Selecting a Photographer

Etched in Time 2

2014 Engagement Session at the Boston Public Library

A photographer can make your wedding day really special. After all is said and done, a lot of your memories of that day will be a bit blurry. Whether it is being pulled in a million different directions, being really excited, or being on your 5th White Russian, many things and people will come together to sabotage any sharp memories you may have of your wedding . All you will have left will be the pictures. And no matter how sharp your memory is, you can’t be every where at once so it will be nice to have an idea of what your guests were up to when you weren’t around. This is definitely an area I would recommend you don’t skimp on or delegate to just anyone. Since we loved our photographer, I think we can share some tips on what we found worked for us.

  1. Let their work speak for itself: You must absolutely have a wide enough sample of the photographer’s work. Don’t settle for a few pictures, particularly not random ones. Ask for at least one album made up of an entire wedding. Why? Because if you take 2,000 pictures at 5 weddings, you can easily find 10 of them that are top notch. This doesn’t tell me anything about your ability to have great shots from start to finish at one event, it doesn’t tell me anything about your photographic style (candid? journalistic? combination?) and it doesn’t tell me how you perform in a variety of lightings. But seeing a whole wedding tells me all of those things. I will know how open you are to taking candid shots, how well you adapt to the different lighting as a result of the sun setting after taking pictures for 5 hours and it pretty much tells me if you totally suck.
  2. All work an no play makes for dull pictures: Find out if they know to have fun. If you hire a stale cracker of a photographer, you could end up with a wedding album full of stiff poses, forced smiles and no real story being told. If you get a fun photographer like we did, you will seem more relaxed in your pictures, everything will look natural and you can transition from traditional pictures, to candids and staged but fun shots that allow the real you to shine through. Remember, you will not only have this for the rest of your life, your children and grand-children will also be looking at them. It will be easier to convince them grandma knew how to get down back in the day if your wedding album has a bit of personality. The pictures will definitely give you some level of credibility!
  3. Have an engagement session: I cannot stress this enough. No matter how many selfies you take for your Instagram, nothing compares to having a stranger follow you around with a camera asking your to kiss your significant other. Having it happen for 5+ hours on your wedding day as all your relatives watch is kind of creepy. This is where the engagement session comes in. This is your opportunity to get familiar with your photographer’s personality and style, get used to being followed around with a camera and learn what works best for you. You can learn a lot from your engagement pictures: your most genuine smile, your best side, new poses etc. They are usually an hour which is just enough time to get a good set of pictures but not so long that you feel overwhelmed. Just because those pictures will not end up in your official wedding album, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take them seriously. We got so many great shots that we ended up using our engagement pictures everywhere we could. They were on our save-the-dates, our programs, and large canvases we had printed as part of our reception decor.
  4. Make sure you have the copyright to the pictures: Some wedding vendors love to nickel and dime you. They will quote you a “great” photography price only for you to find out after it’s too late that you have to pay an additional fee for the copyrights to be released to you. Photographers will sometimes give you a CD or website full of watermarked pictures that become essentially useless unless you pay them more money to unmark them. Furthermore, be aware that unmarked pictures do not automatically mean you are in the clear. You need to make sure that your right to the pictures are noted in your contract. From my experience with Walmart and other printing stores, they will not print pictures that they believe are professionally taken without the explicit permission of the photographer. The contract stating that you have the rights to the pictures is your most readily available ‘permission’. Call it the work of the photography lobby if you wish, but there are now several hurdles to printing your pictures  at a reasonable cost. Not having that permission could potentially mean you have hundreds of digital files you can’t frame or you might be force to shell out some bucks for a photo-printer.
  5. Make sure you are aware of all their fees: and act accordingly. My photographer charged $150 an hour PER photographer for any time over the contracted time. I had 2 photographers which would have resulted in an $300 charge (plus tax) if we were behind schedule. Knowing this steep price motivated me to keep things on schedule. I communicated that to all interest parties and stressed the importance of being on time. As a result everything was ready on time, yes, even the bride.



Florist Tip

cntr pc

After unwinding from all the stress on a beautiful beach with warm blue water and bright white sand as far as the eye could see, I came home and started catching up on emails. One of them was from my venue asking me when I was going to pick up my flower vases. I was very confused why I still had 30, yes, 30! flower vases waiting for me almost 3 weeks after the wedding. I called the florist asking why they didn’t pick them up. Come to find out, they didn’t need to because I now owned them. Confused, I asked if I could return them for a refund because, let’s be honest, unless I open a glass shop, what am I ever going to do with 30 cylindrical flower vases? Absolutely not. I could not return them. They are now mine to keep.

It turns out that I contracted to buy rather than rent the vases. So my florist price, which I thought was so great, would have been even better if I had taken 5 seconds to ask: “Do you rent them or do I have to buy them?” Since I didn’t, I now have this tripping hazard in my basement waiting to cause an injury. It also means that I didn’t get the best price I could have. This goes to show that even if you’re normally a stickler about contracts and spending, you can never get too comfortable in the planning process. Towards the end, there is always something that can fall through the cracks because we are certainly way too busy to be on alert about every detail.

My tip today? Ask if you’re buying or renting the vase. Try and negotiate a rental (while keeping in mind that you’re on the hook if it breaks) to save money and storage space after the wedding. I promise that once, your registry items start coming in, the last thing you’ll want to waste space on are flower pots.

Do you know anyone looking for vases? I’m willing to unload mine for a marginal cost… Call me! 🙂

Why I Wanted A Sweetheart Table

I work full-time and so does my husband. We both travel for work regulary, me throughout the state and him all over the country. While we both are dealing with our professional lives, we had to juggle family and wedding planning. To add fuel to the “busy fire” I was in the last semester of an MBA program scheduled to be completed in May, mere weeks before the wedding. Now if you’re at all familiar with Type A personalities, you know that I couldn’t just graduate. I had to graduate with a certain GPA. I mean what’s a B anyway? So you can add “a crap ton of studying, homework, presentations etc.” to my already long list of commitments. Do you know what’s missing from that list? Time with my husband. I guess it’s time to stretch out my days to about 26 or so hours to make my schedule work.
As I anticipated, as the wedding date got closer, we saw each other less, we talked about us less, and we got alone time even less. In the beginning, we ran a lot of wedding errands together. But the busier we got, we had to split up to be more effective/efficient. We would talk on the phone more than we talked face to face. It was frustrating because it seemed as though we got so focused on planning this one-day party that we didn’t work on our relationship as much as we should have.

So the sweetheart table was my way of saying: “This day is not more important than you. I’ve missed you and I want time alone with you. And now that the planning is over, you have my undivided attention just like you deserve.”

“Two Seats have been Reserved in your Honor…”

wedding invite

I never liked that wording. I could never put my finger on why exactly but it’s not my cup of tea. I’m a fan of the more traditional “The honor of your presence is requested…” In part because I’m all about efficiency. The first one requires you to go in and note a number for every single card. We have enough details to attend to and this shouldn’t be one of them. However, this has also opened the door for people to decide your guest list by making executive decisions and inviting who they think you may have left out.

I received an RSVP card 2 days before the deadline from a husband and wife pair who decided that they were not satisfied with simply checking off the “Will Attend” box on the reply card. Instead they went back, scratched out the check mark and wrote “FOUR” on that line. Who are the other two people? I don’t know them. Maybe they wanted to invite their kids. It could be that 1 set of in-laws live with them. Hell, for all we know, their distant cousin Tim might be in town temporarily, on sabbatical from his Alaska fishing job and they decided to add him and his lady friend of the month to the invitation for a free night out, courtesy of my wallet.

For starters, I specifically addressed the invitation to Mr. and Mrs. Smith*. Not to The Smith Family. That may have gone over their heads, but it was a calculated move. Furthermore, while I think they have kids, their kids are at least high school aged. If they don’t attend my wedding, I’m certain they can watch themselves while mommy and daddy are away for a few hours since they only leave about 15-20 miles from my venue. Given the fact that I was paying per person for each guest, I think it was quite presumptuous of them to assume that I must host their children (or whoever, because frankly, I don’t even know who they intended to save the other 2 seats for) if I invite them. There was no attempt made to call me or ask if it was ok. Just a change to my invitation and my guest list count without my input/permission. Maybe they were hoping they could sneak it in without me noticing.

I set the card aside and I contacted them about this “evident mistake” they’ve made in “accidentally” sending a card back with the “incorrect number of guests” (hehe). I eventually heard back and was advised it was for their (as I suspected) teen aged children. Since I am a take-no-prisoners kind of person, I dealt with this the best way I know how: I sent an invitation for two. Not 3, not 4. TWO. I will either have 2 of them at the wedding or 0. They declined. The attendance of the Smith family was 0.

To be clear, Mr. and Mrs. Smith are distant family friends and were not invited because of their direct connection with me. They were invited as guests of my other family members. So they’re essentially guests of guests, inviting other guests. What do we call that? 3rd hand guests? Which makes the situation even more ridiculous.

People love to tests your limits. This is why I am a firm believer in setting boundaries and remaining consistent. Otherwise, we run the risk of putting people’s comfort so far ahead of our needs that we find ourselves in precarious circumstances that may impact us for a long time. If I allowed every couple to bring 2 additional guests, I would have had a 500-person guest list, a 6-figure wedding and a massive amount of debt.

We are expected to be responsible and spend only what we can afford. Bride and grooms are often criticized, by the very people they hosts, for having a lavish affair. Yet, they continue to insist on creating a situation where we overspend on the most expensive portion of the wedding. No thank you and be gone.

The only people invited are the ones listed on the invitation. If you’re a guest, please refrain from “suggesting” anyone else unless you’re writing me a check.

*Names have been changed to protect the guilty and etiquette violators.

Guest List Battle Royale: How to Win

The gauntlet has been thrown! People are in an uproar and you don’t want to ruffle feathers. You know why you should cut your guest list but you just can’t figure out how. Let me share my top 5 favorite tips on how to reign in your guest list.

Just say no. Say no to people asking to invite random acquaintances. It’s ok, they’ll get over it.

Don’t exclude significant others. People in relationships must be invited as one unit. But you are not required to give EVERYONE  a plus one. Some people who are single will ask for a plus one just so they don’t have to be alone. Showing up somewhere and not knowing anyone happens sometimes. It’s part of life. You don’t know everyone on the train on your way to work, yet you manage to survive without dragging an unwilling party behind you. They can survive vows and a dinner on their own.

Don’t invite someone simply because they invited you to their own wedding. Weddings are not tit-for-tat, give and take events. To explain it better, relationships change over time. If someone got married 10 years ago and invited you to their affair, you may have lost touch with them or the friendship may not be the same today. Do not feel like you have to invite them to your own wedding. They should have invited you because they wanted you there. Not because they were hoping you’d invite them to your own later.

Don’t write “Smith Family” on the invitation if you’re not inviting the kids. Make sure you note Mr. and Mrs. John Smith so you can avoid having to make that awkward phone call because they wrote “2 High Chairs” under the special dietary needs section.

Be clear about who is and who isn’t invited. Believe it or not, people will try to invite themselves to your wedding or assume they’re invited. If they jokingly (or not) say: “Am I invited?” laughing it off without setting the record straight my set certain expectations. You’ll either have to have a more awkward conversation later on, or if you’re the type to shy away from confrontation, you could end up creating a C list and giving out invitations to people you didn’t really want there to begin with.

Happy affordable planning!

Thursday Wedding Tip: Cut Your Biggest Expense

Once you start planning a wedding, everyone will tell you the same thing: food and beverage will be your biggest expense. Whether you have a big or small wedding, aged steak or backyard barbecue, you will spend the bulk of your money on your caterer. So what is your biggest path to huge savings? Cutting your guest list. This is a taboo area for many people. We don’t want to offend our friends and family. We don’t want to make people feel left out and we want to follow etiquette. But at what point does making things right by our our friends and family cross the line into doing something that is harmful to us?

I have no interest in the “this is my day” rhetoric of self-centered bratty brides. I do, however, have a lot of interest in making sure that people do not take on more than they can chew. What purpose does it serve to spend more than you can afford so other people can be happy? All your guests and their flavor of the month +1 are not vested in your life past the point of celebration. When you return from the honeymoon, your utility bill will still be waiting for you. (One month, well before our solar days, when we had electric heat our bill was $620. Thanks National Greed Grid!) You still need to put food on the table, and you still need to save for retirement.

Sure, there are some people who will say: “If you can’t afford it have a smaller wedding!” or my absolute favorite: “Don’t get married!” Of course. I will put off getting married until I am able to pay for your sister who I haven’t seen in 10 years or spoken to in 5, to come to my wedding. /snark

People just love to make brides and grooms feel guilty about setting boundaries by using negative terms such as bridezilla or by calling people selfish. But is the couple really the source of issue? Because, if you think about it, what other kind of event do you go to where you think you can demand to bring people? What other events do you go to where you call the host and find it acceptable to suggest changes to the guest list? None. Your job’s Christmas party? You tend to find a babysitter or you stay home. If your neighbor invites you to a barbecue, do you say “my sister was wondering why she wasn’t invited” or do you just go?

The point of a wedding celebration is for the couple to celebrate the beginning of their (hopefully) lifelong journey with those who are the closest to them. It’s not a block party. Most importantly, as the hosts, they decide the guest list. Not you. You don’t have a say unless you’re writing checks. Period. It is extremely disrespectful, entitled and self-centered to think that you can dictate how others spend their money.

In an attempt at guilt-tripping you into doing their bidding, people will even go as far as giving you the following friendly reminder: “Don’t let this go to your head. Do you really want to ruin friendships over a one-day party? If you were really my friend, you would invite my neighbor’s cousin’s dog along with the litter of new born puppy from Forks, WA.” (Twilight reference FTW!) In those cases, you have my blessing to tell them: “Do you really think I’m dumb enough to let a one-day party put me in a financial hole? If you were really my friend you would be more respectful of my boundaries and be appreciative that I consider us close enough to invite you.”

Why should you cut your guest list? Let’s do some math:
Say you’re inviting 210 people at $100 a piece. But you decide to cut out 10 of them. That’s not just $1,000 in savings. There are administrative fees, for me they were 19%, ($190), there are taxes (6.25% where I am which means $74.38 since the administrative fees are taxable), non-taxable automatic gratuity 15% ($150). 10 less people means 1 less table, therefore, 1 less centerpiece. Centerpieces can range anywhere between $50 to $150. I’ll put them right in the middle at $100. That’s another $106.25 saved with the florist (keeping the same tax rate of 6.25%). Cake costs up to $6 a person if you want anything above basic scroll work (i.e. fondant, fresh flowers etc.), so that’s $63.74 for cake including tax. Don’t forget to budget for favors at $3 a person so there goes another $31.87. If you want those nice chiavari chairs, they will cost between $7 and $10 to rent depending on where you are and who you’re getting them from. But for to avoid complicating this any further, let’s assume all that good stuff is already included in your $100 package (it’s not but humor me).

Have you been keeping track? You can check my math if you want but I’m up to $1,616.24. “It’s just 10 more guests!” doesn’t sound as trivial if I remind you that this is probably a month’s rent for a lot of people, does it?

Frugal Fridays: Reception Details

This is my version of throw back Thursday: Some of the best finds from my own days of wedding planning.


It’s the little expenses that creep up on us. That’s what every couple is told to watch out for. You budgeted $2,000 for your dress but the slip is $120, the bra is $80 and a veil is $300. Oh you think that garter is cute? That will be $30. It never ends. And that’s not just your dress. The reception costs will sneak up on you as well. Your keepsake box will run you $15 to $30. Don’t forget taxes, shipping for the things you can’t get in town, etc.

I couldn’t allow the unexpected to bust my budget, so I hunted for deals like a man lost in the Sahara hunts for water. Here are some of my deals:

1) Small gift bags for my favors: less than $70 for 100 from Amazon
2) Matching color tissue papers to stuff them: $9 for 100 from Amazon
3) ‘Mr. & Mrs.’ wood chair hangers: $15 (50% off sale) from Amazon (I never actually used those as I forgot I bought them!)
4) Personalized hanger* – $3.99 (+$10 for shipping). This was a one-day sale. These are usually $19.99-$25.99. from Etsy

*All items except for the hanger were shipped for free, saving me a lot of money as well.