THE BLOG
05/13/2014 03:56 pm ET Updated Jul 13, 2014

5 Questions to Answer Before You Start Interviewing Wedding Planners

You're engaged -- congratulations! Maybe you just got the ring, or maybe you got proposed to during engagement season (December through February), and you're just finally getting around to the planning. Whatever the case, you're ready to bite the bullet and start your wedding planning and hire a wedding planner now.

The question you have to ask first is: Are you ready to hire a wedding planner? You may be ready to start your planning, but any wedding planner you consult with should be asking you some questions in order to give you any sort of bid for her services or for the actual cost of your wedding. We like to pretend we make magic happen, but wedding planners don't actually read minds. We work on details, facts and numbers.

Be wary of the wedding planner who is okay with you not knowing anything about what you want, but who promises to keep you on budget and quotes you her fees up front without having any idea what you want. She's either swindling you, or she's not experienced enough to know what exact bill of goods she is selling.

I know this happens because I was recently hired to clean up the mess created by a wedding planner who did not know Puerto Rico at all and had actually put the guests in accommodations an hour and a half away from the wedding venue itself. By bus. It's taken seven weeks to unf*ck that mess and it's costing my clients, in the end, almost twice as much as they had originally budgeted. No joke. Yes, they fired that first wedding planner.

So before you pick up the phone or start filling out online wedding inquiry forms in the middle of the night (I get about half of mine between midnight and 7 a.m.), it's important to know what it is that you want and how to answer some very basic questions the wedding planner will have for you in the first consultation.

1. Where are you getting married? Just knowing the destination is fine, home or away, but if you haven't decided that yet, back up and start doing your research. If you think you want a destination wedding, is your family on board and have you committed to that fully? Have you researched destination options (some places require passports, but Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands do not) and made sure your first choice actually make sense for your guests and family? You must nail down where you're getting married before you schedule a consult with a planner.

2. When are you getting married? You should have at least two dates in mind (unless you're married, pun intended, to a specific set of numbers). Without dates, a planner can't tell you if she's available to help you. I get a crazy number of requests with six-month windows, asking for exact estimates of the cost of the wedding. The problem is that a February wedding is obviously more expensive than an August wedding in the tropics. Your wedding date does make a difference in venue and travel costs. A big difference.

3. How many guests are on the actual, written invitation list to your wedding? And how many do you "guestimate" will actually attend? Be honest - have the two of you made a real list and discussed it with your parents to make sure everybody is on the same page? The size of your guest list impacts the size of venue you're going to need to hold your wedding and ceremony, as well as the overall cost of the wedding. I've had clients who invited almost 200 guests go ballistic on me when their budgets doubled because they'd only estimated fewer than 50 attendees. Look, you know your guests best, and I can only fight so hard with a client about their "guestimate" upon which we're basing all the catering costs, etc. If the bride and groom are off the mark from the beginning, the budget will totally explode when they find out they're far more popular than they anticipated.

4. Do you know what your target budget is? Be prepared to discuss this in detail on the first consultation with your wedding planner. I ask the question on the initial info form before our first consultation because, let's face it, if you're telling me you want a wedding that cannot be accomplished for anything near to what you're saying you have budgeted, it's not worth your time or my time to beat a dead horse and go through a consultation for your dream wedding that I cannot give you. I always email back with truthful and realistic numbers, and then sometimes, they decide to increase their budgets and work with me anyway. Others have to choose a different plan of action (all-inclusive resorts work well for under-budgeted couples because your guests are really picking up the tab for your wedding weekend). We also offer reasonably-priced packages for smaller wedding groups and elopements that need fewer wedding planning services, so knowing what you have to work with lets me start you out in the right direction.

5. What are the most important elements of your wedding? For example, if your fiancé must have a golf course for his group of friends, make sure you've picked a destination with access to the greens. If you want elephant rides on the beach, that's a good one to highlight up front too (yes, I've been asked -- and no, we can't do them). If you have a handicapped family member who must be accommodated and you want to get married someplace remote, you need to make sure the planner can accommodate all the accessibility needs at the venue. Make a list of the things you cannot live without and be prepared to let the planner know about all of them.

It may sound like I want you to have a lot of information before you do an initial wedding planner consultation, but really, what I'm asking above is not so difficult.

1. Where?
2. When?
3. How Many?
4. Budget?
5. Things You Can't Live Without?

With that information, I can give most brides and grooms a very close to realistic "guestimate" of what their "dream wedding" is going to cost. It's never going to be exactly on target because you don't know how many will attend for sure, and you haven't chosen your venue (costs can vary dramatically). But I can give you a solid window of budget to work with and figure into your wedding plans.

With that information, your potential planner can also calculate their own fee (estimated because if your wedding grows, so does the fee) and explain the expectations you should have of her wedding planning services.

This is also a good time to learn what expectations the planner has of you. Does she require an on-site visit or can it all be done virtually? When are payments due? Can you DIY some things or will everything be handled at the destination? Are you responsible for your own invitations and other printing? If you're looking for somebody to take care of every little details, that fine. But it's going to affect the fees so you want to be upfront about how much of your own work you're willing to do. I've had to write wedding ceremonies at the last minute for couples who just didn't get around to it.

If you can answer almost all of the questions above -- I'm sure you have questions too -- then it's time to go ahead and start interviewing wedding planners. If you have several in mind, meet with your favorite first. Planners put a lot of time into consultations, and some even charge for their time from minute one.

If you're getting a free planning consultation, make the most of it. Be ready to answer the five questions above and have your list of questions ready. Ready, set, go!

Until next time, happy wedding planning from Weddings in Vieques and Weddings in Culebra!

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