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    Planning Your Wedding

    So you’re getting married. Congratulations! 

    You want your big day to be perfect. To help, we’re offering this wedding planner. 

    Read on for ways to make your wedding go more smoothly, plus tips for green nuptials, choosing between a band and a DJ, finding a budget-friendly gown and including your pet in the festivities.

    And because the work of creating a stable relationship continues long beyond the honeymoon, we’ve included ways to build a lasting marriage, issues that may arise in a multicultural union and how to become a successful stepparent.

    11 Things to Remember When Planning a Wedding

    Enjoying the wedding of your dreams means managing crucial details beforehand. Here are items that need to go on your to-do list.

    Set Up a Wedding Website

    The best way to provide a single point of information for guests is by creating a website dedicated to your special day before sending your save-the-date notices.

    It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, “but you should have a URL that you can put on the cards,” says Brides Magazine. Include basic info to start—where, when and nearby hotels (if there will be people from out of town).

    What’s more, you need to “update your wedding website regularly,” according to (HCTG). You can “link your gift registry once it's been established, add hotel room block information, add maps along with nearby attractions and include the weather forecast for the big day.”

    In fact, HCTG suggests setting up a separate email address to handle “all the e-newsletters, wedding show follow-ups, vendor correspondence, etc.” That way both of you can access this information without having to search through your own inboxes.

    HCTG also advises using “a service like Google Drive to keep a running list of all your vendors along with their contact information.” That can be especially helpful if you ask someone to help you keep track of what’s happening on the big day.

    Plan for Unexpected Expenses…and Leave Yourself Enough Time

    An unexpected fee here, a delayed dress fitting there: These things happen. Assume up front that not everything is going to go off without a hitch.

    “Make sure to give yourselves a cushion,” says HCTG. “We recommend using about 5% of your total budget as a buffer to cover any unanticipated costs.”

    One hidden cost many couples don’t account for: invitation postage. Check with your local post office on additional charges that may accrue because of the size and/or shape of your stationery.

    Wedding attire can be the biggest source of delays, so “budget in both time and funds for alterations,” advises Brides. “Off-the-rack dresses and suits may be less expensive, but tailoring to your body is more than worth the price.”

    If you go the custom-made route, allow six to eight months, and schedule your first fitting at least three months out.

    Designate a Wedding Point Person (or Team)

    You’re going to bebusy on your wedding day (duh!).

    Having someone (or several someones) to handle all the little chores that need doing—especially serving as the main point of contact with your vendors—will help things move a lot more smoothly.

    If you’re working with a wedding planner, ask them who will serve this function. If not, a trusted family member or friend (who may or may not be in the wedding party) will do; you can even ask two or three people to handle different chores.

    In addition to dealing with vendors, these tasks may include:

    • Rounding up family members for photos
    • Storing wedding attire (or returning rented items)
    • Gathering gifts, décor and personal belongings
    • Handing out tips (see below)

    Remember Gratuities…

    It is customary—although never required—to tip the people who help make your day special, such as your makeup and hair stylists, the reception setup crew and the officiant. (A member of the clergy may prefer that you make a donation to their house of worship instead.)

    For people employed by the venue and the transportation provider, check your contract; gratuities may be included. If not, go ahead and tip folks such as catering staff, drivers, bartenders (say no to a tip jar for guests), such vendor personnel as floral arrangers and musicians, and such venue personnel as valets and coatroom attendants.

    The best way to handle tips is to place cash in labeled envelopes, and then have your designated person hand them out.

    …and Your Vendors

    Like your guests, your vendors need to be fed. “Ask your caterer what they offer for vendor meals, and give them the final ‘vendor meal’ count at the same time you confirm your final guest count,” says HCTG.

    You also need to ask vendors about potential overtime—would they be willing to stay if necessary?—and what fees they might charge.

    Ask About Food Restrictions

    Today, many people are on restricted diets, often because of food allergies or sensitivities.

    That’s why it’s a good idea “to make note of all the guests who have food allergies or are vegetarian or vegan," says Brides. "Provide a list for your caterer, noting where each of these guests is sitting."

    Track Your RSVPs

    Thereal fun begins when the RSVPs start rolling in.

    “Have an RSVP-tracking strategy in place,” advises HCTG. “You'd be surprised by how many guests will fail to write their names on the RSVP reply card.”

    The best way to keep track of who is coming, according to HCTG, is to “write a little number on the back of your RSVP cards that corresponds to your own numbered guest list.”

    Plan Your Transportation

    That means more than just getting yourselves to the ceremony and then to the reception.

    Remember that if the bridal party is getting ready together in one location, such as a hotel, they will also need transportation.

    What’s more, the two of you may need a ride to wherever you’re off to after the reception, whether that means going home, to a hotel or to the airport.

    Anticipate Inclement Weather…and Keep an Eye on Local Sunset

    Looking forward to a lovely outdoor ceremony and/or reception? That sounds wonderful, but Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate. Have a plan B.

    You should also take note of when the sun will set on your wedding date, since your photographer will probably want to take advantage of that gorgeous, golden light (assuming the weather is good) for some spectacular shots.

    Don’t Forget Yourselves

    You’ll need to order your meals, too.

    “Couples forget to add themselves to the guest count all the time,” says Brides, which also advises that you eat a hearty breakfast and stay hydrated throughout the day.

    Pack a go-bag to bring with you.

    Besides a change of clothes and comfy shoes, it should include such items as double-sided tape (to quick-fix blown seams or frayed lace), spare makeup, wipes for mishaps like wine spills, a phone charger and anything else you may need.

    If you’re leaving immediately for your honeymoon, remember to bring your packed luggage.

    Other Often-Overlooked Wedding To-Dos

    These points may seem minor…until you forget one of them:

    • When planning your décor, ask your venue on possible limitations in terms of size and/or type of decorations.
    • Account for signage: a welcome sign, seating chart, gift table label, etc.
    • Make sure you have your rings and marriage license (and a pen).

    HCTG also suggests that you consider an unplugged wedding: “You're paying for a professional photographer, and the last thing you want is 27 iPhones making an appearance in your ceremony photos.”

    Ask your guests to keep their devices out of sight (and on silent) once the ceremony begins.

    7 Tips for a Green Wedding

    White might still be the most popular color for wedding gowns—but when it comes to planning the big day, couples are thinking green.

    Every little bit helps: The average wedding generates 400 pounds of garbage and 63 tons of carbon dioxide, according to The Green Bride Guide: How to Create an Earth-Friendly Wedding on Any Budget (Sourcebooks Casablanca).

    An eco-friendly wedding will help you align your principles with your big day…and maybe save a few bucks in the process.

    In contrast to expectations generated by the wedding industry, planning environmentally friendly nuptials means being “prepared to take a step back and make choices based on a different set of values,” saysGreen Bride author Kate Hudson. “Part of having a green wedding is conserving resources—including money.”

    If you vowed to marry your love of each other with your love of the planet, these seven tips can help you make good on both vows:

    • Send sustainable invitations. “Opt for invites made from recycled paper or send them electronically through sites like Paperless Post and Greenvelope,” advises Colorado-based certified green wedding planner JoAnn Moore. Instead of sending paper RSVPs, ask guests to confirm their attendance via email or a wedding website.
    • Reserve a green venue. Choosing an outdoor venue like a beach or botanical garden minimizes your carbon footprint. If you plan to get married indoors, look for LEED-certified buildings and venues that incorporate sustainable practices such as renewable energy, recycling and composting; Moore often starts her search at the Green Hotels Association. “If the venue is far from the hotel, I encourage shuttles instead of individual car trips,” she adds.
    • Serve farm-to-table fare. A reception menu that features organic, locally grown ingredients—and includes vegetarian and vegan options—shows guests your commitment to the environment. Serving local, organic wines is another way to minimize the eco-impact of your wedding day.
    • Pass on paper products. Serving dinner on dishware instead of disposables helps minimize waste. “I always encourage couples to go with real linens, glassware and cloth aisle runners over disposable paper products,” Moore says.
    • Order locally grown flowers. Say “I do” to local blooms, which have a lower carbon footprint than flowers grown and shipped from overseas. Moore often recommends using potted herbs as centerpieces that wedding guests can take home and plant in their gardens.
    • Hire an environmentally responsible photographer. “I send my guides, contracts and invoices digitally instead of printing them,” says San Diego-area photographer Kaci Lou. “My wedding albums and prints are made by environmentally conscious companies.” Lou adds that she has been certified as a Leave No Trace Aware Photographer.
    • Focus on eco-friendly favors. Beeswax candles, seedlings with tags that read “Watch our love grow” and donations to charities are among Moore’s favorite wedding favors. Even the smallest details offer opportunities to honor the environment.

    The Big Wedding Question: DJ or Band?

    So who’s going to get the party started at your wedding—a band or a DJ?

    “Bands are a remember-this-for-a-lifetime experience, while DJs can keep the energy up with a partygoer personality and a wide range of song selections,” says Minnesota Bride Magazine. “The good news is there’s no wrong answer.”

    But it’s still an answer you must come up with. Here are your options.

    Pros and Cons of a Band

    For some couples, “there is nothing like live music, which can energize the crowd,” say the folks at the Roberts Centre, a venue in Wilmington, Ohio. “A live band will likely have a more dramatic presentation with musicians, vocalists and instruments. Guests who do not like to dance will still enjoy watching the show.”

    What’s more, “a good bandleader can double as a master of ceremonies, interacting with guests and paying close attention to the vibe in the room,” adds Minnesota Brides.

    On the other hand, “most bands have only one volume: loud.” notes Roberts Centre. “And most bands have a signature sound that will make it difficult to switch genres or styles.”

    And then there’s the bottom line: “For many, the cost of hiring a band is unrealistic because in the price war, DJs generally cost significantly less,” says Roberts Centre.

    Pros and Cons of a DJ

    In addition to the cost factor, a DJ’s “limitless library of music by the original artists is something to consider,” says Roberts Centre.

    That’s especially important if you have a special, but rarely played, song the two of you want to hear.

    “A band may not have that little-known song in their repertoire, but chances are a DJ can get their hands on the track,” notes Minnesota Brides.

    Roberts adds that turntable pros “are well versed in serving as both the DJ and MC—this individual will essentially be a spokesperson for the wedding.”

    If you’re leaning towards a one-person party, however, “beware of the bored DJ or the one on autopilot,” warns Roberts Centre. “While they should have their routine down pat, you will want that routine to also be personalized for your day, rather than a generic template of every client past.”

    “Hire one with a charismatic personality and a knack for working the crowd, and they can keep the party vibe happening from cocktail hour on,” advises Minnesota Brides.

    Getting the Most Party for Your Money

    No matter which music option you go with, there are factors you need to assess before signing that contract:

    • Try to get first-person referrals. Anyone you know get married recently? Ask them who they hired for the music, and why. If you can’t get a referral from a friend or family member, ask the venue, any of your vendors or the wedding planner (if you’re using one).
    • Keep space considerations in mind. If you’d like a larger band (10 or 12 members, let’s say), check with the venue—they’ll let you know what they can accommodate based on the size of your guest list.
    • Ask about extra expenses. A band will almost always be pricier than a DJ, but then you need to also account for fees related to “staging, power, additional venue time charge, food, green rooms and the band bar tab,” notes Minnesota Brides.
    • See a dress rehearsal or taped performance. You can’t crash someone else’s wedding, of course. But you should “see a DJ or band actually perform to know if they are right for you,” says Roberts Centre. It’s also important to see the group’s or individual’s setup; will it work in your venue? What kind of lighting will they supply? (“If you’re working with a band, be sure that the musicians you’ve seen perform are also the ones performing at your reception,” adds Minnesota Brides.)

    Create a “No Play” List (Along with Your Must-Plays)

    You probably know what songs you definitely want to hear at your wedding, and you should make sure the band or DJ you go with can supply them.

    But you also need a no-play list…so as Minnesota Brides puts it, “Your thinks-he’s-so-funny cousin can’t request ‘The Macarena.’”

    Getting a Fabulous Wedding Gown on a Budget

    The average bride spends $1,000 on her wedding dress, according to WeddingWire, a popular wedding marketplace. Alternations, undergarments, accessories and preserving the dress after the wedding can add extra costs.

    However, there are creative ways to save money without sacrificing style.

    Wedding planner and online florist Amy McCord Jones advises going for simple lines with quality fabric to make your dress look more expensive. Or buy your wedding dress in two pieces—a top and a skirt—which is the cost-saving strategy McCord Jones employed herself when she got married in 2018.

    “There are lots of options for bodysuit tops and skirts on sites like Etsy or at bridal shops, and they tend to be less pricey and more customizable,” says McCord Jones.

    Here are three more ways to find the perfect dress without dipping into your honeymoon budget:

    • Consider buying secondhand. “It’s pretty common for brides to sell gently used dresses in local wedding Facebook groups,” says wedding photographer Kayla Dolce, who has experience shopping for gowns to be used in photoshoots. You can also look for a bridal charity shop, where brides donate their dresses and profits go to good causes.
    • Rent your dress and accessories. Harnessing the spirit of “something borrowed,” sites like Rent the Runway allow you (and your bridesmaids) to rent dresses; although not labeled as “wedding gowns,” many of RTR’s white dresses would be suitable. The site is also a goldmine if you want rent a party dress for your bachelorette party or resortwear for your honeymoon. Nuuly Rent is another option. 
    • Seek out sample sales. Bridal salons will deeply discount sample dresses from past seasons. The sample dresses tend to be in sizes 6 to 12, according to WeddingWire. If you don’t find your size, be sure to budget for alterations.

    Including Your Pet in Your Wedding

    “My best friend has been there for me through thick and thin—of course he/she will be at the wedding!”

    That has become a much more common response among pet lovers in recent years, with dogs and even cats playing roles in couples’ ceremonies.

    “On the big day, it’s natural to want to be surrounded by friends and loved ones, and who’s more beloved than your dog?” asks the American Kennel Club (AKC).

    Not all pets will be interested in attending, of course, especially those who are shy or nervous, old and/or infirm, extremely hyper or, especially in the case of puppies, not yet fully trained.

    “Even if your pet is well-behaved and used to large crowds, there is no real guarantee that they’ll behave like that on your wedding day,” says Wedding Ideas Magazine. “Being stroked, photographed or chased by kids can becoming increasingly stressful for your pet, so make sure they can handle it before you involve them.”

    If you think they’re up for it, here’s how to add your dog or cat to the invite list so that everybody, two- and four-legged, has a good time:

    • Speak with the venue. Some venues, including houses of worship, may have a no-pets policy, so you need to check. (That shouldn’t be a problem with outdoor ceremonies, but ask anyway.) If you get the OK, consider taking “your pet to your venue before the big day so they’re used to it, as it’s a strange and new place for them,” suggests Wedding Ideas.
    • Decide if your pet will be part of the ceremony… In addition to best man, “ring bearers, flower girls and ‘mutts of honor’ are popular roles” for dogs, according to Wedding Ideas; cats can also serve as ring bearers. (Maybe your pet can even accompany you down the aisle!) Be sure to rehearse that role with your pet; in fact, including him or her as part of the prenuptial run-through is a good idea. If your pal would be better off as a guest, “give him pride of place in the front row, sitting with someone he’s familiar with,” suggests the AKC. 
    • …and the reception. Again, check with the venue. What’s more, even though your pet may handle the wedding itself without a problem, the reception’s “activity, food, music and noise may be too much,” says the AKC. And remember at both the ceremony and the reception, pets will sometimes behave…well, like animals. The AKC suggests “taking a deep breath, and then taking it in stride with a sense of humor.”
    • Keep costumes simple. “There is nothing cuter than a pup in a tux or a cat with a bow tie, but make sure it fits properly and is comfortable,” advises Wedding Ideas. Decorating your friend’s collar with ribbons or nontoxic flowers is a safe and attractive way to dress them up.
    • Let everyone know your pet will be in attendance. That includes the celebrant, vendors and guests…and especially the photographer, who can then “prepare any fun photography ideas involving your pet,” notes Wedding Ideas.
    • Prepare a doggy or kitty go-bag. Include food, treats, a water dish, toys and whatever else you think your pet will need.
    • Hire a pet sitter. Since you’re going to be a little occupied, have a pet sitter escort your pal (and the go-bag) to the venue(s) and back home again. This way you know your pet’s needs will be taken care of throughout the day. 

    Even if you decide that your pet should skip the nuptials, there’s no reason you can’t make him or her a part of your special day:

    • Use pet-themed stationery. You can include your pet “in a photo on your save-the-date card, invitation and website,” suggests the AKC. Afterwards, you can “send thank-you notes from all three of you, with a family photo.”
    • Wear pet-themed jewelry. How about a necklace featuring your dog’s breed as a charm or a locket with a picture of your cat?
    • Get creative with décor. Let your imagination run wild! Dog or cat place cards, cake toppers, centerpieces, stickers, confetti…the possibilities are endless.

    How to Build a Marriage that Lasts

    Plenty of people spend hours planning the wedding. But if you want an enduring marriage—and not just one perfect moment in time—that requires serious thought, too.

    “The wedding is only one day,” says Linda Bloom, LCSW, psychotherapist and co-author (with husband Charlie) of Secrets of Great Marriages (New World). “The marriage, hopefully, will last a lifetime.”

    A strong marriage in which both people feel respected and supported involves learning how to cope with adversity and individual differences, as well as celebrating the good times, according to Bloom.

    “People who learn to handle conflict in gentle and positive ways, and can repair the relationships after negative interactions, create a lasting bond,” adds psychologist John Gottman of The Gottman Institute, which focuses on relationship research. He notes that even during periods of conflict, couples who can manage a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions tend to have stable marriages.

    It helps to think of your spouse as a friend—and treat them with the same care.

    For Lisa Chavez-Melo and her husband of more than 20 years, Matt Melo, of Chandler, Arizona, that meant learning to “prefer” each other.

    “We absolutely wanted to be together but we didn’t know how to be in a marriage. We had our individual thoughts processes and our own routines and preferences, and those didn’t just magically mesh together after we said ‘I do,’” says Chavez-Melo.

    Creating a “big space for various opinions, beliefs and ideas is a good idea,” Bloom says. Cultivating an attitude of curiosity and wonder also helps.

    “It can take months or years to understand how to navigate the details enhance a marriage, but pre-marriage counseling or couples’ workshops can help,” Bloom says.

    And little rituals—packing a note in her lunchbox, or smiling cheerfully when he walks in the door after work—are another way to strengthen the bond and help your spouse feel valued, important and loved.

    Chavez-Melo, her husband, and now their daughter, eat dinner together and take turns talking about their days. And Matt brings her a cup of coffee every morning, too.

    “It’s the simple routines where we are listening to each and learning more about the parts of our lives when we are not together that help us stay connected,” says Chavez-Melo.

    Planning a Multicultural Wedding

    It used to be that people tended to marry within their own ethnic and religious groups. Now, given a more diverse US population, the number of multicultural marriages is growing.

    Cultural differences can strengthen a marriage, but they can also be a struggle. When you can talk about them and face the challenges and choices together, you build a solid foundation that supports a long-lasting love. But you need to start long before exchanging vows.

    To make sure that special day goes without a hitch, hire a wedding consultant who’s familiar with each of your backgrounds and has successful planning experience in them. This person should already be aware of the biases you may face from others.

    Among them could be your own families, who might wish you weren’t marrying outside your ethnicity. Then again, they may embrace your decision, but want a say in your wedding plans.

    Be open and answer their concerns while standing your ground as couple. (That experience will also help you set boundaries throughout your marriage.)

    The topics you should discuss together include:

    • Adapting cultural and religious customs. Talk about those related to holidays and rituals you experienced as children. Learn about each other’s customs and adopt the ones that speak to you individually and together. Enjoy creating entirely new traditions that carry mutual meaning.
    • Raising children. Living in a multicultural household can broaden a child’s life, but you need to agree on some basic principles. For example, do you want your kids to be bi (or tri) lingual?  If your religious backgrounds differ, in which tradition will your children be raised? Try to anticipate which issues may arise before you become parents.
    • Dealing with money. Financial values can often differ even if you and your fiancé share the same ethnicity, but coming from different cultural backgrounds may further widen the gap. Respect each other’s familial influences around money and agree on the best ways to spend, save and invest.
    • Sharing everyday tasks. Negotiation is also key with household roles. You’ll be addressing division of labor, and chores in general, throughout your years together.

    A healthy marriage is an interdependent partnership that inspires you to thrive, separately and as a team. You may both come from different cultural territories, but you’ll tread common ground when you blend your differences, thereby deepening your love for, and commitment to, each other.

    Adjusting to Life with Stepchildren

    Not only did Laura Petherbridge grow up with stepparents on both sides, but when she remarried, she became one herself. With no biological children of her own, she tapped back into her childhood in order to navigate this new part of her life.

    Petherbridge has published books on the topic, including 101 Tips for the Smart Stepmom: Expert Advice From One Stepmom To Another (Bethany House), and works as a life coach in this area.

    “Stepkids are the number-one reason why second relationships fail because everybody thinks it’s going to be the same as a biological family, but it’s radically different,” she says. “After all, it’s a child that your spouse has had with another person in another love season in their life.”

    To make your relationship work, Petherbridge offers these tips.

    Don't Play Parent to Your Stepkids

    Stepparents don’t have the same bond as a biological parent, nor should they expect to.

    “Kids don’t want or need another mother,” Petherbridge says, “and you’re saving yourself a great deal of stress, drama and angst if you can go into this thinking you’re going to fill another need.”

    She suggests acting like an older friend, babysitter or teacher. “You still have a level of authority, but not nearly the same as being a parent.”

    Don't Try to Discipline Your Stepkids

    It’s imperative that the biological parent is the primary disciplinarian.

    Although many stepparents don't agree with their spouse’s parenting style, “when a parent won’t parent, you have to step back,” Petherbridge says. “If you think they’re too lenient, don’t come in and change that because it will backfire.”

    Laying down rules with a child that you don’t have a significant relationship with can build disdain instead of a bond.

    Talk About Your Role as Stepparent Early in the Relationship

    Petherbridge says that most couples come to her for coaching when things are already broken, but it’s best to start off on the same page as your future spouse.

    “You need to talk about it. Many people think, ‘That won’t happen to us.’ Then they call six months later for help,” she says.

    Reading books on the topic and seeking professional advice can also help set you up for success.

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    **These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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