Cover Expert advice to help you plan your perfect wedding. (Photo: Unsplash)

You’re engaged! Now what? If you’re starting out on the wedding planning process, we’re here to help with some expert advice

It’s happened, you’re engaged. You’ve found the person of your dreams and they want to be with you for forever too––hurrah! You’ve told your loved ones, drank (a lot) of champagne and now it’s time to get down to planning. But where to start? Where do you even begin planning what is supposedly going to be one of the happiest days of your life?

Whether you’ve had a plan in place since you were six, or have absolutely no idea whether you want an intimate destination wedding or a huge bash here in Hong Kong––planning can be daunting. That’s why we’ve sought the advice of expert wedding planner and founder of Marriage Maestros and Wedding Maestros, Evelyn Mills.

Although Covid-19 has put many weddings on hold, with plans still constantly changing, if you're planning a wedding for further down the line, Evelyn guides us through everything from setting a budget to choosing your location, guest list and more.

See also: 8 Of The Biggest Wedding Trends For 2021

The budget

It may not be the most exciting place to start, but when it comes to planning, it’s best to be realistic with money from the get-go. Having a cohesive understanding of what you both want––and don’t want––is vital.

“If you’re paying on your own, talk about where you want to allocate your budget and decide what’s important” Evelyn advises. “Are you food and wine lovers, or do you just want a really fun atmosphere and a really good DJ or band? Or is it all about being visually stunning and having great photos and memories? It depends where you want to put your budget and agreeing on it together.”

Continuing, Evelyn states that she always advises couples to be realistic and to talk about the budget openly and honestly, saying “how you do financial planning is vital for the planning process, along with being an important part of the relationship moving forwards”.

As a general rule for couples starting out and setting a budget, Evelyn explains that “the cost of the venue should be about half of the budget––this includes the rental and the minimum spend for food and beverage. If you’re doing a destination wedding, factor in the number of flights and stays you need for the planning process. The next quarter of the budget should be for the invitations, printed items (like menus, place cards and the table plan), guest favours, the cake decorations, props, flowers, lighting and any staging or technical costs; and the last for the photographer, videographer, hair, make-up, outfits, jewellery, the dress––whether you’re renting buying, having just one or multiple. There will also be other small costs to consider such as the celebrant, legal costs and a buffer for anything extra that may be important for you.”

Quoting Warren Buffett, Evelyn advises that “Price is what you pay, value is what you get.” Continuing, she states that it quite literally pays to find the right people, explaining “it’s worth paying more for what you really want, otherwise you may end up paying more for fixing any mistakes.”

She also adds that “if your parents are involved, definitely respect their wishes and be sensitive as to how you navigate planning and including them. The more inviting you are, the more they will let go.”

Plan together

As with the budget, a theme present in much of Evelyn’s advice is to agree on all aspects of planning as a couple.

“Sit down together and discuss how you can both commit to planning. Some brides are fantastic planners, some grooms are excellent delegators, but try to avoid expecting too much from each other in terms of involvement. Have a clear picture of who is going to be in charge of what and come to an agreement.”

Though couples can divvy up the different duties such a food, music, outfits and decorations, Evelyn does add that is it vital to "compromise––agree on what is important to who, and to work on the guest list together.”

Keep family in mind

As with not forgetting your other halves views while planning, be sure to keep in mind both of your families. Whether your family is helping financially or not, you definitely don’t want to alienate them from the planning process.

“Ask what’s important to your parents” says Evelyn. “It’s your parents' biggest day as well, so try to involve them in the process so they don’t feel they’ve been left out and be open minded to what they would also like from the wedding. See if you can accommodate one wish from your fiancés side and from your side––the wedding is the launching pad for your new life and your new family so it's best to start out on the right foot”.

“Study customs and traditions that each family might have. And if you’re coming from different cultural backgrounds, make sure you know which traditions are very important and be mindful that these will need to be incorporated.”

See also: A Guide To Modern Wedding Etiquette And Customs

When and where

Once the budget is set you can start the fun bit: where––and when––do you want to get married?

“First of all, think about when do you want to get married, what is your timeframe?” explains Evelyn. “Consider seasons: are you more of a summer or winter person, or do you prefer spring or fall, this dictates where your location would be. Are you chasing the weather for a beach, or on a mountain or a city wedding? You need to have a vision of how you want to get married, this then impacts the decision of the actual date.”

When it comes to picking a date, Evelyn states “I would say have a few dates in mind, as it really depends on high and low-seasons––with this also affecting your budget.” Continuing, she adds, “I would also avoid key holidays. Although these would mean your friends and family may find it easier to take time off work, at the same time prices will be higher.”

When picking your venue and location, Evelyn states that “not only should it reflect your own style and who you are as a couple, but if it’s a destination wedding then consider other people's budgets. If you’re in an expensive venue or far away location, consider that there are other options close by if you’re not paying for accommodation for your guests.”

An added tip for those planning weddings in the current climate, “Nowadays, we are working with more and more couples who opt for our ‘VavaVoom’ virtual weddings services; so if you’re planning to live-stream your wedding, factor in time zones and decide who the key people are that you want to participate, so that they can all be included. For those who aren’t able to attend live, invite them to send a pre-recorded message or share the recording of your wedding with them afterwards.”  

See also: 12 Beautiful Hong Kong Wedding Venues That Aren't Hotels

The guest list

The guest list can be a tricky area of planning, and though Covid-19 has reduced larger-then-life celebrations to more paired-back affairs, it’s vital that your guest list is handled with care.

Start simple, Evelyn simply states “How many people do you want to invite?” Adding, she says, “under ‘normal’ circumstances and barring any officials restrictions at the time, usually, I would advise for the number of people you invite to expect for a destination wedding about a 75-80 per cent turn out rate. But also buffer in for changes, depending on peoples work schedules and lives as this can change day to day.”

Evelyn also advises that the wedding doesn’t have to be one day, stating “Consider having multiple celebrations. An intimate ceremony for the signing for close friends and family and then a bigger reception to include parents’ friends, colleagues and everyone else that may not be able to make it to the ceremony.”

See also: Event Planning In A Time Of Social Distancing: How To Choose Your Guest List

Know what you don't want

We've covered budgeting, choosing when, where and who––and keeping your in-laws happy––but what do you do if you just don't know where to start?

"How would you like to remember your wedding, In 20, 30, 40 years time?" says Evelyn. 

"What do you not want: in Hong Kong or a destination? If you want a destination, where? Which places resonate with you and why? Be it a memory or somewhere you’ve always wanted to go? If you have always dreamt of being in a big princess ball gown, will that work on the beach? No, so do you want the gown more or the beach more? Work on what you don’t want first and go backwards from there. Every decision leads onto the next and comes into play together."

See also: Real Weddings: Inside Rina Hiranand & Aaron Davis's Chiang Mai Celebration

Planner or no planner?

It's no secret that the wedding process is daunting, so in comes the big question: to hire a wedding planner or not? 

If you do choose to go down the wedding planner route, Evelyn offers some advice for finding the right person for you. "If you're not DIYing your wedding, obviously a planner takes a lot of pressure and stress off your shoulders. Even if you are a planner yourself, professionally or by nature, it is overwhelming planning a wedding. You're working with your own money, you're trying to please not only each other but others too, and you're juggling emotions."

"There is so much going on, so planners can help alleviate as they do this full time, they can help make practical decisions as you are emotionally invested. They can give objective decisions that friends or family may not be able to offer. A good planner is a good listener and one who doesn’t overpromise, they won't try to up sell or sway you, if you don’t know what you want they can provide options, define what is important to you, and work with you to see if what you want is practical, feasible and within your budget. A good planner also has a very strong network of reliable vendors, suppliers, venues and invaluable insider knowledge."

"Look online, ask for references from past clients. But it comes down to instinct, you’ll know if they get you and if they are the right planner for you. Planning a wedding is a very intimate process so you have to trust yourself to trust the right person"

Remember to have fun

"Don’t focus on the small things, the planning process should be fun. It is a testing period––you’re breaking out of your dating phase to really make decisions as a couple and as two families coming together––it’s training for your life together and how you work together" concludes Evelyn.

See also: 7 Top Wedding Planners In Hong Kong