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Elopement, A Real Wedding Option

Elope. This is the nuptial norm for most military couples, but what are elopements really like?  I’m breaking it down for all my traditional wedding people, who think eloping is a dirty word.  Elopements can actually range from a humble and sudden exchange of vows to a luxury experience.  Feeling a little spontaneous?  Let’s elope!

The original definition of an elopement is simply a no notice or secretive marriage that takes place with just the couple.  Many associate it with running off to Las Vegas or Mexico with the one you love with the intent of coming back with shared last names.  Today, some of the original framework still holds true, but additional guests or local elopements are becoming more common.  Generally speaking an elopement is planned under 90 days and has 5 guests or fewer.  Micro Weddings are equally as popular with military and civilian couples as it involves an intimate guest list of under 30 people.  Anything over that, you are just having a wedding.  I’ll break those down in a future post.

Focused On The Marriage Not The Wedding

The element that I love most about an elopement is the focus on the marriage as opposed to the other details which can be a bit of a distraction.  You aren’t worrying about appeasing family, friends or living up to any particular expectation.  The focus is put on the couple.  Their wants and wishes.  They hone in and make the day they choose to say “I do” special. 

Believe it or not, my husband and I eloped.  Yup!  I was head over heels for this promising Air Force pilot.  We knew it was serious by the second date when we were talking about credit scores and future plans.  We just knew.  Things moved fast, which is common in relationships with military members.  We took a hard look at finances and our future plans as we found out we were expecting.  Little did I know my husband to be would propose in December on Christmas day.  When asked about a wedding date we completely dismissed the idea as we figured we would wait until after the baby and settling in at whatever new base we would be assigned to.  Then we’d have a “real wedding”. 

By February I started thinking, “I really would like to be married by the time my son arrives.”  My husband said, “Okay, pick a day.”  I figured we could do it when all of our family was in town to visit for his UPT graduation, but my soon to be husband reminded me that if we are eloping we didn’t need everyone there as the mission was simply to get married.  He was right!  That weekend would have been focused on thirty other things besides the true focus, us.  Two weeks later I purchased a dress that fit my belly, had it hymned (because I’m short), made a bouquet with broaches and pink silk hydrangeas and made a bird cage head piece out of tulle and two bobby pins.  My husband wore his service dress uniform.  Our local church pastor married us since we had completed marriage counselling with him, which is uncommon for most elopements.  After the nuptials we went to our favorite Mexican Restaurant for dinner and some friends joined us.  One even made us a little cake!  This was a “real wedding” and it was perfect.  I remember thinking to myself, “I’d live in a cardboard box as long as it was with you.”  It showed and the few that witnessed could see it.  

Intimate & Personal Experience

There was something magical in those moments when all that mattered was just the two of us.  We later endured the wedding runaround as we wanted a celebration for our family and friends to be a part of.  My dad wanted to walk me down the aisle, for example.  Ultimately, I think we were less stressed over it because we had had our intimate experience via the elopement.  We said several times throughout planning that we wanted our guests to have a great time so the burden of the occasion was lifted.

The intimacy of an elopement is unmatched.  If you choose a Vegas adventure or a backdrop in the great outdoors, the couple has the opportunity to express themselves through their selection without the task of coordinating access for several people.  Think about it.  You can elope in a tropical cave under a waterfall, on the cliff of a national landmark or in any other place for that matter.  Sky’s the limit.  Many assume elopements mean a cheaper option, however that isn’t always the case.  The investment on the experience and details go directly to the couple’s enjoyment.  If they want to each enjoy a five star meal, exclusive photo shoot, personal fireworks show or anything else, they can do so.  You have the unique opportunity to create a once in a lifetime experience for just the two of you and the few you may ask to bear witness.

The must haves!

There are a few things I would definitely recommend when choosing to elope. 

·         Wedding Planner

·         Photographer

·         Videographer

·         Marriage Announcement

·         Wedding Video

·         “After Party”

You absolutely have to capture these moments so a photographer is a non-negotiable to me.  Having quality photos is one thing I promises you will not regret.  You can used them when sending your wedding announcement, which is another must do.  People should be informed of your new chapter and it’s nothing to hide or down play.  Eloping is a momentous occasion because it’s all about the marriage.  A videographer is a close second.  You will want to share the footage with those who weren’t there as well as reflect back on it for years to come.  Of course I’m going to tell you to get a planner.  I know, I know… I’m required to say that, but seriously!  A planner knows your location, has relationships with venues and knows policies or restrictions that may be vital to pulling things off with a short timeline.  I list this first as the planner can match you with an amazing photographer and videographer that fits your style.  Last, but not least you should have an amazing “after party”.

An after party can mean a lot of different things to different people.  It could be a honeymoon.  A romantic getaway or staycation that keeps with the idea of the focus being on the couple.  It could be an actual party.  Celebrate with friends and loved ones.  Big or small, whatever fits your taste.  Go to dinner after or do something exciting like bungee jumping or a tour of the local attractions where you eloped.  Either way, ensure that you celebrate, celebrate, celebrate!

3 Fs You Wont Want to Forget!

Working with military and busy couples who want a customized experiences is what I love most, but the most rewarding part of my job is probably bringing to light those common forgotten items that the couple can’t afford to miss.  Think about it.  With so many details to comb through something can easily get missed or overlooked.  What if it’s something near and dear to you?  Or something that can hit your pockets hard?  No worries!  I’ve got you covered.  I love being ten steps ahead of the chaos so my clients can have a stress free and fun planning experience.  I worry about the details so they can focus on what's most important, each other.

In my experience the wedding planning details that most people don't think about are fees, fashion and the finale! 

 

Fees- When pricing venues and vendors it is common to see eager couples budget for the quoted price and completely misunderstand that that price does not include hefty additional like taxes, gratuities, damage or setup fees.  Always ask for an “out the door” price quote to ensure you are budgeting appropriately.  These fees can be thousands of dollars and nobody want’s that type of surprise weeks leading up to the wedding.

 

Fashion- I had a couple do a beach wedding in Florida.  The plan was for everyone to be barefoot in their cream tuxedos and ladies wore gold sandals. Great right!  Wrong.  After the beach ceremony was over the reception took place indoors and of course gentlemen wanted to put on their shoes.  Well, ironically no one thought about their socks.  I’ll just say white gym socks and black dress socks didn’t cut it so we evened up purchasing a more appropriate option.  Needless to say, I carry a spare set of socks in my “day of ready bag” and encourage couples to consider fashion accessories and details when gifting the bridal party and families.

 

Finale- The wedding day ending, the cake has been eaten and champagne is running low.  Success!  But wait, there is more… Who is picking up the ceremony and reception items you’d like to keep?  Are you getting your wedding dress preserved or are you donating it?  Are you having your bouquet dried?  Did you remember to tip your vendors?  Did you order thank you stationary to send to guests?  Name change?  Insurance?  Finances? Everyone plans for the wedding day, but often forget about the post wedding planning, which can be more important. Thinking through these final details can help you reduce stress and set you up for a smooth happily ever after.

 

You can get some additional tips from wedding industry pros and check out my feature on BoldSocks.com right here.

Do you want a Fyre Wedding?

The industry is buzzing about the Netflix documentary “Fyre Festival: The Greatest Party That Never Happened” and for good reason.  This inside look on the inner workings of the festival planning, how it became a disaster, and the after math it caused is probably the culmination of everything that could go wrong when planning an event with the exception of a fatality.  The event was the brain child of Billy McFarland with the celebrity backing of Ja Rule.  The concept of the festival starts as a way to promote a celebrity booking app called Fyre which had great potential.  It played into the desire of consumers having access to the exclusive artists that they love.  The festival was merely a way to promote the brand as it launched.  The draw came from A-list models like Alessandra Ambrosio, Hailey Baldwin, Bella Hadid, to name a few, and other pop culture celebrities like Kendall Jenner.  They took social media by storm and created a buzz like none other.  Genius!

The tickets for packages sold out within 24 hours with options ranging from $1,500 to $25,000!  The expected number of attendees was 5,000 people, which at average cost of ticket is around $66 million on ticket sales.  I love how the documentary repeatedly states that McFarland is either the smartest guy in the room or completely full of it.  I’d at least like to applaud this general concept.  Although I knew how the documentary would end, I still felt myself routing for them to pull it off.  That was until McFarland does the cardinal sin in this industry, which is not listening to the experts. 

The Fyre Festival team was comprised of a talented group, however when you are not utilizing your team to its full potential or you ignore the red flags they hold up, you are committing yourself to assume major risks and failures.  Billy had a concept of finding solutions.  In theory this sounds great, however his downfall was not accepting reality and the solutions given.  Let’s parallel this festival for a second to a wedding.  Odd right?  Actually, there is a lot that correlates with different events in general so why not. 

The famous tweet that destroyed Fyre’s hype verses what you want your guests tweeting at your event!

The famous tweet that destroyed Fyre’s hype verses what you want your guests tweeting at your event!

A wedding should be a happy time of celebrating love and life.  The union of two families can be looked at as the event of the year, which is what Fyre was going for.  How did they kick it off?  They used influencers to set the tone and expectations of those who would attend.  For your wedding you would parallel this to your engagement announcement and save the dates.  Like Fyre, the experience for your event starts months and months before guests arrive.  Fyre maintained this buzz with videos and posts that continued to convey this experience.  Couples can do the same with releasing engagement pictures or video of their destination to friends and family.  This is where I have to stop though.  Fyre truly takes a turn for the worst here as crucial planning elements completely fell on death ears.  Let’s break down this parallel further so you can see what I mean.

·         Plan before you send the invitation!  The Fyre team was so focused on building the draw to the event that they completely dropped the ball on planning for the event.  They promoted their location using a drug lord’s name, which was against the agreement made with the land owner.  They did not hash out the logistics of their vision to make it reality as total attendee count and supporting facilities was not considered.  Finally they had no contingency plan for accommodations.  Before sending an invitation for a wedding you need to nail down your venue and guest accommodations.  This starts with having an approximate guest count.  You can love a location, but if all your guests can’t fit in the venue you will need to think of another option.  Rustic barn weddings for example, can take on a Fyre feel really quick if you have not thought through bathroom accommodations or how food will be prepared and served.  Had the Fyre team considered these things prior to opening up ticket sales they would have potentially had a more exclusive event and been able to accommodate the attendees they had coming.

·         Level Up.  This simply mean staying true to the event /brand and the budget.  Fyre introduced their brand with heavy hitters claiming it to be the party that everyone would be talking about.  Yet, the lack of a stable budget and planning was met with compromises that were made to “pull it off” the event did not meet the level of the initial buzz.  This is one of the reasons the performers started to full out of the festival.  The documentary never mentioned any solid budget that tied to how each element would be financed.  The same is needed with a wedding.  A budget helps everyone maintain expectations.  It should be utilized to maintain the feel of your wedding throughout with allocations to accomplish what you desire.  Don’t blindly book vendors saying you have a hefty budget and want acrobats coming from the ceiling only to later crunch the numbers and double back wanting DIY and reduced rates.  The reality is the planner or individual driving the budget should be able to say what can and cannot be done from the beginning.  If someone wants to add to your budget, you will then have options on where to upgrade or add.  Fyre could not do this as investors for the festival were sold hoop dreams of getting a return when partnering.  Numbers were skewed or unknown during planning.  To put it, plainly they lied and had no idea how much was needed prior to needing it.  Couples, be real about the level of your event and your budget.  Allocate for all your details and level up in all areas to reap the experience you set out to achieve. 

·         Brides, don’t be a Billy!  It is your special day and you want everything perfect and as you envision it, which is fine.  You hire a team to guide you through the planning and design process because they are the experts and can get it done.  Billy completely missed the two big words in my last statement, which are “guide” and “expert”.  McFarland was amazing at rallying a team and starting businesses, but what he wasn’t was a professional music festival planner, or consultant, or any other title that would have made him credible to force the team into a definite fate.  Respect for his vision and his investment should be handled with care.  Where things went wrong is when he chose to not lean on his team of experts when he needed to most.  Instead the documentary revealed that he simply fired people that did not agree to the illusions he had of making the impossible happen.  A couple should hire professionals that they trust and that are flexible in considering how to execute the end goal, which is the fabulous wedding everyone committed to making a reality.

·         When things go wrong, own up to it.  This part applies to vendors, planners, and the couple.  If the couple is responsible to bring specific things to the rehearsal dinner and forget, that is okay, but know that major delays may result in paying additional fees.  If a vendor is supposed to provide certain items that were agreed upon contractually, they are responsible to uphold their agreement.  Not doing so results in certain consequences.  The most troubling part of the Fyre documentary was the lack of ownership of the disaster that occurred.  Workers went unpaid, attendees did not get their money back, and the main person responsible just ran away from the crime as if nothing had occurred.  As a result, what could have been a salvageable event, turned into a nightmare of an experience.  Relationships were broken and reputations tarnished.  This is not how you’d want people to remember your wedding day.

Jerry Media did a phenomenal job of showing the intricacies and the downfall of the Fyre Festival.  The documentary reached a climax when everything hits the fan and guests arrive to see the chaos and unmet expectations of what was supposed to be a luxurious experience.  The festival ultimately was cancelled, and many suffered losses to include attendees, workers, investors and the Bahamian locals.  This is a must watch for anyone and everyone planning an event.  Yes, even someone planning a wedding.  The lessons gleaned may be the difference from having a Coachella or Fyre experience.  Curl up on the coach.  Turn on Netflix and watch the drama unfold.  As you watch think to yourself and say, “Do I want a Fyre Wedding?”  

Was it worth it?

I have had the pleasure of talking with tons of brides this year that have looked back on their wedding day with bliss or with concern, wondering if what they obsessed over for months or that big splurge was really worth it.  Let’s be honest.  We all have buyer’s remorse at one time or another, but your wedding day is NOT the day to look back on and wish you’d saved on this or that.  Couples go into planning nobly thinking about their celebration and being considerate of guests.  Still somewhere between “Yes” and “I do” decisions are made that make them ask, “Was it worth it?”

When I begin talking about the wedding day with most couples, whether they say it or not, they have some expectations or moments created in their mind.  Moments, feelings, and reactions are anticipated.  “If I wear this dress, when everyone turns to look at me jaws will drop!” or “My family are foodies so they will love these menu options.”  We all do it.  Picturing the desired outcome is a great way to reach that reality.  You definitely have to see it before you “see” it, but at what costs.  Overspending on an item you are not certain about can cause that gut-wrenching feeling in your stomach, that thought that you could have used that cash for your private villa on your honeymoon, but we purchased these personalized favors that everyone left on the table and are in a box in our closet.  Most times the couple is spot on with how a scene will play out because they know their guests really well or have made calculated decisions.  The key word in all this is CALCULATED.  Frivolous spending is not what the wedding day is for.  Using the big day as an excuse to purchase may have you feeling bad afterwards.  That is why you need to have a comfortable budget and a plan of execution. 

I love planning gorgeous weddings!  The look on guest’s faces when they walk in, or when the bride and groom get their sneak peek at the final product and are all smiles is what we live for.  Still I remind brides that the wedding day is not about stuff.  You can get married for the cost of the marriage license and live happily ever after.  Brides, grooms, and families alike should be discouraged from just paying for a wedding.  Instead they should be investing in their experience.  When you make an investment your goal is to get a return, which is greater than the value of what was put in.  I heard a story about a bride that moved her wedding up due to her father’s terminal illness diagnosis.  She wanted to ensure that she and her dad had the opportunity to share in her wedding day together.  So she hired a planner, designed and planned a beautiful wedding, had a DJ and band, photographer and videographer, the works!  Her dad walked her down the aisle, gave her away, they had their dance to his favorite song and smiled and laughed together the entire day.  What value would you put on those moments that were captured?  How about the sound of the music being played while they danced together for what would be their last time?  Priceless.  The couple will get a return on that experience for generations. 

Every wedding situation may not be like that bride’s story, but they each are unique and special.  I found a common thread in all of this, and it’s all about the experience.  What makes is all worth it is investing in the experiences as opposed to spending for spending’s sake.  Here are a few simple steps to ensure you can say “It was worth it” once the wedding day has ended.

1.       Start with a comfortable budget.  I know I know… most think people in the event business just want you to spend more.  Some may, but I find they probably won’t have longevity in their careers.  The wedding day is about the couple.  Their union is the reason we all come together to work our magic.  So as planners we look out for their best interest.  My favorite groom’s quote is “we have to live after this”.  Basically reminding my eager bride that when the wedding day comes to an end, they probably don’t want to honeymoon in a cardboard box.  It is more common that the bride and groom pay for their wedding these days, however the bride’s family still is a common contributor to expenses.  Sit down and determine who is investing in this celebration and respect the total number that you come up with.  Utilize budget management services for accountability and tracking will help everyone stay on the same page.

  

2.       Prioritize.  Pick two to three things that you absolutely have to have.  This could be something tangible, a service, or even a color.  It could cost a lot or cost nothing!  Once you prioritize those top three, move down to the next, and the next until you have a list of priorities to consider when decision making.  Your budget may drive how many items are incorporated into the wedding.  Usually items on the bottom of the list become more “nice to haves” than “must haves”.  These priorities also help you better communicate with your vendors and in execution and coordinating on the day of.

 

3.       Invest in experiences.  When I ask couples what their favorite part of their wedding is or something they couldn’t have done without, all the responses come back to experiences.  The top responses were:

 

The Photo Booth – “Smile!  Wait, let’s take another!” Guests love interacting with a photo booth, and most really get into it when props are involved.  The booth captured hilarious moments the couple otherwise would have never seen. The best part is it serves as entertainment for guests who participate or watch others snap pictures.

 

Great Music – “Go DJ! Cause that’s my DJ!”  Who is going to keep the party going, insert a funny inside joke or take you back to memories of happy times?  The person controlling the music, that’s who.  Hands down a great band or DJ is worth it too.

 

The Wedding Planner – Awwww you guys really do love us!  Seriously though.  Our job is to make you experience stress-free and fun.  For most, your wedding is the biggest party you’ll ever plan.  It pains me to think of people cringing over just the thought of all those details.  We’ve got you!  I don’t care how organized, how creative or how connected you are, there is nothing like peace of mind and the opportunity to just sit back and enjoy the moments leading up to your wedding.   

 

4.        Remember what truly matters.  Sceptics these days even question the validity of having a wedding.  Some say it’s just a show, or it’s not for the couple.  That doesn’t have to be the case.  A wedding becomes a show when it becomes more about how you’re perceived.  If you’re a bride that loves tacos, have tacos (which is in trend now actually).  If you love your pet, include them in the celebration.  If you hate flowers, use non floral décor like candles or items that reflect you as a couple.  There is no correct way to have a wedding.  There is a right way and that is when it is beautiful, authentically your own, and focused on the ultimate purpose of the union of two loving people.

 Ultimately, you, the couple, are the only ones that can say if a component of your wedding was worth it.  When you think about it, does it make you smile, laugh, or enhanced the experience in any way?  Is it a memory you’ll cherish?  Is it something your mother and family love to share with friends as they beam with pride? Was it in your budget? Did you prioritize it? Was it an investment in your experience? Does it reflect the true meaning of why you got married? WORTH IT!