It’s the day you’ve waited for all your life. It’s exciting and scary, adrenaline and apprehension mixing like rich espresso and cream. The most important part is sharing the experience with the love of your life, with those most important to you there to witness the event. But somewhere between “She said yes!” and “You may kiss the bride”, there’s thousands of choices (not to mentioned thousands of dollars) to deliberate over. If I had to do it again, there are a few things I’d do differently – and before you ask, no, the groom would not be one of them!
Back in the dark ages (before Pinterest), we had to collect our ideas from wedding magazines, Google searches and most importantly, our actual, real-life experiences. Although there were a few advantages to not having a wedding board with a gazillion pins (namely from a budget perspective), fresh ideas were much harder to come by back then.
Having done it all nearly 10 years ago, and watching young brides in their extensive planning processes today, there are a few things I wish I’d had the opportunity to take advantage of, as well as a few things I wish I’d done without. And so, without further ado, I give you my top 10!
If you’re currently planning your wedding, this is probably one of your biggest concerns/budget items, and at least in my opinion, so it should be. We got married just before the age of ahhhhmazing wedding photos was born, so even though we hired a good photographer, the style of the photos and creativity was old school. We have very classic, traditional wedding photos, with the most unique shots being ones I had seen in wedding magazines (namely, the rings on the bouquet…). Although wedding photographers can be ridiculously expensive these days, it’s worth it. Your wedding photos are all you’ll have to remember your special day and you want them to be what you want. If we ever have a renewal of the vows ceremony you better believe a photographer will be 2/3 of our budget.
They say your wedding dress is a statement of who you are, not unlike a tattoo. I would agree with this, however, just like a tattoo, it’s a timestamp of who you are now, not necessarily who you will be. So, going with the tattoo analogy, get one that ages well. There are definitely fashion trends that you can see weave their way in and out of weddings over the past several decades… sleeves, no sleeves, spaghetti straps, strapless, mermaid, simplistic, back to sleeves…. I chose a dress that I found on a clearance rack (staying on budget was our biggest priority) that I loved at the time. However, looking back on it now, it was a bit of a fad. It will always have a special place in my heart, but itwas anything but timeless.
Color & Theme
Here’s a good one, staying with our trend of big picture decisions, your color pallet and theme may be somewhat circumstantial. We chose our colors by narrowing it down by 3 criteria:
- Price of bridesmaid’s dresses (my parents were buying 4 for all my sisters)
- How it would compliment our location
- It was still available (there were three other weddings in my extended family that summer and we were the last ones to get engaged!)
If I was to do it over, I would still be price conscious, but I wouldn’t worry as much about the location. Our reception was outdoors but most of our photos as a wedding party were in front of the deep red curtain at the church above the altar. Therefore, even though the colors worked beautifully for an outdoor wedding, I didn’t think about how ugly they would look up against such a deep red. Lastly, I wouldn’t pay nearly as much attention to the other weddings going on. True, I probably wouldn’t wear the same dress as another bride that I knew, at least not in the same year, but a color pallet is much less of a big deal. It’s kind of like choosing the colors for painting your house – who cares if you and your bestie have the same colors? They’ll never be in the same place at the same time! Although we all must be sensitive to others on their special day, make your decisions for you not for someone else.
This was a BIG one. To save on costs, we brought in a caterer but did our own set up and tear down. This was a huge mistake. My parents were at the reception site well into the night cleaning up after their oldest daughter had long since driven off on her honeymoon. That is NOT the way a wedding day should end for the family. For my sisters’ wedding we knew of the dangers so we tried to preemptively avoid it by asking for volunteers to stay behind and help days in advance. It still didn’t work. My parents were still the last to leave. So when my brother’s wedding rolled around, we were prepared. I was in charge of coordinating clean up and I made sure that the minute my brother and his bride left the reception, my husband escorted my mom and dad to their car. It was a long night for some, but not for the mother and father of the groom; just as it should be. If you want to go low-budget this is an excellent way to save money, however, make sure you have someone in charge that is not the parents of the bride or groom.
The Guest List
This one is tricky, I know… and I have mixed feelings on it, so bear with me. But I feel like even though there are people you should invite, wouldn’t it be nice to only invite people you want to invite? We had nearly 300 guests at our wedding so I’m one to talk, but if I were to do it again, I would want it to be much smaller and more intimate. I loved celebrating with all of our family and friends, but there were so many people I barely got to see, let alone visit with. I’m not saying shaving down the guest list would have been easy, but I have to wonder if we would have enjoyed ourselves more with a smaller, intimate group.
Ick. Favors are a pain in the neck. Mine were chocolate covered pretzels in little tulle bags tied with ribbon. An adorable idea… until you had them sitting on all the tables… outside… in the sun… in August…. yep. The bottom line is, unless you’re giving your guests something spectacularly useful -like sunglasses or flip-flops for a beach-side reception- give them something cheap and yummy. If I had thought it through, I think I would have thrown out the favor idea altogether and instead put appetizers on each table for them to munch on while they waited for us (isn’t that the only reason we all love favors? Something to eat while you’re waiting for the bridal party to arrive!). Chocolate, nuts, fruit, veggies, crackers and cheese – anything would work, really. Everyone is different, but I think the sentiment would be much appreciated by waiting, hungry guests.
We had a very traditional reception… bridal party arrives and is announced, serve the meal, do the dances, cut the cake… and it was lovely. However, it lacked an opportunity for us, my husband and I, to interact with our guests in a meaningful way. I’ve since seen games, new traditions – even coordinated dances – that help involve the guests instead of leaving them as merely spectators. The only thing better then having all our favorite people in one place at one time to witness your wedding is getting to have fun with them!
This is a much easier problem to manage now then it was ten years ago… but back in the day we had to register individually at different stores; there was no one-stop-shop registry. I would also say that probably three quarters of our guests didn’t check it. I mean, it was online after all. Who does that?! This led to our very generous guests gifting us 2 coffee makers, 2 hand mixers, 3 toasters and 7 (yes, 7!) coffee grinders. It was kind of hilarious but still, could have been easier. Now that practically all of your guests will be familiar with online registries (not to mention the fact that Amazon has made EVERYONE’S life easier) it isn’t nearly as big of a deal, but I think it would have simplified everything if we had very nicely asked for gift cards and cash. Easier for them, simpler for us, and hey – it’s a lot of fun to go appliance shopping as newlyweds when you’re not footing the bill!
I can’t remember more than a few solitary moments from my wedding day. I remember getting ready that morning; it is still one of my most treasured memories. My mom hosted a brunch for my aunts, a few cousins, my sisters and bridesmaids. It was a precious time to share with them! I remember waiting with my dad behind closed doors to walk down the aisle, and I remember grabbing a fan the minute the ceremony was over and we were in the basement of the church because I thought I was going to hyperventilate! I clearly remember my bridesmaids wrestling with my bustle and walking in to the reception. The dances and the cake were a blur, and before I knew it it was time to go. From the moment I woke up to the minute we drove away, everything was whisked along at a brisk pace. I’m not sure if this is a curable problem or not, but how I wish I had slowed down and savored the moment. I thought I did, I tried to – but it’s so hard to slow things down when they’re moving along so steadily. Even if I had tried and failed, I wish I could have at least been more aware of the fact that this is my wedding day and I want to enjoy every second. Everyone told me to, but in the moment, you’re just so caught up in it that it’s hard to process. So savor, enjoy, and take it all in. On a lighter note, I can’t even count how many times my husband has complained that the only cake he had on our wedding day was the bite we fed each other. So – in his words, not mine – make sure you get your cake, and eat it too!
When it comes to perspective, budgeting is everything. As I mentioned, we worked very hard to follow a reasonable budget and keep moderate expectations, but even we got hung up on some pretty insignificant line items. When it comes to the food, the decor – renting a dance floor when you have a perfectly find raised platform to use (can you tell this was one of mine?!) – some things can be compromised. Looking back for the rest of your life, you’re not going to care what appetizers you served or if you got the band you wanted. Try to see yourself ten years down the road as you make these decisions and really evaluate what’s going to matter in the long run. I can tell you from personal experience, every dollar you save you’ll be glad that you did. Put your funds where you really want them (perhaps a good photographer or the honeymoon) and don’t be afraid to make compromises. Most likely you will thank yourself later!
In conclusion, although this is slightly out of my writing sphere, I felt it was a necessary detour to take. I wish someone had sat down with me as I was planning my wedding and told me not to sweat the small stuff, that I wouldn’t regret spending less than 5K on my wedding, and that getting a champagne colored dress might date me a bit in the future. So from one bride to another, I thought it was worth putting out my two cents!
Happy planning and may your wedding day make all your dreams come true!