Listen up, brides: Sandy Malone’s wedding-planning class is now in session.
The star of TLC’s Wedding Island, Sandy is the founder of Weddings in Vieques, a destination-wedding planning company located on Vieques Island, off the coast of Puerto Rico. Prior to launching the company in 2007, she worked in marketing, journalism, and media strategy in Washington, D.C.; and her down-to-earth, no-nonsense approach to wedding planning has become her signature.
With more than 400 weddings under her belt, it’s tough to find a type of bride or disaster Sandy hasn’t experienced. Below, she reveals the 12 most common mistakes brides make – and how to avoid them.
1. Choosing a wedding planner too quickly.
“Brides need to be prepared with more information before they even start looking for planners. You need to know an actual number of guests, [have an] actual budget, and an actual location for a wedding planner to be able to give you real numbers and feedback. I get these calls all the time: ‘I have between 100 and 200 guests and I want to get married sometime between November and April. How much does that cost?’ Giving wedding planners a six-month range isn’t really helpful to us in trying to schedule and tell you if we’re available.”
2. Inviting guests to a wedding that doesn’t yet exist.
“People get so excited they jump right into it and start inviting six girls to be bridesmaids and telling everyone about a wedding before they know their budget, where they’re going, and what they can afford. It’s embarrassing to have to back out of something like that.”
3. Not properly researching potential vendors.
“Wedding planners can represent themselves in a million ways. Anyone can put up a website, use other people’s pictures, and claim they’ve planned these weddings. And sometimes when you’re calling to talk to a reference, you’re talking to their second cousin. You have to do your homework.”
4. Hiring vendors who don’t allow clients to write reviews.
“There are some people who are afraid of reviews. It’s wrong to not let your clients be honest about what went on. Do not sign a contract with a wedding planner who says you can’t review them. That is a red flag that they are going to over-promise and under-perform.”
5. Not sticking to a realistic guest list.
“Don’t tell your planner you’re planning a wedding for 45 people and have [him or her] find a venue that will hold 45 people and base your budget on 45 people – and invite 175 people. You’re going to end up with what I had a couple weeks ago: 90 people, double the budget, and a really nasty, irate bride who is now backing up not wanting to pay gratuities. Everything – food, beverages, invitations – adds up by the person. You need to be realistic about your guest list.”
6. Being afraid to have “the talk” with parents.
“Brides and grooms need to sit down with their parents, probably privately and individually, and talk about money. No one wants to say, ‘How many dollars are you giving me?’ but it’s a conversation you need to have with your parents. It’s lovely when aunt so-and-so gives you a thousand dollars to add to your wedding flowers a month before your wedding, but you need to have a realistic budget and head count going into it or you never have a prayer of staying on budget.”
7. Not warning your wedding planner about potential family drama.
“Give us the red flag of who’s going to be a problem. I had one bride who flat-out warned me, ‘My mom’s going to drink all weekend, and then she will get nuts and threaten to kill herself. How are we going to handle it?’ We talked about it in advance. And it happened: Mom was drunk before the ceremony, so I had two guys on either side to keep her up. She spent the cocktail hour clinging to her recently divorced-from husband sobbing and begging him to come back to her. [Since] we knew it was going to happen, we had a car ready to go and knew which of her [sons] was designated to take her [back to the hotel]. She was able to be at the wedding but was removed before it was terribly embarrassing. If you tell us you’ve got a problem, we help.”
8. Trying to DIY (Do It Yourself) for a destination wedding.
“DIY is lovely, but when you start sending pounds and pounds of décor [to a destination] that we already have or could purchase in the locale, you are spending money you don’t need to spend. If you want to DIY that badly, then DIY at home. Work with a legitimate hotel or planner abroad, or décor or flower vendor in the region who has the things you need.”
9. Not knowing when to stop using Pinterest.
“Sites like Pinterest have great ideas, but it can also absolutely, positively confuse you, overwhelm you, and give you ideas of things you don’t need. At some point you have to stop with Pinterest. The brides who don’t are the [ones] who keep spending money.”
10. Thinking you need more than one wedding dress.
“Something that is getting brides in trouble – can I just call them out on it? – is the trend of wearing two or three wedding gowns. They wear the big poufy one for the wedding, change into a snazzier one for the reception, and then some have after-party gowns or a Trash the Dress [photo shoot] gown. I don’t want to hear about your budget if you have three wedding gowns.”
11. Trying too hard to be “different.”
“Everyone’s trying to top the next guy. We’ve had live doves, brides arriving in helicopters, sending the bride and groom off in a sailboat. Everybody wants to be different, but nobody’s different. Somebody’s done what you’re doing. You need to focus on yourself to be different. Focus on your wedding party, your flowers, the little details. Choose your own menu, choose details that represent you.”
12. Allowing too many people to have an opinion.
“Talk to your groom, talk to your best friend. Don’t invite everyone to share a voice. You don’t need the peanut gallery. Everyone watches shows like Say Yes to the Dress, and we’re fascinated to know why you’d bring 17 people to vote on your wedding gown. Decide what you want, and then ask your friends to help you in other ways: like stuffing invitations. But make your wedding reflect your taste and style.”
Photograph by Nancy Cohn Photography