Part 2: Ashley's Top 10 Wedding Planning Tips!

I knew I couldn't leave you hanging for long. Here is the second part of my top 10 tips for planning a successful wedding. Before we dive into the details, let's recap the first 5 from last week. Step 1. Get engaged. 2. Discuss with your fiancé what season you both want. 3. Discuss your budget. 4. Use Pinterest to find your vision. 5. Back away from Pinterest and narrow down your vision. Okay, let's dive right in to step number 6!

If your to-do list has got your feeling the blues, consider it might be time to bring in the pros. Photo credit: K+B Photo

If your to-do list has got your feeling the blues, consider it might be time to bring in the pros. Photo credit: K+B Photo

Step 6: If all of the budget creation, vendor research and contract negotiation has got you feeling a little overwhelmed, perhaps it is time to consider hiring a wedding planner. Wedding planners are not just for the affluent. With proper planning, everyone could potentially hire a wedding planner. There are different packages that offer different amenities and come at different price points. Do yourself a favor and don’t assume you can’t afford help. Help might just be your saving grace.

Hi, this is me! We should become friends. ;-) Photo credit: K+B Photo

Hi, this is me! We should become friends. ;-) Photo credit: K+B Photo

Step 7: If you have heeded my advice, you hired a wedding planner. Good for you! If you didn’t, that’s okay. You can still rock this! Take your budget, your vision and your priorities and select your top 3 venues that incorporate what you’re looking for. From these three venues, chat with them to see what options are available, what bundling (if any) can be done and what the guest count would look like at each space. Are you required to use their preferred vendor list for everything? Can you bring in any supplemental desserts? Do they have space for both a ceremony and reception? Where would guests go for cocktail hour? Based on these (and other) questions you review with them, you can narrow down your options to your best choice.

This venue is really awesome and super new. Join the cool kids and check out The Haight. Photo credit: Love & Ink Photography

This venue is really awesome and super new. Join the cool kids and check out The Haight. Photo credit: Love & Ink Photography

Step 8: Once your venue is booked (which should be your first vendor selected) start reviewing all of the other vendors you will need to hire. Why book the venue first you ask? Well, dear friend, because all other vendors hinge on the venue. Can you bring in an outside caterer? Most venues do not have stipulations on photographers, videographers or bakers. Based on what the cost of the venue (including or excluding F&B) revisit your priority list and determine from there where the rest of your money should be allocated. Some vendors include but are not limited to: florist, dj, band, caterer, photographer, videographer, linens, rentals, photo booth, transportation, hotel accommodations and bakers. If you both really value great photography, then clearly you would want to spend more money on a really fantastic photographer. If you maybe don’t necessarily care about linens, go with the house linens and don’t upgrade. Will the standard chairs work for you or do you need to rent prettier options? All of these come out of the specific allocation in the budget. Easy peasy.

What does your budget look like? Are you going to come in over or under budget? 

What does your budget look like? Are you going to come in over or under budget? 

Step 9: At this point, you should be noticing a common theme: budget. I know it is not super sexy, but it is oh, so important! The key to making the budget work is being realistic about your expectations. If you are expecting to feed 200 guests filet mignon, waldorf salad and soup for $3,000 this is an unrealistic expectation. If you could expect this same meal to run upwards of $28,000 this is a more realistic expectation. This same concept applies to wedding cakes, Djs, bands, photographers, videographers etc. If you expect a professional to work 8-12+ hours (just on the actual wedding day) not including all of the pre/post wedding work for minimum wage, these are unrealistic expectations. This is perhaps one of the most important days of your life and in turn, there is extra pressure applied to each of these services as you want it perfect, the vendors also want to exceed your expectations. These services do not come with a dollar store price tag.

Photo credit: Love & Ink Photography

Photo credit: Love & Ink Photography

Step 10: After all of the large pieces have been researched, hired and deposits paid for, it is important to remember why you are doing this. You love someone and that someone loves you. Never lose sight of the why. The wedding day is important, don’t get me wrong. What I am more concerned about is the day after the wedding and the next thousand days after the wedding. Building a life together, sharing in each other’s joys and sorrows is the goal of this entire process. Being a life partner is the ultimate goal and one responsibility as a planner that I do not take lightly.

Congrats! You made it through all 10 of my easy wedding planning steps. If at any point, you think you might need further clarification or help with a specific area of planning a wedding, anniversary, birthday or other special day, feel free to leave a comment or contact me directly. Let's briefly recap these 10 steps. 1. Get engaged. 2. Discuss with your fiancé what season you both want. 3. Discuss your budget. 4. Use Pinterest to find your vision. 5. Back away from Pinterest and narrow down your vision. 6. Consider hiring help. 7. Find a venue that fits your style and budget. 8. Research and secure your other vendors (the good ones book quickly) 9. Be realistic about your expectations and last but not least 10. Remember why you are doing this in the first place. 

Through thick and this, Carrie and Big had their fair share of struggles. In the very end, they realized why they were in love in the first place and happily said I-do in a no name dress. Photo credit: Sex and the City

Through thick and this, Carrie and Big had their fair share of struggles. In the very end, they realized why they were in love in the first place and happily said I-do in a no name dress. Photo credit: Sex and the City

Ashley's Top 10 Wedding Planning Tips

Have you ever wondered how to plan a wedding? Where do you start? How much does it cost? Who do I contact first? These are all really common questions and I am going to list the 10 basic steps to planning the wedding of your dreams. It really is not that complicated. Don't become Carrie Bradshaw and "let the wedding get bigger than Big." 

Don't let this become you. Follow these 10 easy steps to successfully planning the wedding of your dreams.  Photo credit: Sex and the City

Don't let this become you. Follow these 10 easy steps to successfully planning the wedding of your dreams.  Photo credit: Sex and the City

Step 1: This might be the most critical step of all... Make sure you are in a relationship. HA! I have had clients book me and plan their weddings before they were actually engaged. Don’t get me wrong, they had picked out a ring and were just waiting until the groom-to-be popped the question. I've also had a bride purchase her dress before she was officially engaged. While this might be a little unconventional, it works for some people. Other clients wait until they have their sparkly rock and reveal to their loved ones that they are on a new life adventure. In whatever order you decide to plan, just make sure that you are getting married in the near future. Nothing sends up red flags faster than a potential client try to book a wedding planner before they are in a long term relationship. (trust me, it has happened!)

Photo credit: google images

Photo credit: google images

Step 2: Now that we have made sure that a wedding is indeed over the horizon, discuss with your fiancé what time of year (season) you would like to have the wedding. If you love the idea of a magical winter wedding, then perhaps booking a wedding in between Thanksgiving and New Year sounds like a good fit. Maybe, you have always wanted the warm summer sun providing natural light during a beautiful outdoor ceremony, so a summer or early fall wedding would be a better fit. Take into account what your priorities are or how you could potentially save costs by utilizing existing holiday decor.

How gorgeous is this winter wedding?!? Photo Credit: Mayden Photography 

How gorgeous is this winter wedding?!? Photo Credit: Mayden Photography 

Step 3: After making sure you are actually getting married is the second most important step in planning a wedding. Everything, literally all decisions is hinged off of the budget. How many guests can you invite? What type of meal do you serve? What venue you select? How many bridal party members do you have stand with you? All of these decisions come down to finances. Not everyone is lucky enough to have an endless budget when it comes to the details. Can you afford the custom walk up ice bar during cocktail hour? Would you be better served with having a DJ vs a 10 piece band? It is important to have honest (read: hard) conversations with your significant other and anyone else who is contributing towards the wedding regarding the finances for the day. Having these conversations early will allow for a more unified front and make decisions *hopefully* easier. One sure fire way to manage the finance question is to individually list both you and your fiancés priorities and then compare. If you both share priorities, spend more money in those areas. If you differ on certain things (need to have beer coozie favors or releasing doves at the ceremony) you can discuss these ahead of time and avoid meltdowns in the checkout aisle of Michaels.

Ladies, figure out those budget details!! Photo Credit: Ann & Kam Photo

Ladies, figure out those budget details!! Photo Credit: Ann & Kam Photo

Step 4: With a budget in mind, now you can purchase some wedding magazines and browse Pinterest. I like to preface using Pinterest cautiously. It is important to discover trends, likes and dislikes. When a bride wants to replicate an entire wedding found on Pinterest, it can become a slippery slope. One image might cost $5,000 to replicate. Perhaps that wedding was a styled shoot with vendor collaboration and not an actual wedding. Perhaps that wedding had a budget three times what your budget is. Use Pinterest like you use Google. Discover what your vision looks like and get ideas, but don’t copy. No one likes an unoriginal thought. Be unique. Be you!

What style do you love? What is your vision? Use Pinterest and Wedding Magazines as inspiration to get to your true self. Don't copy someone else. Be you! 

What style do you love? What is your vision? Use Pinterest and Wedding Magazines as inspiration to get to your true self. Don't copy someone else. Be you! 

Step 5: Now is the time to back away from Pinterest. I know, I know...I just told you to soak up all it has to offer. Visit your secret pin board (I’m looking at you...you know you have one) and look at the overarching themes you have previously pinned. Do you have a lot of deep saturated jewel tones or more light and airy neutrals? Look at your pins, consider your budget and close the app. Take your vision and work with real human beings to bring it all together. Don’t rely on others great ideas to provide you an easy out for your day. Work with your fiancee, your girlfriends or your mom to take your vision and turn it into a reality.

This was a real wedding that a client came up with. After she got inspiration from Pinterest and magazines. Stunning!  Photo Credit: Studio Finch

This was a real wedding that a client came up with. After she got inspiration from Pinterest and magazines. Stunning!  Photo Credit: Studio Finch

I couldn't give all of the 10 secrets away at one time! Check back next week for the remaining 5 key steps to planning a successful wedding. As a recap, here are the first 5 steps: 1. Get engaged. 2. Discuss with your fiancé what season you both want. 3. Discuss your budget. 4. Use Pinterest to find your vision. 5. Back away from Pinterest and narrow down your vision. Happy Planning! 

Happy planning! Check back next week for the final installment of my top 10 tips to planning a successful event! See ya next week!  Photo Credit: Being Joy Photography

Happy planning! Check back next week for the final installment of my top 10 tips to planning a successful event! See ya next week!  Photo Credit: Being Joy Photography

High School Sweethearts Turn Into Mr. and Mrs. 10 Years Later

Marissa met James through a good friend when she was just the tender age of 16. She remembers pulling up to her friend's house and seeing James on the patio in a Chicago Bears Cutler jersey with an orange cast on his leg up to his thigh with crutches. From the moment she first met him, she could sense an energy about him, that he was accepting, easy going and sweet. Marissa was able to be a total goof ball that night and James still wanted to see her again. Love comes and goes in high school. but when you find the "one" you know that your search is over.

Independence Grove_Fall Wedding_Chicago_Bride and groom

Marissa chose Independence Grove because it was an unbelievably stunning venue. When you enter Independence Grove’s property, you drive into an open area of beautiful trees, flowers and jaw-dropping scenery. Marissa loved that the venue itself had floor to ceiling windows, allowing guests to see the beauty outside during the ceremony and reception.

Independence Grove_Fall Wedding_Chicago_rustic_nature

It was important to both Marissa and James that they find a venue that allowed for complete customization. Independence Grove is one of the only Chicago wedding venues I know of that actually allows shots! (shots, shots, shots, shots, shots, shots...everyyyyybody!) This certainly kicked off the night on an upbeat note! They wanted to have a warm, romantic, candlelight evening that celebrated love, life and friendship. 

Independence Grove_fall wedding_candlelight_chicago_bride and groom

Looking back at the process of planning a wedding, Marissa learned that everything can’tbe perfect (which is hard for her, since she is a self professed Type A personality). She is quoted as saying, "You think in your mind that you spend all of this money that everything will be perfect and exactly what you envisioned and it never will be, but that’s the beauty of it. Nothing in life is perfect, even supposedly the most magical day of your life, but that’s what it makes it beautiful and real (just like your love for one another)". **Side note from the planner...everything went really well on my end that day! ;-) 

The biggest piece of advice Marissa would give future brides would be, "Do what makes you happy and not what everyone is telling you to do. Weddings are expensive (realizing that on the backend) and if you want to get married in a courthouse and have a backyard wedding with a pig roast, you do that! The thing that matters most about your wedding is how you and your loved one feel and your love for each other, not what anyone else thinks on how your day should have been done. By doing what makes you happy and comfortable will ultimately make you a happy bride." 

Marissa and James left on a honeymoon two days after the wedding and spent a beautiful week in Cancun, Mexico at the Royalton Riviera. They can not speak more highly of the resort and staff. They currently live in the northwest suburbs of Chicago and have adopted the most adorable German Shepard named Kairi. 

German Shepard

Vendors Include:
Venue: Independence Grove
Photographer: Timothy Whaley
Florist: Charlotte Zierer
Hair & Makeup: Tamara Makeup + Hair Artistry
Bakery: Lovin Oven
DJ: Conquest Entertainment
Photo Booth: Photo Booth Time 
Planner: Ashley Nicole Events, Inc

Romantic Gatsby Wedding with a Flair of Chicago

I met Katy a little over a year ago. I was first struck with her keen attention to detail and her incredible sense of fashion. When I found out Katie works as a school social worker, I sighed in relief, knowing she would have her ducks in a row. Katie even apologized ahead of time for being a “Type A Bride” I laughed and said that it just shows how passionate she is. As it turns out, she was not a “Type A Bride” at all. She was a woman who knew what she liked, didn’t like and more importantly, loved. I, in turn, loved this about her.

Katie and Adam met online (girl after my own heart!) while they both were living in Chicago. Adam was completing his residency at the University of Chicago and Katy was pursuing her career in social work. Surprisingly, they lived less than a mile apart, but never crossed paths. It was kismet that brought them together. Gone are the days of checking “do you like me” boxes, Katy’s best friend had to help her keep it cool replying to Adam’s emails (usually sent while they were both on lunch breaks. Ah, modern romance!) 

Incorporating their mutual love of Chicago and family were of utmost importance for Adam and Katy. Family was spread across the country, so  Adam and Katy wanted to showcase their beautiful city for their guests. River Roast served as the perfect venue providing a heartstopping view of the Chicago River as well as the urban, romantic/gatsby vibe they were striving to achieve. Adam’s one concern was the “wow factor” meaning (food, drinks and view) and for Katy, it was all of the personal details that she (and her entire family, Grandpa included) lovingly hand crafted.

One of Katy and Adam’s prized possessions happen to be their Guest Book, which included handwritten notes from loved ones to be opened on their 1st, 10th and 25th wedding anniversary. It was incredibly important for them to open notes from their grandparents long after they have gone.


Compromise, organization and patience was what got Adam and Katy through the planning process. They both had a lot of opinions but seamlessly blended their vision and style together. Katie wanted to offer other engaged couples one piece of advice: “If you can make room in your budget for a planner or a DOC (like we did) then it can help relieve some of the burden.  It is VERY important to find someone you trust.  I knew as soon as I met Ashley that she was going to be the best fit for us (and I had done a lot of interviewing). My husband and I had done all of the coordinating ourselves but you don't realize how many little things go into contracts and vendors as you get close to the wedding.”  

Adam and Katy haven’t officially taken a honeymoon, as both of their careers are thriving and they are investing their money on their dream home. They happily couple’s careers have moved from the city to the burbs where they reside with their adorable pup, Mylo Melvin.

Vendor Highlights: 

Church: Assumption Catholic Church
Reception Venue: River Roast 
Photography: Gerber + Scarpelli (Belen Aquino)
Florist: DIY
DJ: Okyne Media 
Bakery: West Town Bakery
Hair & Makeup: Style on Site
Rentals: Ultrapom.com
Guest Accommodations: Westin River North