Vacation vs Honeymoon

Before we were engaged, Ryan and I had big plans to go to Disneyworld this fall.

I haven't been in 8 years, and Ryan has never been (gasp! the horror!). We have a pretty hefty savings, and have nothing but freedom, so we figured now was as good a time as any.

Until we got engaged.

Then the idea of spending all our money on one vacation seemed stupid. After all, we have a honeymoon to save for.

Which brought up some questions about the difference between a regular vacation and a honeymoon. Is it the amount of money you spend? The places you go? The amount of fun you have?

In my mind, it's all of the above. So instead of spending $2000 at Disney, we'll be spending $900 on a 4-night mini-cation to Clearwater Beach, Florida, so we can save the big trip for next year.

Where will we go on our honeymoon? The verdict is still out. We have considered a cruise (come on... it's just sooo much easier!), but haven't discussed it further than that.

But it will definitely be some place warm and some place exotic. I would also like to go some place that neither of us have been before.

I'm excited to have a mini-cation to look forward to... but I'm even more excited that the next vacation we take after that will be our first as husband and wife.


Capturing the Moment

Picking a photographer is a big deal to me. I'm putting a lot of pressure on this one decision. Ryan and I have decided to forgo having a videographer (that's a whole post in of itself), so the photographs will be our only real lasting memories from our big day.

My narrowing down process was kind of funny (or sad). When I first got engaged and began touring venues via the internet, I kept coming across photos by Life on Prints. They were artsy and gorgeous and I drooled more and more with each photograph I saw.

I must have them.

And that's exactly what I told Ryan. I announced early on that our search was over before it had even begun. It was one more thing I could check off the list!

Until reality struck. I mentioned before that we have already maxed out our budget. So the idea of spending $4000+ on photography probably wasn't a good one.

My mom started sending me links to area photographers that she had heard of through friends. I won't post any links, but lets just say they were ugly! I'm talking over-lit, over-posed, and bad 90's-style shading and blurring to make the bride look as cheesily angelic as possible. Barf. Totally not my style.

Not this... but something almost as bad as this.

So I took the search into my own hands. I must say, for anyone going through the same sort of torturous hunt, the Wedding Photojournalist Association's website is a great resource! You can do a search for wedding photojournalists in your area and within your budget. Every photographer they list has to earn his or her way into the association... they can't just buy their way in. So you are assured they list only the best.

After that, I just had to use my gut. I can usually tell within about a minute of looking through pictures if it feels right or doesn't. I showed Ryan my list the other day and he helped narrow it down to our top 3 under $3000.

Since we live 4 hours away from Chicago, I'm trying to set up conversations over the phone to ask questions (but what questions?!). I'm crossing my fingers this decision will be a clear-cut easy one... but I somehow doubt it.


Choosing Bridesmaids

I'd like to start off by patting myself on the back a little. This past weekend, I completed my first half marathon. If I haven't mentioned it before, I do triathlons. But running has always been my least favorite part, so this was a big accomplishment for me.

I ran the race with one of my college roommates, J. She is one of the ladies I will probably ask to be my bridesmaids.
Playing in the snow our Junior year at college.

But this isn't a decision I'm taking lightly. Since Ryan and I got engaged, I have spent a lot of time agonizing over this. And I've come to one conclusion... there should be a formula.

Maybe I'll be the one to come up with it. Something like: years as friends + frequency of visits + late night phone calls + blood relation + times she held your hair back when you had too much to drink + number of breakups she has seen you through = her score.

Then you would take the girls with the top 3-5 scores, and voila! Bridesmaids!

Yeah... if only.

Because it's never just that simple. The justifications in my brain are all over the place... I've known her forever, but I never see her anymore. I haven't known her very long, but we talk all the time. She and I were best friends for years, but had a falling out. She was my go-to girl for a while, but now lives on the other side of the country.

And don't even get me started on choosing my Maid of Honor!

I think I have my bridesmaids narrowed down to 4, but I'm not comfortable enough with my decision yet to ask them. My biggest worry is hurting someone's feelings. I tried to play the "if-they-were-getting-married-would-they-ask-me" game, but that just made me feel like a jerk.

What I really want is to include everyone! I want a huge group of my best girl friends all hanging out with me on the day of my wedding. Why can't I have that?


What's Next?

As soon as we picked our venue and booked the ceremony site, Ryan said, "excellent. Now we can just relax for a while."

Yeah... riiiight.

For him, this may have been a cue to sit back and wait, but for me, it was just the beginning. Now the planning can really begin!

The first thing on my mental list was a photographer. Being that photography is one of my favorite hobbies, and that photos are all you really have left when your wedding is over... I knew this was an important decision. I wanted to spare no expense!

But our budget had other ideas. Once I sat down and calculated it all out (ceremony and reception sites + projected food and alcohol costs + projected photographer costs), I discovered that we had hit our budget.

Yes, hit. Done. Completely maxed out.

What?! How could this happen?! We still have a whopping thirteen months until the wedding! There are a lot of things that still need to be factored in (ahem... wedding dress, transportation, music, flowers... and what about my beloved photo booth?!).

I quickly came to the realization that having the wedding of my dreams (even... the wedding slightly below my dreams), would cost way more than anticipated.

So I made a call to my mom. I confessed our budgeting sins, and tried to explain how this had happened. I told her I thought we could maybe take care of everything else for only $9,000 more. Ouch.

So the pressure is on. And I still haven't found a photographer I like for a price that's doable. More to come on that.


The Venue Reveal

In case you didn't figure it out from my earlier post, Ryan and I decided to have our reception at the Patrick C. Haley Mansion in Joliet.

::Cue the Applause::

After our obnoxiously long weekend touring venues, we had it narrowed down to the Haley Mansion and the John Hancock Center. But we found it extremely difficult to decide between two very different spaces.

Ultimately, it came down to logistics. It would be a huge pain to plan a wedding atop the John Hancock building (although... um, gorgeous much?!). Would we have enough room? Where would the photo booth go? Would our guests get claustrophobic? What if they're afraid of heights? How would we decorate around the conference-room vibe? Where would everyone park?

The Haley Mansion had everything we wanted except location. So I shed one small tear for my dream Chicago wedding, and we signed the contract.

But it wasn't until after we decided on the mansion that we really hashed out what it would cost. And let me tell you... a 200-person minimum can seriously kill your budget. On the plus side... I no longer have concerns over who will and won't be invited. Everyone's invited! I figure if we have to pay for 200 people, we might as have 200 people! Take note, future brides... do your research on the cost before you sign the contract! Our budget was more than blown.

Hello, big wedding!


The Great Venue Drama

This past weekend was a whirlwind to say the least. We visited six venues in one day… spread out all over the greater Chicagoland area! As soon as I get my pictures off my digital camera, I promise to post full reviews of each of the finalists.

I won’t give it away just yet… but I think Ryan and I have decided on our reception venue. It wasn’t one of those “omg, this is it” moments like you often hear about. Our decision was based on price, convenience, and logistics mostly.

Now, only 2 days into the big decision, we’re already having venue drama.

First of all, we haven’t booked it yet. Doesn’t seem like a big deal on the surface, except that apparently all the other 2011 brides are way more on top of things than I am, because Saturday evening reception venues are being booked up left and right!

I have one weekend in June which we can’t have the wedding due to a conflict. On top of that, I can’t do any weekends in May because I work in television, and May is a sweeps month! So we are looking at 3 weekends in June. And our future venue only has one of those weekends available.

So why haven’t I booked it yet? Because I’m waiting to hear back from the ceremony site. We’re having the ceremony at my home church. I have called (probably more times than is socially acceptable) and emailed the coordinator at the church asking if that date is available, but she hasn’t responded.

I kind of want to stop and yell, “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU!?” for making me wait… but I know I’m just being a typical stressed-out bride. I have to keep reminding myself that the world won’t end if we can’t have our wedding in June. So what? We’ll push it back to July. (Gurr… we better not have to push it back to July…)

The next issue we’ve discovered is the cost. Yes, that makes us sound like idiots who didn’t do proper research. But when you’re browsing dozens (ok, hundreds) of potential venues, you tend to do a super quick rough estimate of the cost.

Well, my “super quick rough estimate” for our future venue did not include things like a $4 per person charge for cake, or a $3 per person charge to give them an entrĂ©e option. Or… oh, I dunno… our venue’s 200 person minimum. That’s 60 or 70 more people than we planned on inviting. So if we don’t make 60 or 70 new friends in the next 13 months, we have to pay for imaginary friends. Joy!

So add all that up, and you come up with a cost that is 67% of our total budget (instead of the recommended 45%). Eek! Yes, my parents are paying. And yes, my mom says it’s no big deal. But in my eyes, that is a lot of money… and it only means one thing for the year ahead: a lot more DIY projects.


To Invite or Not to Invite

We haven't made up the official invite list yet, but we have compiled a rough draft. This is mainly so we can give venues a rough estimate. At this point, we are looking at around 150 guests.

But the biggest problem I'm having is deciding whether or not to invite work friends.

Ryan's thoughts: "If you met them outside of work, would you be friends with them? If not, then don't invite them."

Ouch. That's harsh. I feel like it's a bit more complicated than that. I have a few people who I see every day and who I hang out and gossip with when I'm bored. True, they're older and in a completely different place in life than I am (married with numerous kids), but our differences don't seem that great when I'm around them.

Do people really look like this at work?

Usually we just point and laugh at each other's mistakes.

Plus, I feel a little guilty talking "wedding" at work if I'm not going to end up inviting them. Don't get me wrong... I try really hard to keep the wedding chat to a minimum, but sometimes people ask, and I have to answer... and other times, they read things I write on Facebook (stupid social networking sites), and comment when they see me.

Is it worth inviting work friends just to make them feel included... even if it means more money and more hassle for the big day?


Marital Finances

"Ryan, what are your thoughts on... Marital Finances?"

That was how the conversation began last night. We were driving home from Bed Bath & Beyond, and I was hung up on how tedious the "are you paying or am I paying?" conversations were starting to get.

After all, it didn't really matter. Ryan and I had been keeping a running Excel spreadsheet of all shared finances since the day we moved in together almost a year ago. So if one person spent $300 more than the other person one month, then we would just even it out the next month. It never really mattered that much.

But recently I've been thinking about the whole "joint account" thing. It's something that's assumed of most newlyweds or soon-to-be-weds. I had always thought whoever I married and I would have a joint account, along with our own separate accounts.

Reasons: So birthday and Christmas presents would stay a secret, so I could go on the occasional shopping spree without guilt, and so I could feel like my job and my paycheck really meant something.

But Ryan had some valid arguments in the separate accounts "cons" column. Mainly: "What's the point?"

Logic: 1. Kelly: 0.

I guess when it comes right down to it, you're going to spend the money whether it comes from a joint account or a separate one... so it doesn't matter much. Plus, Ryan and I make essentially the same amount of money at our jobs, so there aren't any "I earned this money" fights.

And as for secret presents... I guess I could always just use cash. (Or rob the store?)

I wonder what most people do with their finances once they're married. I think having separate accounts is becoming more popular. People like the illusion of having money that is "all theirs".

For the time being, we'll keep our money separate. I'm a little embarrassed to admit that my mom is still a co-signer on my account! That's definitely something that needs to change after the wedding.


Vera Bradley for Everyone!

The Vera Bradley Outlet Sale: an event held every spring in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where women from all over the country come to pick over last season’s line, discounted 40-70%.

So what does this have to do with weddings? A little thing called bridesmaid gifts.

I waited until the last day of the sale to go, when it would be the least crowded and the most discounted. I kept a watchful eye on Vera Bradley’s twitter until those magical words appeared: “we currently have no wait”. Ryan and I hopped in our car, sped over, and he dropped me off at the front door.

It was the first time I’d ever been to anything like this. I’m a bargain shopper, but pushing through crowds and fighting over merchandise isn’t really my thing. Thus, I was pleasantly surprised by how orderly and polite everyone was. No pushing, no shoving, no cat fights.

The group of women, all donning their Vera Bradley purses, moved like a giant slithering snake up and down the aisles of patterned fabric, grabbing a makeup bag here… a stationary set there, until their loaned pink shopping bags were filled to the brim. At that point, the groups of women would disperse to the side of the room where they would empty the contents of their shopping bag onto the floor and make the final “cuts”.

I was swift and decisive in my shopping. I know what I like and what I don’t like, so I was in and out of the main room in 10 minutes.

But when you enter the “checkout” room, you are greeted with this:

Rows upon rows upon rows of women with pink bags waiting to check out. Sigh. Added bonus: after I got in line, the internet went down, so checkout slowed to a snail’s pace.

40 minutes later, I was out the door and on my way with a bunch of discounted goodies, including these adorable cosmetic bags in various patterns for each of my future bridesmaids:

Never mind the fact that I haven’t even decided on my bridesmaids yet. Woops!


Needle in a Haystack

I’ve always said that the venue is the most important part of the wedding. The weight on this decision, combined with my overall indecisiveness, is making the venue search an excruciating one.

Let’s say for arguments sake there are 80,000 reception venues in the U.S. Here’s how I narrowed things down:

I only want venues in Indianapolis, Chicago, or Chicago’s southwest suburbs = 400

I refuse to even consider a banquet hall or country club = 170

The venue must hold 125-175 people = 100

I don’t want to pay more than $4000 to rent the space = 50

If it’s in the suburbs, it must be within 30 minutes of my hometown church = 45

It can’t be too small, too eclectic, too dark, too frilly, or too closed-in = 20

It has to have “character” = 7

And that’s how I narrowed it down to my 7 finalists:

John Hancock Center, Chicago

Patrick Haley Mansion, Joliet

Cantigny Park, Wheaton

Northerly Island, Chicago

Hotel Arista, Naperville

Columbus Park Refectory, Chicago

Danada House, Wheaton

Despite my pickiness, I’m still not completely thrilled with any of my options at this point. None of them truly blow me away like I was hoping they would. I think the problem is the “$4000 or less” stipulation. It’s no coincidence that the nicest and most unique venues would cost me my entire budget.

But Ryan and I have scheduled next weekend to drive up to Chicago and visit some of the venues. Unfortunately, Sunday is Mother’s Day, so none of the venues can meet with us then. Solution: we will be attempting to pack all of our venue visits into one fun-filled day. Yay!

Saturday is going to require some serious time-management skills.
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