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A few weeks ago, I wrote about the urgency of wedding planning – that if you do it right, you only get one chance, but if you do it right, you only need one chance.

I also shared that I feel confident we (John and I) “did it right” – that we honored our one precious and beautiful wedding day, and that the meaning we found in that celebration has buoyed our marriage for the last five years.

But on a practical note, how did we create a meaningful wedding day? I think the answer of what makes a wedding day meaningful will be different for everyone, but today I would love to share with you ten things that made our wedding day meaningful. Hopefully they will get your wheels turning for your own!

1. Our wedding location. We both grew up and our relationship was born on the New England shore. It’s where I feel most at home, the place from which we both set out into the world, and the landscape I find most beautiful. Getting to share one of our favorite places with our far-flung guests was very special.

2. Our ceremony venue. We chose to get married at the chapel on the grounds of the Coast Guard Academy. My Dad was in the Coast Guard and taught at the Academy for most of my life, so I have years and years of fond memories with the base as a backdrop. I’m also kind of painfully patriotic (ha), so I loved being able to share this part of my heritage with our guests, some of whom might never have stepped foot on a military base before.

3. My bridal party. I chose four bridesmaids to stand beside me – my two sisters, and my two future sisters-in-law. I loved that my wedding gave me a chance to honor these amazing ladies, to recognize them as important people in my life, and to thank them for all they have done for me!

4. My veil. One of my sisters-in-law was married just two months before me, and she and I decided to have a veil commissioned. We both wore it at our weddings, and then one year later, my other sister-in-law wore it at hers! We are eagerly anticipating the next family wedding where it will make an appearance, and I’m already hoping my daughter and nieces will choose to wear it one day! I deeply value family traditions and legacy, so it was very meaningful to me to get to create a family heirloom from scratch.

5. Our portrait location. Bear with me here :) There is a very crazy story about how we came to take our portraits at a particular home, but the upshot is that it totally strengthened my belief that dreams can come true and that most people are generous and kind, something that has changed the way I move through the world ever since.

6. Our pastor. Our pastor from our church in North Carolina agreed to fly to Connecticut to officiate our ceremony, and it was without a doubt one of the most meaningful parts of our wedding. He has played such a formative role in our faith walk, and his presence and gentle guidance helped our ceremony stay centered on Christ.

7. Serving communion. We served communion directly following our vows. We chose to see the symbolism in our first act as a married couple being one of serving others while honoring our Lord, especially since we chose to serve our parents and grandparents first. We loved seeing so many beloved and familiar faces coming forward, and it was really special to have a brief moment with each individual guest.

8. Our cocktail hour picnic. Instead of joining our guests at cocktail hour, John and I had a picnic, just the two of us! Our caterers packed up a sampling of everything that was being served that evening, and we got 15 minutes or so to simply bask in our newly-married glow. Those few minutes are an iron-clad memory in my mind, and I’m so grateful.

9. Creating an aesthetic experience. I am an unapologetic lover of beautiful things and singular experiences, and it was a true joy to plan so carefully for so long and then to see all of my dreams and plans come to fruition under that perfectly blue September sky. Thoughtfully creating an immersive experience and then getting to enjoy it alongside our loved ones was very meaningful for me.

10. Giving a toast. At our reception, both John and I gave brief toasts. I believe deeply in saying the words that truly matter, and so I very carefully considered how I would thank and honor both my parents and John’s parents. Though I’ve had occasion both before and after to do the same, I think the sentiment shared in that setting will always hold more weight than any other.

I could go on, but I’ll stop there :) Though I’m sure your list of ways to make your wedding meaningful will be different than mine, I hope my experience might help get your wheels turning! I’m cheering you on!! :)

All photos by Tanja Lippert

P.S. Want to breeze past the logistics and budget to dos so you can focus on what matters most? Pick up a copy of the Joyful Wedding Planner ASAP – hundreds of brides have used it to plan their weddings, and I couldn’t recommend it more!

emily Written with love by Emily
4 Comments
  1. avatar Mollie reply

    I love the idea of a picnic after the ceremony, but I must ask… how did you get photos done and have time for a picnic!?

    • avatar Emily reply

      Hi Mollie! Haha happy to offer some insight! Our cocktail hour was about 1 hour. We used 15 minutes for our picnic, then the other 45 for portraits! Then we joined our reception! :)

  2. avatar Kirsti reply

    Thank you, Emily for sharing these tips! My fiancé and I have tried to keep our focus when making decisions during our planning process for our May 2018 wedding to have a wedding that truly represents us!

  3. avatar Kirsti reply

    Oh my goodness gracious! I just read your post Dreams Do Come True and it’s like we are soul mates! This is EXACTLY how I found my wedding venue – a lot of scouring on Google and then writing letter and eventually meeting with the oh so sweet owners that are willing to let us invite 200 of our guests to their home in May!

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One of the moments we dream about most as engaged gals is finding the dress! But like most wedding planning to dos, your shopping excursions are likely to go more smoothly with a little preparation. Last week, I shared a glossary of bridal designers to help you decide which shops may carry your dream dress. But once you’ve decided where you’re going, the next question is, who’s going with you?

Photo by Ryan Ray from Ellen and Richard’s wedding

Bridal appointments can be one of the sweetest highlights of the wedding planning process, which also makes them a great opportunity to invite loved ones to be part of the fun. As we shared on the pages of our Joyful Wedding Planner, though, the personalities of your companions is key. Choosing a dress can sometimes be a difficult decision, and you only want people there who are supportive and will put your vision first.

Other than that, there are about as many potential shopping crews as there are dresses! It’s ultimately a very personal decision, and the makeup can range from mom only to the entire bridal party, grandparents, cousins, future in-laws, and even dad and sometimes the groom! To help you decide who will make up your entourage, we asked a few of our friends to share their dress-shopping stories!

Photo by Blue Ribbon Vendor Chris Isham from Anna and Nathan’s wedding

I brought my mom and my mother-in-law with me to my bridal salon appointment. I felt that having a large entourage would get overwhelming, and I would run the risk of not getting to express my own opinion. My mom was two years into her diagnosis with brain cancer at the time that I got engaged, so I was trying my best to create joyful experiences for us to share together during that exciting time. My mom was the person who picked my dress, and when she saw it on me she started crying, I started crying, and we both knew it was the one. It was so special to share that joyful moment with her during such a trying time.
— Adrienne Rolon of Heart’s Content Events and Design, @heartscontentevents

I brought the two people who can’t help but be honest to a girl: her mama and her little sister! My sister had recently gotten married, and is the funnier, feistier version of me, so I knew she wouldn’t hold back in stating her opinion … ha! Also, I wholeheartedly recommend the ponytail holder trick: I tied my hair up for each gown to see what it’d REALLY look like, and in retrospect, I wished I’d fluffed it up with a little more aerosol hairspray and made a pretty messy bun for that Saturday. My gym-style quick top knot was helpful enough, but I learned it’s certainly tough to envision your wedding day look without your hair in a similar fashion to your wedding day. I also put on a bit more make-up so I didn’t look like I’d just woken up, which helped, too!
— Ashlyn Carter of Ashlyn Writes, @ashlynscarter (See Ashlyn’s wedding!)

The first time I tried on wedding dresses, I brought both of my parents and my grandparents. It was more of a “fun” appointment, where I tried on a bunch of different styles so I could get a feel for what I liked. Very quickly, I realized that everyone seemed to have an opinion and I knew that I wanted the next appointment to be different, so I decided to bring only my mom with me. It’s really true when they say, “when you know, you’ll know.” I remember my mom saying through her tears, “Tell me all the reasons that you love it,” and I did. Standing there in the dress that I knew I would walk down the aisle in, I listed off all the reasons that I loved it out loud and that was all that I needed. Don’t let other people’s opinions take over your own!
— Callie Davis of Call Me Callie and Nancy Ray Photography, @calliepittsdavis (See Callie’s wedding!)

I took my mom and my best friend, Jill! My mom was a no-brainer because I value her opinion and wanted her to love my dress as well. She knows what looks best on me. My best friend was fabulous moral support, and she has great style! Definitely don’t feel pressured to take a lot of people along with you (including mother-in-law). You want to feel 100% comfortable walking out in different dresses (some will flatter you and some will not). Sometimes too many opinions can just confuse you when you should be focusing on what it is you want rather than Aunt Martha or whoever!
— Courtney Whitmore of Pizzazzerie, @pizzazzerie (See Courtney’s wedding inspiration!)

During my first round of bridal appointments, it was just me and my mom! Then, she and my little sister came back to visit one weekend and we had our second round – which is when I found my dress! I grew up watching “Say Yes to the Dress” and had watched brides have their appointments with just family or with a big group of loved ones. While it would have been fun to have friends and other family members around, I loved how intimate it was to just have that moment shared between the three of us. Plus, I can be fairly indecisive about personal decisions, so keeping these appointments intimate was a great way to avoid too much input and truly go with the dress I loved best! Oh, and I made sure to call my grandma from the salon right after finding the one – she had to be included too even though she wasn’t physically there with us!
— Jessica Peddicord of Simply Jessica Marie, @simplyjessicamarie (See Jessica’s wedding!)

If you love this advice, you’ll love the bestselling Joyful Wedding Planner! Pick yours up in our shop today.

emily Written with love by Emily
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The vendor I was most excited about working with AND also the most nervous about working with for my own wedding? My florist. Like most people, I adore flowers and wanted beautiful ones on my wedding day, but I was also very aware that flowers are expensive (and that my budget was not so large).

A lot of what I learned as a bride about making the most of a floral budget went into the vendor section of the Joyful Wedding Planner, so today, we’re sharing a few tips along with the floral inspiration board from my own wedding! :)

1. Set your budget first. Even though it’s difficult to guess how much the flowers you want will cost, you can still set a floral budget that makes sense within your overall wedding budget (most sources recommend 5-10% of your overall budget). Knowing your budget will help your florist recommend flowers and styles within your price range. It’s also helpful to have a general idea of numbers, like how many reception tables and how many bridesmaids you’re having, before your first meeting, as most proposals are priced per piece.

2. Be flexible about specifics. So many factors go into beautiful blooms–season, weather, location–making it hard for a florist to make any guarantees about what will be available and in good condition on your wedding day. As well as communicating your favorite flowers to your florist, discuss the colors and feel you’re going for. They will make their best effort to get you the blooms you want, but if anything goes wrong, they can use their expertise to find substitutes that will fit the overall look you’re going for and look great, instead of using a sad-looking flower because it’s one you HAD to have. To improve your chances of getting your must-have flower, find out when it’s in season in your area and set your wedding date accordingly. The flower chart in the Joyful Wedding Planner is a great reference!

3. Organize your inspiration. Florists are visual people, so lots of picture inspiration is helpful IF it’s well organized. Instead of general captions like “love this” on your Pinterest board, identify WHAT you love about different arrangements and bouquets. Is it the shape? The texture? The colors? The specific flowers? Making a note of what specifically draws you to each picture will help you communicate your vision and style more effectively.

4. Be realistic. One of the biggest pet peeves we’ve heard from florists is when brides bring in pictures of grand arrangements or pricey blooms, and ask for something similar on a minimal budget. Keep in mind that floral arrangements in magazines and on Pinterest are often the most unique and expensive in a florist’s portfolio. Instead of asking for an exact replica of an arrangement you love, bring your inspiration photos to your florist and have a conversation about what you like about them. Love the large scale of an arrangement? Use lower-cost greenery to get the same big impact. Love the fullness of a big peony bouquet? Create the same lush effect with different flowers that fit into your budget.

5. BYOA: Bring your own accents. Supplementing your florist with vessels and bouquet wraps is a great way to save money, because you won’t be paying for the time they spend searching for something perfect for you. Just be sure you’re willing to do the work and have the resources to do so before adding this task to your to-do list, and be aware that wide and intricate ribbons come with their own price tag – often upwards of $15/yard.

6. Don’t try to change them. Just like you wouldn’t hope to fundamentally change your mate, don’t expect a wedding vendor to stray far from her preferred style. If you don’t like the style of the arrangements or bouquets in their portfolio, you probably won’t like what they produce for your wedding. If you’re unsure, ask them to send over some examples of past work that they think fits with your style, like my florist did for us (make sure you have an initial conversation first, of course!).

7. The easiest way to cut is to cut. By that I mean, you may be able to wiggle the price of a bouquet from $200 down to $150 by changing the size or composition, but you’re not going to get it down to $25. If the proposal your florist delivers is outside of your budget, instead of whittling down every item, look instead at cutting out several items entirely, like ceremony altar flowers or boutonnieres. That way, you’ll meet your budget AND the pieces you leave in your order will be showstoppers that are exactly want you want!

Are you nodding your head along with this advice? You’ll love the Joyful Wedding Planner! Pick yours up in our shop.

emily Written with love by Emily
3 Comments
  1. avatar Karen reply

    Emily, thank you for sharing great tips that both help brides and are respectful of designers! Tips 6 & 7 have me smiling and joyfully clapping inside! To give a realistic expectation to brides, I did want to share one shift from what is stated in #1: Within the past few years (due to drought as well as economic factors) the average floral budget takes up 12-15% of a budget. Floral Design is often on par or more than what is spent on photography.

  2. avatar M. Goblet reply

    Do you often copy/paste your previous articles into new articles, only adding a few small bits of information, and then publishing it as new? See what Lisa wrote in Expert Advice on May 15, 2014, as it’s pretty much word for word what this article is.

    • avatar Emily reply

      Hi M.! This may or may not surprise you, but actually, yes! We know that our readership largely turns over every 1-2 years as brides get engaged and married and new brides come to our site, so we regularly re-post similar content buried in our archives that we think is helpful for every engaged bride to read. I hope that helps to clarify, and thank you so much for reading!

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