The job of a wedding planner isn’t to design a wedding from scratch, but rather to execute the bride and groom’s vision of how their perfect day should look, right down to the finest detail. The look, vibe, and feel of the wedding all come from the couple’s personal style. The planner simply brings it to life. It’s no surprise then, that when asked to share their key wedding-planning tips, planners get right down to business. Four Acadiana planners offered up these practical suggestions that are useful for any couple, whether or not they hire a planner to help them with the big event.

1. Write the Guest List First
“You can’t accurately do a budget breakdown until you have a solid guest list,” says Lafayette-based Cassie Thibeaux, of Southern Fete. When planning for food, furniture rental, centerpieces and more, you need an exact number — so there’s no use in even beginning the process until you’ve done that. This means “names on paper, including members of the wedding party and even yourselves,” says Thibeaux. “You don’t have to have everyone’s addresses right away,” since invitations come later, but you don’t want to forget anyone when it comes to the head count.

2. Read Every Word of Every Contract You Sign
Lafayette planner Allison Derouen, of Weddings and Events by Allie D., says she sees so many couples get so swept up in the fun and romance (and sometimes confusion) of the wedding planning process that they skim contracts with vendors and miss important details, only to be faced with unfortunate surprises later. “Read the contracts, and take time to ask questions. Don’t put down a deposit until you have all the information,” recommends Derouen. This can help you avoid hidden costs and day-of-event surprises.

3. Don’t Hire Vendors Without Personal Recommendations and Careful Inspection
“This is particularly true for photographers,” says New Iberia-based Katie Parris, of K. Parris Events. “You really want to make sure that you can work with them, but also that you’ve seen their work and love their style because they’re really artists, so their individual styles can be so different.” Sometimes online recommendations might be the best you can do but if possible, get personal recommendations for every vendor, from flowers to officiants.

4. Think Twice Before Using a Cheap or Free Venue
Gussying up Grandpa’s barn or a putting up a massive tent in the backyard can be fun, but it is not necessarily a money-saver overall. “Rentals [for furniture and decor] can add up to more than the venue fee,” explains Katie Parris. Starting with a great space, says Lake Charles planner Sara Lasher, of Sara Lasher Weddings and Events, lessens the overall need for decor and cover-ups, and “lessens the day-of-wedding effort on everyone, especially the DIY bride.” Lasher explains that while she loves tent weddings, “people have to realize that they’re building a venue from scratch, and it’s expensive and a lot of work.”