These pros are a wedding's most valuable players. Heed their advice, and planning for your day will be short on headaches and long on fun.
Claudia Hanlin and Jennifer Zabinski
New York City
Known for Full-service event coordination in a resource-filled setting
Where to Find Them At the Wedding Library (they're co-owners), and in Martha Stewart Weddings (they're our new contributing editors)
Top Tip Every bride needs four essentials at her fingertips to stay organized: a checklist, a budget tracker, a guest-list manager, and a floor plan, says Hanlin.
What's the best planning timeline?
CH: As soon as you have an idea of the size of your guest list, book the venue. By the six-month mark, your dress, florist, band, stationer, and photographer should be finalized. Four months out, it's time for the cake and catering tastings. The last month is all about the little things, like favors and seating charts.
And when should brides enlist a planner?
JZ: Before you've booked anything. That person can help shape your vision and find a venue and vendors that will give you the most bang for your buck. If you wait too long, she may spend too much time getting up to speed -- and not enough of it executing ideas.
Some signs of a good planner?
JZ: First and foremost, she should be affordable. Her fee should be no more than 10 percent of your budget. Organization is also key. On your wedding day, you should feel comfortable about leaving everything in her hands. And her portfolio should be full of innovative examples that share your aesthetic.
Any advice for the very first meeting?
CH: You'll be talking budget, so ask a lot of questions and make your expectations clear. About 50 percent of the overall cost goes to the venue, food, and beverages, which means everything else -- flowers, decor, stationery, your dress -- falls into the other half. You've got to verbalize what's most important to you, and then your planner can help you prioritize.
Speaking of budget, what do you say to couples who are trying to cut back?
CH: Keep your favors simple. Give gifts or set up a candy bar -- not both. And don't go overboard on stationery. Spend on your invitations, which make the most impact, but don't overdo it on items like escort and menu cards.
What's worth the splurge?
JZ: Lighting. Without it, you've spent time and money on things that people can't even see. Videography is also worthwhile. Pictures are one thing, but a DVD that you can watch on every anniversary is priceless.