Tips for planning a unique and personalized wedding

Wedding Style & Decor

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Sharon Naylor, author of "Your Wedding Your Way" shares her top tips with us on how to create a one-of-a-kind wedding, most of which won't cost you a dime!

Use elements of your love story in every area of your wedding; from the food on the menu to the songs on your playlist. Draw from the best memories of your falling-in-love days. Serving the same creme brulee that you had the night you got engaged reminds you of a very special moment in your love story, and let's guests share in the fabulous elements of your history. Some ideas: use the songs he loaded onto your iPod when you were first dating, serve the same vintage of wine that you served him the first time you cooked dinner for him, choose a coconut custard wedding cake filling to pay homage to the first island vacation you took together (and the dessert you shared while watching the sun set over the ocean...just before he proposed.)

Bring in songs you like for the party. If you don't create and submit a list, the deejay or band will most likely just play songs

There's more!

from the Top 100 Cliche Songs Played at All Weddings. Including the Chicken Dance. No one wants that. So sit down with your groom, go through your iPods and your iTunes selections and create your own lineup of great songs—some of them obscure, all of them family-friendly— to make your reception unique and memorable...and sentimental to you.

Choose a location that's unlike anything your friends have done, but make sure the site you choose has all of the items you'll need without spending a fortune on rentals. I'm a big fan of bed & breakfasts for small to medium-sized weddings. They're unique and charming, some are big enough for all of your guests to stay there and have all events in one place, and many are located in fantastic tourism areas like wine country and ski resort areas. You can then have a destination wedding just a few hours away, if that. To find a great B&B, go to

Theme your rehearsal dinner and morning-after breakfasts. These two events have been virtually theme-free for years, which is mind-boggling! They're such great opportunities for you to honor one or both of your cultures, or a theme you may have considered for your reception but decided against (such as an outdoor clam bake that would have been too expensive for 200 guests, but is perfect for 20 guests as the rehearsal dinner!).

Tweak the Father-Daughter and Mother-Son dances to make those first dances more unique. It's already been a trend for brides and grooms to do a tango or some other fun, unexpected dance instead of the side to side swaying slow dance, so borrow that idea for the parental dances. You might even decide to invite your entire families out for each of your songs. At one recent wedding, the mother of the groom suggested that the entire family join them on the dance floor to enjoy the song 'On Broadway,' her favorite song from her son's era as captain of the drum line in high school. It was completely fun and got both parents and the groom's siblings honored in that special group dance...far better than dancing to 'Wind Beneath My Wings' like so many other grooms and moms.

Tell your caterer you'd like to get adventurous with your menu. Avoid "the usuals" and bring in organic foods if you're the green-minded type. Even if the dishes you select are from "the inexpensive list" of pasta and chicken, your caterer can dress them up with unique sauces that make it seem like you spent more than you did. Just by virtue of having something different on the menu, it impresses, and it allows you to bring in your favorite foods.

Write your own ceremony. Of course, houses of worship may have rules about what you can add to their traditional scripts, so get permission before you write your own poems or add your own favorite readings from terrific authors and classic voices. It's the words that make the wedding, so this is the ultimate area in which to personalize your day.

Propose a toast. Yes, the Best Man gets the first toast at the reception and the Maid of Honor proposes the next toast. In the past, the bride and groom have stayed away from the microphone, but now it's a fabulous touch for you to take the microphone right before you cut the cake and thank your parents for a lifetime of love and support, as well as thanking your guests for being there to share your day. This doesn't mean you don't have to circulate to all guest tables to say an in-person hello. It's a way to make your day your own, and lets you deliver a heartfelt message to the most important people around you.

Use elements from your heritage. This is making a huge comeback right now. Ask your in-the-know relatives, and—this is a goldmine of ideas—contact the national association for your heritage (found online) to learn about cultural wedding rites that you can incorporate into your plans. Then give a modern twist to (such as sipping plum wine with his parents, rather than having his mom throw plums at you for luck), and make it fun for all of your guests.

Purchase "Your Wedding Your Way" right now at

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