend more money on those two services and less on things like invitations and music. I also found ways to cut costs by planning the wedding myself, only serving beer and wine instead of cocktails, and keeping decorations to a minimum.

The Wedding Venue

Keith and I have been celebrating Valentine’s Day at Silver Fork Lodge (SFL) ever since we started dating. It’s a cute, rustic lodge and restaurant up Big Cottonwood Canyon which looks gorgeous in all seasons. When we first started talking about getting married, I knew this would be the perfect spot.

To be honest with you, I didn’t read any reviews (I probably should have). Instead, we met with the coordinator and staff when my parents visited (about a year before our wedding) and then paid our deposit.

Here are a few things to think about when looking for your wedding venue (I’ll admit, I didn’t ask any of these questions – thank goodness it turned out great):

  1. Do you want your pets to be involved in the wedding?
  2. How many guests do you want at your wedding?
  3. How far away is the venue from guest lodging?
    1. Do we need to arrange transportation to and from the venue for guests?
  4. What is included with the venue (i.e. sound equipment, arch, linens, etc.)?
  5. Is there a curfew at the venue?
  6. Does the venue provide a day-of coordinator?
  7. Is there a road nearby or anything else that would make noise during the ceremony?
  8. What is plan B if it rains/snows?
  9. Do you offer transportation to/from the venue for guests attending the ceremony? If not, do you have any transportation services you recommend?
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We chose to have minimal decorations for the ceremony since the location was already stunning as-is.

Silver Fork Lodge ended up being the *perfect* venue for us. And we absolutely loved our day-of coordinator, Wendy. She kept everything running smoothly and on-time. (Plus, she thoughtfully brought us cake after we’d retired for the evening and served up some great a la carte bloody marys at brunch the next day!)

The Photographer and Videographer

As I said before, these were our two most significant expenses. But they were both BEYOND worth it. We absolutely loved working with Jadie of Jadie Jo Photography and Bri of the Copper Creative.

I’ve known Jadie since college and knew she’d be the perfect photographer since I’d seen the gorgeous photos she’d taken of my friend Sadie’s wedding a few years before. Jadie is so chill and laid back. I sent her so many ‘photo’ ideas, and she took it like a pro. Of course, the day of the wedding, I forgot all about the photo ops I’d wanted. But Jadie didn’t. She went over and above – capturing so many beautiful, intimate moments between our family and us. After we came back from our honeymoon, I used Artifact Uprising to print wedding albums for us, our parents, and our grandparents using her images. We’re going to treasure them forever.

The Copper Creative shot a fantastic video for our friend’s Paige and Jake. So when they came back at a reasonable price, we signed them right away. I can’t tell you how easy Bri made it. We hardly noticed her taking video throughout the ceremony. But a few months later, she sent us our 7-minute short video and brought us to tears. I know many people are on the fence about video, but I endorse it wholeheartedly. You won’t regret it!

Lia+Keith from The Copper Creative on Vimeo.

The Florist

I did a bit of crowdsourcing to find our florist. Then, after interviewing quite a few, I decided to go with Susie Brown of Brown Floral (thanks for the recommendation, Sage).

Susie was incredible. The first time I met her, she took me on a tour of the flower fridge and allowed me to grab all of the flowers I loved the most. We then sat down to discuss my vision and color theme. A few days later she sent me a rough estimate. I went through and narrowed it down based on my budget and wants.

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I still can’t get over my bouquet!

When meeting with your florist, ask the following:

  1. Will you be able to set-up the flowers on the day-of? If so, what does that timeframe need to look like for you? Is this an added cost?
  2. Will you be able to take-down the flowers on the day-of? If so, what does that time frame need to look like for you? Is this an added cost?
  3. Does the cost of the flowers depend on whats in-season? If so, do you have similar options for what I’m looking for that better matches my budget?
  4. Can you design a ‘good,’ ‘better,’ ‘best’ budget for me to decide?
  5. Have you ever designed a wedding at our venue before? If not, would you have time to walk through it with me?

For the ceremony, I ordered: my bridal bouquet, hydrangeas with foliage for each of my bridesmaids, rose petals for guests to throw when we were walking down the aisle during the recessional, and a single sunflower to represent Keith’s cousin, Josiah, who passed away a few years before (we placed it on an empty chair in the audience). I chose to forgo an arch, the boutonnieres, and more.

For the reception, I ordered garlands for each of our tables. The garlands were filled with big and small white roses. We also placed the bouquets in water after the ceremony and added them to the gift table.

The Cake

Italian wedding cakes – millefoglies – tend to be covered in custard and fruit. We decided to replicate this somewhat. But wanted ours to be chocolate and ‘naked.’ I couldn’t find a ‘look’ I liked at any of the local bakeries in our budget. So instead, I ordered a three-tier, chocolate cake from Granite Bakery and decorated it the day-of with lots of fruit (figs, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries) before slipping into my dress.

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The yummiest, prettiest wedding cake! Don’t forget to save the top tier for your first anniversary.

The Music

Annie Clark played the harp during our ceremony, and it was beautiful! She played Canon D for our procession and Unchained Melody for our recession. We loved working with her.

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Our first dance as newlyweds.

Our DJ from All Star Events played great beats during the reception based on the playlist we’d curated for him months before.  The DJ played ‘Perfect’ by Ed Sheeran ft. Andrea Bocelli for our first dance and ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ by Frank Sinatra while I danced with my father and Keith danced with his mother. Both were selected as another ode to my Italian heritage.

We didn’t meet with either of our musicians prior to the ceremony. Instead, we had phone conversations with both and also sent emails outlining the day-of timeline to all of our vendors to ensure there were no outstanding questions before the big day (more on this below).

The Officiant

I can’t tell you how much we loved our nondenominational wedding officiant, Anita Gordon!

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Our beautiful ceremony!

She wowed us from the moment she came marching into Starbucks in her skirt-suit with a briefcase full of wedding ceremony options. In a slight southern accent, she explained to us how she had multiple ceremony template options which we could choose from or customize.

Anita was highly organized and professional. She responded to all of my anxious-bride emails and kept everyone calm and collected the day-of.

Keith and I chose to write our own vows and had Anita proofread them. Although we were nervous, it was important for us to express our love in this way at that moment. I did a few ‘Googles’ for vow inspo before finally figuring out what I wanted to say.

The Dress

Believe it or not, I only tried on two dresses at Fantasy Bridal! The boutique made selecting my perfect wedding gown easy since they feature all of their designs on their website. Before going in with my sister-in-law and cousin, I visited their site and found a selection of gowns I wanted to try on. It was even easier to say ‘yes to the dress’ when I saw the unbelievable price of the gown + alterations.

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Moments before I walked down the aisle – so nervous!

A few suggestions from my experience: keep an open mind when shopping for your wedding dress. For instance, I initially didn’t want a veil, but at the last minute I tried one on and knew I needed it. Bring your wedding shoes and Spanx to all of your fittings. Don’t be offended when you find out your wedding dress size isn’t the same as your normal dress size. Wedding dresses run much smaller. And lastly, be sure to invest in a steamer for your big day!

Decorations and Wedding Favors

I knew I wanted to keep decorations to a minimum since the venue was already stunning as-is. To enhance the look, we added fairy lights throughout the building (my Mom and I found these at Michaels). The only other decorations we had appeared on our wedding favor table. These included: framed, gold photos of the weddings of each of our parents and grandparents, a sign-in book from Etsy, and a gold card box. I also created a sign with our new last name by spray painting a vintage frame gold which I’d found at a vintage store. I then had a custom acrylic sign matted within it at Michaels.

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Candles, foliage, and family photos on our favor table.

We decided on Italian confetti for the favors themselves. My Nonna, Luisa, had them made in Italy and shipped them over for us. I gathered them all into a big wicker basket to place on the favor table. Then, I typed up a sign to explain what they were and added a gold frame. It was such a unique, fun gift for our guests!

How We Decided Our Wedding Guest List

Deciding our wedding guest list was so much tougher than I ever thought it would be. Of course, we wanted to invite everyone we’d ever known and loved, but our venue had a cap on capacity, and we had a budget cap too. Therefore, we started out by listing all of our immediate families and very best friends. Then we expanded the list to add in more close friends. Initially, our list was at 300! Somehow, we narrowed it down to 180. (Our rule about +1s was that it had to be a ‘serious’ relationship, i.e., living together or married. This certainly helped keep the ‘intimate’ feel and allowed us to invite more of our close friends). Of the 180 we invited, about 125 ended up coming in the end.

If you’re working on your guest list, good luck. Just kidding (sort of). It’s tough, but you can do it! Start by brainstorming everyone you’d like to invite, then review the list a few times before you send out save the dates.

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Our wonderful friends and family enjoying dinner at our reception

Planning Our Wedding Day Invitations and Registry

The invitations were the least of my concerns. As a recipient of many wedding invitations myself, I knew exactly what happened to the overpriced parchment after the big day – they end up in a recycling bin. Therefore, I thought this would be the first place to save money. We ended up purchasing our save the dates, invitations, RSVP cards, envelops and address labels on Vistaprint . (If you’re looking for something fancier, I’d visit Minted or your local stationery shop).

As for the wedding website, I built ours in about two hours using The Knot‘s free service. It was quick, easy and offered a ton of pretty templates to chose from. I listed the site’s URL on all of our RSVP cards which were included in the invitation packets.

Our registry was so fun to build! We certainly didn’t expect gifts but still wanted to be sure we had one built for those who would like the option. We chose to go with Anthropologie, and William Sonoma. Then Keith got really into it and built one out on REI.

Our Wedding Day Timeline

Your wedding day isn’t going to go entirely according to plan. For example, I thought we’d have time for family photos BEFORE the wedding, but Keith’s parents didn’t get to the venue until the last minute, I didn’t realize how long it would take to get all the lights strung up on the patio, and everything was pretty chaotic in general. In the end, it all worked out great – even though it wasn’t exact per my timeline. And yet, I still believe having a schedule is a great idea. It keeps you sane and lets your vendors know your expectations.

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Entering our greatest adventure yet!

I can’t stress how important it is to not get swept up in the stress of wedding planning – regardless of whether or not you’ve got help. Wedding planning can AND should be fun! It’s a wonderful time in your life, and as such, you should try to mindfully enjoy every second of it. I hope this post helps you do so.

Please comment below if you have questions about my experience or would like more information on how I planned our wedding. I wish you and your betrothed the very best and am so excited for you!

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1 thought on “How We Planned Our Wedding Without a Wedding Planner

  1. […] plan day-to-day activities for our trip. Keith and I were both exhausted from the past year (our wedding and honeymoon, my new job, Keith’s MBA program, and more), so we decided to take it easy. I felt confident […]

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