There are as many types of weddings as there are people, and every religious and ethnic culture has their own particular wedding flavor. Here are just a few of the lessons I learned during mine:
- Take the money and run.
Most parents I have talked to have no problem with (and in some cases encouraged) their kids eloping… as long as they invite their family. Many even offer to give their kids the money they would have spent on the wedding to start their life. My advice? Take the money and run! You don’t need a big wedding. In fact, after you get about halfway through the planning, it all starts feeling kind of self-indulgent and creepy. If we were to do it over, we would have nixed most of the brouhaha, had the ceremony, and just had a family dinner or something.
- Manage Expectations
All of your friends and family have different expectations of what a wedding ought to be and whose wedding it is. I can’t count how many people have told me who exactly I should be pleasing, on what level I should be involved, etc. I was told that it was the bride’s wedding. I was told it was our wedding. I was told it was our mothers’ weddings. I was told it was our entire family’s wedding. Everyone has a different perspective, and everyone likes to share it, and everyone thinks theirs is right.
- Work your contacts and call in favors.
We saved a grundle of money by using the ‘hook ups’ we had accumulated throughout our life. Be careful to not sacrifice quality for convenience or cheapness, though. If you do use your contacts, make sure you will get the value, and make sure it’s not an imposition. Avoid anything that’s free. Usually with free, you get exactly what you pay for.
- Avoid the wedding tax.
Anything with the word “Wedding” in front of it immediately costs double or triple what it should cost. You can save money by using a photographer, printer, caterer, decorator, and retailers who don’t just specialize in weddings.
- Start early and plan enough time.
I thought three months was oodles of time to plan and execute a wedding. Turns out, many dresses can take over 5 months to order, make, and ship. And this is just the dress. Pictures, invites, etc all take time. It requires careful planning, ordering, and project management skillz.
- Do stuff yourself, but don’t underestimate the effort required.
Since I’m a graphic designer, I wanted to do our invitation myself. I found a printer, worked up a style, and my fiance and I designed it together. What I wasn’t prepared for, though, was the time it would take to assemble, address, stamp, lick, mail, and actually finish the deed. We spent a few very late nights making it all happen.
- Keep the number of people you are paying to a minimum.
If you can get someone you are already paying to do more than one thing, do it. The more people you bring into the mix, the more you will pay overall (every person has their premium just to show up and be involved). After you’ve paid someone to be involved, adding more to their plate is usually just a small incremental expense compared to bringing a whole new person into the picture.
- Invest in a photographer.
You want good pictures, and in this day where everyone with a digital SLR thinks they are a professional photographer, you will be sorely disappointed if you get an amateur. A professional knows how to use their camera better, and knows how to make you look good.
- Stay busy.
There is always something to do for the wedding. Putting stuff off will just make it worse down the line. Make decisions early, and stick to your plans. Be decisive. Don’t change your mind. We started with the goal that we (or our immediate family) would not be doing any last minute stressing, planning, or executing. It cost us a little more to farm out the decor and such, but it was ultimately worth not having to hassle.
- Show me the money.
It’s amazing how fast things add up. I would say that the key here is to remember that at the end of the day this is your (you+spouse) money and wedding. The money isn’t coming out of thin air to make this happen, even if your parents are helping. The more you spend on it, the less you’ll have after it. This goes for everything from the engagement through to the honeymoon. Don’t spend all your savings (or go into debt) to put on a faerie tale wedding, because starting your marriage broke or in debt is no way to start!!
- Keep it real.
Many people have these wild expectations of what their wedding will be. Take your wildest dreams and cut them in half. That is what you’re wedding will be. Get used to telling yourself no. Remember, this is only one day of your life, and most of it you won’t even notice or enjoy. Focus on making the wedding special for your guests, rather than making everything for you. The thing that will make it special is not the colors, the food, the cake, or the carriage. What will make it special is the friends and family you’ll share it with.
- Prepare for an emotional breakdown
People put way too much stock in weddings, and as such – someone will have a break down: you, your fiance, your mother… someone. Just know it will happen. And when it does happen, just breathe and let the emotion pass.
- Sit back and enjoy
When the day comes, be the example of poise, grace, and relaxation. If you are relaxed and enjoying the day, everyone else will too. If you are uptight and upset, everyone else will follow. Everyone is watching you and enjoying your big moment, so give them what they came for. Be graceful and happy, and just enjoy cloud 9 while you’re on it. For pity’s sake, loosen up too.
- The Best is Yet to Come
After spending all the time and energy to plan and execute your wedding, take a minute to enjoy it, and then get on to the best part. The honeymoon. Up until this point, you’ve been dealing with a plethora of personalities, passions, emotions, and people. The honeymoon is so great because you can just relax and enjoy the company of your new spouse with no outside interactions, no expectations, and no interruptions. It’s the only time in my life I’ve been successfully left alone for an entire week. It was absolute bliss. So any time you get frustrated by the wedding planning, just keep that honeymoon in mind. It doesn’t matter if you’re going to the end of the earth or to a local hotel, you will have the distinct opportunity to fall off the face of the earth for as long as you want, and no one will fault you for it. Brilliant!