Wedding Planning Tips & Tricks
It’s been 1 whole month since Johnny and I celebrated our wedding and life is pretty much the same (except now we have a child in the form of a 3-month old puppy…..). Since then, we’ve been asked how we planned parts of our wedding, how we found our wedding photographer, how we decided on our wedding venue, and how much it cost to be together forever. So, I put together a little (long) list of things we found helpful with wedding planning and hope it helps you make it to your day as sane and with as little stress as possible.
Finding our Wedding Venue
- Our wedding venue: Hotel Ocho, Toronto
After discussing the number of guests we’d like at our wedding, we went searching for our venue. We knew we wanted to keep the day as logistically simple as we could to keep the workload light for our helpers. We quickly ruled out barns and most outdoor venues and stuck with indoor spaces known to host weddings that included everything we were looking for, ie: caterers, servers, tables, chairs, cutlery, glassware (some venues don’t include any of the above and you’ll have to outsource everything) etc. With that in mind, we inquired to restaurants and hotels.
The next thing we thought about was the location. A venue just outside the city has a much lower cost per head (dollar amount associated with hosting one person at your venue—including cost of drinks, dinner, servers, bartenders, and space), but with most of our friends living within the city, us included, picking a venue outside would mean more people driving, staying in hotels, leaving early, and less people enjoying the open bar. So, we opted for a space downtown, deciding a higher price per head was worth it.
We found Hotel Ocho to be the most reasonable in cost (compared to other restaurants and hotels in the city), and were not disappointed. The food was incredible, the coordinator for Ocho was very responsive (this is super important for your own sanity and stress), and their staff did everything.
The staff helped with everything from setting up tables/chairs/plating, lit all the candles we brought for decor, made sure no one’s glasses were empty during dinner, and problem solved on their own without asking us (a guest’s dinner was cleared before being finished and I noticed the staff bringing an entire new dinner plate out during dessert for that guest, with no fuss—I couldn’t believe that level of service). They even cleaned up for us, leaving all decorations we brought in one neat corner for us to pack up the next day.
Yes—THE NEXT DAY. We had the venue for ALL of Saturday and Sunday morning so that we weren’t ever rushed to set up or tear down. I’ve helped out at a lot of friends’ weddings and have had to, mid-dancing, run around to hand off centre pieces to guests to take home, pack up boxes, and etc, as most venues require renters to leave the space as they found it on that same evening.
So how much was our wedding venue? We spent roughly $170/head after tax and tip. A venue can cost anywhere between $80-$250/head depending on the location and what’s included with the venue. Make sure to thoroughly read through your contract—it’s never set in stone until it’s signed and there’s almost always room for some negotiation (ie. making sure menu tastings are included in overall price, the time your coordinators and vendors are able to enter and start working at the venue for, etc).
Hiring our Wedding Photographer
- Our photographer: Jacqueline, the associate photographer for Daring Wanderer Weddings (owned by Jess Craven, the main photographer)
How far in advance do you need to hire a wedding photographer? You’ll need to book your photographer 1-year in advance to ensure they’re available! You can definitely find one up to 6 months, but you’ll need a plan B and C for sure.
What we looked for in a photographer:
- We didn’t want photos that were too bright and colourful (not our style), or anything too edited (photoshopped)
- We looked for photographers that posted images of real couples of all shapes, sizes, and colour (we are awkward as heck in front of the camera)
- Similar to good-looking people, epic backdrops/outfits/decorations can really add to romanticizing a photo. Knowing that we weren’t having an extravagant wedding with flowers everywhere, or a mountain in the background, or saying I-do in a lush green forest, we looked for a photographer that could make the most out of not much, capturing candid moments. We wanted to be able to look through our photos and remember the song that was playing and what we were laughing at, like this moment below, when Johnny truly believed he was receiving a pair of Jordans but instead got iced, twice, and followed through like a champ while everyone chanted ‘JOHNNY, JOHNNY’
We reached out to 5 different photographers (a few referrals, and mostly Instagram stalking: #torontoweddingphotographer #torontowedding did the trick). From there, we chose based on our budget, and how the photographers answered our questions (Jess was a lot of fun, and asked us personal questions too, like how we met, our favourite foods, and more – it showed us that she actually cared about who we were).
And how much does a wedding photographer cost? Hiring a wedding photographer can cost, on average, between $2,000-$3,500. Of course, you’ll be able to find much cheaper, and much pricier photographers.
Most photographers will ask for a 50% deposit to secure the date accompanied by a contract, with the remainder of the deposit to be due 1-2 weeks before your wedding day.
Finding a Florist
- Our wedding florist: Esther Lee of @thiswildheart, Toronto
Johnny has bought me flowers twice in my life. The first time, he brought over giant ass lilies all the way from Vancouver—he obviously really missed me (and loved all the attention he got at the airport, haha), and the second time was for my bridal shower, solely because my bridesmaids pressured him into it. This is to preface to how knowledgeable I am about flowers and the floral industry…
Cue Esther Lee (@thiswildheart), a sweet friend who can do it all, and recently started a floral side business. Esther gave us a lot of insight into how much our arrangements would cost, and after we gave her our budget, our preference for white flowers and greenery (nothing too big/wild, nothing too ‘put-together’), without hesitation, she took care of everything else.
Esther also did a lot of problem solving for us. I had my eyes set on a specific type of eucalyptus for our garlands but she let me know that particular type was pricey as they’d be out of season and quickly suggested an awesome alternative rather than asking us to consider taking away from other arrangements or trying to convince us to spend a more money.
Hiring a Wedding Planner/Coordinator
- Our wedding planner/coordinator: Stephanie Metcalfe of Margo & Co, Toronto
Having attended and helped out at quite a few weddings, I think NOT hiring a wedding planner or day-of-coordinator is always a huge miss.
Without one, you’ll have to ask friends and family (with no experience planning weddings) to execute a lot of important parts of your day that will definitely add unnecessary stress.
With that said, things get expensive and quickly begin to add up—it did for us, so we hired a planner to help run the show for just the wedding day. Stephanie helped set up the vendors and run the ceremony, worked with the sound technician, let our parents know where to stand, signalled the bridesmaids walking down the aisle, made sure I had on deodorant, pointed out family to the photographer, and even made sure guests were seated accordingly so there were no awkward empty rows at the front. Bonus: she even ran out of the church to tell me to get back in the car because Johnny told her just moments before, that he didn’t want to see me until I walked down the aisle (lol, I thought we’d casually hang out before the ceremony, #romance).
Having Stephanie be a part of our day made us enjoy the events so much more, completely stress free, and the day really did go off without any issues (that we were aware of at least). We gave minor tasks to a few amazing friends to help with the rest (setting up some of the decorations at the ceremony, adding to centrepiece arrangements, etc).
What We Wore
Where did I buy my wedding dress? I wrote about it a little while ago—I purchased my dress at Loversland (read about my experience with Loversland). I budgeted $2,000 knowing that I’d rather spend less, but also ensuring myself options. I found that dresses range anywhere between $500-$10,000 (not helpful) but saw that dress styles for $1,000 were quite limited (silk is almost out of the question at this price point), while a $2,000 budget had dresses with a wide variety of shapes and fabrics (the more silk, fine lace, beading = the more $$$).
I was lucky that I found my dress at Loversland’s sample sale for $1,300. It’s by A La Robe (I think the original price was about $3,000 after taxes), and was purchased a year before the wedding. I outsourced alterations and cleaning ($200 each). Not all bridal shops include alteration costs, so keep that in mind as a question to ask when dress shopping.
Where did Johnny get his wedding suit? It’s a long story, but about 3-weeks before our wedding, the suit Johnny originally purchased was no longer an option, so we panicked, until a friend recommended King and Rook. They were amazing and made a custom suit in 2 weeks. Their suits range from $700-$1500 depending on the fabrics.
Where did my bridesmaids get their dresses? Most bridesmaids dresses cost $200-300 and are never worn again (cue Katherine Heigl’s closet in 27 Dresses). With that in mind, I made it a personal goal to make sure my bridesmaids got dresses they’d wear on other occasions. Their dresses are from Aritzia—the Beaune Dress. We got all this done about 10 months before the wedding.
We also gifted the bridesmaids custom leather clutches from Rugged Lot!
Where did we get the groomsmen’s suits? Indochino! They had a sale and we purchased each of their suits for $150. The best part was that with locations in Vancouver and Toronto (where our groomsmen live), the guys were able to visit the stores at a time convenient for them to get measured, and pick it up when it was ready. We purchased these about 10-months before the wedding.
How We Budgetted
Johnny and I REALLY wanted to (and we very proudly did) pay for our wedding on our own (though our parents’ help was tempting), so we set that as our goal and started planning. With little to no savings, but with a 2-year engagement, we started with the obvious, cutting our spending (lol to us though because it’s been about 3 years since we could start affording our sneaker habit and there was no slowing down, oops).
We had no magic formula for being able to afford our wedding— it took a lot of trust in each other (to save), and honestly God’s timing to always have enough in our bank account each time a deposit was due. But here’s some things we found helpful:
- We didn’t book our vendors all at once—each vendor requires a deposit, which could mean putting down $15,000+ at once. Instead, we booked our venue first a little over a year ahead of time, our photographer the next month, our florist and then hair and makeup, all at least two paycheque apart.
- We set budgets for EVERYTHING a year in advance (including the cost of the box of pens and rolls of tape we would need to get), so we could stress out about how much money we didn’t have ahead of time, and everything else we could compromise on.
- We had 3 columns – one was for blue sky costs (ie. the amount that I wish I could spend on a dress was $3,000), another for projected costs (ie. the amount that I can let myself spend on a dress will be $2,000), and then one for actual cost (ie. the amount I spent on my dress was $1,300). Having a blue sky column gave us a sense of how much our wedding could cost us if we weren’t careful with budgeting, and our projected column gave us an idea of how much we needed to save if we spent accordingly. Our difference between blue sky and projected was $20,000 (lol), and our actual cost was only ~$3,000 more than our projected (HOORAY).
- Line of credit: about 2 months out, when the remaining 1/3rd of our final deposits were due, we decided to use our line of credit to finish paying our vendors. We’re so fortunate to have generous friends and family as we were able to finish paying off our line of credit the Monday after our wedding with the gifts received.
- We didn’t spend on a lot of things: I didn’t buy new heels or jewelry for the wedding, we didn’t have late-night food, there were no dinner menu cards printed, no party favours were handed out, some close family and friends helped drive us around so we didn’t spend much on transportation, and more. By cutting these little things (that we no one seemed to care too much about), we saved about $5,000.
I could go on for another 2947293874345987 words on how else we planned, but the fun part about weddings is making it all about YOU (and your partner, duh). Johnny was amazing throughout the entire planning process, we only had a few bickers, and made a point to set aside time on weekends together just for wedding planning. We also had a ton of help from our bridal party, friends, and felt extra supported with our parents always offering to help.
We’re so happy with the way we celebrated our entire day, and the best advice we can give is that your wedding day is about you, not anyone else, so do whatever the heck you want to do, don’t do things because everyone else does them too.