No one needs a wedding planner, but in certain cases the service makes good sense. Larger events automatically come with a great deal of envelope-stuffing and escort-card calligraphing that a planner can help with. Anyone having a destination wedding should also seriously consider professional help, someone who'll check out the location beforehand and make sure you're getting exactly what you want. And if you're throwing a last-minute wedding, a planner can be a lifesaver.
Find out exactly how much the wedding coordinator charges, and exactly what services you will be paying for. Some charge an hourly rate, while others bill a flat fee or percentage of the overall wedding cost. Most wedding coordinators ask clients to sign contracts; many also ask for deposits, which may be non-refundable. You and your fiance should work with the wedding coordinator to draw up a detailed contract, specifying what the coordinator's responsibilities will be, to avoid any last-minute surprises.
Be honest and realistic about your budget. Fees for wedding coordinators vary, but in general you can expect to pay somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of your total wedding cost. That may seem like a lot of money—money you might prefer to spend on more flowers, music, and Champagne for the reception.
Not every bride requires a full-service planner. If you've already done most of the work yourself, you may want a "day-of" coordinator who will attend your wedding and resolve any snafus that may occur. You can also hire someone for the final weeks leading up to the event.
Before you start your search, gather a few basic details. The most important, by far, is how much you can spend. You'll need to relay your budget to potential planners when you first approach them. If someone is out of your price range, he can tell you so right away, over the phone, so you don't get your heart set on a person you can't afford. Planners you interview will also want to get a sense of the framework within which they'll be working.
It's also good to know approximately how many guests you hope to invite, the general tone of your wedding, and the approximate date of the event. If you've already chosen a specific day, that's fine. Just keep in mind that this may narrow down your choice of planners, as some may be already booked.
Once you're ready to start looking for a planner, ask around for referrals. Make a list of everyone you know who's gotten married in the past five years—especially those whose weddings you attended and loved—and ask if they used planners. Groups such as the Association of Certified Professional Wedding Consultants or the Association of Bridal Consultants can also point you toward planners in your area. Before you contact any coordinators, make sure to visit their websites for photo galleries of past weddings, and narrow your choices to about three favorites.
Your first meeting with a planner should take place over the phone. You'll want to ask some basic questions: How much does she charge? And how does she figure out the amount? Ask about availability, background, and experience; if she says she's certified by a professional association, contact the organization to double-check.
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