An Engineer’s Guide To Planning A Wedding

A little over a year ago my wife Whitney and I were married. I can honestly say that the day was truly amazing and was everything that we wanted it to be. Now before I get in to how we made this happen (and I use the word “we” quite liberally), let me start with giving you a little bit of background on the two of us. Whitney and I are both Project Engineers and have been working at various EPC’s (Engineering/Procurement/Construction Management companies) in the oil and gas world throughout our careers. At the time that I proposed in September 2016, Whitney was in the middle of her maternity leave with our first son Hayden. (As a side note, for any people planning to propose, do it in the spring, not the fall. Apparently everyone that wants to get married the next summer plans ahead to give themselves more time). With Whitney off work at the time that we were engaged, we figured that between changing diapers and feeding our child she might as well take on the momentous task of planning our wedding! Come on now, how hard could it be?

 

I feel safe in saying that most people have very little experience planning a wedding (most likely none), and if they do, it probably means that they have already been married, or plan weddings for a living. NOTE: if you plan weddings for a living you should probably stop here, you already know more than I could ever imagine about how to do it! So with this complete lack of experience, together with hearing the horror stories that people have about planning weddings, you probably feel just as terrified as we did even thinking about taking on this daunting task. Let me assure you that it is not nearly as bad as people make it seem (or maybe it’s like a lot of things that Whitney just makes look easier than they actually are). And trust me, I’ve now contributed to planning one wedding in my life, so you should probably listen to everything I have to say.

 

Because Whitney and I both plan projects for a living, we wanted to approach this in the same way that we do our every day jobs. With Whitney being at home and having more time to dedicate to the planning, we thought it would be best if she acted as the “project manager.” She would be in charge of the day-to-day activities while I acted more as the “client,” giving direction and approving decisions. With our org chart decided on it did not take long to find out that I was horrible at my role. I was actually excited about the planning and wanted to be part of the process, but I ended up getting in the way. Initially when there were only major decisions that needed to be made I could handle it, but when it came down to the details, I simply did not have time to answer all of the questions. I found myself making the same mistakes that I see people at work making (including myself) on a regular basis. There is a reason work is delegated down an org chart; it’s because not everyone has time to be part of all of the decisions. In wedding planning, just like in project management, you need to trust the people that are working with you and step in when you are needed. If you don’t, like I didn’t, you are either going to delay the “project” or, like my intelligent wife decided, people are going to make decisions around you and beg for forgiveness later (which was actually what Whitney needed to do, otherwise we would probably still be talking about table wedding favours).

Now that I’ve blabbed on about how we got started planning, here are the steps that I think will lead you to success:

 

Step 1: You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

I feel like this is honestly why there is so much fear around something like planning a wedding. Because you’ve never done it before you don’t know where to start. Weddings are one of the largest industries out there, and believe it or not, I am not the first person to realise that most people planning one are doing it for the first time. With that in mind, there are heaps of books and websites that can help you get started. We used “The Knot – Ultimate Wedding Planner and Organizer”, but we were lucky enough to receive it as an engagement gift so we didn’t do a lot of shopping around (thanks, Mom). What was awesome about this book is that it provided insight in to planning from day 1 all the way to the big day. It had information on anything from tips on inspiration to helping you choose the style of wedding that you want. The biggest tool that we found helpful was the wedding plan timeline, but you’ll hear more about this in step 2.

Now that you’re officially overwhelmed with the number of things you have to do, forget all of that for now and have fun figuring out what you actually want for your day. Look at a million pictures online, tag ones that you like, start a Pinterest board or an inspiration wall. Planning a wedding can be a bit stressful, but at a minimum, this part should be fun.

Step 2: Scheduling

Like any project in my career, the key to success is proper planning. In every romantic comedy that I’ve ever watched (and I’m slightly embarrassed to say that I’ve seen a lot), the bride is always freaking out in the last couple of weeks because of all of the things left to do. However, it doesn’t need to be that way if you’ve set up a plan initially. With that said, not every decision needs to be made day 1. There are going to be big things that need to be decided fairly early on like the size of the wedding and the venue (the two kind of go hand in hand), but the rest of the decisions can be spread out throughout your engagement. The wedding book that we used included great planning checklists for either a longer engagement or an express one (5 months or less), which helped us immensely plan on when we needed to do what.

A few years ago I took a project management course where they taught me that the keys to every project are budget, quality, and schedule, and that it was only realistic to have two of these things. At the beginning of every project you strive to have all three, but at a certain point you end up having to sacrifice one in order to make the other two happen. Every project has different priorities; some are schedule driven where hitting the end date is the top priority, while others are budget driven where you cannot spend over a certain amount. The course instructor used the Olympics as an example of a schedule driven project. It’s years in advance that the start date of the Olympics is set and they are never late because they can’t be. Venues are booked, event schedules have been organized, and television contracts are signed. There would be huge repercussions if the Olympic organizing committee just came out and said they needed an extra month to get things ready. Sometimes the budget is blown up in order to hit the date, or the quality of certain aspects are sacrificed, but they never miss their date. I think weddings are a great comparable to this. At the end of the day, the day of the wedding is set early on in the process, and usually cannot be changed. In order to make this happen, at a certain point you are going to have to make sacrifices about the things that you want, or your budget is going to have to change in order to have everything that you want on time. With that said, there are not nearly as many things to plan for a wedding as the Olympics, so if you spread out the decisions and are good about actually getting them done as you go, there really shouldn’t be much that you have to compromise on. I also truly believe that by the time your wedding day actually arrives, the few little things that were forgotten will not be missed.

Note: Venues book up a lot sooner then you would think (this goes back to the whole proposing in the spring thing). As much fun as it was hearing that we should be planning on getting married two or three years down the road, figure out your venue early on and avoid that pain.

Step 3: Budget

Weddings are expensive. This is a sentiment that I hear all the time. In general I agree with this statement, but I would rather say that weddings CAN be expensive more so then they have to be. By no means do they have to be expensive, it all depends on what you decide you want for your day. Something that Whitney and I did at the very beginning of the planning process was set a max budget for how much we were comfortable spending on our wedding day. This number was somewhat flexible depending on what actual prices looked like once we started looking in to things (remember that we had never done this before so we had no idea how much a caterer or seat covers cost). Based on our economic situation at the time of the wedding, we really didn’t want to spend much more then what we had budgeted. The wedding book that we used was a good reference point again for this starting point as it included a section on budgets.

Once you have decided on approximately how much you can afford to spend on your wedding, you and your partner should sit down and make a list of things that are important to you. In our case, I said that I wanted a live band and an ice cream cake from DQ, while Whitney wanted the perfect photographer. Now obviously a wedding cake from DQ is not going to break the budget, but we decided that we were willing to potentially spend more to have a band and whatever photographer we liked best, while we were willing to compromise on other things to make that happen. That was what was important to us; you will need to decide what those things are for you. By the way, if anyone is looking for a band near Calgary, we used a group called Spotlight and they absolutely made the party! Also, we used 6:8 Photography and they did a fantastic job, the walls of our house are now covered with shots from the day.

As you start figuring out what you want it is extremely easy to add to your list of important things. Remember the old saying, you only get married once. Well with that in mind, it is really hard to say no to things for your wedding. In the project world this is called scope creep and it happens on every project. While planning your wedding you will have to keep in mind that although you only get married once, you also have to be able to afford your lives together afterwards. Once you get a handle on how much things actually cost, it’s probably a good idea to re-evaluate your budget, keeping in mind that when you made it, that was the amount you were comfortable spending. Scope creep can be a real issue on all projects and is something that needs to be managed. Sometimes, getting someone else’s perspective on things can help with that. You may think that releasing doves in to the air after your I Do’s is going to make the day, but it’s probably not worth giving up your honeymoon for them.

Step 4: Booking Vendors

Now that you have planned your wedding, it’s time to actually book your vendors. As I mentioned in step 2, you have already laid out a schedule so there is no need to rush in to booking everything all at once. We are lucky enough to live in a world that information is only a click away, so do your research. Every reputable vendor is going to have information and reviews online, so use them. Also, remember that inspiration board you started on Pinterest in step 1, now is the time to use that. Bring the pictures of the flowers you loved and show them to a florist. That amazing rustic chic décor that you love, bring that to the venues and see if you could decorate them in a similar way (wow, I can’t believe I just said rustic chic).

The only real piece of advice that I have for booking vendors is to align yourselves with vendors that you trust, and then allow for them to make decisions on your behalf. I have no idea how to manufacture a pump, so at work why would I tell a pump supplier how to build my pump? Instead, over years I have built relationships with suppliers so that I can describe to them what I want, and then allow them to do their jobs and provide a product that I can trust to give to my clients. The same theory can be applied to wedding vendors. Take a florist for example. Do you arrange flowers every day for a living? Well, maybe you actually do, but most likely not. So rather than continuously going through and critiquing the bridesmaid’s bouquet designs, show the florist some pictures, maybe do a trial run, and then let them do what they do best. By trusting the professionals to do their jobs properly, you will remove a lot of the stress of the wedding planning because you have less items on your list to do. Now at work I had the benefit of building those relationships over years and you will have a couple of meetings, tops, to build that trust. But that is no different then when I first started my career. This is why you do your homework in advance, read reviews, talk to your friends, colleagues, anyone that has ever been married and get recommendations of vendors so that you know they have a good track record. I’m not saying that you cannot get in to the finite details of these things if you want to, just that one way to reduce your stress is to allow people to help you where they can.

Step 5: The Wedding Day

You’ve finished planning, the day is here, have fun! Forget about all of the little things that were missed or you didn’t get to, let someone else deal with that stuff or ignore it all together. Get married, eat (definitely don’t forget to actually eat the meal you spent hours deciding on), dance, and then ride off in to the sunset as a married couple.

Matt’s Wedding Tips

  1. Email save the dates (and invitations if your Mother is not a traditionalist). Stamps are expensive and if you have a big guest list those costs add up.
  2. Make a wedding website and get people to RSVP there. We used weddingwire.ca and it was super simple to put together. As a bonus, it kept track of whom had RSVP’d and the total number of guests for us right there, minus Grandma who doesn’t have a computer. It also gives you a place to show off those engagement photos that your partner said were a requirement in your life.
  3. Worried about booking a bunch of little things? One way to remove some of this stress is to select a venue that supplies everything (tables/chairs/cutlery/catering etc.). You can definitely save some money booking everything separately, but it will mean having to manage all of those things as well.
  4. Design some of your own table decorations. We saved a bunch of money with Whitney scouring dollar stores for lanterns. By the way, there are a lot more dollar stores in Calgary then you would think.
  5. Use your friends and family, but just not too much. These people in your lives are most likely excited to help where they can, but remember that they have full time jobs, and although it’s your day, it’s not their job to make it happen.

Big thanks to the following vendors who helped make our wedding a huge success:

Written by: Matthew Hoblak, P.Eng