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Planning for "I Do" Expediently

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From choosing a location to picking out rings, planning a wedding can be an overwhelming endeavor, but this chapter will help you get organized and calm your nerves at the same time.
This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

In this chapter

  • Find the perfect ceremony site fast
  • Secure your officiant
  • Plan your ceremony
  • Shop for wedding rings

I'm sure that once you started looking at how much weddings cost, you came to realize that the actual "I do" part of the wedding isn't where the big bucks are spent. It's usually in the celebration afterwards that you'll spend a large percentage of your money.

But even if the ceremony portion of your wedding doesn't have a big price tag, it remains the centerpiece of your wedding plans, because it is the moment when you become a married couple.

One of the first decisions you're going to have to make after figuring out your budget and choosing the right time, day, and month for your wedding, is deciding where you're going to get married. This is especially important if one of you has your heart set on getting married in a specific house of worship; churches and synagogues tend to book up relatively far in advance.

When planning your ceremony, the first thing you need to do is check with your preferred house of worship before booking anything else for your wedding. Not only do you want to make sure that it is available, but you will avoid any potential timing conflicts by booking your ceremony site before you book any other venues or vendors for your wedding.

In addition, you'll also need to make sure that you and your future spouse are eligible to be married in your house of worship. Some houses of worship have rules or policies that prohibit them from marrying two people of differing religions. If you fall into this category, you should be prepared for this possibility. If you're not eligible, you'll need to come up with a Plan B for where you're going to get married.

And the Bride Said

"We fell in love with our reception site and couldn't imagine having our celebration anywhere else. So we booked it, even before we'd booked the church. Big mistake. Turns out that our church wasn't available on the same day as the reception site, and then we had to switch everything around to fit in the church. In retrospect we should have booked the church first."

Karen, New Jersey

To Do List

  • Talk about where you want to get married

  • Decide whether you'll have a religious or secular ceremony

  • Figure out how your religion will play into your ceremony, if at all

  • Start checking out officiants and choose one to marry you

  • Organize your ceremony from start to finish

  • Shop for wedding rings

Streamlined Solutions for Figuring Out the Perfect Ceremony Site

Before you can decide where you're going to get married, you need to talk about what each of you envisions for your wedding day. Has your deeply religious fiancé always dreamed of being married in his boyhood church? Do you have visions of walking down a flower-filled path to your outdoor ceremony in the local botanical garden?

If you have divergent ideas on where your ceremony is going to take place, you need to talk things out. You're going to have to figure out a way to compromise on your ceremony ideas or you have to come up with a totally new concept for your ceremony—one that you both can live with.

Deciding on a Religious or Secular Ceremony and Site

One of the ways to speed up any potential conflicts on your ceremony and to make a first step in choosing a site is to break down your discussions into two possibilities—the religious ceremony and the secular ceremony. Then you can discuss the pros and cons of each. Ideally, after you've laid out reasons for and against each scenario, you'll have your perfect solution.

Here are some sample questions you can ask yourself and each other to get your dialog going:

  • How do I feel about my religion?

  • Do I want to be married in a ceremony that is reflective of my religious upbringing?

  • How much does it matter to us to have a religious aspect to our wedding?

  • What role will religion play in our married life?

  • How will I feel after I'm married if I didn't include my religion in my wedding ceremony?

Here are some reasons why a religious ceremony might work for you:

  • You are religious people who share the same faith

  • You are both currently active in the house of worship where you want to have your wedding ceremony

  • Your parents expect that you'll have a religious wedding—and doing so will make things easier all around, even if it really doesn't matter either way to the two of you

  • It's important to you to have your religion be incorporated into your wedding


You learn more about incorporating religious elements into your ceremony in "Blending Religious and Cultural Elements in Your Ceremony," later in this chapter.

A couple having a secular ceremony usually hires a justice of the peace or someone else who is qualified to marry people to perform their ceremony. Here are some reasons a secular ceremony might be right for the two of you:

  • Neither of you is overtly religious or committed to your childhood faith

  • You are of differing religions and can't be married in a house of worship due to certain restrictions

  • You no longer live near the house of worship in which you were raised and were once active

  • It's more important for you to find someone to pronounce you "husband and wife" than it is for you to have a religious aspect to your wedding

  • You're planning to be married in a secular space (at your reception site, in a garden, on the beach, in your backyard, and so on) and having a religious figure present might not seem appropriate

Inventive Ideas for Finding a Site

Figuring out where you're going to get married is a snap if you've got a connection to a house of worship. Whether the two of you are members of a church or synagogue or your parents are, usually it's a no-brainer to have the wedding take place where you have some affiliation.

But let's say that you don't belong to a house of worship but want to be married in one. You have a couple of options that will allow you to find the right religious setting for your ceremony, including:

  • Joining a new house of worship. If the two of you are the same religion, you just have to find a house of worship to join. If you are of a different religion, you may find a house of worship that offers a happy medium between your two religions. Or if you are of differing religious backgrounds, you may decide to "join" a third party, neutral religion, such as the Unitarian Universalist church, which is welcoming of all faiths. Joining a new house of worship is also a great way to find an officiant for your wedding (the subject of the next section of this chapter).

  • Considering a college chapel. Unless you go to the campus of a school affiliated with one religion, such as Notre Dame and Roman Catholicism, you're likely to find an ecumenical college chapel on campus. This is a house of worship that is welcoming to students and others of all religions. If you're planning on marrying someone of a different faith, a college chapel may be your best bet.

And the Bride Said

"When you ask 175 people to get in their cars and drive somewhere, no one will be on time. So we decided to have our ceremony right at our reception location. That way no one would have to drive from the ceremony to the reception, and no one would get lost or delayed."

Karsha, California

For many couples looking to have a non-religious wedding ceremony, sometimes the easiest thing to do is simply to hold their ceremony and reception in the same location. This saves on travel time and hassle for all of their guests, and it doesn't strap the couple down with any religious rules or regulations they might have to meet to use a certain officiant.

Getting It in Writing

After you've settled on your ceremony site and your officiant, get everything in writing. The best way to make sure that everyone you hire shows up on time and that your wedding day remains your wedding date (instead of having it given away to someone else by mistake) is to draw up agreements. Make sure you get a signed agreement with both the house of worship (or wherever it is you've decided to have the ceremony) and the officiant. Here are the basics of the contract:

  • Name, address, phone number, fax number, and email of person/place providing services

  • Date of agreed-upon services

  • Location of agreed-upon services (if different from address)

  • Brief description of agreed-upon services (for example, if you were booking a ceremony site, you might write down the setup for the ceremony, the number of chairs they are to provide, what decorations will be on hand, and so on)

  • Time frame, if any, for agreed-upon service, such as when the officiant should show up and when he or she is done

  • Fee to be paid and, if necessary, schedule of payment (for example, one third of the fee up front, one third of the fee one week before the wedding, and one third of the fee on the day of the wedding)

  • Attire, if applicable (basically, what kind of clothing you want the officiant or other service provider to wear)

  • Cancellation agreement (figure out what kind of refund or other compensation you would want if the officiant, vendor, or venue cancels on you)

  • Don't forget to date and sign the contract with both you and your fiancé's signatures along with the signature of the person you are hiring

Considering a Destination Wedding

One of today's hottest trends is a destination wedding. Some people argue that every wedding these days is a destination wedding because, no matter what, people have to travel to a destination to attend someone's wedding.

However, in its truest sense of the word, a destination wedding is one where everyone goes away to either a resort, a hotel, or an inn for a weekend's worth of festivities, including the actual wedding ceremony. For couples that have not put down roots anywhere, including in a house of worship, a destination wedding can be a great idea.

Destination weddings can also be a fiscally sound wedding consideration because they usually end up costing less. Most couples planning a destination wedding in someplace like the Caribbean end up honeymooning at the destination as well. So they've paid only one set of travel expenses to get to their wedding and honeymoon.

And the Bride Said

"We discovered it would cost the same to have a wedding with 200 people in Boston as it would to have a wedding in the Caribbean with 40-50, including paying for our guests' accommodations! We are putting all of our guests up for three nights at the resort where we will be married."

Colleen, Massachusetts

In addition, guest lists for destination weddings are usually a lot smaller than traditional weddings. Not everyone can afford to go away for three or four days for a destination wedding, so these kinds of celebrations end up being smaller overall. That means a smaller price tag for the newlywed couple picking up the tab.

One of the most popular places to have a destination wedding is in the Caribbean (see Figure 3.1). The Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), an organization devoted to developing tourism throughout the Caribbean, has created a website where interested couples can find out everything they need to know about tying the knot on one of the more than 30 island nations that the CTO represents.

Figure 3.1Figure 3.1 One of the most popular places to have a destination wedding is somewhere in the Caribbean, such as Jamaica, which is where this couple tied the knot.

Look under the "honeymoons and weddings" section on http://www.doitcaribbean.com, the CTO's website, for the wedding requirements lists, which includes any necessary waiting periods, how much a marriage license costs, and what documents you'll need to get married in one of these locations.

Islands of the Caribbean Where You Can Tie the Knot

Following is a list of islands and countries that the CTO represents where you could potentially become husband and wife:


Antigua & Barbuda


The Bahamas [Nassau or Freeport]





The British Virgin Islands

The Cayman Islands



French West Indies







Puerto Rico

St. Eustatius

St. Kitts & Nevis

St. Lucia

St. Maarten

St. Vincent and The Grenadines

Trinidad & Tobago

Turks & Caicos

U.S. Virgin Islands

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