If I could start all over: things I’d do differently to avoid wedding day trainwrecks

Guest post by Jalondra
Ann Arbor Rail Road wreck between Lakeland and Hamburg, Michigan, 11-21-08, rppc.

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.

Don't worry

I worried so much, about parking, about money, getting my period, feelings getting hurt, whether people would think things were tacky, etc.

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.

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Comments on If I could start all over: things I’d do differently to avoid wedding day trainwrecks

  1. “Invite whomever you want.”

    No kidding! When I was planning my first wedding I felt obligated to invite certain family members because they’d invited me to their weddings (or kids’ weddings) and… they’re family. In my heart I knew many of them wouldn’t bother to come but again… I felt obligated.

    Most of them didn’t come, and a few even said yes and then didn’t show. And I regret so much inviting them over people that really would have loved to come, people I would have loved to have there.

    I’m planning a wedding again now and I told my fiance that I refuse to feel obligated. I want people there that we both love and who love us. That’s what weddings should be about!

    • I have twin uncles who are like the Muppet theater hecklers. I can hear them picking my wedding apart in my head. They aren’t invited. Maybe half of the aunts and uncles “made the cut,” the ones who are positive and loving and actually part of our lives beyond obligatory family functions.

      • Dude, so THIS.

        I have an uncle whose greeting usually involves some form of “funny” insult about my clothes. So that totally wasn’t someone I wanted seeing me in my wedding dress.

        “Doesn’t she look beautiful?”
        “Eh, she looks okay. White would have been more appropriate, don’t you think? Unless she’s trying to make a statement.” *wink wink*
        And then my husband would have hit him.

        Not the best plan, nope nope nope!

  2. My wedding is in 30 days – so thinks! I appreciate the advice. My only caution to other brides is be careful if you get close to “firing a bridesmaid.” My friends did this to two of her bridesmaid for her wedding 2 years ago and they haven’t spoken since. Be careful, losing friends over your wedding is not worth it.

    • Losing friends over a wedding isn’t worth it, but I would question how stable the friendship was if it couldn’t survive a botched bridesmaid gig.

      I think a lot of times women form close bonds at a point in their life and promise to include the other woman in their wedding. Wedding day rolls around, and that friend really isn’t bridesmaid material anymore. But she promised, so she has to offer the gig. The other woman promised, so she has to accept (even if she feels like she shouldn’t). So that’s a recipe for disaster.

    • I wish I HAD fired a bridesmaid! She was fine until after the bachlorette party a month before the wedding, where after the fact she bitched and complained about the money she spent (she made the most money out of anyone in the bridal party) and then started causing drama between me and my then fiance and decided she did not like the hairstyle I wanted everyone to have. I kept her in because she is my cousin, but we have barely spoken since and not for my lack of trying. Now when I see my wedding pictures and see her, all I see is her shit disturbing! Should have known better because she did the same thing at her brothers wedding!

      • We did something similar… I don’t know if this is the same, but I color coded guests by groups of people that would know each other (orange – groom’s friends from high school, purple – my friends from college, blue – my family from PR, etc) so that it was really easy to move around the cells and group by color to a table. I could also visually spread any odd amounts so that a table would be a good mix of people from different groups (half purple, half orange for example) that would get along together.

  3. Don’t assume people will fight you on your offbeat decisions.

    I was so sure my family would flip out that they weren’t invited my wedding that I went into conversations about it with my gun drawn and safety off. Not the best way to have a dialogue. The only feedback I got was “Okay, you should do what you want. It’s your wedding.” A couple of people were SAD I didn’t invite them, but they didn’t attack me and didn’t deserve to be attacked before they could respond (which I probably did).

    • Agreed!

      We recently reviewed the final guest list with my parents. I was expecting a battle over the family we chose not to invite because they live across the country/we haven’t seen them in years/etc. Funny thing…it was FINE. My parents totally supported our choices. I had invented and feared drama where no drama actually existed. My mom even commented, “You’re inviting Aunt So-And-So? She’s kind of a pain, I might have left her out.”

      • Whereas my family is normally really laid back and flexible, and my partner’s family is the one who gets really uptight about Family with a capital “F” most of the time. Even so, I gave my mum several months’ heads-up before sending out the invites about who I was inviting (close friends, immediate family only) but then AFTER the invites went out she lost her sh*t and telephoned me repeatedly until I agreed to invite a bunch of relatives I almost never see because otherwise “it could cause a family rift”.

        If mum disagrees with you, she just repeats her argument over and over again on different occasions, until you slowly lose your will to fight (I do love her, but it’s true). So after a week or two of daily badgering I gave in.

        My wedding is in 4 weeks and unfortunately all the relatives I barely even know have RSVP’d yes, so I get to spend an extra $500 on food just because of that. I had no idea my mum would flip out about this, so, unfortunately the opposite is true: you can expect your family to be as chill as they normally are and they’ll surprise you.

        Meanwhile the groom’s family has been totally silent on our guest choices. Probably helps that a lot of his extended family don’t live in the state, but still. Totally turned around my expectations as to who would have a fit about what.

        • Yeah, that’s the other side of people surprising you.

          We expected my parents to be the problem children, and they were absolutely perfect wedding guests. We expected his parents to be fine, and they stepped on our toes more than once. I actually wanted to apologize to my parents for how hard we were on them when I saw how his parents behaved.

    • This is so true. I was so worried that prospective vendors would think I was crazy, or friends would be uncomfortable at our offbeat wedding. Nope, everyone was just happy for us and excited!

  4. My best tip is to do mockups of all your décor, photograph them, and include the pictures in the set up instructions.
    I had a ton of DYI stuff and had to decorate a completely empty venue. It would have never gotten set up the way I wanted without my mockups. My friends that set up and my day of coordinator thanked me for the mockups. It took all the guess work out of the décor.

    • I drew diagrams for how I wanted our papel picado banners to be hung and explained the plan to three different people. It still didn’t happen the way I wanted, because there was no ladder at the venue. Nobody thinks to put a ladder in their Oh Sh*t Kit.

      • As an event coordinator, and married lady, all I have to say to this is ladders don’t belong on the oh sh*t kit list, they belong on the ACTUAL LIST. I’m sorry to hear about your banners, and exactly why the painters ladder just goes right in the car, no matter what the event is. =D Lesson learned!!

  5. I learned how to accept help and love from other people. I’m pretty fiercely independent, so this was hard for me. I felt terribly guilty about all that our families had to do to set up. But they insisted on it. It made them feel involved. I planned it so that there were enough people that no one had too much to do. And it was fabulous to look at our wedding and know that so much love went into it.

    I also learned to plan, plan, plan, and then let it go. My fiancé and I were adamant that come noon on our wedding day, we were done. It was in others’ hands. And it worked! I was specific enough in my planning, and flexible enough, that our families were able to set everything up perfectly without us.

  6. I really love the “invite who you want” part. Not everyone is going to be able to show up and the list should extend to everyone you really want there. Thank you for reminding me of that!!

  7. My husband and I just attended a lecture by Dr. Erika Engstrom last night called “The Disneyfication of Brideland” which was about Disney weddings and how they’ve commercialized the narrative of princess-weddings (and get you hooked on princess and bridal narratives from cradle to… er… veil?), and as we were walking back to our car, we started musing on what we’d have done differently in our own wedding, knowing what we know now about weddings, and having experienced one ourselves. It’s like you guys are reading my mind or something! 😉 (I haven’t read her book so I won’t plug it, but I think it would be up the alley of most Offbeat-Bride-readers; the material she covered was certainly familiar to both my husband and I.)


    Things that my husband and I discussed that we would have done differently –

    Invited the people we wanted. Seriously – I know so many people are mentioning this one, and it’s SO TRUE. We left off friends for family that were no-shows, and painful no-shows at that. By the time we got all the invites back, with the RSVPs that surprised and hurt us (saying one thing to our face, another via the RSVP), we tried to invite our friends but it was too late; too many other commitments on their part, plus maybe a little hurt feelings.

    Paid a bit more for the photographer to stay past 10:30 – we got FANTASTIC images from our photographer, but he did miss about another 90 minutes of the reception, and there were a lot of crazy shenanigans and awesome memories that we would have loved to have pictoral evidence of. It would have been some more moolah, but… We feel it would have been worth it.

    Stuck with one dress, and have gone for the non-bridal-industry-dress: I will admit this was functional fixedness. I had gotten it in my head early on that I wanted a dress with color, but not an all-red dress. I went with an Alfred Angelo dress that was lovely, beautiful, and I did like it, but there was a lot of love-hate-freakout going on between me, the dress, and body image. Photos of the wedding day have me in two dresses; the (admittedly beautiful) AA touch of color dress, and a burgundy and black corset and skirt outfit from an amazing corset maker on Etsy. If I could do it all again (knowing everything I know now), I’d have just gotten married in the corset outfit and spent the saved moolah on the photographer for those extra 90 minutes. 😉

    Had different people on the bride’s side of the aisle – perhaps more, perhaps some different. Looking back at the choices I made, I left out some people and barely involved them in the wedding at all. Actually, that sorta goes to a bigger point –

    Involve more friends in the wedding – my partner and I regret not involving our friends more in our wedding. They attended and loved it, but our friends are our family in a way, our big family we’ve chosen, and we didn’t honor them as much as we would have liked.

    Silly little thing, but – I would have gotten on my bouquet earlier so that I could have gotten dahlias like I wanted originally. The only flowers in the entire wedding were in my bouquet, but because I waited too long, I ended up with (admittedly beautiful!) roses instead of the dahlias I wanted. Trivial, but I still would change it if I could.

    All in all, it was a successful wedding day, we have tons of amazing memories, and more importantly, three years on our marriage is still going strong. Both of us are curious what a wedding would look like now if we planned it knowing what we know now – which is kind of why we agreed to do 5-year vow renewals. A marriage grows and relationships change (and hopefully deepen), friends and communities change, and we feel that it’s important to recognize that as well as publicly reaffirm our committment to each other. Hopefully we can take the lessons learned from our wedding and apply them to all future vow renewal plannings!

  8. Although definitely not a major issue, I would have redone how we did music. I listen to metal, along with a few of my closest friends. We thought we’d figured out the perfect mix of metal and non-metal music (and I do actually think the ratio was done well), but because we played the metal tracks over the course of the night (we just basically put it on random, with a few minor tweaks), it ended up interrupting the dancing vibe; once a metal song came on, everybody cleared off to have a drink except me and about seven other people. If I had my time again, I would have a ‘metal halfa’ (half an hour of straight metal music), which I think would work better – my friends and I would get a solid dance in, most people would drink and chat and because half an hour goes by quickly, they would be back on the dancefloor and dancing up a storm shortly afterwards.

    If anybody is having mixed genres at their wedding and people having a good time dancing is important to them, I’d recommend considering how the flow of songs would affect people on the dancefloor. It’s probably the biggest regret from our wedding (of things I could have changed).

    • Brilliant! Thank you. We’re planning on having klezmer/Jewish folk music and this is a great idea. I’m totally doing this. The hora, then 20 minutes of klezmer and folk music (circle dancing!!!) then back to the music our non-jewish families and his friends know.

  9. I agree with inviting who you want- don’t invite your snarky great-aunt or estranged second cousins if you aren’t close. But B-listing guests- adding on additional invites when you get declined RSVP’s from your original list- is so, so, rude, and can seriously backfire on the couple. Please consider how you would feel as a last-minute “placeholder” guest, invited because someone else said no. Even if the bride and groom genuinely want their B-list guests there, it’s still insulting and hurtful to be picked second and have to scramble to rearrange schedules last minute, take time off work, budget for travel, etc. Most people DO realize when they’ve been B-listed too, it’s really not that hard to figure out when you get an invitation a week or two before the event. And what if someone from your original list decides last minute that they can come after all, or worse, just shows up after declining? I certainly wouldn’t fault a couple for not having a meal for me if I didn’t let them know I was coming, but I’ve read far too many stories of relatives who think the world revolves around them and think the bride and groom should magically have a place saved for them just in case they show up. And again, while it’s the couple’s decision to gracefully make room for party crashers or (rightfully) turn them away, now “their” seat is taken by someone else, and because of budget concerns or space restrictions, you couldn’t even accommodate them if you wanted to. I’ve also heard of couples over-inviting what their venue or budget can afford, because “at least [insert random percentage] of guests will decline,” and then panic when they have too high of an acceptance rate, which is just unnecessarily stressful- who wants to HOPE that their guests decline?

    That said, I think the advice about the “uncrossable line” budget is GENIUS and deserves its own post. Reminds me of all the HGTV renovations where they leave room for a “contingency budget” in case they run into unforseen problems and expenses.

    • I really don’t agree at all. I’ve been B-listed, knew it, and was totally excited to be included. They were new friends, who I was becoming closer to but wasn’t that close with yet. I didn’t expect to be invited, and when I was, I was thrilled, even knowing I was on the B-list. We ended up becoming close friends over time but the friendship was new.

      I don’t know that the B-list works well if you are really close to the people. It can work well for new friends who you aren’t close to yet, but want to invite anyways.

      • I think the B list thing is brilliant but yes you do have to be careful. What seems better is maybe invites in waves to different circles. Like if you know most of your declines are going to come from extended family, maybe all the family invites go out first. Then, you send the second wave of friends you’d like to invite but not enough room, parents friends etc. The groups aren’t mixed so they won’t know that the initial invitations went out in the first place. This is what we plan to do in order to avoid inviting close to 350 people, knowing that a chunk of the family I have to invite, but don’t know, won’t travel to come to the wedding. I don’t want to take the chance of just inviting everyone and then these relatives RSVP yes…that seems to dangerous for me!

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