"I'm telling couples to get engaged now — and wait," says celebrity wedding expert Colin Cowie

By Wendy Grossman Kantor
July 01, 2020 10:00 AM
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PEOPLE’s Real Tips for Real Life presents practical answers to some of the most commonly asked questions around finance, employment and preparing for the future — even when that future can seem very uncertain.

Almost every big wedding this year has been rescheduled for 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic's devastating impact on the world, celebrity wedding expert Colin Cowie tells PEOPLE.

"I'm telling couples to get engaged now — and wait," says the party planner, whose A-list clientele includes Oprah Winfrey and Ryan Seacrest. “The idea of a socially distanced wedding with people standing 10-feet apart, I don’t find anything exciting or glamorous about that.”

Couples were “extremely and bitterly disappointed” at the idea of postponing their weddings, Cowie says. But after he explained what would have to be done to follow CDC guidelines and ensure everyone's safety, all of Cowie's clients elected to wait.

“A wedding is a very emotionally charged event — people have spent years dreaming of what it’s going to be like," Cowie says. "You want to make those dreams come true, and we can’t do that in 2020. We have to wait until 2021."

That doesn't mean you can't spend your extra time and cash prepping for the big day. Below, Cowie and finance expert Kelly Lannan share their best tips for planning a wedding during a pandemic.

Nail Down Your Venue

Cowie forecasts that 2021 will have twice as many weddings as usual if the situation in the U.S. improves, so he advises booking weddings set for May to December 2021 now.

“All the venues are very, very busy,” says Cowie, who is based in New York and has offices in L.A., New York and Miami. “Settle on a date immediately.”

Lock in your band and photographer too, he says: “Everything else can wait."

Colin Cowie
Colin Cowie

Add a Cancellation Clause to Your Contracts

Cowie has added a cancellation clause to every one of his client’s contracts, stating that if the date needs to be moved again, “there will be no penalty, and any deposits we have will be respected and move forward."

With outcomes far from predictable, “it’s the smart thing to do," he says.

Don’t Book a Destination Wedding Outside the U.S.

Cowie, 58, got married to commodities trader Danny Peuscovich on Feb. 22 in Cape Town, South Africa.

"The week after we got back, the whole world went into lockdown,” he recalls. “It was the last big, great wedding before everything came to a bitter end.”

He doesn’t think he would have been able to get almost 200 guests to travel to a wedding in South Africa for several years given the pandemic.

“I was so lucky,” he says.

Cowie thinks guests will be far more likely to travel inside the U.S. before they will travel internationally. And given potential travel restrictions, they might not be able to.

Take Over a Hotel

Buying out boutique hotels will be “very, very, very popular” when large gatherings are safe, Cowie says. Consider taking over a 50 to 100-room resort or a more modest yet charming inn.

“That way you can have more control,” Cowie says. “Think about it: you go into a restaurant, you don’t know who is on your left or your right, but you know who is on your guest list.”

Livestream Your Wedding

Even if a vaccine is available by the time you say "I do," not everyone on your guest list will feel comfortable attending in person, so Cowie advises pre-planning a virtual option over Zoom just in case.

“There will be a hybrid wedding,” Cowie says, predicting that weddings might have a mix of Zoom viewers and guests who are physically present.

And depending on rapidly changing local guidelines, in-person guests might have to be completely ruled out.

Have a Virtual Bridal Shower and Bachelor/Bachelorette Party

Kelly Lannan, the 34-year-old Boston-based Vice President of Young Investors at Fidelity, was invited to 10 weddings this year — and all of them were postponed because of the pandemic. (She has officiated four weddings, and actually offered to marry her friends whose weddings were delayed. To date, no one has taken her up on the offer.)

But online bridal showers and virtual bachelorette parties can — and should — still happen, Lannan says, because they're fun and make guests feel included.

Kelly Lannan
Fidelity Investments

Take a Hard Look at Your Guest List

When Lannan got married two years ago, her mother and her future in-laws handed her guest lists.

“The guest list completely dictates a significant portion of your wedding budget,” she says. “There were people on my original list I realized I hadn’t talked to in eight years since I graduated college. The relationship wasn’t there. While it may hurt to cross someone off the list, it could definitely be a healthy decision for your budget, especially now when venues are really looking at the size of your wedding party. There’s a lot of capacity limitations given the coronavirus pandemic.”

But these B-list guests don’t have to be entirely excluded from your big day — you can send them the virtual link.

Get Crafty

You may not have pictured yourself as a DIY bride, but given the pandemic, you might have more time to spend with your glue gun working on a complex centerpiece.

“Get creative with those little things,” Lannan says. “That’s a good opportunity in the coronavirus.”

Put Your Gym Membership Money in Your Wedding Account

Is your gym membership still on hold? Not going to pilates or boot camp classes? Haven’t had a hair cut in months? You can funnel all that money plus what you'd normally spend on subscriptions and nights out into your wedding fund.

“You could even make automatic payments,” Lannan says. “That’s an easy way to save without thinking about it.”

Plus, if you have a virtual bachelor or bachelorette party, the money you would have spent in Las Vegas or Mexico can cover a splurge item on your wishlist.

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Set Up An Emergency Wedding Fund

Lannan tells all her investing clients to have an emergency fund. It’s important to create one for a wedding, too, she says.

“Weddings always cost more than you think,” she says. “It’s important to anticipate over charges. Then you’ll be the one bride in the history of weddings who comes in underneath your budget.”

Lannan kept a couple thousand in her own wedding emergency fund two years ago.

“That definitely helped me feel comfortable,” she says. “And I dipped into it a little.” (She paid for hair and make-up for her 13 bridesmaids on the big day.)

Consider Wedding Insurance

Many of Lannan’s friends are buying wedding insurance for their rescheduled dates.

“From my understanding, it really does protect a couple’s investment from things beyond their control,” she says. “What if your limo driver doesn’t show up – they contract coronavirus, and you need to find someone else, and they are charging three times the price? The insurance will cover.”

Look at the Bright Side

“It’s okay to be sad postponing your wedding,” Lannan says.

But try to find an upside.

“My friend hated her original save-the-date cards. Guess what? She gets to send a new one,” Lannan says.

Don’t let the pandemic stop you from planning the wedding of your dreams, Cowie advises. Just be patient.

“There’s no crystal ball for this future,” Cowie says.

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