Last year, four of my very best friends (three of the bridesmaids in my wedding plus my younger sister) got engaged within a few short weeks of each other. Since I have very much drunk the wedding Kool-Aid (how could you not, with my job?), at first I was like this:
But once the planning was underway, I quickly transitioned to this:
Because I forgot how horrible wedding planning is. Whoops! Over the last year, I’ve fielded every question under the sun from “Can we tell our dads we don’t want anyone giving us away at our modern feminist queer wedding?” to “How do you make a custom Snapchat filter?” to “Why is my mom ruining my life right now?” And even though I definitely sent all of them copies of both APW books (the one that’s basically a personal wedding therapist and the one that’s a $15 wedding professional in your pocket), I still ended up spending the better part of my commute home this year on the phone, reassuring everyone that their choices were okay, their families would love the wedding, and one time, explaining how to forward a URL when you’ve accidentally sent out invitations with the wrong wedding website on them. But of all the advice I doled out, these four tips are the best nuggets of wisdom I have in my arsenal. And officially what I will tell any newly engaged friends henceforth.
1. Everything is expensive, because everything is expensive
The first thing that happens when you start planning a wedding is sticker shock: Why is everything so expensive? Which is why there are a thousand think pieces online about the cost of modern weddings and the wedding tax. But the reality? Most of the wedding tax stuff is made up. Weddings are expensive because it costs a crap ton of money to feed and entertain one to two hundred people for four hours. The best way I’ve heard this explained is in the APW planner, courtesy of Liz Coopersmith of Silver Charm Events. She has dubbed “The Olive Garden Rule,” and it goes like this: Unlimited soup, salad, and bread sticks notwithstanding, at the Olive Garden, an appetizer, a salad, and a few glasses of wine will cost about $50 per person. Translate that to a hundred guests, and it would cost $5,000 to serve Olive Garden at your wedding. And that’s not including other luxuries like tables and chairs and waitstaff.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t have an affordable wedding. It just means you might need to reimagine what pops up in your head when you think the word “wedding.” Maybe it means you serve cake and punch at two in the afternoon. Maybe it means getting married on a Friday night. Maybe it means a limited bar. Whatever your budget, there is a way to have a wedding that fits within it. Case in point: here are twenty fabulous weddings under $15,000 and thirteen awesome budget weddings under $8,000, plus creative ideas for dealing with wedding sticker shock.
2. Guests first, things second
When you get engaged, the first thing people typically ask you is, “Have you made any plans yet?” And at first you’re like, “Oh we’re just basking in the glow of being engaged, la la la!” But after the tenth time, your brain starts to turn on you and you start thinking, “Maybe I’m so behind! Maybe I need to plan All The Things RIGHTNOWYESTERDAY!” And this is you hunched over your computer at 3 a.m.:
This pressure can mount especially fast if you’re planning a short engagement or getting married in an area where limited availability of venues can make a year feel short. But don’t rush to book a venue before you’ve set your guest list. Because despite what the wedding industry will tell you, the people make the wedding. And that goes for big weddings and small weddings alike. So don’t trap yourself into a 75-person venue if you know your combined guest list is going to be 150 people. I promise you, no amount of skylights and unique landscaping will make up for having to tell someone you love there just isn’t enough space.
P.S. If you’re trying to do the “but our dream venue is 100 people and we’re inviting 120 and we can’t imagine everyone will come but WHAT IF THEY DO?!” math, then click here to download a page directly from the #APWPlanner with estimates for some of the most common wedding scenarios and guest types.
3. Master the smile and shrug
Okay, so remember those people who asked if you had anything planned yet? They are not innocents! They have opinions. And they will share their opinions with you, whether you like it or not. And your brain will absorb those opinions, whether you like it or not. And it will get you twisted. But I have a secret to tell you: People will not actually care about ninety-nine percent of your choices when the wedding rolls around (I’m talking small stuff, like whether you wear a white dress or are having your parents walk you down the aisle, not big stuff like the fact that you’re not planning on inviting your Nana). So here’s my advice on what to share:
Share with everyone: Basic logistics that will impact their ability to attend your wedding, such as where the wedding will take place, when it will take place, if they’re on the guest list. Or anything you’re confident enough to field opinions about. #SorryNotSorry
Put on your wedding website: Stuff that people need to know to show up prepared, that they will inevitably have opinions about, but their opinions don’t matter and you don’t want to hear them. Examples include if you’re having an open bar and what the dress code will be.
Tell your parents (or grandparents, or anyone whose feelings you really care about): Anything that might hurt them but you’re doing anyway. This might include not inviting an estranged family member, doing away with a tradition that they might be expecting to partake in or parts of the wedding that they’ve helped pay for. These conversations can be emotionally exhausting for both parties, so try to approach them with empathy. Chances are, your family has been thinking of your wedding for longer than you can remember, so even if you don’t plan on changing your plans, maybe pretend like you’ll at least consider it?
Smile and shrug: If you’re excited about it, and it won’t affect a single other person, and you don’t want to invite their opinion, then girl, play dumb and do the Kanye shrug:
Translation? “Gosh, we haven’t even gotten that far yet! But you’ll love whatever we choose, because there will literally be no other option once we get you in the door.”
4. You Really, Really Don’t Need a Theme
One of the aforementioned friends famously texted me about ten seconds after she got engaged, with a scroller text of wedding questions. Among them was, “How do you create and execute a wedding narrative?” To which I responded, “Tha fuck is a wedding narrative?” And she explained, “Your story that determines music, food, decor, vibe everything!” And was like, “Oooooh, a theme?” And she was like, “Yes.” And that’s when I realized that the biggest myth of the wedding industry, which I thought was good and dead, had actually split itself up into seven horcruxes and refuses to die. What myth, you ask? That you need a theme for your wedding.
Allow me stab this idea with a basilisk fang. Your. Wedding. Does. Not. Need. A. Theme. No one in the history of time walked into a wedding and said, “Oh, yes, they really pulled off that urban rustic postmodern glitter vibe soooo well!” Most likely the thought process of your guests goes: 1. Sniffle, that was such a sweet ceremony. 2. Where’s the bar. 3. OMG I am starving, did I just see an appetizer plate walk by? 4. Do I know anyone here? They are not thinking, “That place setting doesn’t go with the drink menu at all.” So don’t worry about making everything cohesive. And don’t spend too much time on tiny tabletop details. Just pick things you like. Wear what you want. Choose colors that make you happy. Have fun with it. And make sure your guests are fed on time. Otherwise? Try to think about some of the kick-ass parties you’ve been to in your life and what made them awesome. Then channel that. And if you need more pep talks on this subject, here’s why there’s no such thing as a timeless wedding, and why you don’t actually want that Pinterest wedding.
The thing I most wish I’d known when wedding planning is that the hard stuff is what you can’t control. Family is family. Money doesn’t grow on trees. But nothing good comes from stressing over centerpieces. And the rest? It can be fun if you let it.
Champagne also helps a lot.
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