Dear Samantha,

I find a lot of wedding traditions confusing. Like which leg does the garter go on? During the ceremony, when does the bride hand her bouquet to the bridesmaid? Which side of the aisle does the bride walk down?

Back in the day, garters were purely functional and used to hold up stockings. Today, the tradition has managed to stick around despite the invention of pantyhose. So it does not matter which leg you decide to put it on. As for the bridal bouquet hand over, it’s really up to the bride when she does this, but tradition dictates that she hand it to the Maid of Honor after her father gives her away and she is standing next to her groom. For aisle walking and alter standing, it’s tradition for the bride to be on the left hand side of the person she is with. This comes from medieval times when the men had to have access to their sword which was usually secured on their right side, thus leaving their right hand free to protect the people they were with.

Dear Samantha,

I’ve been to a hundred weddings and they were usually boring and predictable. Now it’s my turn. What are some things I can do to make my reception fun and memorable for my guests?

Of course everyone’s definition of fun is different, but here are a few memorable examples that come to mind:

• Hire a comedian. Give him some background on the two of you so that he can come up with some relevant material on your relationship or just have him stick to wedding/honeymoon/marriage material. Have him perform right after dinner and if possible, keep it a secret so there aren’t any expectations.

• Pick a theme and run with it. If it’s based on a particular movie/story or historical time frame, heavily decorate to reinforce the theme and have everyone dress the part.

• A high-end photo booth that also captures video is a great way to add life to any party. Guests enjoy the process of posing with friends and leaving video messages to the happy couple. Plus, they get to leave with a keepsake of their own smiling faces.

• Wedding Couple Trivia: Write down several questions and answers about you, your fiancé or you as a couple. Then have your DJ ask the audience some of the questions. If anyone calls out the right answer, they either get a prize, a free drink, or perhaps a trip to the buffet line before it opens to the crowd. Continue this between songs and/or throughout the night, if there are enough questions.

Dear Samantha,

Without totally eliminating alcohol from our reception, do you have any tips on how to keep people from getting sloppy drunk on the dance floor?

To keep your guests from overindulging, you need to limit the amount of alcohol available at your reception. There are several classic ways to accomplish this, keeping in mind that guests will usually consume two drinks the first hour and one drink every hour after that, if allowed.

• Have the bar open for a set amount of time. Usually from the beginning of the reception through dinner. Or, close the bar during the meal service and serve only wine. Either have it poured by servers or have a limited number of bottles of wine on each table.

• Purchase a certain amount of alcohol, and when it’s gone, it’s gone.

• Serving wine or beer instead of hard liquor may help reduce the chances of wedding guests overindulging. While it might not prevent people from getting drunk, it may take more effort for them to do so.

• Offer plenty of non-alcoholic drinks. For a unique touch, have bartender stations that only serve soft drinks, juices and water. Or, add a little fizz and retro fun with an old-fashioned soda bar where the bartenders are dressed in vintage clothes. In the summer, consider serving up fruit-infused waters in beautiful glass pitchers. Or, in the winter, offer ciders or even a cocoa as a dessert drink.

Dear Samantha,

We really want a gorgeous customized cake, but not sure we can afford a designer cake that will feed all 200 of our guests. Any suggestions?

Having a beautifully decorated wedding cake is tradition but it shouldn’t have to break the bank. To cut down on costs, have your bakery create a small wedding cake to be put on display and for you to cut into after dinner. But then also have them bake enough sheet cakes (that will never be seen but will be just as delicious). Your servers at your venue will store the sheet cakes in the kitchen and will cut and serve portions to your guests. Another option is to have decorated cupcakes. They can be displayed on a tier to mimic the shape of a much larger cake (although the cost savings may not be as much as the sheet cake option).

Dear Samantha,

In looking at all the things I have yet to do for my upcoming wedding, I am most worried about the exchange of gifts with my husband-to-be that everyone keeps talking about. I don’t know what to get him and I’m completely overwhelmed! Please help!

Many couples forgo the tradition of exchanging gifts on their wedding day. So don’t feel pressured to do so if you find the idea stressful, pointless or expensive. But if the idea appeals to you, here are some suggestions:

• Jewelry he can wear the day of – cuff links, watch, a belt, etc. – and have it engraved to mark the special occasion.

• Perhaps he has a hobby or collection near and dear to his heart in which you could contribute an item?

• If money is tight, try the old “it’s the thought that counts” like handmade coupons for a personal massage from you or an offer to cook his favorite meal, or an even racier option if you can think of one – wink, wink. Or give him a sweet, heartfelt handwritten love note – something he will cherish for a lifetime.

Dear Samantha,

I am so excited about being engaged that I visited seven venues this past weekend! I’m not totally sure of what our budget is, as we want to ask my parents for help, but I feel weird having that conversation over the phone and we won’t be able to see them for another few weeks. Do you think it’s a good idea for me to book my venue if I’m not 100 percent sure of our budget? I’m nervous that I won’t get the dates that I want if I wait too long.

Every parent knows if they have a girl, they should help pay for the wedding if they can. So you shouldn’t feel weird talking to them on the phone. They have been expecting that conversation since the day you were born. That said, food and alcohol are one of your most expensive reception items. So until you know your budget, you shouldn’t book anything. Most venues do their own catering, and the catering costs will vary from place to place. Wait until you know your budget and then start shopping around.

Dear Samantha,

What’s the oldest a flower girl and ring bearer should be?

Typically the ages of these young participants can range anywhere from five to 10 years old. Any younger and the kids can’t really cope with the responsibility and it’s a crap shoot if they perform on cue. Any older and it may feel a little demeaning to them.

Dear Samantha,

I'm having such a hard time with my guest list. I have family from both sides to invite as well as close friends. Do you have to give a "plus one" to people? And is it rude of me to only invite the people we like from our workplace? I want to keep it under 100 but we are pushing almost 150 now. Any advice would help! Thank you!

Figuring out who to invite is a daunting task. You don't want to offend people, but yet the more you invite, the costlier the reception becomes. But don't stress out, there are easy answers to your problem.

1. If the invitation is addressed to just one person, without the words "and guest" most people understand it's meant just for them. But if you know your guest has a "significant other," even if you don't know them personally, it's important to invite that person as well. However if you do receive an RSVP for two from a dense invitee, just pick up the phone and explain that you are on a strict budget and are limited to the number of people you've invited. They should understand.

2. As for inviting co-workers, if you don't socialize with them after work, then don't bother. The work friendships you have from 8-5 will probably not continue if/when you change jobs. Plus, if you invited everyone whom you were not close to, you run the risk of looking like you're fishing for wedding presents. With that said, if NOT inviting a co-worker or supervisor to your wedding would be akin to committing career suicide, then you should suck it up and invite them.

Dear Samantha,

Can I ask my sister to cover her tattoo?

The short answer is yes. It's your wedding and you can ask people to do many things like, put their hair up, wear a long blue dress or choose a certain shoe type. Tattoos are no different. You are trying to set a fashion theme and are entitled to make it happen. Plus nobody wants to see tattoos in their wedding photo for the next 50 years.

Dear Samantha,

How can I honor a deceased parent at my wedding ceremony?

There are many ways to acknowledge a loved one's absence on such a momentous day. You can set up a table with their photograph and a candle close to your guestbook table. Another option would be to place a small round table in the reception room with a place setting for one and a chair leaning up against it. Military groups do this too, in order to honor a fallen soldier at special events. A less obvious act would be to incorporate a piece of jewelry in the ceremony that was important to the parent. Depending on the item, it could be worn around your neck, your finger or perhaps tied to a bouquet or boutonniere.

Dear Samantha,

My fiancé and I already have a house full of stuff and really have no need for a registry. How do we ask for cash?

Traditionally, wedding presents are given to help a couple fill their house with all the things they need to make it a home. But with couples getting married later and later in life, the need for "things" is no longer a priority, but the idea of a small windfall of cash is still appealing to most, but it feels kind of tacky to ask. Some thoughts are:

• Put the word out. Tell your closest family members and friends that you would prefer the cash and let them spread the news for you. Just make sure you have an answer why you want the cash if they happen to ask why. A good answer is "buying a new home," "home repairs" or "paying for the honeymoon." A bad answer is "I've been dying for a new leather coat from Nordstrom."

• Another unique option is to register at where friends can purchase various aspects of your honeymoon, like a boating or zip line excursion, a romantic dinner, a cooking class or even a couple's massage.

Dear Samantha,

What do we need to think about when serving children? Should they get a separate menu?

Absolutely! Children don't care what they eat and parents only care if the child will eat it. Ask for a children's buffet or plated meal, depending on what you are offering your guests. A typical children's meal would include chicken fingers, baked macaroni and cheese or perhaps spaghetti and meatballs, accompanied with some sliced fruit and perhaps a cookie or brownie. Cost should be half or a third less than what you are paying per adult guest. Feeding children Halibut Oscar or a nice Filet Mignon with Béarnaise sauce is not expected by the parents, nor is it appreciated by the child.

Dear Samantha,

My future mother-in-law is an expert procrastinator. She waits until the last minute to do anything and sometimes doesn't even do what she was asked to do. I don't want her input anymore but she is offering to help pay for the wedding. How can I get her to actually do what she says she will do?

The key is to figure out WHY your future mother-in-law is procrastinating. Is it because deep down she doesn't agree with some of your decisions? Is it because she doesn't have the time?

I suggest you sit down and have a casual conversation with her to see if you can gleam what drives her behavior. Then based on her answers, make a plan to either: A) Stop giving her tasks or asking for her input. B) Give her something she is honestly excited to do. Whatever you do, whether she's helping to pay for the wedding or not, she will be in your life until the day she dies. So remember to always keep on friendly terms, no matter how frustrated you become.

Dear Samantha,

I wear glasses and I have never seen a bride in glasses. I want to wear my glasses so that I can see everything clearly on my big day, but I also want to look beautiful. Do you have any suggestions?

The obvious question I can't help but ask is: Are contacts an option for you, even for just the one day? There are many types of disposable soft contacts that your optician can order for you. And because they are disposable the cost is very low.

If you are stuck with glasses, then perhaps it's time to buy a really smart looking pair that you've been pining for. If the glasses are hip and cool you'll look hip and cool, too.

Final option is just to take off the glasses during formal picture taking. You'll be happy you did every time you look at your wedding photos if the glasses are a concern for you.

Dear Samantha,

Cost is an issue for us, and I noticed many places offer lower prices if we get married on a Sunday. Do you think that will affect how many people will attend since we have many invitees from out of town?

Deciding to have your reception on a Sunday is a great way to save money as many venues offer discounted room rental fees or waive them all together on those hard to fill days. Your wedding is a momentous celebration and therefore, anyone who truly cares for you will not mind what day it's on. So if someone turns down your invitation solely because the reception is on a Sunday, then in my opinion, you don't want them there.

Dear Samantha,

We know a lot of people and would love for everyone to come to the ceremony. However, it would be way too expensive to invite everyone to the reception. Is it okay to have an open ceremony and private reception without hurting people?

Unfortunately it would reflect poorly on your part if you were to invite guests to a ceremony but not include them in the reception, despite your finances. By not inviting the same guests to the reception, you risk offending them by sending the following message: "You're good enough for the ceremony but not for the reception and please leave my gift by the door on your way out." So either cut your list to an affordable size or elope.

Dear Samantha,

My fiancé and I have a lot of friends who are very close to their kids and take them absolutely everywhere. We don’t want kids running amok at our reception. How do I let our friends know that their kids aren’t invited without offending them?

Hopefully your friends will understand that this is your special day, and like any party, you are allowed to invite whomever you would like. Frankly, most parents jump at the chance of a night out away from the kids. But some parents don’t see it that way. The best you can do is state clearly on your wedding invitation who is invited and then below state: “No Children Please” or enclose a separate note to parents explaining that as much as you would like to invite the children, you just can’t due to space or budget limitations. And if some friends with children don’t show up, then they probably weren’t close friends anyway.

Dear Samantha,

I’ve sent out our wedding invitations and asked for a response by a specific day. That day has come and I have a list of guests who have not RSVP’d. Why? More importantly, what should I do and how do I get delinquent guests to RSVP?

There are a lot of reasons why someone may have not have RSVP’d by the deadline. Maybe the invitation was lost in the mail, or misplaced at home. Perhaps the invited guest is still waiting to see if their significant other can go with them. If your wedding is out of town, they may still be determining if they can afford to go or looking for travel deals. Whatever the reason, you need to know if they are attending so your caterer can prepare the right amount of food. I suggest you send them a friendly reminder email, or make a personal call. But hide the fact you are annoyed that you have to contact them twice.

Dear Samantha,

I’ve asked a friend of mine to be a bridesmaid. I thought she really wanted to do it, but now that we’re into serious preparations she doesn’t seem all that interested or excited about things. It’s starting to bother me. Is there anything I can do?

Your friend could be having some other issues unrelated to the wedding. Or perhaps if you are requiring her to pay for her own bridesmaid dress, she may be having difficulty paying for it or even resents the fact that she has to. Whatever the case may be, take her out to lunch and let her know your friendship is important to you and then ask her to be honest with what may be wrong. If it’s something that you can’t fix, give her the opportunity to pull out of the commitment without any hard feelings.

Dear Samantha,

I have a budget that allows for about 150 guests at my wedding, but my fiancé and I have so many friends that our current list already exceeds 250! How can we whittle down our guest list without the guilt?

Our wedding day is so special to us we want to share it with everyone we know, but unless you’re a movie star with unlimited funds, you have to be selective. Therefore, I would suggest you divide your current list into two categories: “A Must Have” and a “Would Like to Have.” Then start trimming down your “Would Like to Have” list. Start by asking yourself: “How well do I really know this person? If we sat down together over coffee, could we carry on a fun, stimulating conversation for an hour or so?” If the answer is no, then cross them off your list. When you’re done, there shouldn’t be anyone you’ve crossed off that would be offended, as they probably feel the same way about you. Bye bye guilt.

Dear Samantha,

I’m getting married for the second time and I’m wondering about the reception. I had a big, splashy one for my first wedding and I don’t want that again. Something low-key seems more appropriate anyway. Do you have any suggestions?

Assuming your fiancé wants a low-key reception too, I would suggest keeping the guest list under 50. This will allow more choices for wedding reception venues such as a charming bed and breakfast, a friend’s home/backyard or a small but quaint reception hall that reflects your personality. You might also check to see if your local art/aviation/Native museum can accommodate a reception or someplace else unique like a zoo or ski chalet (during the off season, of course). For the menu, keep it light with several hors d’oeuvres choices instead of a formal, sit-down dinner. Or have a fabulous barbecue, weather permitting. For the cake, toss out the traditional formal one for individual cupcakes stacked into the shape of a cake. It’s a great way to stay low-key while paying homage to the splashy tradition. Most of your local wedding cake designers now do beautiful cupcakes, too.

Dear Samantha,

My future mother-in-law has no idea how to dress. She purchased a pink cotton dress to wear to my wedding! My mother is wearing a very classy midnight blue evening gown. How do I politely tell my future mother-in-law that her dress is not appropriate for the wedding?

Unfortunately, not everyone has good fashion sense but everyone can get their feelings hurt. Instead of pointing out why her dress isn’t appropriate for your wedding, find a way to show her what your mother will be wearing. She may notice the huge difference in style and find a better solution on her own. But if that doesn’t work, take her out for a shopping spree under the pretense that you need to pick up some things and want to spend some quality time together. Then find yourselves in a chic women’s store and “discover” a dress that she truly would look beautiful in. If she agrees, encourage her to buy it for the wedding and if she hesitates, offer to buy it for her. After all, you’ll be looking at that dress in wedding photos for the rest of your life. It’ll be worth it.

Dear Samantha,

Can I invite my ex to the wedding?

Back in the day, it was generally frowned upon for many reasons. For one, it may make your guests feel awkward, not knowing what to say, wondering if the new union is sitting well with the ex. The other is that it may confuse young children if you have any with your ex. But also, your former husband may not even want to see you tie the knot, therefore putting him in an uncomfortable position of declining, despite your good relationship. Whatever you decide to do, make sure your fiancé is 110 percent OK with it. Or you may be the future Mrs. Ex.

Dear Samantha,

Almost all of the attendants in my wedding are coming from out of town. Is it necessary for us to pay for their lodging?

The short answer is no. You are not responsible for paying for their lodging (or plane ticket). But keep in mind, many people in this economy may not be able to afford the trip easily. Therefore, do a little research and let them know what hotels are close by and what their rates are. This will allow your attendants to choose a hotel that fits in their budget and subtly lets them know they are responsible for their own lodging. But if the attendant truly can’t afford to travel, and it’s important to you they be there, offer to pay for it if you can. I would suggest, however, that you both keep the agreement confidential. You don’t want other attendants finding out they were being treated differently.

Dear Samantha,

Do we really need to feed our photographer and DJ at the reception?

Although they may not be guests, the people you have contracted to work at your wedding are performing a job during a time they would normally eat. You certainly don’t have to, but it’s a nice gesture, and would almost certainly promote better service from them. However read the fine print, as many wedding professionals have the provision that they must be fed written into their contract, so be prepared. If you still can’t stomach the idea of offering a $50+ plate of food to your DJ, coordinate a less expensive meal for them with your caterer. But under no circumstances are you obliged to offer them free alcoholic drinks. After all they’re on the clock, working for you. And nobody likes a drunken DJ, anyway.

Dear Samantha,

How do I graciously decline the “donated” help of extended family members? I have one family member who likes to do amateur flower arranging as a hobby and wants to do my wedding flowers. I don’t want amateur flowers but I don’t want to hurt her feelings either.

It’s always difficult to tactfully turn down help, especially when you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. My suggestion is to thank them profusely, but say you and your fiancé have already contracted with a similar vendor based on your needs and budget. Ask if you can count on them to help you select the flowers at your local professional florist. This will make them feel appreciated without ever knowing your true feelings.

Dear Samantha,

We plan to have an open bar at our wedding reception. Can we be held responsible if someone drives home drunk and has an accident?

You are off the hook. In Alaska, the person who is serving the drinks is liable for any situation that results in a drunk driving accident. Keep in mind that this scenario is rare because all servers and bartenders are required to pass an exam that teaches them the signs of inebriation and have been instructed on what to do if someone is getting intoxicated. Worth mentioning is the fact that some facilities offer free cab rides home in severe circumstances because it’s in their best interest to make sure that nothing happens to you or your guests. If these thoughts still keep you up at night, another alternative would be to provide your guests with a few bottles of wine on the table. It’s enough to celebrate the moment, but not enough for things to go south.

Dear Samantha,

My bridesmaids are all different sizes and have very different opinions about dress styles. Do you have any suggestions on how I can make everyone happy?

So many brides think they have to dress their maids in the same dress, and with everyone having different body types, you will inevitably have one or two crying in their pillow at night or cursing you under their breath. One option is to take all your maids shopping at the same time and hope they all agree on the same style. If that doesn’t work, another solution is to go to a fabric store and select material that you absolutely love. Then send each maid five yards and instruct them to find a dress pattern they like that is appropriate for your ceremony (casual, formal or somewhere in-between). Once found, have them take it to a reputable seamstress. In the end the cost should be around the same as if you bought it off the rack (or possibly even less) and your girls will feel beautiful in a dress that’s flattering to them. It’s a win – win.

Dear Samantha,

Do I really need a wedding planner? My mother says yes, but I have friends who say they can help. Who do I listen to?

Listen to your mother, especially if she’s offering to pay for one. Wedding planers are worth their weight in gold, whether you hire one from the very beginning or just for the day of your wedding. They can alleviate many decorating and logistic issues that need handling, take all the calls the day of the wedding and think of things you haven’t. If you choose a friend to help you with the details, they may not be able to enjoy the wedding due to all the responsibilities heaped upon them or, worse, may not live up to your expectations.

Dear Samantha,

My fiancé wants to have an open bar at our reception and I think it’s too expensive. Is there a way to estimate how much it will cost?

Industry standard dictates that on average, guests will drink two drinks the first hour and one drink every hour after. So if you invited 100 guests and 80 percent drank, you would spend around $2,000 in alcohol alone. Also don’t forget: With hosted bars, there is usually an automatic 20-percent service charge with every drink poured. If a hosted bar is too scary of an idea, another option would be to purchase a set amount of beer or wine, and when it runs out, guests would start paying for their own drinks. Having a semi-hosted bar would ensure there wouldn’t be any bar tab surprises.

Dear Samantha,

My fiancé and I come from two different spiritual belief systems. What kind of service should we have?

It’s always difficult to blend two cultures together and keep two families happy. Especially if they are polar opposites. The best plan is to sit down with your partner and talk about what is most important to each of you. Then try to combine what’s important in the ceremony. Another option is two ceremonies. This is often done to satisfy the families more than the couple but can help to keep the peace.