Probably the biggest issue with planning a wedding is that you’ve never done it before. In fact, I’m pretty sure most people only want to do it once in their lives, lol! Nobody plans on developing a lot of experience as a bride or groom so to say that bride & groom are inherently inexperienced with weddings is a good place to start in trying to understand what you should do. The truth is you really need to hire someone to help you with your wedding. The problem is a lot of people can’t afford to do that, so with all that in mind here are my ten tips for a successful dream wedding.

#1 Keep it lighthearted!

One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is that they get too caught up in the emotions of the day, which is so easy to do. A wedding is an emotional moment, but more importantly, it’s a celebration, heck, it’s a party! Have fun, enjoy yourself, and tell the people around you, tell your wedding planner, tell your photographer, everyone involved from the get-go, that you want everyone to have fun and be entertained.

#2 Don’t be afraid to go outside the box.

Make a conscious decision to put a little bit of yourself into your wedding day. Yes, there are many traditions in weddings that people will want you to follow, but, putting your own spin on an old idea is a great way to engage your guests and keep everyone in the mood to celebrate.

#3 Check out some of the unique venues in your area.

Chances are there are a lot of amazing venues off the beaten path near you that you’ve probably never thought of for a wedding venue. Some of the coolest venues are old converted buildings that someone bought and updated for use as a wedding venue. For instance, I’ve shot a few weddings at converted barns and the guests loved it. A cool venue is a great way to pique your guests’ interest and it often gets you more unique wedding photography as well!

#4 Keep your guests well fed.

Nothing beats a great meal to put an exclamation on the day. The best meals are typically the ones that are prepared and brought out to the table, but a buffet can work too if you’re worried about the costs. Unfortunately, I’ve seen catering companies mess up something as simple as corn and mashed potatoes, so even if your menu is simple don’t assume just anyone can do it, get references and reviews to make sure the company does good work.

#5 Get the right size venue.

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen is that of renting a venue too small for the number of guests. It really doesn’t matter how big your venue is as long as it’s appropriate for the number of people who are about to spend hours together sharing that space. You can’t trust what the venue says, they just want to book you. The rule of thumb is 30 square feet per guest. So, if you have 200 guests, you need 200 x 30 square feet of space. Doing this will not only keep your guests comfortable it will be much safer for them in the event of an emergency.

#6 Photographers aren’t always who they seem.

A dirty little secret in the wedding photography industry is that many photographers don’t shoot all their weddings. So, when you’re browsing photos and choosing whose pictures you like, understand that if it’s a really popular company they will have multiple photographers and you really have no idea who shot those fancy photos or if the person who did still works for that company. You need to be sure to ask who is actually going to photograph your wedding, is it the same person whose photos you saw on their website? Does it cost extra to have the person whose name is on the business card shoot your wedding? What you want to avoid is thinking you’re hiring person X the professional who owns the business but ending up with some flunky whose pictures you’ve never seen before.

#7 Budget wisely.

One of the tough things to understand is what you should and shouldn’t spend your money on. But that all really depends on what you value. If you really want your guests to be comfortable and have a good time, a proper reception venue with great food and a DJ is essential. If you really want to have memories that you can share with friends and family for years to come, a great photographer is a necessity. A lot of people will tell you to spend a certain amount on each item, but I strongly believe that you should spend according to what you value and what you want you and your guests to get out of the wedding.

#8 If you need to skimp, skimp on these items.

If you’re on a budget or you just want to focus your money on certain things, here are some items you can skimp on that nobody will notice. Wedding invitations. While a nice invitation will serve as a keepsake for a select few in your wedding, like your mom, they’re not that for 90% of people. Attire. The truth is if it fits, it generally looks good. As long as the dresses, the tuxedos, and the shoes all fit properly, the attire is generally good to go. It doesn’t matter how much something costs if it looks good on you. Flowers. If you really must have real flowers in your bouquet, then you must, but if you really must skimp on something, you can find fake flowers galore on eBay or even at local flea markets. In my area there are special events where brides sell the leftovers from their weddings. Guest list. Cutting the guest list could be a simple way to save a couple thousand dollars, and it might let you rent a smaller venue as well.

#9 Minimize the getting ready time.

One of the biggest mistakes I see everyone doing in weddings is that they take FOREVER to get ready. If you’re planning to spend 4-5 hours getting ready, you’re wasting a huge amount of time. This is especially true if you have hired a party bus to drive your wedding party to different locations for photos. If you need to, hire 2 makeup artists and 2 hair stylists to get the ladies looking good as quickly as possible. That will ensure that there is plenty of time to drive around, have fun on the party bus, and get all the pictures you need.

#10 Talk to friends and family to get ideas.

Ask around to see what made your friend’s and family’s weddings great. And don’t be afraid to join a group for engaged couples where you can share ideas and solutions to common wedding problems.

#11 Organize everything.

Get a binder or filing system to keep track of everything related to your wedding. Pick out examples of things you like from magazines and the internet that you can share with wedding vendors. Print out contracts, emails, and anything else related to your vendors. A cool trick is to setup an email dedicated to your wedding. Then you can share that email with anyone that is helping you plan, like your wedding planner, family members, or soon to be spouse, and have them use that email for any vendor correspondence. This way you can all stay on the same page more easily.

#12 Make a bad weather plan.

If you’re having an outdoor wedding or if you’re planning on shooting pictures outdoors come up with a plan in case of bad weather. It could be as simple as calling up a company and having them deliver a large tent to your outdoor wedding for your guests to sit under. If your photographer knows how to use off camera flash tent photos can actually turn out very well. Another option is to choose locations with shelter. Here in St. Louis lots of couples like to get wedding photos in Forest Park, the great thing about that is that two popular locations in Forest Park, the Municipal Theater and World’s Fair Pavilion, are both sheltered from the rain and have plenty of room for awesome pictures of your entire bridal party.

#13 Don’t make last minute decisions at the last minute.

Consider the week before your wedding as the deadline for planning decisions. You don’t want to be up late the night before your wedding trying to figure things out. Get it done early then you can relax and rest up before the big day.

#14 Take pictures of things as you shop.

Everyone has a cellphone camera, so use it! Take pictures of venues that you visit, dresses that you try on, or anything else you see that could work for your wedding. You can even create a Pinterest board on Pinterest.com to collect all your ideas and inspiration for your wedding. This can help you remember things that you might want to look back on later when you start buying things and making your reservations.

#15 Have fun.

It’s your wedding day, if you aren’t having fun, you’re doing it wrong. Don’t be afraid to let your personality show, people will appreciate you for it down the road.