Why you should consider an Engagement Session before your Wedding

First, thank you for the wonderful discussion yesterday.  I loved hearing that our weddings should be “a fabulous party that reflects us and doesn’t stress us out financially.”  I will also admit that my perspective on styled photo shoots has broadened.  As Jaimie pointed out, styled inspiration shoots are a great way for wedding vendors to express themselves creatively while also researching new vendors for their brides.  (Jaimie is a wedding planner and designer in Atlanta.  If you missed the discussion from yesterday, please take a peek at the comments.)

Today, however, I want to share our engagement session.  I am a huge proponent of having an engagement session done.  I realize that not having a session can be an easy way to save money.  But if, like me,  you get nervous in front of cameras, it is a great way to warm-up to your photographer before your actual wedding day.  Also, I enjoy having great pictures of us – all of our before pictures were camera phone quality at best!

But here’s the real secret:  if your photographer does not already include an engagement session in their quoted service, then you should negotiate in one for free or little cost.   Many photographers will be happy to offer a free engagement session or work with you to lower the costs of one if you are willing to sign a contract that they can do both the engagement session and your wedding.   When you’re going over their proposal simply state “I love your work, and I would love to hire you today, but my budget needs to accommodate both the engagement session and the wedding.  It is possible that we could adjust the cost to ___?”  

Without further ado, here’s our engagement session by the awesome Krystal Kast Photography

Engagement Pictures Guitar Krystal Kast Photography

Did I mention my partner plays the guitar?

Engagement Pictures Guitar Krystal Kast Photography

As well as the piano :-)

Engagement Pictures Guitar Krystal Kast Photography

It was hard for me to not laugh - cameras give me nervous-laughter!

Engagement Pictures Guitar Krystal Kast Photography

We are standing on train tracks near where we had our first date. This shot was the photographer's idea - and I love it!

Rethinking Weddings: 4 Steps to Prioritize and Plan your Wedding

Tomorrow we will breakdown the budget for a $4000 suburb wedding (with a full dinner and open bar for 80 guests!).  Before we get to the nitty-gritty, however,  I want to provide a big-picture overview of wedding planning.  If you’re just starting to plan – or having trouble making decisions – today’s post is for you. 

4 Steps to Prioritize and Plan your Wedding:

1. What are your 3 guiding principles? Sit down with your partner and think about what is important to both of you in taking this gigantic step forward.  What is it that you want to honor?  What values do you want to incorporate?  Think broadly and think people, not things.  For my fiancée  and I we wanted our ceremony to be meaningful, our reception to be a thank you to our friends and family, and we wanted it to be practical.  At the beginning we weren’t sure where the wedding would be, what we could afford, or even if there would be a cake.  But every decision we made would be in accordance with these principles. 

2. Decide the Big logistics.  These include (a) your overall budget, (b) where and when the wedding & ceremony will take place, and (c) an approximate count of your family and friends you will invite.  Note: I’m not talking about the number you think you can afford to invite, but rather just who – in an ideal world – would be with you that day.  Keep it big picture: You want your wedding within an hour of Washington, DC and in September of 2013 and you will have about 150 guests with a budget of $20,000.  Great! Or you want your wedding in upstate Washington State  in May of 2013 with about 50 guests with a budget of $3000.  Fantastic!

In keeping with our principle that our reception be a thank-you as opposed to a burden, and  because our friends live all over the world, we decided our wedding should be within a half hour of a major airport.  Lastly, we kept our friend’s budgets in mind.  We both loved, loved, loved this venue.   However, the  room rate per night was $279.  The next closest hotel was a 30-40 minute drive down country roads.  Not only was it a safety issue, but we could not fathom asking our families or friends to spring for (most likely) 2 nights at $279.  And who likes to spend 40 minutes on a shuttle bus at the end of a long celebration? Needless to say, we didn’t pick  that venue. 

3. Decide on your pre-Marriage Counseling.   If there is anything that you do in your weeks, months, or years of wedding planning, make sure you take the time to for some sort of pre-Marriage counseling.  This could be at your local church, with a private counselor, with good (married for at least 5 years) friends of yours, or on your own.  Offbeat Bride has an excellent list of pre-marriage books that range from religious to secular and that is found here.  

Remember that the purpose of an engagement is two-fold.  First, it allows you and your families to prepare emotionally for this big act that will join you together.  Second, it allows you time to logistically plan an event that will feel meaningful and match the principles you selected earlier.  But don’t skip the first step in lieu of only the second one.  Even if you’ve been living together for a while (we have), counseling will create a stronger foundation for marriage (ours did). 

4.  Now let’s talk details.  This is the time to decide what  food you will serve, the traditions you’ll incorporate, the pretty dresses you can have, etc.  But it’s also the time to not lose sight of those principles you picked earlier.  Those guiding principles will help you make the tough choices you’ll be faced with and create a wedding that is authentic to you and your partner.

Using your principles to make decisions works something like this:  

I really, really, reallyyyy wanted to have chiavari chairs.  I stared at pictures, pinned them on Pinterest, and tried to work out a budget that would accommodate chairs.  The only way I could afford $1500 chiavari chairs is if I (a) cut guests, or (b) cut out photography completely.  For us cutting guests wasn’t an option – we were celebrating with our community, not excluding them.   As for the decision photography v. chiavari, well this one became a decision of practicality.  To us it was simply more practical to keep the chairs we were ALREADY paying for (they came with our venue, I just didn’t like them) and to use the money to pay for photography so that we would have professional pictures.     

What are your guiding principles for wedding planning?