20 DIY Wedding Planning Tips from a Pro with Genève McNally

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First thing’s first, be a realist (to loosely quote Iggy Azalea).  Planning a wedding can feel overwhelming at the best of times. While hiring a Wedding Planner — to provide valuable insight (hindsight is for suckers), offer advice, maximize time, and connect you with the right people — is the ideal way to plan a wedding, tighter budgets or simply the desire to plan your own wedding may mean you are “going it alone”. Now planning a wedding isn’t rocket science, but to ensure a successful and happy outcome there is a better way to go about it as with most things.  This is a high stakes day and there’s a lot that can go wrong, but nothing needs to if you set yourself up for success!

Wedding Design Show

So how does one go about doing that?  Get Organized!!!  Find a way to keep track of all the contracts, details, floor plans, timelines, colour swatches, samples, deadlines and decisions made.  Create a spreadsheet to keep track of finances and spending. Take it one step at a time doing things in proper order.  Don’t get too excited and buy those awesome vases on Marketplace before you decide what the theme or look of the wedding will be otherwise you may find yourself with 12 stained wood crates when after some thought and consideration mercury glass vases was the ideal vessel for your flower design.  Putting carts before horses is one way to blow the budget very quickly.  You’ve heard of “measure twice, cut once” right?  Same rule applies with wedding planning.  Think about the plan first, then make the purchase or sign on the dotted line. And sorry for all the proverbs, but whatever gets the point across!

The next favour you can do for yourself is give yourself the gift of time as “last minute” is almost always more expensive.  I once heard a designer I admire say “You can have it good and fast, you can have it fast and cheap, and some can even have it good and cheap, but you can’t have it good, fast and cheap.” Aim for around 10-16 months to plan a wedding that is both fun and productive from “Yes” to “I Do”.

Bride and Groom

After the initial “showing off the ring” and breaking the news amongst family and friends (and the WORLD Yippee!!!) you will want to Set the Budget – and not just any quickly thrown together “wishful thinking” budget, but a realistic and thorough one that takes into account all the wants, needs, and yes, even the “would be nices”.  Ensure that it’s realistic for your number of guests, the style of venue desired, the type of bar and drink offerings you wish to host, and the city that you are hosting the wedding in.  People find out very quickly that due to increased cost if living Vancouver is not an inexpensive place to host a wedding.  Instead of starting with a flat number that seems like “more than enough” and trying to make everything fit into it, start with your guest number and hard costs and then add things on from there. If covering food and drinks and basic needs for 120 people is already pushing the limit then back the truck up and reconsider options before proceeding and simply “hoping it works out”.  i.e. reduce guest numbers (intimate weddings are wonderful!), host a breakfast or lunch wedding (super fun, unexpected, and cuts costs considerably from photography to food/drinks, venue, etc.).

20 DIY Wedding Planning Tips from a Pro with Genève McNally

A smart couple will put their guest’s comfort and needs first.  Substantial Food, Drinks, and enough seating are the 3 main things guests complain about when not properly accounted for.  Attending a wedding is expensive with new outfits, babysitting arrangements, gifts, transportation, accommodations to account for.  Be considerate.  That’s more important than a bigger centerpiece or fancy chairs (although I will be the first to say that the chairs can make or break an overall look).  Find the balance between being a good host and creating an atmosphere you are proud to share and experience.

20 DIY Wedding Planning Tips

Be ready for some sticker shock because going in most couples don’t realize just how expensive wedding products and services are.  They can’t fathom that a dress could be $4000.00-6000.00 and up or that the cake of their dreams could be over $1000.00.  Just know you’re not alone in realizing that hosting a wedding is almost certainly going to be more expensive than you initially thought.  That happens in every generation.  30 years ago, people couldn’t believe a wedding might cost $10,000.00 let alone the average 40-60K+ that’s spent in Vancouver nowadays. Even the DIY/Backyard Chic/Pinterest/Instagram Inspired Weddings can add up!  There are so many products, services, and ideas enticing couples to spend more on their weddings these days that having it all on a budget is near impossible. In fact, Budget stress is the number one cause of unhappiness and arguments during the planning phase (with family dynamics/politics being the second), but it doesn’t have to be if you go about it the right way.

Pre Nuptial Photos

The simplest and best advice is to PRIORITIZE!!!  It is possible to have the “wedding of YOUR dreams” on a budget, but you need to be practical and prioritize the things that will make you the happiest first. The reality is — unless you are one of the fortunate few that has an endless money supply or wealthy family to foot the bill — you won’t likely be able to have everything you want at the level you want for the budget you have.  The best thing to do is to sit down with your fiancé over a beer or glass of wine and talk about what’s most important to you both.  For you it might be pretty flowers, hiring a well-known photographer, a beautiful ceremony location, or the perfect designer dress.  For him it might be a custom suit, a killer DJ, or offering delicious food with a fully stocked host bar.  Allocate a realistic amount of money to those areas first and then from there determine how much you have left to spend on the additional wants. Cover the “needs” first then the “must haves” and finally sprinkle in the “would like to haves”. Don’t forget to factor in a Contingency to cover any unexpected costs or little splurges along the way. It’s fun being able to say yes to those little things here and there as they pop up and a healthy contingency will allow you that luxury.

Wedding Photo

Keep in mind that “mainstream” is almost always going to cost more. Vendors in demand will naturally charge more than the underdog who is perhaps just starting out or does not have the means to invest in a larger or more formal marketing presence. Take heed though!  There are some areas where experience is worth the investment and a vendor’s lack of experience can greatly affect the outcome and leave you with buyer’s remorse when those areas fall flat or don’t meet expectations. i.e. an inexperienced photographer that doesn’t anticipate or move quick enough might miss the all-important ceremonial first kiss or a wedding day coordinator that has not yet learned how to plan for the curve balls may not be able to troubleshoot situations as they arise as well as one with experience might. Do your homework and get your investigative hands dirty – with a little luck you will find that up and coming diamond in the rough for a smaller investment if that’s what needs to happen.

Bride - Wedding Photo

If the hope is that family might be chipping in on the wedding costs, bite the bullet early on and ask them straight out what they might be able or willing to contribute.  Don’t put it off!  At the same time find out what stipulations or expectations might come along with their generosity.  It’s good to be on the same page from the get-go to avoid arguments or disappointment down the road.  Family & Budgets are the two biggest wedding stressers so face these head on with patience, clear expectations, and a bit of a tough skin. And be ready to compromise!  Good practice for the marriage!

Wedding Cake

Okay so now comes the fun part!  it’s time to start collecting ideas and dreaming about all the different possibilities for your wedding!  Read blogs like Green Wedding Shoes, Junebug Weddings, and Style Me Pretty — check out the Real Weddings & Editorials featured in local magazines for awesome ideas and contacts.  Define your Wedding Style.  What do you want your wedding to say?  Start paying attention to what you like and don’t like around you.  Notice necklines on dresses.  Hairstyles.  Notice different shapes and sizes to centerpieces and the vessels they come in.  If you so happen to be attending a wedding or party pay attention to the feel and overall look of the event.  What worked?  What might you do differently?  Learn from your experiences.

Wedding Hugs

dg Tip: Don’t get too hung up on the little things. Focus on what’s truly important… The Marriage!! Maintaining a strong relationship based on kindness and trust is the most important thing.  Don’t forget that although the wedding is important and should be as beautiful and fun as you have always imagined it to be, in the end once all is said and done it’s a one-day celebration representing a love and relationship that will hopefully last a lifetime.

The Bride

Now that your head is filled with a few cheesy, but poignant proverbs and some initial suggestions for being well prepared let me share my personal list of top tips for planning an unforgettable wedding without regret!

Piggy Bank

1. Set Your Budget and Be Realistic – Your budget (or lack thereof) will be a major influencer on what products and services you include in the wedding plan. It’s one of the very first things you should tackle. If any family members will be contributing, chat with them about what they’re comfortable spending. If you’re footing the bill yourself, it’s time to take a hard look at your finances. Once you determine that bottom line (and pick yourself up off the floor) start calling around and inquiring into costs.


More is More, Less is Less

2. List Your Priorities – Sit down with your fiancé and figure out the top 3-5 most important things you want for your wedding. Is it the food? The alcohol? The DJ? Prioritize those details and be willing to compromise on the rest in order to keep costs down. It’s very easy to want more, but more is more.  Less is less.  This will help you stay on track.

Bride with Bouquet

3. Define Your Wedding Style – With so many ideas and possible directions it’s very easy to get overwhelmed and confused about what you want your wedding to look like. Create a Pinterest Board and start collecting ideas and photos that you like.  A solid well thought out Inspiration Board will help your Vendors understand what you love more easily.  And don’t forget to involve your fiancé as He/She will usually have some valuable feedback or suggestions.  Plus it’s fun to share in the experience and more exciting when you both have a voice. After you’ve pinned lots of photos inspiration take a break away from it all for a few days and then go back in and shortlist the “best of” and eliminate the ideas and pictures you no longer love AS MUCH!  Once you define your style don’t second guess yourself.  That said, if you decide on something but your gut is screaming at you that pink is in fact not your preferred colour palette then by all means go back to the drawing board.  Just don’t do it too many times and try not to do it after you’ve already planned it all out with your vendor team!  That’s just annoying and an annoyed vendor is not one that will be as interested in working with you.  Hard to hear I know, but it’s the truth whether they admit it or not.

Wedding Photo

4. Get Organized & Remember Guidance is Golden – If you aren’t hiring a Wedding Planner, then get yourself a good Wedding Planning Checklist to follow. There’s so much to learn and many mistakes to be made.  Thankfully you don’t have to make those mistakes if you listen to the expert advice, tips and tricks shared by professionals.  You can find tons of sample month by month checklists online. Find one you like and adapt it to your own wedding. There are also apps you can buy to help you stay organized too!

Wedding Floral Arrangement

dg Tip: Don’t Procrastinate! Often when a decision feels too overwhelming or you are disappointed with your findings the natural and easy thing to do is push off the decision rather than plough through.  Don’t do that!  As you get closer to the wedding there will be more and more decisions and details to manage.  Procrastinating is a surefire way to start hating the planning and wish you had eloped.  When you meet the right Vendor trust your gut and lock them down.  If you aren’t exactly ready to pull the plug on a particular design plan or concept, then keep it open for now and make a plan with the vendor to revisit the discussion in a few weeks or months.

Save the Date Photo

  1. Set the Date – Do you imagine a Spring or Summer Wedding? Or do you love the idea of incorporating rich fall colours and textures into the design? Perhaps a White Winter Wedding is the cozy and elegant option for you.  Choose an ideal time of year first and if possible, allow the perfect venue to shortlist your wedding date based on its availability.  This will allow for a more organic and natural way of maximizing the budget and vision.

Wedding Photo

  1. Book a Full-Service Venue – If you aren’t hiring a wedding planner the best gift you can give yourself (apart from hiring a day of coordinator) is book a venue that comes with support services like food service, table setup, dishes, linens, cleanup, and other added benefits. Although places like parks, beaches, tents, halls, etc. can seem appealing and less expensive at first… in the end “building a venue from scratch” is almost always more expensive once you get it to the level most people want these days.  Of course, it depends on which full-service venue you are comparing it to. Your aunt’s backyard with a few pop-up tents and a wine and cheese cocktail affair obviously be less expensive than booking a full-service venue like a hotel for a formal dinner, but it comes down to your priorities and what you want for the occasion.

Bride-Groom Kiss

  1. Create Your Guest List – This can be a more stressful process than initially expected but keep it simple. The size of your guest list should be influenced by your budget and priorities and if the venue is already confirmed then of course the capacity of the space. Sit down with your fiancé and start writing out your guest list.  Ask family members if applicable to send you their lists with their “must have” attendees. There’s a good chance you will need to make some cuts after you amalgamate everyone’s lists. This is also a good time to discuss whether children are to be included in the festivities (ceremony and/or reception?) and whether you are allowing single guests to bring a “plus one” whose name you may not know.

Sarah & Elle | Venue: The Permanent | Wedding & Event Planners | Dreamgroup

  1. I Choo-Choo-Choose You! – Your bridesmaids and groomsmen are going to be an important part of the wedding experience. They are the ones who plan the pre-events, support you through the emotional moments, and often drive you mad when they “just don’t get it” or “don’t respond or behave in the manner you expected”.  Don’t appoint people “just because” they’ve been your friend since high school, or you feel bad not including them.  There’s nothing a little heart to heart face to face conversation can’t overcome.  Choose people that are worthy of being a part of this special time, people you get along with and who generally make you happy!  Furthermore, don’t play head games or expect people to read your mind!  If you have an issue deal with it.  If you don’t like how something is playing out. Talk about it.  Changes are if it’s bugging you, it’s bugging them just as much if not more.  Ignoring wedding party dramas until “after the fact” will almost certainly tax friendships and taint the overall experience. My best advice here is surround yourself with genuine LOVE.

Wedding Venue

  1. Learn from Others – Did you recently attend a wedding? Chat with that couple! They probably provide some awesome and fresh insight into the process! If anything, it will never hurt to know what they’ve learned whether you choose to listen or not.

Wedding Tent

  1. Work with Great Vendors – People often ask me, “What’s the trick to hosting a Perfect wedding?” My answer is usually “A Stellar Vendor Team”. And this doesn’t mean the most expensive!  This means a carefully curated team of professionals that love what they do and are good at it.  It’s simple.  Don’t hire a cheaper vendor and ask them to recreate someone else’s higher end masterpiece.  It will almost always fall short.  Work with Vendors that “get you” and that you genuinely like. Then allow them to tell you what they do best and what’s possible within your price point.

Star Wars Wedding

  1. Compare Costs & Don’t Play Games – Do your research and get quotes from 2-3 Vendors in each service category and make sure you are comparing apples to apples as far as quality of service and reputation goes. If a similar Vendor is charging 30% less than another for “the same thing” you can almost be guaranteed it’s NOT “the same thing”.  Something is being compromised.  Whether that thing is worth it to you for the cost savings that’s for you to decide.  And word to the wise, don’t play vendors against each other or be cheap.  It will often bite you in the butt. There’s a right and wrong way to inquire and negotiate with vendors.  I recently had a day of client left in the lurch 5 weeks before their wedding by all 3 vendors they were playing against each other in hopes of getting the best possible deal because the vendors decided they’d had enough!  The couple was quickly back to square one and ended up having to pay more in the end.  There is a huge difference between laying your cards on the table and saying “this is how much I ideally have to work with… What can you do for me?” and the unreasonable “I want ALL THIS for this.”  This is a business for everyone and if you’re working with reputable people with a good track record your best approach is the honest straight up one.  No one likes to be undervalued or negotiated into the ground.  That’s not how you bring out the best in people!  And even though you think you may have won, you didn’t.  At least not without compromising the final product or outcome. Less is less.  More is more.  It’s very simple. If you can’t afford more, be happy with less and make it as beautiful as you can.

Wedding Photo

  1. Read the Fine Print – I know! I know! This is the boring part but think how upset you will be if you find out down the road that something you assumed would be included isn’t or that the date of the service to be provided wasn’t the right one? It happens!  Also, make sure you understand the cancelation policy and delivery dates for any post wedding materials to be provided. i.e. some photographers have it in their contract that they have up to one year to provide you with you final edited images.  If that doesn’t work for you the time to know that is before you sign on the dotted line. Not after.

Wedding Photo | Dreamgroup Wedding

  1. Savvy DIY vs. Regretful DIY – If your objective is to save money or you’re simply the creative type that can’t wait to put your personal stamp on the wedding doing it yourself could be perfect for you! DIY can help maximize your wedding budget, but it can also get out of hand very quickly. With an overwhelming number of DIY tasks piling up and the need to spend extra money fixing mistakes due to inexperience it may end up costing you more in the end. Choose DIY projects that can be done ahead of time. Things like Invitations, Table Numbers, Centerpiece Vessels, Favors, etc.  And then outsource things that require on day or day before labour wherever possible.  Flowers, Food, & Cake may sound like good DIY cost saving areas, but the trade off is being completely exhausted or not being able to be fully present in a very fast-moving important day because you’re up until 2:00am decorating a ballroom, assembling flowers, or baking a cake. And “Don’t worry my mom offered” isn’t always a good thing.  Your mom may have the best of intentions, but she too likely didn’t know what she was getting into. And for those that live in Vancouver, Canada…. Take advantage of this DIY budget maximizing wedding event that has changed the way couples shop and plan for their weddings!  http://bridalswap.com/event-details/

Wedding Photo | Dreamgroup Wedding

dg Tip: Make sure you do a test run ahead of time on all DIY components. Most things that are attractive and beautiful take practice to recreate or at the very least  get a solid well worked out plan of action.  Don’t wing DIY!

Wedding Photo | Dreamgroup Wedding

  1. Are Traditions Important? – They can be! This is one moment in your life that if done right should represent who you are and at the same time honour your family and the path you’ve taken to get to this moment.  Don’t be afraid to let go of traditions that are no longer relevant or representative of your current life.  At the same time feel free to borrow traditions from others that you feel represent your story or even revive some old ones.

City Wedding of Carrie & Patrick Wedding | Wedding and Event Planners | Dreamgroup

  1. You Need a License to Be Married? – Oh you better believe it! The government needs their $100.00 in exchange for a piece of paper that says you are planning on getting married. It will be the first legal piece of paper that will set the framework for all your collective government related commitments to come.  In British Columbia the license can be acquired 0-3 months before the wedding.  It’s super easy to do, only requires that one of you go… Click here for an official government step by step on what you need to know!

Wedding Photo | Dreamgroup Wedding

  1. Logistics, Logistics, Logistics – This is one area that couples often don’t pay as much attention to as they should. This is where a great Wedding Day Coordinator can take away the stress and uncertainty in fitting all the pieces together so the day flows as best as possible – insert DreamGroup plug here https://dreamgroup.ca/wedding-day-management/.  If you’ve bravely decided not to “go pro” then you need to manage the day of logistics like a pro would if they were involved.  Speak with your Venue and Vendors ahead of time to determine ideal access and setup times.  How much time do each of them need to get ready and/or carry out their service?  Cross check and communicate your findings with all the vendors that might in turn be affected so they can in turn adjust their timing or offer you some solutions or insight.  Each Vendor is going to naturally want their area of involvement to be given priority, but you can’t for example have everyone show up at the same time to unload or setup without causing huge delays and frustrations not to mention unexpected or overtime costs. Communicate! Communicate! Communicate! It’s a professional’s secret weapon!

Wedding Photo | Dreamgroup Wedding

  1. The Wedding Day Timeline – In following suit with point 17 above, you are going to want to create a line by line detailed day of event schedule that will give order and calm to what will be a very busy, fast moving day. Include: Vendor start/setup, run times, and end/strike times, transportation movements with addresses of pickup and drop off locations, key moments like hair and makeup start times with location, guest arrival, ceremony start time, food service times, speech order, cake cutting ceremony, first dance, bouquet toss, and any announcements or introductions your Emcee will need to assist with.  You should also include a Vendor Contact Cheat Sheet with on day phone numbers and any on day payment or last-minute confirmed setup details so that family and friends can help troubleshoot any issues as they arrive more easily.  Provide copies of your detailed timeline to all your vendors ahead of time so that any “wishful thinking” moments can be corrected or better accommodated.

Wedding Photo | Dreamgroup Wedding

  1. Sanity Saver – This is one “task” you won’t see prioritized on Wedding Planning Checklists very often, but it’s an important one. Be sure to take time during the planning to forget about the planning for an evening or weekend and just be friends and lovers. Yup I said it.  As I mentioned earlier budget and family stresses can take its toll on even the strongest relationships.  Spending time doing the things you did before you got engaged will remind you why you’ve decided to venture on this journey together and provide a much-needed breather from wedding discussions and decisions.


dg Tip: If you can swing it, schedule the week before and after the wedding off from work so you can attend to last minute tasks, RSVPs, family hosting and introductions as a team without feeling stretched.  Whether you choose to go away on a Honeymoon right after the wedding or delay it for a while, the first few days after the wedding are a very special and important time that cannot be replicated. You and your spouse will have so many things to absorb, talk about, and share that regardless of whether you’re on a tropical beach or cozy on the couch in your recently purchased home, those first few days as newlyweds will be very exciting and are worth making time for. Even if all you can get are 2-3 days do it!  You won’t regret it.

Wedding Photo | Dreamgroup Wedding

  1. Gratitude – Over the course of the planning you will have many people do things for you. From best friends that take the time to plan your Bridal Shower, shop for dresses, spend money they may not have, all while providing a place to vent your “oh so important” dramas — to Vendors that go the extra mile, accommodate delays, show patience when budgets are tight — to parents that offer financial and ongoing emotional support – being appreciative and respectful will go a long way.  No one likes a Bridezilla… but a really kind worry wart that knows how to say thank you and show gratitude will be more easily forgiven.

Wedding Photo | Dreamgroup Wedding

20. Think Big Picture – When planning a wedding it’s very easy to overthink the little things… Don’t forget to come up for air and remember what this day is about — both during the planning stages and most importantly once the day has arrived. The only thing worse than anything that might go wrong would be missing the experience completely because you were too focused on how your bridesmaid’s hair looked, or that cousin Sarah forgot to add the pink ribbon to the aisle chairs.

dg Tip: Let it Go! Remember… guests won’t notice what’s not there.  They won’t know what items or services you considered and decided to forgo.  They won’t know what was forgotten or not carried out exactly as planned. They will only notice what is in front of them, how they are being hosted, and how happy you look! In the end being in the moment and the JOY you exude is the best form of entertainment and design!

Geneve McNally ~ owner, principal planner

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