So my wedding came and went. I went into it feeling pretty good and prepared.
I had all my vendors confirmed; floor plans, decor inventory, decorations, vendor contact spreadsheets submitted to my day-of-coordinators three days before; and I was able to relax and not take care of anything major on the day of my rehearsal. The wedding day started out well enough, everyone in good spirits, basically starting on time.
Then, slowly, it fell apart.
Here are the things that, if I could start all over again, I would have done differently…
Get on the same page
Take all the time you need and do all the fighting you need to make sure that you and your partner are a united front. It does not mean that you have to be equally involved with or have to equally care about everything about the wedding, but you should be in agreement on the general vision, the budget, the guest list, the traditions you are or aren't following, and the highest spending and time priorities.
Give bridesmaids dress guidelines of some sort
If you want your bridesmaids to coordinate but don't want them to spend hundreds of dollars on the one-time wear matching dress route, I strongly suggest giving guidelines and letting them buy their own dresses. Make the guidelines specific enough so that they are not overwhelmed and confused but broad enough so it's not impossible to find something. I suggest giving options of multiple color shades, lengths, and material types. Send them links and pictures of appropriate dresses in regular and plus sizes in reasonable price ranges, and give them a reasonable but strict deadline to have something.
If I could do it again I would specify color range — my wedding was peacock themed so I would have told them turquoise, teal, jade, or similar shades of blue or green, length — from just above knee to tea-length. and general style — beachy, sundressy, in a light or chiffon-like material.
If you have a short planning window and aren't too set on specific colors, I would suggest looking around at what's in season fashionwise and letting your bridesmaids wear that. There was coral and mint everywhere this season and I envied anyone getting married with those colors.
Trust your gut, and don't be afraid to make tough choices and inform people about them
My biggest regret about my wedding is that there was not enough staff to handle setup, so everything ran late. I had a vendor who had all the talent and sweetness and best intentions in the world, so even though I thought the job was a bit too much for them to handle, I was nervous to say so. It turned out I was right, and I really wish I had been honest and direct about my fears beforehand and made better staffing decisions accordingly.
If someone playing a major role in the wedding (vendor, bridal party member) is a recurring problem, cut them loose
You might seem mean — cutting someone after a couple of infractions or miscommunications — but we are not all built to work together and you have the right to surround yourself with the people that you want to on your special day.
Don't be afraid to buck wedding “tradition” if something else works for the event
Relative to what I see on Offbeat Bride, I don't think my wedding was terribly offbeat. But some of the things I am most proud of are the ways I let go of what I was being told I “had to do” for both logistical and personal reasons.
For example, faced with the headache of a seating chart, I took my fiancé's idea to assign groups of guests color-coded sections and it worked out so well we're still patting ourselves on the back. I wanted to honor my parents and I also wanted to walk by myself, so we came up with the idea of having a circular seating arrangement with a midway stopping point where both of our parents, who walked us both in, would take a seat and allow us to proceed the rest of the way by ourselves.
I wanted to throw my bouquet but didn't want the sexist gender implications, so we brought all the guests out on to the floor, threw the garter and bouquet at the same time (whoever caught it would be blessed by our love), and used the opportunity right after the throw to start dancing with a big urban line dance jam.
All of these decisions worked out really well and were some of my favorite things about the wedding.
Plan the event to the point where anyone can execute it, then set a deadline to let it go
The Saturday before the wedding was my deadline to complete all of my DIY projects, pack up my décor, and prepare all of my spreadsheets to hand off to the day-of coordinator. If my deadline hadn't been early, there is no way I would have gotten everything done. That way I was able to relax the last day before I got married.
Ask yourself what is the most you can absolutely spend on the wedding. Not what you would like to spend, not what you are comfortable with, but what is the most you can absolutely spend without crossing whatever your uncrossable line is: having to ask parents for a bailout, dipping into monthly bill money, cracking retirement, getting a loan, maxing credit cards, draining savings.
Budget no more than 50% of that number, and make sure that that budget is realistic (with miscellaneous/overage as a line item). If you are only missing your uncrossable line by a narrow margin, you will cross it.
Budget time as well as money
Do a time budget. Be realistic about your other life commitments and the amount of help you can reasonably expect. Calculate how much time you have to plan and how many hours projects (like burning, labeling, and packaging 100 CDs) will take. This will help determine what you need to just buy, or pay people to do, and keep you from getting attached to and spending money on projects you won't be able to pull off.
Be willing to start the puzzle over
I discovered a great metaphor for wedding planning and for life while helping my new godson-in-law with a puzzle. We were struggling to fit new pieces into a section that we thought we had right, until we realized that we needed to take the whole thing apart.
If something major changes with your wedding after you hire certain vendors and set your initial budget, small tweaks won't save your budget or sanity — you may need to do a big reformat. Reevaluate your entire budget if your venue changes, checking every line item that that change will affect. Hire that day-of coordinator if you are now facing a more complicated setup. Change the format to cocktail buffet or the meal to appetizer only or cake and punch if your guest list doubles. If you get hit with unexpected expenses be willing to let something else, like live music for your processional, go.
Invite whomever you want
There were only 10-12 people we wanted to invite but felt we couldn't. But with the no-shows we had, it would not have busted our budget to have them come. It didn't really occur to me to invite more than we could accommodate — I was very set on sticking to a max number. Now I regret that, just like I regret saving spaces for relatives who have never made much of an effort get to know me and never RSVPed.
If I could go back, I would have rather had some more close friends there who would have been thrilled and excited to come, and taken the risk of possibly having to turn away extended family that I almost never talk to that never RSVPed.
Some of the things I had worried about happened, some didn't, and the force of my worrying did nothing to change things either way. We had a beautiful wedding and we're still alive.
Newlyweds, what are the top lessons you learned from YOUR wedding?