FAQ #1: The Definitive List of Wedding DIY

Welcome to our new series: FAQ! This is where we explore different FAQs regarding everything and anything wedding! Not just wedding, but any events that may need assistance (parties, festivals, funerals, etc) – anything. This is our first in the series so let’s start with a big one: What should you DIY and what should you leave to the pros.
I know it’s real – real – tempting to look at Pinterest and think, “I can do that.” Don’t fall into that black hole. There’s a reason Picasso’s art sells for millions and my kids’ finger paintings are only on my fridge. If you haven’t done those crafts before, chances are you’re going to spend more time and money than if you were to just buy it in the first place. Not to mention if it doesn’t live up to your expectation, you’re going to just buy it online anyways.
Here is Swingin’ Dolly’s definitive list of things you should DIY, and what you should leave to professionals:
1. Invitations
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If you’re looking to save some green, invitations are a good place to start. Though nothing can fully replace a well-phrased and printed invitation, if you’re trying to cut corners, this is an easy option. There are infinite online resources like Etsy and Vista Print, if you’re not the creative ‘from scratch’ type. Let’s say you are, I love using MS Publisher for the invitations I create for my clients. What makes the big difference? The paper and printing quality. Make sure you are IN LOVE with the invitation before you send it off to Staples or Office Max for printing. Then take the time to physically go to the shop and pick out your paper. Touch it. Look at examples. Smell it (believe it or not, there are smells and some are not cute).
2. Transport
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Getting from place A to place B doesn’t take a professional driver… just a driver and we all know them. Hiring a car company for a great looking car can really wow the couple’s goodbye. Uber has an option for a nicer car, usually (not always) cheaper than using a car company; and now you have the option to schedule the car early. Yay!
A word of caution: Uber drivers are just you and I, not a professional chauffeur. You’re going to have some guy – without a suit – driving a great car to pick you up. If you’re not having him out of the car, then sweet. If you’re expecting the have the door opened for you where everyone can see your driver, you will need to weigh the importance of your driver’s appearance.
3. Officiant
Nowadays, you don’t have to go through your local church, get 100 perish people to approve, then sweat it out while the church mulls over if your worthy or not before agreeing to charge you $200 for their priest to marry you. One of your friends can marry you and your beloved for a minimal fee in accordance with your state’s laws. They can perform as you desire and everything is peachy.
Things you should know: If your friend is going to do this as their gift to you, brilliant! If your friend is doing this for you because you asked them, that’s great, but make sure your conduct yourself accordingly. YOU pay the fees to get them ordained. And, no matter how they decided to do this great honor for you, make damn sure you get them a special gift. I would even go so far as to give them a special place by or on the head table. To put it in perspective, this person is going to join you to your partner for the rest of your lives, the least you can do is make it known to everyone how important that role is to you both.
4. Favors
Favors are usually very easy. A little fabric baggie stuffed with candy, tied with string. Simple. Anyone can do that. Where it gets tricky is if you decide you want something unconventional for your favor and you have never crafted a day in your life.
If you don’t craft, like crafting, or consider yourself any sort of crafter, order your favors from a place like Vista Print or Oriental Trading Company and call it a day. Making 100+ favors – for someone who doesn’t craft – is a long and suffering journey. Most assuredly will kill any momentum you gain from the excitement of saving a few dollars.
Let’s say you love crafting and you want to favor live flowers, research it extensively first. Any crafting undertaking should be researched thoroughly, however, with time and care, I always hear how people love the personal touch of a favor created by the wedding party.
5. General Decor
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When I say, “General Decor” I mean really general decor. Table clothes, napkin folding, floor runners, chair sashes. These things and the like are easy for just about anyone with enough time. You want these things to add to the experience, though, and not take away or make the set-up too busy. An overstimulated guest will have a bad impression of their experience. No one wants that.
6. The Center Pieces
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One of my more favorite parts of the decor, the center pieces are the cornerstone to the reception ambiance. They are vital. And for the most part, they are completely doable. Research what you want and how to do it. Adding several smaller parts to the center piece instead of just one big arrangement, helps to trick the eye about any possible imperfections.
Please, though, take into consideration that large floral standing arrangements aren’t for the faint of heart. If you want to have something large and intricate, leave that to a florist to do.
Let’s move onto some things you should just have someone else get done. It will be better for everyone in the long run.
1. Photography/ Videography
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Every time I hear a client say, “Oh, my Uncle said he can take the pictures. We don’t need a photographer” I gently remind them of 1960ish Science Fiction shows. On the TV you can’t really see the fishing wire holding up the Enterprise but in real life, at your wedding, it’s going to be there loud and clear. There are more benefits to hiring a professional in this case than just the downside of the cost. Yes, photographers can be expensive; good photographers can be downright unreasonable. It’s a huge investment, I get it. But you know what I also get? The phone calls from crying newlyweds, destroyed over the fact that their pictures are awful and they can’t believe they have to look at them for the rest of their lives.
That’s not saying there aren’t ways to cut corners here. A lot of the time, the photographer and videographer are the same person. You can interview college students – either about to graduate or recent grads – who are aspiring photographers (don’t make the mistake of asking for gratis service in exchange for experience – it’s rude and just about always gets declined). Offer to pay for all needed supplies yourself and the person can charge an hourly rate plus the rental of the camera. It’s usually a fairer offer for both parties.
2. Flower Decor
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I’m talking about the flower decor that is intricate or needs to be affixed somewhere or draped on something. Though in some cases, working with flowers as a DIY is a great way to save money. However, if you’re planning on a flower wall, flower bouquets adorning the archway, or vines of ivy cascading down from rafters or lighting, best to leave that to the professionals. Flowers are very – very delicate. A florist knows exactly what needs to be done to keep them looking fresh and great for the duration of your event. You don’t want to risk, either, any of your displays become dislodged during the ceremony or reception. The best way to assure it’s survival is to go with a pro.
Florists have a special knowledge and can be expensive, especially if the flowers you are looking for are out of season or out of the region your ceremony takes place. How to save money here? Use the florist for the things you really can’t do like the hanging arrangements, the boutonnieres, and the vines. Have them also use flowers that are local and in season. Try to avoid anything too special like dying the roses.
3. Security Personnel
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A lot of people overlook this necessity, thinking that all their friends and families are adults and can behave appropriately. It’s just not so. I’m not saying that I’ve had a client where there was an obvious need for security. I am saying there has never been an instance where I was ever sorry for having a security guard(s) on site. This is a big reason why most – if not all – venues require security guards during events in addition to their own staff.
Unlike in earlier cases, these guards can be inexpensive. Just treat them well, give them food, and check in with them often enough, and you will do fine.
4. Catering Wait Staff
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As much as we all would love to cook for hours on end right before our wedding, please let me urge against it. My issue isn’t so much about the food – most people won’t choose to cook themselves for the whole reception. I’m talking about the wait staff. Even if you’re having a buffet, you need someone there to keep everything looking great, keeping things hot, and to accommodate any food-related issues.
This is one of those things where you don’t want your grandmother doing this, even if she did cook it all. You want people who aren’t guests to take care of this.
5. Bartender
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If you’re having a dry wedding, you still need a bartender. They measure what’s left and makes sure drinks are free-flowing. This is something else that you don’t want a guest doing. If you are having alcohol served (whether or not there’s just beer, hard liquor, or if it’s an open bar or not), you still need a bartender. In California, you have to have a person with a bar-tending license to man your bar. You know all those pictures of bars made out of buckets like a ‘grab your own beer’? Well, you can’t do that unless you’re in your own home and you know for a fact police aren’t going to be called to your event. Seriously, underage drinking is a misdemeanor to the host – hire a bartender.
Fret not though, bartenders are usually about the same cost of a security guard, and well worth the cost.
6. Wedding Planner
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It may be a little self serving but you get your money out of a professional wedding planner. I’m not just talking the savings from their connections, years of preventative expertise, or general knowledge of all things wedding. Think of it like this: If your boss came to you out of the blue and advised you were going to be planning this year’s business picnic for 200 people, would you go it alone? Especially if this was your first time?! Absolutely not. Wedding planners come in different forms, you don’t have to have one from the very beginning (though it really helps), you can get one for just your wedding day, called Day Of Wedding Planners. An option that Swingin’ Dolly offers is to be on retainer, there for what ever you might need, when ever you might need it, for much less than a full wedding planner.
The cost for a full wedding planner can be anywhere between $1500 – infinity, depending on venue, guest count, etc.
The cost of a ‘Day of’ Wedding planner can be anywhere between $500 – $1500, but there are also things that price depends on like guest count.
Being gung-ho over your wedding is brilliant, but you have a hard and daunting task ahead of you. Don’t create more work for yourself if you don’t need to; hire the support people you need. You’ll be happy that you did.

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