Besides conveying the essential information (who, what, where and when), your wedding invitation is a preview of your big day. Make sure it makes the right first impression and that it reflects the tone and formality of the event so that guests know how to dress and what to expect.

The options for paper, printing and embossing can be overwhelming, and you’ll find many sources, including stationery stores, independent stationers/printers, graphic artists, department stores, mail order catalogues and online stationers.

A professional stationer can help guide you in paper selection, print styles, wording and more. Stores will have samples to help you get ideas. Most online stores will also provide free samples upon request or offer them at a very reasonable price.

The first impression guests have of your wedding day begins the moment your wedding invitation arrives in the mail. Couples have many choices for wedding stationery. There are traditional papers in white or cream, and contemporary-style invitations, and almost anything in between.

The good news is since there are so many styles and choices available, wedding stationery can be customized to fit any budget. Couples can keep it simple, and have the ink match the main wedding color, or get elaborate by having invitations hand-written by a calligrapher.

Floral Selections

Close your eyes and think of your favorite flower. Picture the delicate petals; take a deep breath and remember the sweet fragrance. This could be the starting point of your floral selection. If you don’t have a favorite flower, an imaginative florist can help inspire you with ideas.

Because flowers will require a substantial portion of your wedding budget and because they will appear in almost every wedding photo, selecting the right florist is a top priority. Start by asking friends and family for referrals. If you have recently attended a wedding with particularly exquisite flowers, ask the bride what floral designer she used. Once you have a list of several reputable florists, make appointments with each one to talk about options and view photographs.

When you have chosen a florist, ask if he or she has done weddings at your ceremony and/or reception sites before. If so, this person will be knowledgeable about what sizes, shapes, and colors work in the space. If not, the designer may want to visit or, at the very least, view photos of the venue to get a feel for the space.

You’ve gathered together some of the most important people in your life to be a part of your wedding. Naturally, you will want to give each one a token of thanks for his or her role in your special day. Some brides offer to absorb the cost of the bridesmaids’ gowns; this is particularly appreciated if the gown you selected is expensive. A spa day is another great gift. Arranging facials, manicures, pedicures, massages and even hair and makeup services for your attendants prior to the wedding is a magnificent treat and, at the same time, a way to ensure that everyone looks her best. When considering other gifts, think of activities and interests you and your attendants share, and let that guide your choice. When applicable, add engraving or personalization for a special touch.

We are all familiar with the typical wedding traditions, “something old, new, borrowed, and blue,” the throwing of rice after the ceremony, not seeing the bride in her dress before the wedding, even the tradition of the bride wearing a white dress. But what many may not know is where or why these rituals originated.

The Ring’s: Ever wonder why there is both an engagement ring and a wedding ring? Well that would be because of Pope Innocent III, who required a waiting period between engagement and marriage. He also required that a ring be used in the wedding ceremony.

The engagement ring symbolizes the couple’s promise of a future together. The diamond engagement ring has been around since the 1400s, and sometimes stood as a “payment” for the bride.

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue (and sometimes “a silver sixpence in her shoe”). This phrase is the most well known of all wedding traditions and is the custom that has remained unchanged throughout the years.

Something old represents the bond to the bride’s family and her old life that she is now leaving. This is often represented in the ceremony by a piece of antique jewelry such as a grandmother’s ring, or necklace. Some brides also choose to wear vintage dresses or shoes.

Wedding consultants, also called wedding planners, help brides and grooms of all ages. It is easy to feel overwhelmed once you agree to marry and realize all the planning and details that are involved when two people become husband and wife. This is when the wedding consultant can step in and make life easier for everyone involved. Consultants offer expert advice and experience to couples who are planning to wed. The wedding consultant helps take away stress so the happy couple can relax and look forward to their big day without worrying they are forgetting something.

Wedding consultants help couples “tweak” their wedding budgets, if necessary, to get what they really want. The key to selecting the right wedding consultant is to get one who will really listen to you and what is important to you. They have the knowledge and experience to help turn your dreams into reality. They also should know when to step in and help you and when to “back off,” which is a delicate art.

The right wedding consultant will become a trusted advisor and perhaps a friend. They will listen to you and be with you through every step of the process. A great wedding consultant will help take care of problems, both large and small. They use their experience to help couples avoid common wedding blunders.

When interviewing wedding consultants, it is imperative that your personalities click. They need to be excellent listeners, and should be up front about their cost, what specifically is included in their services, and the flexibility of those services. Ask for references and contact them. Ask about their experience, training, and accreditation. Also, find out how much time you need to set aside to work with the wedding consultant. This will help make your search efficient.

The cake is a major focal point at most wedding receptions. It serves not only as a decoration, pulling together your colors and wedding theme, but also as an important symbol. Traditionally, the cutting of the cake represents the married couple’s first shared task and is usually a key image in the wedding photos.

Today, you can choose from hundreds of cake designs and flavors, including basic vanilla or chocolate, fruit cakes, pound cakes or cheesecakes. Fillings can run the gamut from liqueurs or fruit purees to flavored mousse. If you have a favorite cake, ask your pastry chef to customize it for your wedding. Can’t decide? Please everyone by choosing a different cake for each tier.

Today’s wedding cake often takes center stage at the wedding reception, next to the bride and groom, of course. Today’s cakes are stacked, often in several layers, and can be seen in such shapes as round, oval, hexagonal, and square. Since theme weddings are becoming so popular, the theme of the wedding is being carried over into the reception and invariably influences the design and presentation of the wedding cake.

Brides and grooms are often opting to nix the totally white cake, and are beginning to add hues that coordinate with their wedding colors into their cake. Also popular is the addition of the initials of the bride and groom onto the cake.

No matter how big or small the wedding, you will be investing a significant sum of money to make your dream day a reality. Regardless of who’s footing the bill, you’ll need to set limits and create a budget. Newly engaged couples should discuss their personal finances and talk with parents about how much they can and will contribute.

Begin breaking down the budget for each anticipated wedding expense by considering your priorities. What’s most important? Designer dress? Elaborate flowers? Couture cake? Swanky reception site? Best band in town? Exotic honeymoon? Choose three items that are your top priorities and set the rest of your budget from there.

While not everyone planning a wedding has an unlimited wedding budget, being prepared and planning carefully can help all brides- and grooms-to-be have a wonderful, memorable wedding. Here is a simple breakdown to wedding budgeting that will help make the planning more manageable. Most couples go over budget by about 10 percent, so if you are prepared ahead of time, you will know what is most important to both of you, and you can scale back in other areas.

Selecting a wedding videographer is similar to that of the photographer search. Start by talking to people you know and trust, review their videos, and get some referrals.

When it’s time to interview videographers, ask about their background. You should look for someone who is not only technically seasoned, but artistically seasoned as well. They should know how to gather footage, edit it, provide proper lighting, among other things. In addition, they must be able to edit the videos. DVDs are easier to edit than VHS tapes, so find out what your potential professional will be using. Make sure you see examples of his or her work and editing techniques.

Besides the memories of your wedding day, the other thing that will last forever is the photographic record of the events. So, it is vital to make a smart choice when selecting your photographer and/or videographer. First, look at your friends’ wedding albums and wedding videos. Make notes about what you see that you like. Friends, family, and co-workers are excellent sources for referrals – and name dropping for those “professionals” who should be avoided.

Second, when interviewing photo professionals, ask to see entire wedding albums, including proofs. Pay attention to how many shots you consider to be “bad” and why you do not like them. Notice the lighting in the photos, the clarity, etc. This will give you a good overall sense of how good the photographer really is.

Once you have an idea of the kinds of things you and your fiancé want, the timeline for getting things done, and a budget, the fun part can begin. Most brides and grooms really enjoy planning the actual ceremony and reception. The trend now is for couples to plan their special day together, and to put a lot of their own personality and style into it. Many wedding ceremonies and receptions now have themes. This makes it more memorable for everyone, especially the bride and groom.

Some popular nuptial themes include: a garden party, with tons of flowers, berries, and candles; jazz-age weddings, where music truly sets the tone; Victorian era ceremonies, complete with period costumes; medieval weddings, also with period-appropriate costumes and feasting; weddings planned around a holiday; and weddings planned around your ethnic background (especially in the clothing and flowers); and weddings planned around a distinctive place in your area.