Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Must-Have Wedding Freebie: A Website

I recently received some sweet complements on my wedding website, including one lady who wanted to pass it on to her daughter who is planning a wedding. I thought it was nice that people took the time to read through all the pages and then let me know that they liked it.

I didn't think much of setting one up, only that I knew I was going to do it because of how handy one can be. I didn't know that it would become one of the best investments I never spent a dime on.

And while I assumed most people set up a wedding website, I've noticed that not everyone utilizes it to its full potential. Which is why I'm writing this post, to encourage every bride to take the time to create a site and not just any site, but a great site.

Screenshot of the homepage of my wedding website.
Why create a wedding website?

A wedding website is a free resource you can use to get important information out to your guests. You can also share personal details about your relationship for those who might know only one of you, or not know the story of how you met.

You can also save money on RSVP card postage by having your guests file their RSVP online.

How do you create a wedding website?

There are a ton of different tools for creating websites, but you'll want one specifically set up for weddings. I recommend setting one up with The Knot allows online RSVPing (not all wedding website creators offer this tool). It also offers a variety of templates for you to choose from, it's easy to use and it's simple to input photos and text. You can also take advantage of a "password protected" option so that only certain people can view select pages.

You will have to register an account with The Knot to begin your website. You will then have the option create and manage your site. It's completely free, unless you want to add a customized domain name.

What should be included on a wedding website?

It really is up to you how much you want to include on your site, but I recommend including the following:

>> Add photos of you and your significant other to each page. They liven up your site and everyone loves photos!

>> Fill in your homepage with a welcome message for your guests.

>> Complete an "about us" page for those who may only know one of you. This will help guests to feel more connected to you as a couple. Similarly, including your engagement story will lend to this.

>> Post a photo of each member of your wedding party with a little blurb about how you know them. Again, it will connect your guests to your day and also help your party feel included.

>> Information on the location of the ceremony and reception will be important for all your guests, especially those who will need directions to each venue. Make sure to fill in these pages with as much relevant information as possible. You want your guests to enjoy your day and not stress about getting to different locations.

>> Obviously if you want your guests to RSVP online, you will need to include the RSVP page. You can also offer alternative ways for guests to respond, by mail, phone or email.

>> Fill in the guest information page with additional important information. This can include lodging options (and any booking/discount information); local dining, drink and entertainment options; attire recommendations (I included a link to my Pinterest board of attire suggestions); and anything else you think guests will find helpful--especially those who are from out of town.

>> List where you are registered on the registries page.

>> You may also want to include the guest book for visitors to sign, a photo album of pictures, a map of events and info on your honeymoon, if you want to share. (You can also tie this in to a honeymoon registry if you're setting one up. Honeyfund is a helpful site for that.)

How do you get people to visit your site?

For my wedding, rather than including a traditional, mail-able RSVP card, I created my own unique card. This card included the link to my wedding website and instructions to visit it to RSVP. I also included bullet points of a few other things guests could find.

To create my card, I used the "chubby business card" on Zazzle. Since I hadn't totally settled on an invitation design, I used an engagement photo as the background, with the text printed on top. I made sure to include "RSVP" in large letters so you couldn't miss the point of the card.
I hope you find these tips helpful! As with all my wedding-y posts, if you have questions/comments/tips, please leave them in the comments!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Stuff of the Modern Wedding: Hashtagging

Remember how back in the day the really cool wedding receptions would have disposable cameras on the table? Then you could have about 25 snaps of random awesomeness with people at your table before it was used up? Then someone would most likely grab it and start hitting it against the table, making the flash go off repeatedly, like a mini-strobe.

Maybe somewhere that still happens. Most weddings, though, have "gone modern." Forget the cardboard-wrapped disposables, this is the age of the smartphone, and boy is it great for weddings! The bride and groom can get a guest play-by-play with apps like Instagram and Twitter, and the really tech-savy ones create their own hashtag!

For those less tech-savy readers, a hashtag is a simple term for a link that is created by using the # symbol and some text. When used on Twitter and Instagram, it turns into a link, connecting anything containing said hashtag. The only thing you need to know when making a hashtag is that symbols and the space key are bad. They will break any link where inserted, so you'll end up with half a hash and a link to who knows what.

Nick and I are definitely a tech-happy couple, so we've already created our hashtag with the hope and plan that it will help us gather little moments from our wedding into one place. Our hashtag is #NickElise713, and while it hasn't gotten much use yet, we already have a place to gather all related Tweets and images.

So far we've added mostly past photos and tweets, but once it gets closer to the wedding, we're hoping to get lots of use out of our hashtag.

And this is where you come in. We are asking our friends and relatives who use social media to help us document the occasion. Even if you aren't on Twitter or Instagram, we invite you to snap candids, post on Facebook or text/email us pictures and stories. We want to remember even the tiniest details and we can't do it alone! :)

For those who are also going to employ the hashtag at their weddings, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

1. Make your hashtag unique. Weddings happen a lot. Like more than one on the same day. And sometimes different weddings on the same day have things in common, like initials and names. So when you're creating your hashtag, try to make it different and unique. Last weekend I saw three different weddings all using the same hashtag on the same day. Talk about a lot to sort through when you're going back to find pictures and tweets from your day. Do yourself a favor and make it something other people most likely won't have.

2. Get it before it's gone. Twitter stores lists of hashtags for only so long and gets rid of old hashtags rather quickly. To avoid totally losing your hashtags (or having to go back later and hunt through your friends' feeds), save them as soon as you can. Storify is a great tool for collecting all sorts of media, including tweets and Instagrammed photos. You create a "story," pull in elements (photos, tweets, videos, etc.), save and publish (see above slideshow for a publishing option). Also, you can even search by hashtag when you're adding to your story. Another option is to retweet friends' tweets so you can easily find them in your feed, or favorite them.

3. Don't forget to tell your friends. Creating a hashtag is great, but someone has to use it! Make sure to post the tag somewhere at your wedding and at your reception so friends and family know to use it. You may want to include it on your program, on table cards, or on a cute chalkboard sign. Whatever works for your style and theme, look for a way to incorporate it.

4. Get some life out of it. The main goal is to use your hashtag day-of, but there's no rule that says you can't use it before and after! Start using it early to document the planning process, parties and moments you want to remember. You can invite your friends to start using it ahead of time too. Use your hashtag after the wedding to document your life as newlyweds (think honeymoon, any "firsts," etc.). It's your tag, use it how you want.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

6 Tips for Wedding Planning on a Budget

While this is still an in-progress project for me, I thought I would update all of you on my wedding planning and give you some tips.

If there's one thing I've learned through the process of wedding planning, it's that you can drop a lot of cash on a lot of different things, but you don't have to. For those brides who are looking to save money or plan on a budget, there are plenty of ways to cut corners, and cost. My passion for inexpensive wedding planning has made me want to pass on insights to other brides who feel the pull on their hard-earned dollars.

Disclaimer: This is NOT my wedding dress. :)

Tip #1: Recruit!
This can be one of the biggest money-savers ever. It may slightly involve exploiting the talents of your friends and family, but if they love you, they won't mind too much. ;) Ask your friends to help with set up, decorating, crafting and creating. If you have a friend who is good at graphic design, ask them to create your invitations or programs. If you have a friend (or in my case, dad) who has beautiful penmanship, ask them to help with addressing invitations.

I also looked for friends and family members to do business with. A college friend is taking my pictures and my cousin is doing my flowers. Sometimes it feels weird asking for things, but don't be afraid to see if your friends will give you a discount on their services. Also, one of them may offer to give you part of the expense as a wedding gift (like the bridal party flowers), cutting down on cost.

Tip #2: Research. Do not go with the first place/offer/deal you find. That's the easiest way to get suckered into paying too much. Shop around, look at prices online, talk to other brides or married couples and compare. Sometimes a better deal is just a website away.

This also applies to attire. Stores like David's Bridal can pull you in because they're a one-stop shop, but their prices tend to be higher. Rather than purchasing a nearly-$100 flower girl dress, I found one online for $27. Check regular retailers like Kohl's and Target, or specialty sites like Etsy and Zulily. Better deals are out there, you just have to be willing to look.

Tip #3: Go digital. Creating your own free wedding website is a great way to not only get important info to your guests, but also save money. For my wedding, I am instructing everyone to rsvp on the wedding website I created with The Knot. Guests simply enter their name in a field and are then directed to indicate who from their party will be attending.

So, rather than spend money on rsvp cards, envelops and stamps, I created my own rsvp card using the "chubby business card" on Zazzle. It lists instructions for rsvping and lets guests know they can find more information on the site (like where we're registered, info on accommodations, etc.). We decided to go this route because we know most of our guests use or have access to the internet. You can also give guests the option to rsvp by email or phone.

Tip #4: Reuse and recycle. Of course every wedding should be unique and be totally you, but that doesn't mean you can't reuse old items. I recommend looking for your decorations at thrift shops and antique stores (if you can), or checking with recently-married friends to see if they have anything left over. A friend of mine offered to let me use any of the decorative items she purchased for her wedding, including lots of tulle (score!).

Shopping at bargain stores and thrift shops will help you find items for a cheaper rate than if you purchased them new. Similarly, you can find great deals at antique shops. Last year I purchased a huge glass punch bowl with an ornate iron base for only $15 at a local antique mall. I plan to use it in my home, as well as for my wedding, and I was already able to use it at a Halloween party (score again!).

Also, keep in mind other friends who may be getting married after you. They may be attempting to plan on a budget and your white lights, silk flowers or glass vases may go a long way in helping them save some cash. If not, consider gifting your centerpieces to family and friends after your reception ends. It's a great way to send them home with a little something extra.

Tip #5: Shop the sales. Okay, I know I said to avoid David's Bridal for somethings, but definitely keep them in mind when you're dress shopping. They frequently have sales and move designer dresses as they pass out of season. If you have enough time before your wedding, take a look at the dresses currently in season, then wait for them to go out of season before buying. (So if it's summer and your wedding will be in the summer, wait for this year's summer dresses to be put on sale, then buy. Your dress will still look perfectly in season come next summer.)

So even if a dress is currently out of your price range, chances are if you wait a few months, it won't be. I recommend trying on a few you love, but don't purchase. Keep a list of your favorites and check on them online until they go on sale. Then you'll be able to buy the right size since you tried it on in the store. (I wish I had known this when I went shopping, because there were a couple Vera Wang dresses I loved! I actually scored one that was already on sale while I was shopping, but I would've tried on some others if I had known they would be up to 50 percent off later!)

You can shop other sales for items like wedding bands, accessories, decorations, invites, etc. Keep an eye out for annual sales, coupons and discounts, clearances and end-of-season markdowns. I found a lot of things on sale at Michael's craft store that I used to create custom favors for my reception. If you're willing to hunt for deals and search for things you can use, you can save a lot of money!

Tip #6: Get crafty. If you're willing and able to spend time creating things for your wedding, you can save money by making your own stuff. Rubber stamps can be a great investment for things like favors, welcome bags and invitations. Order a personalized, self-inking return address stamp and save money on printing costs (and continue using it after the wedding, just change out the ink pad when it gets dry!). Order a customized monogram stamp for use on favors and other items. This also beats the cost of stickers.

I found large letter stamps for $1 each at Michael's. I bought three for monogramming, but at that price, you could buy the whole alphabet and stamp just about anything! So far I have used them on gift bags and reserved table cards for the reception. They add a personalized touch and with $1 ink pads, are an inexpensive way to leave your mark on just about anything!

Also, if your reception site needs dressing up, create your own ceiling decor or wall hangings with 3M hooks (especially good because most sites will not allow you to nail anything), tulle, tissue paper flower balls, white Christmas lights, cloth banners, Chinese lanterns, etc. Lightweight items will hang easily from 3M hooks, and you can use dowel rods to hang flat fabric. You can also create paper crafts to use on in table centerpieces.
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Those are the big tips I have from the wedding planning process so far. I will make sure to share any other tips/secrets I discover along the way. Throughout this whole process I continually think about how I would love to help other ladies cut costs, discover deals and feel good about planning a wedding that doesn't break the bank.

That said, if you have any questions to ask or advice to share, please comment or message me on Facebook. I would love to share ideas and help you if you're stumped or looking for suggestions. I don't think it's impossible to have a lovely wedding on limited funds, you just have to be willing to work for it!
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