Transcript: Tuesday, Sept. 1 at noon ET

On Love: Wedding Planning's Charli Penn's Charli Penn
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Charli Penn
Tuesday, September 1, 2009; 12:00 PM

From the hottest wedding trends to etiquette dos and don'ts,'s managing editor Charli Penn, is here to help.

Penn has been at the site for over two years. Her prior work includes stints at various publications, including, Glamour, Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly.

For more tips and to see how other couples have said "I do," visit our new OnLove section.

The transcript follows.


Charli Penn: Hello brides and grooms! Thanks for joining me today. I want to help answer as many burning wedding questions as I can today. Ask away!


D.C.: I am planning a smallish wedding, very simple, in part because we are trying to avoid spending too much money. We are hoping to keep the guestlist under 100 people. Here is my problem: My future mother in law comes from a huge family. She has eight brothers and sisters, most of whom have families of their own. She remains in contact with them, but lives hundreds of miles from them. My fiance isn't close to them at all. If we invite these people, they'd take up half the guestlist! So, I'm inclined not to invite them, but at the same time, I know my soon-to-be mother-in-law will be upset. Any suggestions?

Charli Penn: So many brides and grooms become frustrated trying to balance the needs of their future in laws. (And sometimes even their parents). I'm sure you've heard this before, but it 's your wedding, not theirs. It's up to you and your husband-to-be to plan the wedding that makes you the happiest and fits your budget. It's understandable that you want to accommodate distant family members to make your future mother-in-law happy, but you can't please everyone, especially if it's going to cost you more money than you care to spend, or keep you from inviting the people you are closest to. Sit down with your FMIL and explain to her the importance of having your closest friends and family there to celebrate with you, and your desires to keep this wedding intimate. If she feels like you'll be leaving her side of the family out by not inviting them, then offer a compromise that may work for everyone.

See if she'd be willing to help you host a post-wedding dinner or party at the family home in your honor so that out-of-town or distant family members can still participate in the celebration. This way your FMIL can bring everyone together in your honor, but in a way that doesn't interfere with your wedding plans - the idea may take some getting used to on her part, but if handled correctly she should be open to it. Good luck, and congrats!


Alexandria, Va.: Where can I find plus size designer wedding gowns? I've found some at Priscilla of Boston but would like to compare styles.

Charli Penn: A lot of designers make their dress styles in sizes up to 22 or 24. (Alfred Angelo is known for having a wide variety of gorgeous plus size gowns.) Just keep in mind that some designers or boutiques will charge an extra fee for plus size gowns, to cover additional cost for fabric, so don't let that frustrate you. It's worth it to pay the money to find your dream dress and to ensure that it fits you properly.


Washington, D.C.: All the sites say that the average D.C. wedding costs $25,000. But in times like these, that seems very irresponsible. Besides inviting fewer people (we're only planning for 100), what are some good ways to keep the costs down?

Charli Penn: There are lots of ways to save. Using cost cutting tricks for your cakes and flowers can help. Flowers can big budget-buster. To save money, choose blooms that are in season and grown locally. Or substitute less expensive flowers in the same shade. As for your cake, order several smaller cakes in different flavors and serve them together on a dessert table. By sparing your designer major assembly and decoration time, not only will you cut your costs tremendously, you'll get a bite of tiramisu AND cherry chocolate cheesecake for dessert on your big day.


Washington, D.C.: My partner and I are marrying out of state and want to have a reception (50 people) in D.C. We have a space with no specific vendor strings attached but are struggling to get the event together. Although we're not looking to throw a formal event, we'd still like it to feel like a "wedding" reception, cater the food/cake, hire a bartender and a server. I know we could probably serve as our own "general contractors" but we have no idea where to start, full-time jobs and sick parents we're taking care of. Do you have any suggestions for finding a list of people who might take on an event like this? Thank you.

Charli Penn: You need a wedding planner! A lot of couples think that hiring one will be an extra expense but in so many cases it will actually save you money. A wedding planner is experiences and will know what you need to do, and when. They'll have time to attend to the needs of your wedding when you don't and already have excellent relationships with vendors in your area, so they'll know who to hire for what job and how to negotiate a good deal. Congrats!


Washington, D.C.: I am shopping for an engagement ring to propose to my girlfriend. I want it to be as special as she is, but I don't have the best credit or much savings. Any advice?

Charli Penn: You don't have to blow your budget to get your special lady a special ring. Decide on what you can afford to spend on the ring and then start saving at a pace that you're comfortable with. Check out her jewelry and get a good feel for what you think her personal style is and what type of ring she might like best. There are lots of tricks to save money when you're ready to go ring-shopping. Try an alternative metal. Consider palladium, for starters. It's becoming really, really popular because it has a similar look and feel to gold, but you can get it for a fraction of the price. Another idea is to stick with a solitaire diamond. They are far less expensive than more embellished options, like the three-stone combination, and are also very popular now. Picking a channel-set band or traditional prong setting will also save you some cash money, and can be just as pretty as an elaborate tension or bezel setting. (Promise!)


New York, N.Y.: I have been invited to two weddings but am so broke! Can I decline attending the wedding if I can't afford to get either couple gifts?

Charli Penn: Don't bail on attending a close friend of family member's wedding just because you feel you must get them a gift you cannot afford. There are tons of ways to save money when it comes to buying wedding gifts, and a lot of them are very practical. Pair up with other friends and family members that are also invited and split a group gift. this way you can purchase a bigger ticket item on their registry, but no one will have to spend more than they can afford. Another idea is to get something small from their registry that you can personalize. For example, purchase the wine opener they registered for and then include a bottle of a great wine you recommend. Or, get one inexpensive bakeware item and include a few of your favorite recipes for them to try. You can also look out for big sales and discounts at stores they're registered for and shop early, so you can have the most registry options. Even if you don't attend a wedding, we usually recommend that you politely decline and still send some sort of small gift.


Arlington Heights, Mass.: Because of our budget and schedules, my fiance and I won't be able to take a traditional honeymoon to somewhere exotic. So instead, we've decided to get season tickets for our favorite hockey team, and want to set up a Palpay donation site for it. How can we best let our friends and family know that we would appreciate donations to that over physical presents?

Charli Penn: First of all, love the idea! Alternative honeymoon ideas are a great way to save for your wedding. Though it's considered bad wedding etiquette to include any registry information on your actual invitations, it's considered perfectly acceptable to include this info on your personal wedding website. Setting one up will not only help you share registry info with guests but you'll also be able to give detailed directions and logistical info there, share your wedding story there, and introduce friends and family to all the people in your wedding. Just put a note on your wedding webpage sharing your great honeymoon idea and including a link to your PayPal account should anyone like to support your cause. Just don't say "we'd rather have cash go here than receive a gift". Many friends and family members may want to get you something special and it's not a good idea to make them feel like you wouldn't be appreciative if it's not cash towards your honeymoon tickets.


N.Y.: Planning a wedding for early Sept 2011. Want to incorporate yellow. What other colors can I use? I do not want to do a fall wedding theme.

Charli Penn: I recently saw a wedding with a yellow, teal, and pale purple color theme and absolutely loved it. Consider a shade of blue, or pink, for a fun alternative to orange, red, or brown, so you can avoid the whole fall color theme idea. Good luck, and congrats!


Alexandria: Hello. Thanks for taking questions! Guestlist question for you -- a friend of mine invited to the wedding just reunited with a longtime boyfriend. When we created guestlist, I didn't include a guest for her as she was single, and we don't have the space now. I don't want to be rude or mean, but I really don't think we can accommodate this extra person (at least not right now, with not knowing the numbers of people that are actually going to come). Am I rude for not extending an invite to him as well? Thanks.

Charli Penn: The rule of thumb is that when you're mailing out wedding invitations you invite the spouse of the friend or family member, or their significant other if they live together at the same address. If they weren't together when you sent out the invitations you had no way of knowing they would reunite and you'd want to include him. If you have any room at all, try to include this new plus one. But, if you need to wait until your RSVPs come back just explain this to your friend -- she should understand. Chances are a space will open up. Be patient and see what happens.


Virginia: What are good thank-you presents to get for parents after the wedding? My parents, in particular, have been exceedingly generous and helpful, and I'd love a present that shows my gratitude. I have heard of the idea of purchasing a photo album from the photographer, but I'm looking for other ideas as well. Thanks!

Charli Penn: They will, of course, want that photo album, but there are some other ways you can say "thanks" for all their help. Have you considered gifting them with a memorable experience? Have they been dying to see a play or a show and haven't had the money? Is your dad craving a weekend at the golf-course he loves? And your mom a spa visit? If they dedicated a lot of their time and energy to helping make your wedding dreams come true, it could be nice to create a special day for them too, right? Hey, maybe even a couple's cooking class or a boat ride -- just something relaxing and enjoyable for them.


Boston, Mass.: Because of our budget, my fiance and I can only really afford a small family wedding/reception, but we want to include all of our friends in the celebration. Our plan is to have a "friend reception" the next day. It would be hosted like our normal house parties (potluck and BYOB). Our friends are understanding and on board with the idea, but I'm unsure how to throw, essentially, a wedding-themed party instead of a second reception. Any suggestions?

Charli Penn: No rules apply here, so have fun with it. If you want to make sure that this "friend reception" is more casual than the wedding itself was, consider making it a brunch instead of a dinner, or maybe even just more of a cocktail hour to change the vibe altogether. Serve your favorite desserts instead of another wedding cake, and don't feel as though you have to repeat elements from the reception the night before that your friends might have missed (i.e. bouquet toss, cake-cutting, garter toss, etc.) Including a toast and another first dance will make it feel celebratory, but not repetitive.


Austin, Tex.: My fiance and I are trying to plan our wedding on our own and our parents are giving us the gift of paying for the wedding. What are the ways that we can split the costs? I have heard of the F.L.O.P. flowers, liquor, music and photography. Is that the new traditional way of splitting costs for a wedding?

Charli Penn: Congratulations on having help from your parents. (A lot of couples have to pay for their own weddings these days.) First things first, have a conversation with both your parents together to get a feel for what each of them would like to pay for or contribute to the wedding. This may help you with assignments, and then afterwards you can follow up with an open discussion about who should cover what. The reception can be very costly, so splitting up the flowers and the food/liquor is a good idea. Here's a sample breakdown:

Groom's side:

- music and entertainment

- the rehearsal dinner.

- tuxedos

- venue/food/liquor 50%

Bride side:

- Wedding gown

- flowers

- cake

- venue/food/liquor 50%

- invitations


Washington, D.C.: I told a not-so-close friend of mine to save the date for my upcoming wedding, but am now not sure if we have enough space for her. I regret the decision to ask her to save the date but I must invite her, right? Also, I am running low on wedding invitations and cannot afford to print a new batch out. If I do end up inviting her -- which I think I have to -- can I just e-mail her with the details? I realize this is very poor planning on my part but am now stuck with the consequences! Thanks for your help.

Charli Penn: Yes, you should invite everyone you sent out a save-the-date to, and e-mail invites aren't a good idea if you can help it. It would be better to purchase a more affordable invitation (even if it doesn't match the others you sent out) to send to her, then to just e-mail her. Chances are not everyone you invite will be able to attend, you'll probably end up with a seat for her, don't worry.


Charli Penn: Congrats to you all on your engagements! Thanks for all the great questions -- sorry I couldn't make it to everyone's. I really had a good time chatting with you all. Have a great rest of day, and of course, for more wedding planning advice pay me a visit at


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