Mention a wedding and everybody goes mushy and starry-eyed, picturing the bride floating along on a cloud of happiness. Unless you've been there yourself, it's difficult to imagine the stresses and strains imposed on the bride and the people she comes into regular contact with. All too often we hear a sigh of relief when the whole episode is finally over. To make things easier, we've compiled a guide on how to go about ensuring that your wedding day is as dreamy and wonderful as all those fantasies you had as a little girl.
Finances - Get the money issue out of the way - fast! Decide on a budget, keep a record book and don't dip into those savings - as tempting as it gets. Spending sleepless nights fretting over who is paying for what and where the money is coming from is not good for you. Weddings are expensive and it's really not expected anymore that the bride's family pay for everything. If the couple both work it may be an idea to split the bill between the two families and the couple.
Make lists - Plenty of them! Keep your plans on paper and out of your head! It's great to see those jobs get crossed off the list as they get done.
Know exactly what you want - Sit the family down, open a `negotiating table` and listen to their opinions. Everyone has a different image in their head as to what a wedding involves. Know what yours is and stick to it. You'll only be unhappy if you bow to pressure and give in - this is your day and things should go the way you want them to. Don't let parents bribe you because they're paying a portion, they've had their turn - now it's yours.
Plan - Start planning way in advance. Sit down with hubby-to-be and decide on a venue, church, photographer, etc. Popular venues are booking at least a year in advance, so get in early - especially if you're planning a spring or Valentine's Day wedding. You'll also need to arrange your honeymoon - romantic spots are snapped up quickly and the last thing you want is to end up in a rained out camping spot! Have fun doing it - visit travel agents, read mags, explore!
Exercise - But don't overdo it. The panic about sudden weight gain in the last few weeks and frantic gym sessions every day can damage your health and well-being. You won't want to hobble down the aisle with protesting thigh muscles! Try a gentle, low impact aerobic class three times a week for maximum fat burning effects. Or better yet, grab your sweetheart and go for a walk - the time together will be invaluable and the gentle exercise and fresh air is great for the stress levels.
Put time aside for you - Schedule it into your diary if necessary. Get your hair done, have a manicure and facial, or simply lie in the bath with a glass of your favorite wine. Soul-time for you is essential to keep the wheels turning smoothly. It gives you time to make plans, relax and keep those frown lines at bay.
Keep the romance alive - During this hectic time it's easy to get wrapped up in the practicalities of it all. Those close to you may tend to take a back seat. Wedding plans generally have the couple rushing from one place to the next, having fittings, meeting family, shopping and bargain hunting. Put some quality time aside for just the two of you - run away for a quiet weekend, take the phone off the hook, or simply go to your favorite romantic spot for some special time together.
Let someone else do it - Don't try and do everything yourself, as much as you may want to. You'll get so bogged down that you'll end up being exhausted come the big day. Delegate jobs to others, let those who are good at certain things show off their talents by lending a hand. Just remember to thank them in person or in the speeches.
Stay off the booze - Especially the night before your wedding! A glass of wine is great to help you sleep, but finishing the whole bottle leads to dehydration and puffy eyes, not to mention the headache! A small tot of something before marching down the aisle may help stop the shaking hands and wobbly knees!
Stay out of the sun - A golden tan looks fabulous against a white dress, but make sure you wear a high SPF sunscreen. Peeling noses and lobster shoulders are not something to aspire to! If necessary, use a self-tanning lotion, but have someone else apply it, to prevent those streaky lines! Also, if you're going the fake route, apply the lotion at least three days before your wedding, watch out for other cosmetics reacting with it and make sure you've used the product before, to prevent allergic reactions.
Eat! - Don't overdo it but eat something simple on the morning of your wedding. Try some fruit for the sugar levels and carbohydrates for sustained energy. You're going to be on your feet for a long time and the nerves certainly don't help matters. Let your husband make you weak in the knees, not the lack of food!
Don't wear new shoes - You'll be hobbling around by the end of the first dance and the grimace it puts on your face is certainly not attractive. Find a pair that's comfy and wear them for at least two weeks before your wedding. Alternatively, have an old, comfortable pair dyed or covered. Don't wear a heel height you're not familiar with. Tottering around on stilettos you've never worn before is certainly not elegant and you'll probably end up endangering yourself and all those around you!
Be prepared - Pack an emergency bag for when you're dressing. Include a needle and thread, aspirin, eye drops, extra pantyhose, nail polish, hairclips, etc. A family member or friend could keep it on hand for you during the ceremony and reception. It may be very useful and you'll probably take it along on honeymoon as well!
Rest - Make sure you get enough snooze time at night and on weekends. Close friends always want to be part of the pre-wedding celebrations and the invites may never seem to end. Take it easy, turn them down if you have to stay strong and on top of things. Late nights and early mornings are not going to help the complexion or nerves.
Include the groom - All too often the bride takes over and leaves the groom on the sidelines. Make him feel wanted and important by getting him involved wherever possible. The time you spend together, planning and organising is a special part of the wedding memories you will cherish for many years to come. A male perspective on things can also help - they look at life differently and their viewpoints can be fun and refreshing. Remember that this is a wedding for two people - let the planning be the same.
Play it safe - Don't be tempted to buy a range of unfamiliar cosmetics. It's possible you'll react and end up with swollen, red eyes and blotchy skin. If you really have to, make sure that you do so at least four weeks in advance to give your skin a chance to adapt. Rather stick with the old faithful that you know work well and look good on you.
Keep a sense of humour - At times it may all seem too much and you'll wonder if the effort is really worth it. Each wedding has something that makes it unique and that gives people something to look back on with fondness and a chuckle.
Be real - Your wedding should suit your personality. All too often, couples try to make their wedding into something they're not and this is where things can go horribly wrong. If you're not comfortable in formal surroundings then opt for a relaxed, outdoor affair. Perhaps a morning wedding would suit you better than a more sophisticated evening event. Let your personal touches shine through.
Let it all flow - Weddings are meant to be fun, romantic and a stepping stone into the rest of your life. You've done all the planning, organising and arranging and your day is finally here. There is nothing more to do except sit back and enjoy a day that will change the rest of your life, forever. Be positive, be confident, be happy, be yourself. Congratulations!