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Deal Divas

Stephanie Hayes, Katie Sanders, Kameel Stanley, & Keyonna Summers

Wedding advice from Times writers who have been there



Your Deal Divas have made no secret about our lack of wedding bands in spite of the advice and thoughts we've dished for #WeddingWeek. So, to fill the void of first-person wedding advice, we asked several Times writers and editors about their experiences.

Answering our questions about what they loved about their special day, as well as what they would change, are book editor Colette Bancroft, Pasco bureau editor Molly Moorhead, deputy editor of editorials Joni James, St. Pete business writer Katherine Snow Smith and food critic Laura Reiley.

I had to edit out some responses for the sake of keeping this a manageable blogpost. Click here to see each person's full response (because it's fun).

Some takeaways:

* Personal gifts are more memorable, no matter your budget.

* Stress less.

* Serving beer and wine only is an easy way to trim costs.

* No one said it would have been better to elope (though Laura had a destination wedding and loved it -- scroll to the bottom).

* Watch the pre-wedding shots, ladies.

What was your most memorable gift?

A parent of a college girlfriend passed down to me a sterling silver serving spoon from her own set of silver. The pattern was by the same maker (Kirk Stieff) and only slightly different so the casual observer would probably not even notice. But I love that I have something of hers and her husband's whom I admire greatly. Felt like really good mojo to know for the rest of my marriage I would have something from their marriage in my house. Oh, and if you're curious, my pattern was Repousse, hers was Rose. Joni

What is a meaningful but inexpensive gift for a guest who cannot afford to shell out for something on the gift registry?

We got several memorable gifts that were actually hand-me-downs. My parents gave us an old stained-glass window that used to hang in the house I grew up in. Someone else gave us their set of antique china. We treasure those things now. So don't be afraid to give a "used" gift that has history and meaning and sentimental value. Molly

A time capsule in an envelope. A copy of a couple papers from the wedding day, list of top movies, songs, Google searches etc. of the month. A stack of actual photos taken at the wedding, rehearsal dinner, brunch, etc. A friend did this for me and got so many things the photographer didn't. Katherine

A nice bottle of sparkling wine, if they're the type, festively wrapped that they can open on their one-month anniversary (or whatever date you tell them too). I found my best gifts were the thoughtful ones, no matter the expense. Joni

What's an easy way to save money?

Have the reception at home (and even the wedding) if your guest list is small enough for that to work. We hosted about 80 people at an at-home reception, and it worked so well that when we left that evening (six hours after the reception began) the house was still full of people. We've been married 31 years and people still tell me how much fun they had at our wedding. Colette

Figure out a way to stretch your floral budget, i.e. opt for other props on tables to augment or even replace flowers. Do lunch instead of dinner. Go with just wine and beer instead of a full bar. Limit the photographer to fewer hours, because over time, you probably really won't need/want hundreds of images from that day (unless of course YOU do). Cull the guest list - easier to go super small than going larger, in my mind. ABSOLUTELY make financial shortcuts. Unless you have a trust fund (how do you get one of those?), consider it a first lesson of married life. Spending too much money now or later is the surest way to add stress to your marriage. And ultimately your only job as a host is to make your guests feel welcome in sharing your special day. Joni

I am a lover of vodka-tonics and always thought I'd have a full liquor bar at my reception. But the difference in price between that and just serving beer and wine is staggering. And you know what, people love beer and wine. Because of course they do. It was absolutely fine to forego the liquor. We didn't even have champagne for a toast -- people just raised the glasses they were holding. Molly

What part of the wedding and reception is worth the investment?

This is an intangible part of the investment, but giving yourself enough time to get things done, run errands and be ready is huge. I took off work from the Friday of the week before the wedding and was off the whole week leading up to it. I can't remember now what I was doing all that time, but I know I was busy. Don't try to work until Thursday and get married Saturday. You'll lose your mind. I think it's also worth spending money, in whatever form, on making sure your day goes smoothly. That might mean hiring a caterer so the food gets served and the tables get cleared, or even paying your cousin to shuttle people to and from the airport. It might be tempting to spend money on the fanciest dress or the best flowers, but if you are in the middle of your day and realize that the barbecue dinner was delicious but now the trash cans are overflowing and there's no one to empty them, well, yuck. Molly 

The cake---but often the simpler ingredients the better. I like one that looks amazing but too many fillings and flavors won't please most people in the crowd. I loved my cake it was plain vanilla pound cake decorated in white basketweave icing with fresh strawberries on top of each layer. Katherine

Food and drink. That doesn't mean you can't control costs, but think about making whatever you serve, whether it's coffee and cake or a six-course meal, really good. You don't want your guests remembering your reception by saying, "Just what was that under that sauce? And what was that sauce?" Colette

Good food. Good music. Good venue. Fail at either of those and your guests will remember. But that doesn't necessarily mean go with the most expensive. One of the best wedding receptions I ever attended was a casual outdoor affair under a tent with fried chicken and all the fixings and a great DJ. We danced all night. Joni

Where did you get your dress? Any tips for brides looking for a good deal?

I bought mine at CC's in St. Pete and had a great experience. I'd advise anyone to make an event of gown shopping. It's wonderfully fun. CC's had a very accommodating system I thought, asking my budget up front and showing me dresses in that range. So you don't end up trying on $4,000 dresses when you can only spend $2,000 (yeah, only $2,000). Molly

A friend of my late mother recast the lace from the dress my mom had made/worn into a new dress for me. She charged me a pittance. I was lucky. No shopping tips, but consider if you think you'll really love that trendy dress in 30 years when you look back at the pictures. Joni 

I bought it off the rack, on sale, for $100 (that's 1983 dollars). I spent almost twice that on the saucy little hat with a half-veil I wore with it. I went shopping alone, and I'm guessing that saved me money. I know that's heresy, but I think crowd shopping with all your friends and family gets competitive and pushes up spending. Colette

Relations with your bridal party -- where are the usual spots for spats (expensive bachelorette weekend? dress design or cost?) and how can brides navigate or avoid those choppy waters?

I took my three bridesmaids dress shopping with no firm plan except that I absolutely was not going to make them wear matching taffeta ruffles. By the end of the day I was ready to elope -- every dress one of them liked the other two hated. When I complained about it to my husband-to-be, noting that all he had to do was take his groomsmen to the tux rental place, he suggested I do that with the women. It was genius -- they were totally on board. They wore black tie and tails with high heels, and they looked so fabulous they totally upstaged me. (Also, all they had to spend was tux rental and a little for alterations -- probably much less than dresses would have cost.) In general, I think it's important to be flexible and to remember that even if it is your wedding, it's not totally about you. Colette

Just don't be a control freak. I was a bridesmaid once where the bride gave us all clear nail polish to make sure we didn't go getting bright-colored manicures. Seriously, would it have mattered? And be prepared for strong opinions from family members. You might have an aunt who is appalled that you're not renting a limo, or learn of a sudden moral opposition to alcohol from an in-law. Weddings bring out strong feelings. Try not to overreact, find a solution and ultimately do what YOU want -- unless the holder of the strong opinion is the one paying, then you better roll with it. Molly

All of you hanging out together is so much fun, it doesn't have to be in some fabulous destination. We just all rented a beach house, they hired a stripper to come to the house (gross) and we went to two great dinners out. Katherine

Any tips for a Florida wedding?

If you plan it for outdoors, have an indoor Plan B. Beach weddings draw gawkers, not all of them nice. And if you're thinking of a boat, remember some of your guests might get seasick. Colette 

You know, church weddings in December can be cheap...decorating already done. Joni

This is probably obvious, but it's best to avoid getting married during hurricane season especially if any part of your ceremony or reception is outdoors. For one thing, that includes the hottest months. I can't imagine walking around in a 30-lb dress in this heat. Second, think beyond the beach. I got married in rural east Pasco County, a corner of Florida a lot of people don't know about, even native Floridians. My point is that a Florida wedding doesn't automatically have to mean sunset on the beach. My colors were orange and green, reflecting the orange groves that dot our area, and our ceremony took place in a botanical garden with lots of gorgeous native plants. Molly

If you could do it again, what's the one thing you would change?

I would not drink Jagermeister shots before the ceremony. Colette

Despite a five-year courtship, I had barely met my husband's four step-sisters at the time of my wedding and as a result, since I was dealing with limited seating, excluded them from my friends' lunch on Friday. I should have foregone the "perfect sit-down lunch" image I had in my head and found a different solution. They are family and should have been there. To their credit, they haven't held it against me, but it would have been nice to have started our relationship then with the shared memory. Joni 

I wouldn't let myself get so stressed out. I'd enjoy the planning more. Molly 

My bouquet. I had a long, flowy bouquet of multiple flowers. I wish it had been a round bunch of hydrangeas. Also, we let our photographer kind of dictate the pace of things. We were rushing from first dance to dance with father to cutting cake to dancing with flower girls to garter to throwing bouquet to changing and leaving. ... Go with a cheaper photographer for a longer amount of time. Katherine

In retrospect, would it have been better just to elope?

No. I remember being really overwhelmed, as I walked out for the ceremony, that all these people I or my husband loved had come together to celebrate our future together. That was the most amazing, awesome feeling and it's something I think I've drawn over the years. They all want us to succeed as a couple and that kind of support means a lot. Joni 

Negative! I absolutely treasure my wedding day and still smile when I think about it or look at pictures. That said, the planning is stressful and the event is expensive. Keep your wedding -- whether it's 200 people at the yacht club or 15 at your grandmother's house -- exactly as big and elaborate (or small and simple) as you want. You can pull off a memorable occasion on basically any budget, so decide on the "scale" and then don't let it get away from you. Molly

No. We kind of wished we would have had a destination wedding in Nantucket. But my parents really enjoyed seeing old friends and family (and so did I) and it was their day, too. Katherine 

What was the best part about your day?

The look on my husband's face when he first saw me. (Second best: my bridesmaids in those tuxes singing "Goin' to the Chapel" a cappella.) Colette

Getting ready with my friends beforehand and the to-go picnic basket we opened at the hotel late that night since neither of us had a chance to eat at the reception. Katherine

What should I have asked you?

Wedding Cake: Pound cake with buttercream frosting that disappointingly didn't look at all like the Martha Stewart picture I provided the baker, but was DELICIOUS; Groom's Cake was red velvet in the shape of the state of Oregon, also yummy. Joni

I stole this idea from another wedding and I still love it: set up a place to display wedding portraits from your parents' and maybe even grandparents' weddings. It's a small detail but lots of people remarked on what a sweet touch it was. (Photo included in slideshow)

Second: enlist a friend to be your right-hand person for the wedding day and the days leading up. I don't mean the maid of honor who wants to enjoy herself and help greet guests and has to get her hair done and be in pictures. I mean someone with their own car who knows a bit about how to get around if they're from out of town who can run errands, clean up messes and do a million other last-minute things that won't be on your list no matter how organized you are. I had a friend do this for me and she saved my life and sanity -- so much so that when a good friend got married a few months later, I eagerly volunteered to do the same for her. Molly 

From Laura Reiley, who flocked to California wine country for her getaway wedding.

I guess I figured pretty early on that weddings are more for the guests than a perfect expression of your own convictions. Initially I didn't want to have any religion involved, I didn't want rings (the history of engagement and wedding rings is really sexist and ugly), I didn't want cake, etc. But as we got into the planning I started thinking, "Do I really want the takeaway for my elderly relatives that there were no dang rings and pie instead of cake?"

So we did the wedding and reception at a winery in Napa with a judge presiding, but then my best friend (an evangelical Christian) said a prayer, my brother-in-law (Jewish) said a prayer, then we did the stomping-on-the-glass thing, and we did exchange rings (my father's original wedding ring and my mother-in-law's original wedding ring, hideous both of them). And we did have cake (it was dry, but whatevs). And the choice of venue was really aimed at being offensive and alienating to nobody. And pretty much my whole invitation list was enthusiastic wine drinkers.

Pros of our venue:

1. Totally gorgeous place, and most people planned a wine country vacation around it (it was at the beginning of July)

2. Having the wedding and the reception at the same place cuts costs somewhat and minimizing kooky transportation logistics for people in a place that is largely unfamiliar 

3. I spent big bucks on the caterer, but did buffet (which is a little cheaper than plated), which I think leads to more mingling, a good thing when there are lots of people who don't know each other

4. We had low-end, medium and splurgy hotel blocks of rooms so people could choose what worked for them but still be able to hang out with friends and family and carpool together.

Cons: Napa late at night is super dark, especially after a lot of wine

Wedding Week recap: 

Wedding advice for the girl who has not been planning her wedding her whole life

Bridesmaid advice

Questions to ask a wedding caterer

How to dress for any wedding

Brides, be yourself!

Send us your questions!

[Last modified: Friday, August 1, 2014 3:07pm]


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