If I have one wedding checklist telling me what tasks to do when, I have a dozen. I'm pretty sure not a single one of them places "Find your wedding dress" as the first task at hand. But, that was one of the very first things I managed to cross off. Shortly after Kevin and I told our parents we were getting married, my mom and I set out to survey the wedding dress landscape. Before we embarked upon our journey, I prepared myself for the worst. I recalled the countless hours and scads of formal dresses that my mom and I had endured together during my high school and college years. I assured myself that this was merely a reconnaissance mission. After all, if I couldn't tell an A-line from a ball gown, I had no business buying a wedding dress. I knew our task would be difficult, but I was certain my mom (who is quite the taskmaster) would be game. I had set a strict budget for the wedding, and the non-fashionista pragmatist in me can't help but calculate the per-hour cost of the clothes that I buy (it isn't often I can justify a purchase that costs more than $5/wear let alone something whose usage will be measured in dollars per hour). With that in mind, we headed to The Wedding Shoppe in St. Paul to peruse the possibilities. What exactly could $400 get a 6-foot-tall girl with gargantuan shoulders? Turns out, with a little bit of help, it can get you the dress of your dreams if you heed my advice: 1) Set a budget before you even think about setting foot into a shop. Don't hesitate to be honest and upfront about your budget. If your bridal consultant doesn't respect your budget, then she doesn't deserve your business. If you are like me and don't want to break the bank on a dress your will wear for about 12 hours, then look for a store that carries a variety of designers or consider the possibility of bridesmaid dresses that are available in white. 2) Look for a bridal consultant that has a body style similar to yours. The second we walked into The Wedding Shoppe, I had my eye on a bridal consultant. She had an athletic build similar to mine: broad shoulders, muscular figure, long torso. I was certain she'd be able to find something to work with my proportions. And, I was right. Nearly every dress she brought flattered my figure. 3) Go in with an open mind. I think the fact that I was a wedding novice (perhaps that's too generous) helped. I didn't have my heart set on a particular style or designer only to be disappointed if the price was too high or the cut was all wrong. My bridal consultant picked out some gowns I never would have selected for myself. Granted, one of them looked like my great grandmother's curtains, but the majority of them were gorgeous. 4) Trust your entourage. Because I wasn't planning to buy, I only took my mom to the shop. But, there isn't anyone I trust more to tell me something doesn't look good (I can hear her now, "You're wearing THAT?!") I knew she wouldn't lead me astray, so when I pulled back the curtain in Dress No. 7 and saw her face, I was certain I had found my dress: Lucky No. 7. 5) Buy a dress that works with the body you have, not the body you want. Like most women, I have a few dimples here and some extra fluff there. Instead of obsessing about how great a dress would look if I could just lose those last 10 lbs., I bought a dress that looks fabulous on the body I have right now. Sure, I am trying to eat right and hit the gym regularly (I'll tell you more about that soon), but I don't want to stress about not being able to wear my dress. 6) Once you find the dress, stop looking immediately. I never would have imagined that I would find the perfect dress after trying on only seven. And, it was almost too good to be true. When I tried on Lucky No. 7, I glanced down at the price tag and saw that it was well over my $400 budget. I was crushed. But, my stubbornness prevailed, and I informed my bridal consultant that I would have to keep looking. To my surprise, she informed me that she could sell me the sample I was wearing for $450 (nearly 50% off the ticket price). Sure it needed to be cleaned, and it has a bit of beading that needs repairing, but it fits like a glove (without shapewear even). So I decided I would stretch the dress budget a bit and cut back somewhere else. But here's where the fairy tale starts. As my mom and I were waiting for my bridal consultant to pack up Lucky No. 7, I pulled out my trusty credit card. My mom reached over and told me to put my card back in my wallet. "My mom paid for my wedding dress," she said. "And, I would be honored to pay for yours." Now, lest you think I am a crier, we both teared up. And then, in true mother/daughter fashion, we shoved Lucky No. 7 in the trunk and went to lunch to talk about all those pesky details left on my checklist—like who to invite to the ceremony and where to have the reception!