Featured Today on Preggie Pals, Talking Baby Shower Planning!

Some of you may know that I went on vacation with my husband back in April.  We’d been saving up for a long time (like, since before we were married), and making mental plans, and finally just had to pull the trigger.  It was a fantastic recharging of our batteries, and a seriously fun time.

What very few people know, though, is that I was sitting in our hotel in Paris when I got an extremely interesting e-mail.

“I’m hoping you can help me out. I’m looking for an experienced baby shower planner in the San Diego area. I host/produce an online radio show called “Preggie Pals” which is focused on new and expecting parents, and I need an expert for a show we’re taping in May about baby showers/sprinkles. Is this an area/service you offer and would feel comfortable talking about?”

Confession: I once seriously considered voice acting as a part-time career and even narrated a training video (that has long-since been replaced) about unemployment in New Mexico.  No, really, I did!  Don’t laugh!

So there was really no way I could turn down the opportunity to ham it up.  Er, I mean, educate moms-to-be about baby shower planning. 🙂

Honestly, I was honored to be asked.  I jumped at the chance.  And Sunny, the “Mommy-in-Charge” at New Mommy Media, the company producing Preggie Pals and their sister shows (Parent Savers and The Boob Group), was so welcoming and so nice…  I am so happy I did.

Preggie Pals

We taped this show back in mid-May; I was on my way to a wedding right afterwards, and the mommies on the panel were all about a month and a half away from their due dates.  When I checked in with Sunny last week, she told me that 2 of the 3 babies had been born already…  I’m so excited for them!  They really made this non-mommy feel comfortable during my interview, and I appreciated that very much!

You’ll have to listen to the interview itself to hear everything I had to say – we talked budget, etiquette, expectations, trends, and even what to do when someone wants to throw you a shower you don’t really want…  I really tried to emphasize what a shower is about – showing love and support for the new parents – and we all agreed that it’s an important part of having a new child (even an adoption or second baby).  I loved being able to share my expertise, and learned from the mommies’ experience too!

You can check out the whole interview on New Mommy Media’s website!

Edited on 7/05 – WE’RE LIVE!!!  I haven’t even listened to the show myself, yet…  But I’m SO excited to announce that it’s live and available right now!!!

Check it out!

At http://www.preggiepals.com/ or Itunes!


Budget Wedding Tips

I’ve planned and coordinated events with budgets of almost nothing (like a party for 80 with a budget of $150!) and those with budgets upwards of $500 per person.  While the scope of each event is different, one thing remains the same.  Each event was special to the client and the attendees.  So no matter whether everyone was eating off of paper plates or bone china (or one of the many, many choices in between), I directed the budget we did have to making the party feel special.

The same goes for wedding planning – very few people have unlimited budgets, so as a planner I try to make every budgetary decision count.  Of course we’d all like to have the perfect wedding or event, precisely as we envision, but sometimes tough choices have to be made.  I’ve seen all kinds of cost-cutting scenarios; some work well, but others leave brides unhappy.  Here are my favorite ways to trim your budget without sacrificing the wedding of your dreams:

Guest List

Do: Invite people you want to be there, and trim those you can’t afford.

Don’t: Invite people just because you feel you should.

I think this is probably the number one cost-cutting scenario across all planners and wedding publications.  Taking the guest list from 250 to 125 not only allows you to save on food, drinks and incidental costs (favors, printing, rentals), it probably will translate into many more dollars saved in the form of a smaller venue.  Instead of tracking down a large ballroom, you may be able to hold your wedding in a more cost-effective location.

Yes – this means that you probably won’t be inviting your third cousins from across the country…  But a smaller wedding can mean less stress for the bride and groom – and more time with your guests.

But try not to get caught up in the “should” game – weddings are often about what we feel we’re “supposed” to do and many brides feel as though they must invite someone, even though they’d rather not.  Even if you were invited to someone’s wedding, or they’re your distant relative, or they’ve asked nicely, you are under no obligation to invite anyone.  Make sure that your invited wedding guests are the people you want to spend your wedding day with – they’ll be in your wedding memories forever.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t invite people that you want to – just that you don’t have to invite people you don’t want to.


Do: Find a location that you love.

Don’t: Go with the cheapest location you can find, just because it’s cheap.

In addition to keeping your guest list down, it’s often easier than you’d think to find a location that meets your expectations while keeping your budget in check.  Want a beautiful outdoor setting?  Many golf clubs offer excellent wedding specials at reasonable prices.  Have a vintage soiree in mind?  Keep an eye out for historical homes, womens clubs, and restaurants.  Often times you’ll be able to find a great location that isn’t well-advertised; my mother found my wedding reception location in the yellow pages (after my husband and I spent days looking on the internet!).

The important part of making this work, though, is finding a place you will love to spend your wedding day.  Make sure that it meets your needs – aesthetic and otherwise.  In choosing a location, keep in mind the following:

  • Where will you hold the ceremony? Indoors?  Outdoors?  A church?  What does the site look like?  What does it need?  Will I be happy getting married here?
  • Where will you hold the reception? Indoors?  Outdoors?  How will the site be set up?  When will my vendors be able to arrive for setup?  Will I be comfortable?  Will my guests?  How far is it from the ceremony?  How will people get there?
  • What is included in the price? Tables?  Chairs?  Linens?  Dishes, glasses, silverware?  Food?  Florals or other decorations?  Heaters?  What will I need to bring in?  Keep in mind that rental prices can add up quickly; sometimes a very inexpensive location without their own equipment can have a bigger overall price tag than a more expensive place where everything is included.  When one of my best friends was getting married last year, I went on site visits with her and her now-husband.  Their number one choice for venue was a picturesque little chapel where every stick of furniture, all the lighting, and every bit of food had to be brought in from the outside.  The chapel itself was a steal to rent, but as estimates skyrocketed my friend realized she could actually save money by having the wedding at a fancy golf club a short distance away, and that her guests could dine on filet and salmon instead of pasta salad because of the money saved on rentals.
  • What is the fine print? Are there restrictions on start and end times?  Outside vendors?  Alcohol or dancing?  A friend of mine is getting married soon and discovered after signing the paperwork with her venue that she has a very limited selection of bakeries at which to get her cake.  She is forbidden by the contract with her venue to get a cake from anywhere except their “preferred” vendors.  Whose cakes just aren’t very good.  Bottom line: make sure you’re actually happy with the terms of your rental agreement with your venue, before signing it!  Very inexpensive venues often have very good reasons for being so inexpensive.

Mushroom appetizers!

Food and Drinks

Do: Serve something you want to eat.

Don’t: Feel badly serving food and drinks within your means.

Food and drinks are another area where brides and grooms hear several “shoulds”.  As in, “You should serve dinner,” or “You should have an open bar,” or “You should choose whatever food your guests will like.”  Again, the trick to trimming wedding day costs without cutting down on your day is making the right choices, within your means.  But don’t forget to keep these points in mind:

  • If food is included, am I happy with it? If you want to stop by McDonald’s on the way from your reception, whether it’s because you didn’t like the food or because you didn’t get enough food, it’s not worth serving food at your reception.  While I definitely believe that serving food at a wedding is part of the party atmosphere, I would rather focus on having tasty heavy appetizers than pay for bad dinners.  Some venues will let you cook your own food (these are generally “DIY” venues), which can work if you have a good plan.  Or have a potluck, if you can (although this gets logistically tricky, so be sure you, your guests, AND your planner are well-organized if you go this route).  Or have a short wedding reception sans food altogether except cake.  There are a lot of creative ways to serve good food on your wedding day.
  • For the cocktail hour appetizers, what will you serve? Most weddings include a cocktail hour, to give time for the bride and groom to take photos following the ceremony.  Cocktails and appetizers are served, which can add hundreds or thousands of dollars onto your bottom-line total.  Appetizers are often priced above and beyond your “regular” food cost, and priced per piece consumed, which can add up quickly.  If you are planning to serve appetizers, consider your options.  Often, a “station” can be set up, where platters of food are artfully displayed for guests’ consumption.  This option is typically less expensive, overall, than tray-passed appetizers, and includes more food.  Or give your guests their party favors early:  include individually-wrapped favors such as bags of cookies or candy in pretty containers near the entrance to the cocktail hour space.  Another great option is to create a cookie, candy, or popcorn bar.  Just make sure that your venue doesn’t have any restrictions prohibiting this, before you start purchasing supplies.
  • How do you want to handle the bar situation? Some brides and grooms have reasons other than budget to restrict drinking at their weddings, of course.  But even if your decision is purely monetary, not having an open bar is okay.  No matter what your cranky cousin or that wedding “expert” might tell you.  If it’s a choice between having a beautiful wedding you’re proud of and having an open bar, forget the bar.  Even without an open bar, many venues provide a celebratory champagne toast, or wine at dinner.  You could also give all your guests drink tickets, provide an alcoholic punch, restrict the bar to house beer and wine only, or open the bar for just the cocktail hour.  Each of these options provides you with a different set of circumstances.  But remember that most venues price their open bars upon consumption – that means you’ll pay a certain price for every drink that’s ordered by every single guest – and it adds up quickly.


Do: Explore Your Options.

Don’t: Use a photographer with no background in weddings.  Ever.  Just trust me on this one.

Your photographer captures your wedding day, and nothing else from the day will be as lasting.  Photographers’ prices vary widely, from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.  Many times there are good reasons for this – some photographers may be more experienced, or have better references, or provide more services than others.  But sometimes as a bride it can feel overwhelmingly expensive just to have someone photograph your wedding.  It may be tempting to completely ignore professional photographers altogether, perhaps asking friends to take photos with their personal cameras.  But there is a reason that pros charge so much: they know what photos to take, and when.  So before you cut out a photographer completely, consider these options:

  • Hire a photography school student.  They often will work for portfolio-building experiences, or for a fraction of the price of a professional wedding photographer.  One caveat, though: make sure that either a) they have photographed weddings before or b) you have a backup.  This case is near and dear to my heart; my husband and I jumped on the offer of free photography for our wedding.  We met the photographer and liked her, a lot.  Her work was beautiful.  She’d never done a wedding before, but we thought it would no problem.  How hard could a wedding be?  The photos she got were – and are – truly gorgeous.  She captured some incredible moments.  But she failed to get several moments on film at all; from the first kiss to the wedding details I worked so hard on, I won’t be able to get those back.  I wish I’d assigned a friend with a good camera to be her “backup” – to make sure he or she took serious photos of all the florals and the major parts of the wedding.  We’ve been able to construct a decent wedding album, cobbling together the photos our photographer took with those provided by friends, but our photography experience has lead me to recommend to all my brides that they be very, very careful if they work with a non-pro photographer.
  • Hire a photographer for just a few hours.  I just have to say it: As a planner I do prefer when photographers stay until the end.  That’s when so many of the best moments of a wedding happen.  Dance offs abound, and candid shots are fantastic.  But in the event that your wedding budget simply can’t stretch far enough, consider hiring a professional photographer for just a few hours.  Pro photographers often can work out an hourly rate with couples to fall within your budget restrictions.  I always recommend that couples hire their photographer for the ceremony, some formal portraits, a few shots of the details, and the “special” parts of the reception (first dance, father/daughter dance, toasts, etc.).  If your photographer has to shoot and dash, work with your planner to create a timeline that “front-loads” all these special items before you sit down to dinner!


Do: Have someone to help you get organized.

Don’t: Try to do it all yourself.

I’m not saying you need to hire a full wedding planner.  I know that it’s not a realistic expectation, and that hiring a wedding planner is not at the top of every bride’s to-do list.  I’m also not saying this just because I want you to hire me.  But a planner can be especially valuable to budget couples in a variety of ways:

  • Consult with a planner for an hour or two; pick their brain and just pay their hourly rate.  Many planners don’t advertise this service.  But most of us are open to the idea.  As long as we know up front that we’re only consulting with you – please don’t pretend that you’re a potential client! – we’re happy to help.  You’ll likely make a quick agreement, pay up front, and receive your recommendations directly from the planner.  Depending on what you agree to, you may have more than one a-la-carte consultation.  You may even get an inspiration board or design plan out of it.  But let me reiterate: please be up front and honest.  Most of us don’t bite.
  • Hire a Coordinator instead of a Full Planner.  If you’ve got this planning thing down, you might not need a planner.  I happen to be biased about this because I think that everyone can benefit from the guidance full planning offers – but I’m also realistic.  For some people it’s simply not in the cards!  A Coordinator can still help keep you on track, and on the day of your wedding will help make sure that your wedding day runs smoothly.
  • Have your planner keep track of your budget.  I’m not sure if anyone would do this service a-la-carte (I usually only offer it as part of my planning packages), but one of the perks to hiring me as a planner is that I keep track of your major budget items.  This means that you know where your money is going – and how much of it is left – at all times.
  • Ask your planner for recommendations.  You might not know the awesome little bakery that makes tasty custom wedding cakes for under $2 a slice, or the florist who specializes in stretching every penny.  But your planner does.  She also might be able to help you with your invitations, rentals, and favors, because she deals with these things all the time.  She might be able to buy in bulk or wholesale; she might even have a stash of wedding items just for her couples to use (I do!).  Your planner might be able to save you serious cash if you ask her to help you keep down your costs!

In short: do consider alternatives you haven’t thought of yet (such as a “more expensive” venue that actually costs less overall, a-la-carte consulting with a planner, or hiring a photographer for part of your day) and don’t let planning your wedding on a strict budget stress you out.  You can do this!

Photo credits:

What Sets You Apart From Other Planners?

Two weeks ago I had a phone consultation with a potential (now, a new) client.  They live 2,000 miles away, so meeting in person was out of the question.  It’s always nerve-wracking trying to figure out how to ask the right questions of one another so that you feel comfortable with each other (both as potential planner and as potential client).  I asked the couple a bunch of questions (why they were having their wedding here, for example, and what they wanted the day to look like…  My favorite answer was to my question of what they wanted their guests to walk away thinking: “That was the best wedding ever!”  But I digress…).  Then it was their turn to ask me.

The groom had obviously prepared, because his first question was a doozy.  “What sets you apart from other planners?”

I have to admit, I said out loud that he was asking the hard questions!  It’s so difficult to compare one planner to another.  But I really liked my response, and I wanted to share.

There are three things that make me unique among planners in San Diego.  Some planners share one or two of these with me.  But I think the combination of all three is what makes me special.

  1. I believe in exceptional service.  I take on a maximum of two weddings per month, and never schedule two on the same weekend.  This is by design, for a number of different reasons, including that I want to have enough energy to really make your wedding day amazing.  But it also means that you will be my only client for the week of your wedding.  That entire week leading up to your wedding day I’ll be able to focus on your wedding (I may still be talking and meeting with other brides and grooms, but as yours is the only wedding I’ll have for that whole week, you’ll be able to get almost all of my attention!).
  2. I am realistic about costs.  I’d never, never tell a couple that they couldn’t have a wedding for their budget.  It’s all about prioritizing and making alternate arrangements, but I’ve seen beautiful weddings at every price point.  I’d also never tell a couple that they could have a wedding for X amount, while knowing that it will cost them X+.  If I’m given a budget, I’ll do everything in my power to stick to it.  You’ll also be heavily involved in any budget changes, if they do arise.  I will work every bit of magic to get you the best wedding day possible within your means, and I am realistic with my pricing.  I may not be the cheapest wedding planner out there, but I work hard to give all of my brides and grooms the best value, and the benefit of my years as a nonprofit gala planner.
  3. I’m not just a coordinator.  I’m an Event Designer.  This means that I do more than just tell people what to do on your wedding day (seriously!).  I can help you conceptualize your wedding style, find pieces that will fit within your overall look, feel, and budget, and tie it all together.  I also own boxes and boxes of unique and vintage decor (as well as some standard pieces) to help my couples make their vision come to life without breaking the bank.  And don’t forget that I design event-related paper goods, too!
In addition to these traits, I really do care about my brides and grooms, and work as hard as I can to make sure that they have the best wedding day they possibly can.  That is the number one reason why I do this job.  And I love my job!

Ten Myths About Wedding Planners

Planning your wedding is a complex business.  Sometimes it feels like everyone is just trying to get money from you.  And for the bride-on-a-budget, hiring a wedding planner can seem like an extravagant expense.  The only thing is: most brides-to-be aren’t very educated about what a planner does.  And because of this, some pretty big misconceptions about wedding planners persist.  Below are the top ten myths about wedding planners that I would like to see disappear!

  1. Wedding planners don’t post prices because they want you to give them your budget first so they can charge you more.
    Handmade Tissue Poms and Photo Booth Props

    Your planner may have skills over and above managing your wedding - like making tissue poms at the drop of a hat - or inventory to help defray your costs - like her own arsenal of photo booth props!

    Depending on the type of service your planner provides, she may be basing her price on the overall budget for your event.  However, this practices is typically reserved for full-service high-end weddings.  Why, then, do most planners still not post their prices online?  Simple!  A wedding planner usually won’t quote prices until she’s learned a little bit more about your event!  Since each wedding is different, a good wedding planner will tailor her service to meet your needs.  But a lot of it depends on you.  Do you have a large wedding, a short turnaround time, a complicated setup?  Your wedding planner may need to bring in an assistant or two to help out on the day of.  Do you need extra help making a DIY project, working out a design problem, or finding a vendor?  Your wedding planner may be able to help – but these all take time, so they will probably not be included in her simplest coordination package.  Depending on the individual, your planner may have skills in invitation or floral design, may have an arsenal of DIY projects at the ready, or may stock their own decor items for your use; all of these add value to their base price and may save you cold hard cash in the long run.

  2. If you have to ask, it’s too expensive.
    Due to the complexity of the process of quoting prices for your wedding day (see above), most wedding planners simply don’t post their prices.  But there are planners to fit into every price range.  Nearly every planner needs to learn more about you before she will be able to quote you a price.  But you’d be surprised how many planners are actually more affordable than you think.  And if the planner you like doesn’t meet your budgetary needs, she may be able to suggest a colleague who does.
  3. Anyone can be a wedding planner.
    While it’s true that wedding planners’ education and experience can vary widely, a good planner has skills in organization, multi-tasking, and motivation; as well as the resourcefulness to come up with alternate ideas on the fly and a definite grace under pressure.  This combination is a rarity in the world at large.  Before you “hire” a friend without event experience to be your day-of coordinator, consider this: Your friend may throw a really great party, but a planner will have the ability to simultaneously handle all your vendors, troubleshoot issues, and get your flower girl to walk down the aisle, all while shielding you from the wedding day craziness that is bound to pop up.  Remember, a planner has done this dozens of times (sometimes hundreds).  She knows how to handle even the toughest of problems without stressing you, the bride, out.
  4. I have a site coordinator, so that’s the same as a wedding planner.
    Site coordinators for churches and reception halls represent their employers.  They have the site’s best interests in mind, are always thinking of the next sale or ceremony, and will only offer you a limited choice of options available based on their experience (I once had a church coordinator tell my bride “This is the only way to do it,” about the number of attendants standing at the front of the church when they were taking their vows; every other Catholic wedding I’d seen allowed all the members of the wedding party to line up with the couple, and this was what my bride wanted, but the site coordinator insisted and didn’t back down until I intervened).  Typically, site coordinators for reception sites will be there at the beginning of the wedding, check on the party a few times, and leave, ready to move on to the next event.  Sometimes they’ll even have more than one wedding reception going on at once.  Wedding planners represent you.  They have your best interests in mind.  On your wedding day, your wedding planner is only thinking of you and your wedding.  Your planner will be with you all day; when she’s not with you, she’s tracking down a vendor, setting up a table, or making sure you have food.  You are her number one priority.
  5. Wedding planners don’t actually work.  They just get paid to stand around and tell people what to do.
    Wedding planners are constantly on their feet, constantly going.  Your planner is the first person there on your wedding day, and the last one to leave.  She has to know the intimate details of your wedding timeline like the back of her hand, make sure that everything is in place for all the special moments during your reception, and make it all happen.  She’ll lift, carry, move, kneel, crawl, grab, and schlep.  And that’s just during setup. Your planner is on call for the entire wedding ceremony and reception, ready to do whatever it takes to make your wedding day amazing.
  6. Wedding planners only work one or two days a week.
    While it’s true that most planners tend to schedule weddings on the weekends (that’s just when weddings typically happen), it doesn’t mean that they aren’t working throughout the week.  Usually for lots more hours than a “normal” work week.  You see, a typical day-of-plus wedding coordination job is, for me, 10-15 hours of onsite work and 15-20 hours of work before the wedding day even begins.  Even “simple” day-of coordination usually involves nearly as many hours of work offsite as on.  Why?  Wedding planning involves much more than just showing up and barking orders.  Before your wedding day, your planner will meet with you one-on-one, create a wedding strategy, compile the information from your other vendors, create and distribute a timeline, confirm that everything is going according to plan, run your rehearsal, and take possession of your wedding day decor.  That’s assuming that she hasn’t already put together all your wedding decor herself or helped you to do it, contracted with your vendors, and been to the site four or five times to make sure the strategy works.  Add to that answering your frantic e-mails and phone calls, networking with other vendors to help establish relationships (which leads to the ability to find last-second replacements, excellent service, and, sometimes even deals, for you), and running her own company…  And that adds up to a lot of late nights.  Which brings us to…
  7. Wedding planners with ‘day jobs’ aren’t as good as full-time wedding planners.
    "By day, mild-mannered Student Advisor... By Night, Wedding Diva!"

    "Wedding Diva"... Okay, actually, this was last year's Halloween costume. Don't judge! 🙂

    As a superhero wedding planner myself (“by day, mild-mannered student advisor, by night, Wedding Diva!”), I really hate this misconception.  Many, many planners (and photographers, and videographers, and other wedding vendors) have day jobs.  It’s how we pay the bills.  It’s what allows us to run around all weekend, schlepping equipment, in order to make your wedding day spectacular.  It keeps us from having to charge ridiculously high prices to keep from starving.  Which means we can keep our prices low.  Often times, wedding planners with day jobs will be just starting out in the industry, but not always.  Weddings don’t bring steady paychecks, even for the most seasoned of planners.  Which means that your planner-with-a-day-job might actually be able to focus on you more than your full-time planner (who might be looking for the next client already).  There are plenty of awesome, super-high-service, full-time wedding planners out there.  Just know that there are also plenty of awesome, super-high-service, part-time wedding planners out there too.

  8. If I am going to hire a wedding planner, I need to go with the cheapest one I can find, period.
    The thing is, wedding planning is about relationships, not bottom lines.  Every wedding planner has her own style, every one will build her relationship with you and the other vendors at your wedding in a different way.  You’ll need to make sure that your style meshes well with hers before booking.  That usually means meeting with her, discussing your wedding day and yourselves as a couple, and making sure that she can provide everything you want/need, in a way that makes you feel good, for a price you’re comfortable paying.  The worst mistake anyone could make when hiring a wedding planner is to simply hire the cheapest one before having a real conversation with her and getting to know how she does business.  How does she handle stressful situations, or changes, or other vendors?  How does she put together your wedding day?  What does she offer in addition to simply being a warm body on the day of your wedding (see #1)?  This goes for “gut” feelings too; sometimes people don’t really hit it off – it happens, and it’s not personal.  But if you don’t feel comfortable with your planner, how can you trust her to make the right decisions and handle all the pieces of your wedding day?
  9. I need to haggle with my wedding planner in order to get the best price.
    Wedding planning is a serious profession that requires education and expertise.  I love to haggle for good deals with the best of them, but a planner is nothing like a flea market vendor.  I’m not saying that you should take out a second mortgage just to pay for your wedding planner.  But wedding planners’ prices are based on a lot of factors, including their hard costs (for web hosting, materials, permits, taxes, space, and advertising) and the costs of living.  Your planner will have spent many hours coming up with exactly the right balance for her pricing so that she can continue to provide you great service.  If your mechanic or your doctor quoted you a price for a service you needed them to perform, you wouldn’t lowball them, would you?  A wedding planner has a set of professional skills too.  Granted, in certain circumstances, planners may be willing to negotiate, especially if a real connection and relationship is made between you (see #9).  But usually a planner has quoted you the best price she can to meet your service needs and stay in business.
  10. I don’t need a wedding planner.
    With a wedding planner, you can enjoy your wedding day.

    ...you'll be getting married, enjoying your new husband, and partying at your reception.

    Here’s the bottom line: No one needs a wedding planner.  Everyone would benefit from having one.  Your planner will keep you sane through one of the most stressful times of your life.  Instead of worrying whether the DJ has the music, or your engraved cake cutter is on the cake table, or your Aunt Mildred will ever find her table, you’ll be getting married, enjoying your new husband, and partying at your reception.  Your planner will keep you organized, making sure your timeline makes sense and all of your wedding-day details are in place.  She’ll be your representative with the other vendors, your surrogate mother, your coach, your emergency diffuser, your support on your wedding day.  And who couldn’t benefit from that?

All photos copyright Events by Elisa.