Dear Auntie Gwen

Once you have your venue, date and time confirmed, start shopping! You can begin window-shopping at any time; I find it best to wait to try on clothes until you know the date and where you will be married. It can make a difference in what you choose. You don’t want to fall in love with something that will look out of place on the day you have picked.

Wedding attire can take as much as three to six months to come in, and then it needs to be altered. The sooner you start, the better.

If you special-order the attendant’s outfits, then you should start looking at the same time you look for yours. If you have them buy off the rack, you can wait a little, but I wouldn’t delay starting any less than three months before the wedding.

xoxo, Auntie Gwen

I don’t blame you, I’d be confused too. Truthfully, both are right and also wrong. I have to remind everyone of my bias as an independent professional wedding planner – my loyalty is with my fellow off-premise wedding planners. The red flag for me in this situation is that no professional would ever tell you that you don’t need a wedding planner without fully understanding your needs and what the outside planner is providing.

 That said, many facilities call members of their staff wedding planners who are not. Their job is to sell weddings and look out for the property, not for your best interests. They generally don’t help with anything not directly related to the property. However, they are event professionals, and as such want to be as helpful as possible. If a couple does not have an independent wedding planner, they will often take on that role.

Occasionally, someone who previously worked as an independent wedding planner goes to work for a venue. They use their skills to assist the venue’s customers; sometimes, they charge extra for that work, sometimes they do not. We wedding planners can’t always help ourselves if we see something that needs doing or can be improved.

In your case, it is essential to find out precisely what the facilities “Wedding Planner” will do for you, what (if anything) the charges are for those services, and what credentials they have. Ask for references from past couples who have used them as a wedding planner.

Next, get a detailed proposal from an independent wedding planner and compare. As long as you are getting everything you need for your wedding done by a professional, you will be fine.

xoxo, Auntie Gwen

I’m sorry to say that step one is not picking a date. Step one is collecting the following information before moving onto choosing a venue.

Things you need to know before you start (Step One)

o How many guests will you invite (not how many you “think” will attend) – a full list of everyone you may want to include, and don’t forget to ask your parents.

o Where (near where you live now, where you grew up, or a different destination)

o Type of location (indoor, outdoor or both)

o When (What time of year, time of day)

o Realistically, how much time do you and your fiancé have for planning?

o What skills do you, your friends, and your family bring to the table to help with the wedding?

o Three things you MUST have to make your perfect wedding (each of you should answer this question)

o Five words to describe how you want your day to feel and be remembered (you should do together)

o How much money do you have to spend? This should not be a guess; it should be a cold hard number that you have both agreed upon.

Finding the right location and then choosing from the dates available is far less stressful than picking a random date and attempting to find a venue that meets your needs and is available.

xoxo, Auntie Gwen

Those are big questions, and the answers depend on many factors. I will start with your second question; where do we start with our planning? The quick response is at the end; you need to know what kind of wedding you want to have before you can begin making decisions.

Things you need to know before you start

o How many guests will you invite (not how many you “think” will attend) 

o Where the wedding will be 

o Type of location (indoor, outdoor or both)

o When (What time of year, time of day)

o Realistically, how much time do you and your fiancé have for planning?

o What skills do you, your friends, and your family bring to the table that could help with the planning process?

o Three things you MUST have to make your wedding perfect (each of you should answer this question)

o Five words to describe how you want your day to feel and be remembered (you should do together)

o How much money do you have to spend? I’m not talking about a general guess. You need the actual “we cannot spend one penny more than” dollar amount (you also have to agree on it)

Why knowing the above answers matters

o You will be working with professionals

o Time is money

o Consistent communication is key to getting what you want

o Ensures you get what you want at a price you can afford

Knowing your limitations save stress

o Allows you to manage your time 

o The clearer you can communicate, the less stressful planning is

o Being clear about your expectations with your friends and family


Now back to your first question; how much do you spend on your wedding? Unfortunately, I can’t answer that for you. First, I don’t know where you are in the world, and the cost of a wedding varies widely depending on where you have it (if you send another question with where you are getting married, I can be a little more help.) It is also difficult for me to answer your perfectly reasonable question because I don’t know enough about the type of wedding you want. The items above are necessary for giving you an acceptable answer. 

I hope the above will give you a starting point for a beautiful wedding.

xoxo, Auntie Gwen

I’m still old-fashioned, I like save-the-date cards to be sent via US Mail. However, it depends on your guests. If the majority are tech-savvy, then emailing or even texting may be a better option. xoxo, Auntie Gwen

The cake cutting ceremony is full of symbolism. This tradition began with the couple sharing a piece of cake before distributing it to the guests to symbolize their union and promise to forever provide for each other.

The second part of the cake cutting ceremony is when the couple feeds each other a small bite of cake. Feeding one another can be romantic, symbolizing commitment, showing love and affection.

Unfortunately, this custom has evolved into grinding cake into faces. Food fights may be fun at frat parties, not so much at weddings. Unless you both agree beforehand to this type of show, be respectful.

xoxo, Auntie Gwen

The most economical honeymoon is a staycation. Stay at home together! Tell everyone you are going away, turn off your devices, and enjoy your city and each other’s company.

 If you’re dying to explore somewhere new, consider going at the most affordable time of year rather than right after the wedding.

I also recommend a travel agent (yes they still exist) because they have knowledge, experience, and connections to get you a great trip at the best price.

xoxo, Auntie Gwen

Be honest; tell her your hopes of enjoying the wedding planning process with her. Explain that you want her to enjoy not only the planning, but the days leading up to the wedding, and of course the wedding day. If she is cooking, she will miss out on spending time with you.

I also have to caution against cooking food yourself for a wedding, unless your Mother-in-Law has a commercial kitchen and licenses. Preparing food for service in public can be a problem depending on your local ordinances. Also, I would be astonished if the caterer and venue are ok with non-professionally prepared food.

If the caterer and venue don’t know about the meat, you need to make sure there will not be an issue. The last thing you need is for your Mother-in-Law to cook the meat and not end up being able to serve it.

I understand she is paying for the food and she believes cooking the meat herself is saving money; however, I’m doubtful. Even if it is trimming down the bill, it’s probably not enough savings to make the stress worth it for you and her.

Find a time to speak with her when she is not distracted. Start by telling her how much you appreciate her help with the wedding expenses, and then ask her to listen to you as you have genuine feelings to share with her.

Open your heart, and her heart will hear you.

xoxo, Auntie Gwen

Food is a significant cost for any wedding; the price is based on the number of guests. You can offer whatever  you wish in any way you want to serve your guests. There are many costs to providing food over and above the actual food costs; you need to take those into account when making your decision.

If your venue provides food, you may not have other options like food trucks. You will need to ask what the site offers and what you will be responsible for providing.

The best way to control food costs is to calculate what you want to pay per person, then tell the food provider that number and ask what they can do for that all-inclusive price. I find that if you are honest with the caterers or food purveyors about what you can spend, they will work to give you the best they can for the price you can afford.

It might be a chicken dinner, an assortment of appetizers, or your dream meal; you will not know if you can make it happen unless you ask. It is best not to assume that one thing is less expensive than another. Ask the professionals – they want to help! Don’t be afraid to let them.

xoxo, Auntie Gwen

Mail your invitations no less than six weeks before your wedding date. Your reply by date should be approximately four weeks later.

Example: If your wedding date is September 28, 2019, you should mail your invitations on August 15, 2019, and the reply by date should be on or before September 12, 2019.

Create your estimates based on the full guest count. As soon as you start the guessing game, your numbers will be wrong. If you can’t afford your entire guest list, then you need to cut the guest count before the invitations are mailed.

The often-quoted “20% will not attend,” is a myth. Most people underestimate how many people want to attend their wedding. Couples, far too often fool themselves into thinking that their wedding will not have high attendance. Usually, this ends up with couples thinking they don’t have to spend as much, which is setting themselves up for a costly mistake.

If you base all your estimates on the full guest count, your costs will only go down as guests decline. It is much safer to plan to invite the number of guests you can afford as opposed to guessing about who may or may not attend.

xoxo, Auntie Gwen

That is a great question – it depends on several factors:

• Time of year

• The weather where you are getting married

• The type of wedding you want (Indoor or Outdoor)

• The style of wedding you are having (Ballroom, Forest, Barn, Church, etc.)

• The availability of your preferred venue

• How far your guests will need to travel

Example: If you want an outdoor wedding in July in a hot and humid climate, a morning or late evening wedding to avoid the hottest part of the day is best.

Alternatively, if you want a ballroom wedding in December, you might like a 3:00 pm start so you will have sunlight when the guests arrive and twilight for the ceremony.

Your venue may dictate the time, so consider this when looking at locations.

xoxo, Auntie Gwen

I’m delighted to hear you are considering hiring a wedding planner. I have to admit that I’m very biased on this subject, as I am a wedding planner.Weddings are expensive, why do you need to add to the cost with a wedding planner? I could tell you the valid, but much-overused reason “hiring a wedding planner saves time, aggravation, and money.” Oh, wait, I did tell you that, sorry.

That is true, but for me, the reason I want you to hire a professional wedding planner is to use what we have to give. We have spent years learning, exploring, and yes, even experimenting with all things wedding. We LOVE weddings! We thrive on the feeling we get from helping beautiful couples like you have the perfect wedding. All that positive energy is good for the world. Utilizing a wedding planner and our passion for weddings will make your big day MIND-BLOWING!

Time to be a bit more practical – the reason you need a professional wedding planner is you need an advocate, an interpreter, and a warrior. Let us take on those roles for you.

ADVOCATE: You need an advocate when planning a wedding. Although everyone I know in the wedding business is kind and has the best of intentions, they are also running businesses. It is best if you have someone who understands their business to guide you to the people and things that will make your dream wedding a reality while staying within your budget constraints.

INTERPRETER: Weddings are part of the hospitality industry, and like most industries, hospitality has a language all its own. You need an interpreter not just to review contracts, but also to explain (in plain language) what you are getting and why things cost what they do.

WARRIOR: Your perfect wedding will not materialize out of thin air; it takes a lot of time and effort to achieve. You need a warrior to fight for your dreams. If you want a unique, once in a lifetime day, then your warrior planner will need to clear the field and get everyone on board. Unfortunately, in the “this is the way we always do it” world of weddings, unique sometimes requires a fight.

No one can tell you who the right professional wedding planner is for you any more than they could say who the right person is for you to marry. That is for you to determine.

Prioritizes what matters to you. What skills, attributes, and talents do you want in your wedding planner to have?

• Very professional and by-the-book, or more free-spirited?

• Artistic, or are logistics more critical?

• Experienced, or would you prefer to give a newbie a chance?

• Is price the most crucial factor, or are quality and security more important?

• Is being trendy more important than the big picture?

Then determine what you need them to do for you:

• We want the planner to do everything

• We want to plan and want them to execute

• We want help finding one vendor or a venue

• We want help getting started

• We need design help

Now that you know what you need and want in your perfect professional planner, start looking. I promise when you find the right one, you will not regret it.

xoxo, Auntie Gwen

Shopping for wedding attire is very personal. It can (and should) be fun, but at times it can get stressful. Buying what you’ll wear on your wedding day is one of the most important fashion purchases you’ll make in your life. With any luck,  you are only going to buy one.

I don’t recommend taking too many people shopping with you. Too many opinions will only confuse you. You should only take people whose opinions you value, whether that’s your mother, grandmother, sister, or your best friend. Everyone will want to be there, but you probably don’t need everyone there. If you feel pressured to include more people (don’t give in), a compromise is to bring the tribe to the final fitting. That way, they get a sneak peek, but they can’t change your mind.

I recommend you always make an appointment; the shop will be prepared and have someone assigned just for you. You should make a day out of it by having a light lunch at your favorite restaurant before your appointment, and a glass of wine or a cup of coffee after to unwind. It truly is a special day, and it’s an essential part of your wedding!

xoxo, Auntie Gwen

I have to smile any time a question starts with “My cousin said…” No offense to your cousin or aunt or next-door neighbor, but everyone has an opinion about weddings. They mean well, but their input isn’t always helpful, but I’ll save that for another day.

Since you asked me, I’ll give you my opinion, and please take it in whatever way helps you most.

Do florists make bouquets and centerpieces with half fresh and half fake flowers? Some do – you’d have to ask different florists.

Can people tell when the flowers are not real? Does anyone notice? It depends on the quality of the faux flowers and how closely your guests look.

Is it tacky or smart? It can be either. Faux flowers vary widely in quality and price; inferior quality faux flowers can look tacky, and high-quality faux flowers can look beautiful, but they come with a high price tag. They will likely not save you any money in the long run, so the choice is entirely yours.

xoxo, Auntie Gwen

Food trucks are fun! The costs vary depending on the company; some are full service for events, so they may provide tables, chairs, etc., while others only provide food.

Some Food Trucks have a set menu; no options others allow you to choose the items. Guests can pick up food at the truck, or some Food trucks have servers who pass out food to guests. There are as many variations as there are truck owners.

You can hire multiple trucks, so you have a variety of food types, or just one truck with a varied menu.

There are many options for food trucks! Compare the prices of trucks versus caterers in your area to see which is more cost-effective.

xoxo, Auntie Gwen

Valentine’s Day is slightly more expensive than most days for a wedding. Because the date is sought-after, and flowers cost more for the occasion. Usually, a Friday is somewhat less than Saturday. Any wedding around a holiday like Valentine’s Day will be highly sought-after, as it is easier for guests to travel in for a Friday wedding as opposed to mid-week.

My rule of thumb for holiday weddings like Valentine’s Day is to add 25% to your estimate, and then decide if having your wedding on that Day is worth the extra cost.

Valentine’s Day weddings are lovely, and if it is especially meaningful for you, then go for it!

xoxo, Auntie Gwen

I’m sorry to say it’s time to love it less. Venues have those rules because of terrible experiences, making them unwilling to allow vendors they don’t know on their property. It is a human reaction, but it is not good business.

You should never be penalized for other people’s misdeeds, nor should you accept being forced to choose a vendor based on someone else’s criteria. Everyone who is part of your wedding team should be right for you, not the venue or anyone else.

Well-Written contracts and certificates of insurance should be all that is needed to protect all parties. If the venue is not willing to negotiate, then no matter how much you love the place, walk away.

xoxo, Auntie Gwen

First, let me say how lovely and thoughtful you are for thanking your guests by taking their travel needs into account. I would look for something that will be a memento of the trip – something unique to the destination. If there is a local delicacy you like, have a sample waiting in each guest’s room when they arrive, they will not need to pack it they can enjoy it then. Since I don’t know your destination, I can’t give you specific ideas. I suggest you contact the hotel staff where you and your guests are staying, or your wedding planner to ask for ideas and resources specific to your location. Bon Voyage, Auntie Gwen
First, on behalf of my wedding colleagues, we are sorry to make you uncomfortable. Next, please be patient with us, changing the language and habits of an industry takes time; we are working on it. Most of the wedding professionals I know are good people with open hearts. All they need is for you to tell them your preferences and needs if they can’t accommodate you, they will tell you upfront. In your initial communication with a wedding professional, you should begin by being transparent and direct. “My partner and I are an engaged lesbian couple (or your preferred identity). We’re considering vendors for our wedding; we only wish to work with those who are open to serving the LGBTQ community. Are you open to working with us?” I understand working with wedding professionals is new for you. For many professionals, they want to address you correctly; they just need your help. The language of our work has had a decidedly heterosexual focus. With your help, patience, and understanding, we will change that. xoxo, Auntie Gwen

The short answer is YES. Getting married and having a wedding is a big deal on many levels, it’s a lot to take. It is perfectly normal to be nervous and apprehensive!

Take some time to do something non-wedding related that you enjoy as a couple. It helps you remember why you are doing all of this. No wedding talk allowed – have some fun!

Try to remember that a wedding is one day, albeit a significant and meaningful day, just one day. At the end of that day, you will be married to the person you love most in the world and will be sharing the rest of your lives. The wedding will be beautiful because of your love.

Relax and enjoy this time! If you’re still nervous, remember it’s healthy. If you were not at all nervous, then I’d be worried.

xoxo, Auntie Gwen

I’m sorry you have to deal with this during your wedding planning. It is not what I would wish for you and your partner. That said you can’t take on the responsibility of changing your Grandfather’s biases.

All you can do is tell him how you feel that you love him and want him at your wedding. Tell him the truth about your fears, ask him if he can put aside his pain for one day so he can see how happy you are and share in your joy.

If he can’t, you have to accept it; you want him to accept you which means you have to accept him even though it may hurt. Have faith in love, if you speak with respect and an open heart, his heart will hear you.

xoxo, Auntie Gwen

Music is a beautiful part of any wedding; it sets the mood, enhances the emotions, and fills empty spaces. I can’t tell you if you should have a live band or DJ that is a very personal choice.

What I can say is you should take the time to figure out for yourself which is best for your wedding. Never what anyone else tells you should do!

I recommend using a professional entertainment company; they have both bands and DJ. They will ask questions to help narrow down what you want at your wedding; then, they can give you demos of the different band and DJ options and make appointments for you to meet with your favorites.

Always meet the entertainers’ in-person when possible and see them perform. Ask how much set up time they need, how often they will take breaks, and what they will wear. If you have specific requests, i.e., a particular song, so the band has ample time to rehearse it. Be sure those are put in the contract before you sign it.

xoxo, Auntie Gwen

If you have a wedding planner, they can do this for you (another great reason to hire one – they handle tough conversations). Otherwise, a simple email inquiry to your venue representative will suffice. Try something like this:

“We’re wondering if you can make a gender-neutral restroom available for our reception.”

Ideally, you should make this request before you sign a contract with the venue, just in case they are unable to accommodate your request. If that’s a deal-breaker for you and you haven’t signed an agreement yet, you can look somewhere else.

xoxo, Auntie Gwen

Never assume anything. You have complete control over whom you invite to your wedding. Please never let anyone make you feel you are required to do anything that negatively impacts your wedding day.

You determine who is invited by how you address the outside and inside envelopes. It is customary now to include both names because many unmarried couples live together.

However, unless they are married, this is still up to you. Regrettably, sometimes people do not follow or understand the invitation addressing etiquette, so you may get replies for two when you only invited one. At that point, you have to either make an uncomfortable phone call or accept the second guest.

xoxo, Auntie Gwen

About Gwen Helbush

Once upon a time in the beautiful city by the Bay, a little girl was born to plan things. She planned tea parties in the sandbox and dances at school. All the while, she dreamed of helping people make beautiful memories. I am that little girl. My name is Gwen Semenero Helbush, you can call me Auntie Gwen, and this is my story. I’ve been planning celebrations for as long as I can remember. My parent’s house was the gathering place for friends and family; preparing for all those celebrations was a huge part of my childhood. Growing up, I planned various school functions, and later, my career took me into corporate event planning.

When it came time to plan my wedding, however, I quickly realized just how difficult and stressful the experience could be. I decided to transform my experience into a way to serve others. I began researching wedding planning, reading everything I could get my hands on; I took classes and volunteered to assist established wedding planners. Where to Start, Wedding Management launched in 1991. My corporate world experience taught me the management skills needed to work with multiple vendors and get the best for my clients. My broadcasting and theater studies in college helped frame how I see weddings, playing an essential and unique role in event production.

I love getting to know my clients. Their unique stories mean so much to me; I’m genuinely interested in learning what makes my couples and their guests truly happy. I believe knowing what you love about life, and each other is the most critical aspect of creating a meaningful wedding. In the nearly 30 years since I started my company, weddings have changed in good ways and some not so good. The best way weddings have changed is that  marriage is legal for everyone (yeah!). Legal but not new.  I have the privilege of helping many couples celebrate their love in unique and exciting ways then and now. My company motto has always been Love is Love. XOXO, Auntie Gwen

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