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Transcript: Tuesday, July 21 at 12 p.m. ET

On Love: Planning Your Wedding

Michelle Preli, Editor, Brides.com
Michelle Preli, Editor, Brides.com
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Michelle Preli
Editor, Brides.com
Tuesday, July 21, 2009; 12:00 PM

Newly engaged and don't know where to start when it comes to wedding planning? Michelle Preli, the editor of Brides.com is here to help.

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From flower decorations to reception venues, she has helpful tips and expert advice on how to plan your dream ceremony.

For more advice and to see how other couples said "I do," visit our new Weddings section.

The transcript follows.

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Michelle Preli: Hello from rainy NYC! Glad to be with you. We're in the heart of wedding season, so happy to take questions from wedding guests, as well as brides or grooms who are planning their weddings. Sometimes being a guest inspires just as many questions as planning the actual wedding!

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Michelle Preli: First, some fun tidbits from recent Brides.com polls and surveys to get us started. How much do people spend on a wedding? Average wedding cost these days is $28,082-which is pretty much flat to the cost in 2006-so the spending has not gone up. No surprise given the economy! Average number of wedding guests? 155. Average cost of a bridesmaid dress? $126. The average wedding cake costs $446. Of course, there are many different styles of weddings, so there's no rule on cost. But the number one thing people always ask me about is the cost! It is top of mind for everyone no matter what their budget.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi there! I am looking at planning a wedding in six months. What are going to be my biggest hurdles? I am decisive, so I'm not worried about ruminating for months over flowers, and I'm willing to get married in the wedding "low-season." Thank you!

Michelle Preli: Actually, you may have advantages rather than hurdles in this economy! You should be able to negotiate with vendors more easliy -- especially at reception venues since they want to book any dates that are still open. As long as you are flexible on date, day of week, and time (lunch vs. dinner reception), the vendors will, most likely, be very happy to work with you. One hurdle may be your dress though. Depending on the type of gown you want, it sometimes requires months to order and alter from a salon. There are some retailers such as J.Crew where you can get them quicker. But if you are interested in a traditional gown from a bridal salon, run there now so you can get the proper fit.

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Question on response cards: We'll be serving a seafood dish, and want to find out if there are any folks with allergies, or vegetarians on our guestlist. Is this something we should put on the response card? What would the wording be? Thanks!

Michelle Preli: It's very courteous to include a place where guests can note food allergies on the response card. You may not be able to accommodate everyone's needs depending on how many allergies there may be though. But having the list beforehand to go over with the caterer is a great idea. There might be some simple things you can cut out -- like nuts -- that are easy to do. Some people offer more than one entree. If that's not an option, offering a salad or vegetables as an entree is something caterers can usually do. It's also nice to have menu cards at the guest tables so guests will know what's coming. You can also instruct the wait staff to tell guests what's in a dish. I don't think every guest expects that their every dietary need will be covered at a wedding. And you certainly don't want you guests to fall ill. But you do want to try to make a reasonable effort to serve food everyone can enjoy.

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Guestlist, with or without guests?: In planning our wedding, we're having a hard time keeping the numbers down (a common problem, I'm sure). I'd like to forgo the "plus guest" on the invite. Is that OK? And if we're only inviting the parents and not their kids, how do we write that on the invite. Some kids will be in the wedding, but most guests will be invited without kids. I'm not sure how to best handle that.

Michelle Preli: Keeping your guest list small is a great way to keep costs down. Probably the number one thing you can do to reign in expense. It is perfectly fine to forego the "plus guest" on your invitations. And there is no rule that you have to invite kids. Although it's best if it's either all kids or none so feelings aren't hurt. You could set an age limit if that helps -- every parent uderstands that.

Some experts say printing No Children on the invitation is fine, but I personally think it looks a little weird. If there are children who are coming, they should be listed on the invitation along w/the parents. When you write out the invitations' inner envelopes, list the names of every person who is invited, including the children. Adult guests shouldn't assume they can bring kids if they are not listed. If they have a question about the invitation, they will likely call you to clarify.

However, if the only kids will be the ones in the actual Wedding Party, I think the other guests would understand that. The flower girl and ring bearer always steal the show!

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Washington, D.C.: My fiance and I are planning a low budget wedding. Our budget is $4000. We have the luxury of a free venue so the budget will go towards catering (buffet), rental of tables, chairs and settings, etc. We will have about 75 guests. If the weather is perfect, the venue has a large balcony where all the guests could be seated to eat. If it rains though, all eating will have to be indoors where we will also have to have the ceremony -- a bit chaotic and tight. We think it would be too much to have guests on their feet all night, i.e. using standing tables to eat at to save room. Any tips on a Plan B for bad weather and a small indoor venue?

Michelle Preli: How great that your venue is free! You're right not to ask people to stand all night. I don't know the exact size of your indoor space, but if you have to host everything inside, you could use banquet style seating instead of individual chairs to save space. Also, grouping more guests and using a fewer number of tables will save space. If it does rain, is it possible to cover the balcony space with an awning or a tent? Might be a nice option.

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Georgetown: Hi, Michelle. When getting wine (both red and white) and beer for a wedding, how much should I plan for per person?

Michelle Preli: It really depends on how you plan to serve it, if wine and beer are available for a cocktail hour or only for the lunch or dinner reception and beyond! And it also depends on the crowd, so think about who is coming. Usually, you can assume one glass of wine per hour. Note-be sure to talk to your caterer beforehand on the differeing price structures surrounding liquor -- per person or number of drinks. You'll want to be clear on how you are paying.

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Maryland: Fiance and I are planning to have our wedding in Jamaica next year on the beach. What would you recommend for his and his best man's attire? I have seen a lot of khaki suits, is that the norm? I would like him to look beach elegant but not formal. Thanks.

Michelle Preli: Love love love that groomsmen are wearing linen, khaki or seersucker suits. (Although linen wrinkles easily!) NY Giants quarterback Ely Manning got married last year in Mexico wearing khaki. A perfect fit for a warm-weather location. Also, everyone will be comfortable in their clothes and have a good time. If you want to dress it up slightly, they could wear a more formal or structured shirt and tie.

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Alexandria, Va.: Average cost is upwards of $28,000? Are people out of their ever-lovin' minds? I wonder how you find those averages? Do the number-crunchers count people who plan backyard weddings, small church hall weddings, that sort of thing? I've gone to a reasonable number of weddings and can think of only a couple where no expense was spared to put on a very showy event. By far the majority have been much more modest, while still being lovely. How did the statistics-finders come up with that $28,000 figure?

Michelle Preli: The price does depend on region of the country. Where I am in NYC, just breathing is expensive! We fielded a national poll with a scientific polling company to get the results. But obviously there's no way to survey every wedding. The interesting thing to me is the comparison to the cost from 2006, which was basically the same as 2009. So that tells us that the constantly upward spend on weddings has hit a plateau. Certainly, you don't have to spend $28,000 to have a nice wedding!

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Washington area: Nowadays, are long-sleeved wedding gowns ever in style/appropriate? Or should they be left in the '80s?

Michelle Preli: You should choose the dress style that you love and that suits you. There's no rule unless there are certain styles you are observing at various religious venues. We haven't seen a lot of sleeves in the past dress collections though. Strapless is still the queen. I did notice some simple and spare sleeves start to creep in during the last bridal fashion week in April. (one shoulder!) You can see some of those in our summer dress story. Happy browsing!

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Washington, D.C.: Less than two months before my wedding and my bridesmaids don't have anything to wear. I made the mistake of allowing the girls to choose their dresses. They live in four different locations around the country and the fifth is abroad, so most of this is done online and over the phone. Two dresses have been purchased and returned and they're still undecided. Although I know they won't let me down in the end, it concerns me that they're still doing this at the 11th hour. The dress is just the first step: they'll still have to purchase shoes, jewelry, etc. Should I now step in and put my foot down and insist they wear a dress I choose? I have so many other things to do these last weeks and the last thing I need to worry about is this. Help.

Michelle Preli: Since you trusted your friends to pick out their own bridesmaid dresses, I'm sure they'll come through for you. And if someone's shoes don't match, it won't be the end of the world. The good news today is that there are so many great dress option for bridesmaids! No more ugly dresses!But I understand your worry. You have a lot of details to take care of and one more thing just adds to it. I don't think you can jump in now and choose their dress. You can ask your maid of honor to help you out here. This is a great job for her. Just let her know you'd appreciate her help wrangling the bridesmaid dress details so you can concentrate on all the other wedding details. If that's not option, I would try to tackle this with humor. Talk to your bridesmaids and let them know it's causing you stress and don't want to worry about having them show up naked!

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Washington, D.C.: As a general rule, which side of the family pays for what?

Michelle Preli: These days, there are a lot of different parties paying for the wedding. We've find that more and more engaged couples are contributing to the budget themselves as well. There are blended families with remarried parents, so sometimes there are a lot of people are involved.

In the past, it was more the norm that the bride's family paid for the wedding and reception costs. The groom's family paid for the rehearsal dinner and somtimes the honeymoon. Best thing to do is to have a conversation with all the parties involved to see who would like to contribute and how. Couples should not assume that either parent will automatically be paying.

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RE: kids and "and guests": I see a slight problem with your answer. You assume that people are logical when it comes to invitations. I've seen way to many weddings, dinner parties, etc., where people assume they can bring someone else (a guest, kids, etc.), even where only a specific person (or people) was invited to rely on someone deciphering that "Joe and Sue" on the interior card will let Joe and Sue know that their kids aren't invited.

How do you get around it without seeming like a total bridezilla? I mean, I had one friend berated for not inviting some peripheral friends -- mostly b/c she decided to "and guest" the people she was closest to and had to do some cuts. Another friend was literally dumped as a friend because she didn't let someone bring a date she'd known for three weeks -- and she didn't "and guest," so that she could invite more people she knew. It seems you just can't win.

Michelle Preli: Okay, okay, if we don't assume people are logical, then you have to be ready to improvise. If people just show up at the wedding with extra guests or kids 9which is actually rude), the caterer or venue is usually prepared to have a seat (and food) for them. It would be awful to turn anyone away at your wedding, even if they were not invited.

Also, you are not obligated to invite a date for a guest. So if they are insisting, it is really more a reflection ontheir rude behaviour. If guests call with questions, you can be polite and tell them that the venue only holds a certain amount or that you need to keep the guest list very small and intimate. Hope thathelps!

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Maryland: Wedding costs for mine last year in Maryland (100 people): Tent/chairs/tables/rentals: $4K, flowers: $2K, dress: 1K, bar and table: $3K, wine: (we bought our own (private property), catering $10K, guest transport to site (bus): $1K, flowers (bouquests, Mothers, tables, ceremony -- using a plant nursery): $2K, cake: $500 ... and that's just the stuff I remember off the top of my head. So yeah, $28,000 is pretty easy to do.

Michelle Preli: Yes it all adds up quickly!

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Allergies & Menu requests: My experience, as a wedding planner in D.C., is that people with serious requests or concerns will make them known to you when or after they RSVP. I don't think you need to put anything on the RSVP card, otherwise you will get things like "I prefer beef over chicken," etc.

Michelle Preli: Good point. But I'd still list Allergies (rather than Food Requests) on the invitation if you are concerned about it.

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Washington, D.C.: My fiancee and I are planning our wedding for next fall and we wanted to do a theme. When is a good time to start with dress fitting for bridemaids as well as myself?

Michelle Preli: Here are some dress shopping tips: Rule of thumb is about 6 months for dress shopping. There's finding, trying, and usuallya few alterations. So go now! It may be a bit of a rush if you are getting married this fall.

Some salons allow walk-ins, but by booking an appointment you'll be guaranteed that a consultant will have time to help you. Limit your appointments to two a day. Cramming three salons into one afternoon could be overwhelming. Also, wedding dress size is not the same as your real dress size. You will need to try on. Then you'll wait for the dress to made. Then you'll have alterations.

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Allergies : My sister will tell people she is allergic to something (like mushrooms) when she isn't - she just doesn't like them. You can't please everyone. So just please yourself (and your soon-to-be spouse).

Michelle Preli: :)

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Washington: Do you have any catering tips for a low budget wedding? We plan to have a buffet. We are thinking of having entrees and sides catered and then supplementing with store-bought food like a trays of cured meats, cheeses, breads, etc.

Michelle Preli: That is a great solution. Not sure if your reception is a lunch or a dinner, but usually lunches are less expensive so something to keep in mind. Another idea depending on where you live and the style of your reception, is to incorporate local farmer's market foods. From fresh fruits and vegetables, to jams and even pickes, they usually look beautiful when displayed so add to the decor. Of course, if you're going glam for your reception, then farm pickles are not the way to go!

Another item that can become a big expense is liquor. I don't know how important that is to you. But serving a signature cocktail or just a champagne toast is less expensive than an open bar. Sometimes people ask me if it's ok to have a cash bar because of a dwindling budget. No! Please don't basically charge guests for coming. Of course, you don't have to have any kind of spirits at all. Lemonade and fruit spritzers are great at a sumemr wedding.

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Sleeves on dresses: I like a delicate lace "shrug" to go with your wedding dress to give the illusion of sleeves. Works well if you are having a ceremony in a place of worship that would prefer your shoulders be covered. And you can later remove it after you get warm while dancing.

Michelle Preli: I did see a return to lace in many of this year's dress collections. Romona Keveza had some beautiful lace details on hers. It looked very fresh after not seeing lace for a while. Also, lace can give a nice antique or retro feeling.

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Washington, D.C.: I know that hotels will reserve blocks of rooms for the wedding guests at a slighly discounted price. Will airlines do the same thing with seats on a particular flight? My entire family lives on the opposite coast from me (and the wedding), and I'd like to help them with the travel if I can.

Michelle Preli: Good question. Hotels do reserve blocks of rooms at discounted prices at a group rate, so always do ask about that. I have not heard of regular airlines doing this for small groups. However, charter planes will do this. And if you have a very large group (think Teen Tour large), there are travel agents and charter companies who can arrange discount rates as part of a group on an airline.

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Michelle Preli: Thanks, everyone. Nice hearing from you online. So many great questions. Sorry I wasn't able to get to every single one. I would have to be a super speedy typist. Please do stop by Brides.com and browse. Hopefully, we have all of your questions covered there. And happy wedding planning to all of you! It's a wonderful time!

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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