For the past year, my non-work life has been consumed with working with my daughter Jamie and new son-in-law to plan their wedding. This has been a massive project – far more complicated than I’d ever expected – and despite having run hundreds of software development projects and successfully planning her Bat Mitzvah and the Bar Mitzvahs of her two brothers, the “wedding project” was in a class of its own! Since I know that the majority of engagements happen in the month of December, I thought that I would share how I used three software products – Excel, OneNote and OneDrive – to help make planning and organizing this project a lot easier. In the first part of this blog series, I’ll talk about Excel (and OneDrive). In the second part, I’ll talk about OneNote, which is probably not something everyone immediately thinks about when it comes to event planning.
I used Excel for two obvious things – the budget and the guest list. My budget spreadsheet was pretty simple but it really helped us make some important financial trade-offs. The second column – the budget number – will be different for everyone (figure 1), but the possible things you can spend money on are pretty much the same no matter how much your total budget ends up. (We didn’t end up spending money on all of these things, but it helped to have the complete list of possibilities that I compiled by combining information from a variety of sources.)
Figure 1: The wedding budget spreadsheet is better than anything I found online when I searched.
The guest list spreadsheet had the following columns (one row for each invitation). There is no fancy formatting in this spreadsheet (figure 2), which made it very easy to re-use and share.
Figure 2: This guest list spreadsheet aligns perfectly with a major site that sells invitations.
The columns in the spreadsheet include the following:
- RSVP Number – One trick I learned from my previous party planning is that sometimes, you can’t read the handwriting of the guests from their RSVP cards. So, we assigned each guest a fixed number and wrote the number in pencil on the back of the response cards. Sure enough, there were two illegible cards that came back so the numbers came in pretty handy!
- Guest Of – This allowed us to group and sort responses based on who invited the guest – bride’s family, groom’s family, or the bride and groom themselves.
- Last Name – We needed one column with just the last name of the guest for sorting. If you have a lot of invitations going to people with the same last name (of course you will since weddings are all about family!), you will want to add the first initial to the last name (for example Hanley, S.) so that the sorting will work.
- Number of People – We used this to record how many people were invited with each invitation so we knew how many people we actually invited. Everyone told me that 20% of the people you invite won’t come – and that turned out to be exactly the case so we were able to invite more people than the room (and our budget) would accommodate.
- Response –This a Yes/No column that we used to track whether or not we got a response. I used this column to filter the list so that I could let everyone know whose guests had RSVP’d and who we were waiting for. We had way too many people who either responded after the deadline or who never responded and we had to track down. I saw an article in the Wall Street Journal shortly after the wedding that talked about how frequently people fail to RSVP to invitations. I learned from this experience how important it is to RSVP quickly when I get an invitation – it’s just kinder and more helpful to your host!
- RSVP Count – This is a number column where we recorded how many guests were coming from the RSVP. We had several families and couples where we invited more than one person but not all of the invited guests responded that they were coming so this number was different from the Number of People.
- Name Line 1 – First line of the address. For example: Mr. and Mrs. John Smith.
- Name Line 2 – Second line of the address. For example: Sarah and Jonathan Smith (the kids) or, if a couple isn’t married, the name of the second guest. (There are all kinds of ways to do this from an etiquette perspective. I just did what our wedding planner told me to do!)
- Address Line 1 – First line of the address. Make sure you double check these and run a spell check. I collected addresses from Jamie, her new husband, and his parents. I was amazed at how many misspellings there were in city and state names! Also, ask everyone to make sure that the addresses are current. We had about six invitations come back because we didn’t have current addresses.
- Address Line 2 – Second line of the address (usually for apartment numbers).
- Country – We had a few invitations mailed to guests living outside of the US. We left this blank for US addresses. We ordered the invitations from Minted.com and ended up using Minted to address the envelopes as well (because it was free!). Minted has a required format for addressing and Country is one of their required fields.
- Zip Code – My hint here is to make sure you use the Excel number format for Zip Codes (figure 3). You can find it in the Number group on the ribbon. Select Special under category and then Zip Code. This way, all those zip codes in New England that start with a leading zero don’t get automatically changed.
- Hotel – We had guests staying at four different hotels and we used this to record where everyone was staying.
- Place Card Names – We needed this column because the names on the invitations didn’t always line up with who ended up coming to the wedding.
- Table Assignment – We started to use this column as people responded, which made it a little easier at the end.
- Special Meal – We used this to record the various special meals our guests requested.
- Special Meal Count – Number of special meals for that party.
- Gift Received – Jamie used this column to record the gifts she received.
- Thank You Written – Jamie used this column to track whether or not she had written her thank you note.
Figure 3: Use special formatting for your zip code so Excel doesn't change your zip codes.
As we started getting responses, I created some pivot tables and new worksheet pages that made it super easy to track things. For fun, I added a countdown clock (figure 4) to the spreadsheet. I entered the wedding date in one cell and then in a corresponding cell, I added the formula: C1-TODAY(), where C1 is the cell with the wedding date. I made pivot tables to count the number of guests who had responded and not responded by who they were a guest of. I also created pivot tables to create counts and names and special meals by table for the caterer as well as an alphabetical list of guests with their corresponding table number for the wedding planner so she could tell guests where they were sitting for people who lost their place cards between the cocktail hour and the reception (yes, this happens). I’ve created a simple version of the wedding guest list tracker that I used with a few of my simple pivot tables and my “countdown calculator” that you are welcome to adapt.
Figure 4: The countdown clock.
I stored the spreadsheets in OneDrive, in a folder called Wedding that I gave my daughter access to. Using OneDrive was critical for making this work. I travel a lot and I use a laptop, a desktop, and an iPad. The greatest thing about OneDrive is that all of my devices always had the latest version of my spreadsheets. No matter where I was and which device I was using, I always had a current copy of these critical workbooks. And, since I shared the Wedding folder with Jamie, she also had access to the latest and greatest information (especially the RSVPs, which came to my house).
As I wrap up this post, I’d like to share one non-technology tip that friends shared with me that proved to be immensely helpful – if you are planning a wedding, hire a wedding planner! I think I’m pretty organized, but planning weddings is a lot different now than it was when I got married. And, probably thanks to Pinterest, both brides and grooms have very different expectations from their parents about what the “perfect wedding” should include. The first thing I did when my daughter announced her engagement was to hire a wedding planner. Our amazing planner helped find vendors, review contracts, plan the décor, and helped keep me and my daughter from killing each other! And, on the day of the wedding, Pam and her team ran the show so that I could be a guest at the party I hosted. It was the best money I have ever spent!
Next article: OneNote: Don’t plan an event without it!