Planning any event, no matter big or small, can be a challenge but if you use lists to help prioritize it can keep the stress low and your budget in check. Very recently I got engaged, I proposed while in front of many family & friends. After the congratulations subsided, the questions starting flying within minutes. When? Where? But the biggest question (because we are both DJs and entertainers) was who would DJ our event? WHOA now, let’s just slow it down. Although, the reality was, that we were going to have to plan a wedding! ALL parts, not just the entertainment. We are now going to have to plan the ceremony, reception, invite list, centerpieces, SEATING CHART and more! Oh no, my head started to swim. No worries right? I plan wedding receptions for hundreds of people. Surely I could plan a wedding for about a hundred or so… I figure why not share my experiences in this blog and possibly help out someone who is working on the same thing. Here, I am going to help you organize, prioritize and then eliminate what you really don’t want or just can’t work into the budget. Believe it or not it is easier than it seems. Planning a special event can be an emotional time. From a child’s birthday, to your sons Bar Mitzvah to your very own wedding, the emotion that comes along with the event itself will often play a part in your decision making process. It doesn’t matter if you are on a strict budget or have a budget that is more flexible you need to make a plan and follow it. That does not mean the plan cannot change. It just means that your plan should be flexible to what you can afford. Here are the ideas.  

Before you set your budget make a list of “NEED to haves” for your event. In this case I am planning a wedding so here is what I NEED with a small break down of each item.
1. A ceremony location. The ceremony location can be different than the reception location or it can be at the same place. Many reception locations also have a separate area set aside just for the ceremony that makes it convenient for planning, logistics and timing. You also might have your ceremony 20-40 minutes away from where your reception will be. Will it be a church or chapel wedding? Maybe at the edge of a lake or stream? In a court yard or the adjacent banquet room? No matter what location you choose this will play a part in your NEEDS budget and may change depending on the priority of importance you put on it. 
2. Someone to Officiate. If you are getting married at a church or chapel this might be taken care of for you as most of these go hand in hand. If the location is more personalized at a location where an officiant not provided, you will have to bring your own. 
3. Music. For obvious reasons music is a big part of everything we do both professionally and personally. That being said you can be flexible with your budget here, especially with your ceremony. Professional DJs, myself included, scoff at the thought of using a friend or relative to push play on an MP3 player (and there are so many reasons why you should not do that) but if all you want is one song to walk down the aisle too, are not concerned with additional mics so guests can hear your officiant, your vows or a reader/soloist you can cut a corner here and only hire your music for the reception. However, to me, a professional behind the controls, with quality equipment, knowledge and experience is one of the utmost importance. 
4. Reception location/food. This is where a large portion of your budget will often go but before your emotions take hold and drive you to the most beautiful place you have ever seen take some time and look around. There are many factors that should come into play before you pick a reception hall. I am going to cover that in detail in another blog but for now I am just going to say that the venue you select for your reception should be guided by what type of reception you are going to have. Will it be a simple brunch, lunch or dinner? Will it be served, buffet or stations? Are you looking for something more elaborate with all the details and special touches? Personally I enjoy hearing that a client has selected a simple location so they had a bigger budget to spend on entertainment. No matter how you look at it your venue & food selection will take up a large part of your budget but is most definitely in the NEED to have column.
5. Photographs. Again there are ideas and suggestions to cut corners with this but to me having professional pictures with a photographer that has wedding experience who will not only capture those candid shots but also has ideas for posed pictures that will enhance the memories of that day, to me is a NEED. 

These are the 5 things that “I” feel I need. You may have more or maybe less. Whatever your needs are, after you identify them, make sure you put them in order of importance to you. 
Once you have identified your needs you will start a second list, “LIKE to haves”. These are items that may or may not make the final cut. Anything you can think of you should put down here. Even if you don’t want it just write it down. A short sample list could look like this: Limo, Flowers, Centerpieces, Wedding party gifts, designer linins, open bar, Special lighting, Unity candle, Tux’s & dresses for wedding party, Photo booth, Guitarist (soloist) for cocktail hour, activity basket for kids (if attending), Flip flops or comfy shoes for guests, Wedding cake or cupcakes, Candy Bar, Slider bar etc. And the list could go on and on. Then put these in order of importance to you. You may find that items from each list actually move from one list to another. Again, depending on budget maybe some of these “LIKES” could make the final list. I can already see the LIMO and Flowers making its way to the NEED list but I will keep them high on the LIKE list for now. 
Now that you have your two lists, go back to your NEED list and start making calls. It is time to see what your NEEDS are going to cost you. You know what you can afford but you might not know the cost of some of your needs. They might surprise you. So chances are that unless you have a VERY strict budget, your budget will actually develop as you get more information. Once you have a general idea of what the NEEDs will cost you can set a realistic budget. Knowing what your needs will cost may also have an effect on your lists or the order of items on each list. If the original location you had in mind for the ceremony just seems like more than you want to spend, look for an alternate location that is more within the budget. Likewise if you plan on inviting 150 people to your celebration, how much could be saved (or reallocated to something else) if you scaled back on that number? I’m going to scale back and only invite 100 people. So now, remember the Limo and Flowers from the LIKE to have list. It just so happens, not only do I want to move them to the NEED list but they will both also fit in the budget! BONUS!!! You see, each “thing” that you choose will affect your overall budget and decision on other things. It all depends on what is important to you. If you are flexible about what you decide on you can actually get more than you were planning on. It might not be “top shelf” but you can get close if you look around. Just be sure that when you make you decisions they are the right ones for you. 

Once you have all your NEEDS covered and under budget or you are not too far over budget you can go to your LIKES list and possibly start adding some things from there.  
To sum it up: 
1. Make a list of what you NEED and prioritize.
2. Make a list of what you LIKE and prioritize.
3. Price out your NEEDs.
4. Set a realistic budget.
5. If needed, Re- prioritize what you NEED so it better fits your budget.
6. Lock in your NEEDS.
7. Re- prioritize your LIKES.
8. Add LIKES as your budget allows.
 It is really that simple. The hard part is when your emotion (and outside influences) try to sneak into the planning process. Sometimes it is hard to balance your budget and your emotion. However, if you prioritize your needs and likes. Then select what is really important to you, I am sure you will have the celebration you wanted. Best wishes and Good Luck. 


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