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Wedding Planning 101 

click to enlarge The dinner setting from a wedding at Grasmere Farm in Rhinebeck planned by Lydia Bailey for Charmed Places. - RANDY AHART/PHOTOPINK
  • Randy Ahart/Photopink
  • The dinner setting from a wedding at Grasmere Farm in Rhinebeck planned by Lydia Bailey for Charmed Places.

Just like a symphony, a wedding requires carefully orchestrating myriad details into a melodious whole. However, almost as much work, time and expense can go into a wedding's preparation. Most newly engaged couples are neophytes and even knowing where, and how, to start the planning process becomes overwhelming. Family dynamics add further complications. Luckily, the Hudson Valley is home to some of New York's finest wedding planners. Here is essential advice from seven of the most experienced in planning and executing a successful wedding celebration.

Begin with a concrete budget

It's not very romantic, but it's the most repeated advice from wedding planners. Before you do anything else—investigate venues, fall in love with a dress, or start taste-testing menus—you need to establish a budget and have a realistic view of what you can actually afford. The average Hudson Valley wedding costs about $50,000.

"The first tip for planning a wedding is knowing what you can afford and want to spend," advises Mary Beth Halpern of Events by MB. "Do some research and work with a realistic guest list. Speak with the families and see how to balance some of the guests they want to invite."

Many planners also advise to not count on family member's contributions. Often, when hearing of an engagement, well-intentioned relatives pledge financial assistance, but unexpected demands can keep people from following through. This leaves couples scrambling at the last minute, creating stress and resentment where there should be joy.

"Know your limits without help," confirms Karin Hlywiak of Cinderella for a Day. "That way when a family does contribute financially, it becomes an added bonus." Hlywiak suggests couples break their budget into detailed subcategories, e.g., venue, catering, and even decor. Cathy Ballone, of Cathy's Elegant Events, advises clients to leave a $5,000 to $10,000 budget cushion for unexpected costs. "Things always happen. Be prepared."

click to enlarge The reception tent from a wedding at a private residence in in Gallatin planned by Mary Beth Halpin of Events by MB. - CHRISTOPHER DUGGAN PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Christopher Duggan Photography
  • The reception tent from a wedding at a private residence in in Gallatin planned by Mary Beth Halpin of Events by MB.

Prioritize details

Once you've established budget and headcount, "prioritize, prioritize, prioritize," commands Joann Provenzano, owner of What Dreams Are Made Of. She has clients make a list of their most to least important details; telling them to forgo bridal shows and make individual appointments with vendors instead. "You want to have live, face-to-face contact before you hire any vendor. Personality is very important."

"Do your due diligence," advises Lydia Bailey, of Lydia Bailey/Charmed Places. "Research all of the costs involved before committing to a venue or any other vendor. This includes the essential costs as well as non-essential costs." After some research, "revisit the list to see if priorities need to be reorganized based on budget goals."

When assembling a roster of potential vendors, do a thorough cost/benefit analysis. "For any vendor, get as specific an estimate as possible and then try and compare oranges to oranges, not oranges to apples," says Halpern. "A venue which does its own catering and gives you the tables, chairs, plates, etc. doesn't compare exactly to one which doesn't include anything." Make sure any staff you hire can work well together to prevent miscommunication on your wedding day.

Eyes wide open venue viewing

With nontraditional venues (think the barns, vineyards, or stately old mansions so popular in the Hudson Valley) most details come a la carte. You most likely will have to rent things like linens, tables and chairs, and even bathrooms. You also may need liability insurance. "Couples don't estimate how much everything is going to cost," warns Hlywiak. "There are a lot of little things that go into venue weddings and it adds up quickly." Ballone advises couples to view at least two venues and have a third-party professional, whether a planner or caterer, look over the contract before you sign. As a neophyte, "there's always some detail you haven't considered," she warns.

Most Hudson Valley venues (80 percent are outdoors) require a "Plan B" for unpredictable weather. Again, a tent or back-up indoor space might not fit into your romantic vision, but "having a Plan B keeps you from worrying," advises industry veteran Jeanne Stark. "Then if it rains, it rains. You'll be fine." Stark's company Hudson Valley Ceremonies, offers couples a complimentary starter planning session to establish a budget; she then steers them toward appropriate venues.

Give your guests plenty of time, and information, to plan

Once you've established a date and venue, send out save-the-dates by post or e-mail. A wedding website, with links to accommodations and as much information as possible, is always a good idea. Make your intentions clear from the beginning—let guests know whether children are welcome and the level of formality to be expected.

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