So, without further ado, I present to you the 10 things I now know that I wish I could travel back in time and tell my pre-married self about planning a wedding. And yes, that's a ridiculously long title for this list ;)
1. Set a budget
As with anything, not setting a budget for yourself to aim for will almost certainly equal spending waaay too much on it! Be honest - what can you reasonably afford? We're not all Kardashians and so our expectations for our weddings should fit what we can manage. List out all the things people traditionally spend money on (there are all sorts of worksheets available online - check them out) and decide how much you think you can spend on them. And if you don't think you really need something - don't put much money in that category. And be flexible - if you go over a little in one category, maybe you can save a bit in another.
2. Don't be afraid. . . to think outside the box
Some of my favourite weddings (and fave things about my wedding) are the things that were a little unusual. With a Christmas wedding, we chose to minimize spending on flowers (they would have looked out of place) and opt for greenery and seasonal decorations. I've been to outdoor weddings at golf courses, indoor weddings at art galleries and historical hotels and intimate gatherings after a city hall wedding. Some have had multi-course dinners, some were appetizers-and-cocktail events and some served pizza. And they've all been lovely. So don't feel bound by what others have done if it doesn't suit you (or your budget).
3. DIY (or delegate)
We all know that doing things yourself can really save you some money. My best advice is to stick to things you can reasonably do well (don't plan on sewing your own dress if you just learned how to replace a button, okay?) in the time frame you have (yes, you might be able to handknit 80 tea cosies for favours. . . but in 3 weeks?). . .. and enlist help. My husband and I printed and assembled our own invites from a kit - easy but time consuming - for about half the price of a professional printer. A friend baked my cake as her gift. And I enlisted my parents to plan the music for the church (and hire a few friends to play it) and to do the centrepieces (with some platters and hurricane lamps I picked up the previous Boxing Week, some Costco ornaments and pinecones / greenery from their yard - they were gorgeous by the way). So, if you can, do. And if you know someone, ask them to do :)
4. Have an open bar (if at all possible)
Here's the thing: aside from extreme situations (a guest list full of recovering alcoholics? a wedding in a dry county?), a wedding is a party and people will expect some drinks. Maybe some people will expect lots of drinks. And being a good host doesn't often include demanding that your guests pay for everything they consume. So work it into your budget somehow, someway. It doesn't need to be top shelf stuff with flair mixology (but how cool would that be?!?) - you could have some friends and family take turns pouring the booze while your guests add mix from a selection; or you could have a keg and a case of wine. Whatever works for you!
5. Have great music
"Music is the soundtrack of our lives". . . so include it. You will likely include a few key songs during whatever ceremony you opt for but you should also plan on some quiet, unobtrusive music during dinner and then something that can get people up on their feet (or at least feeling a party vibe) afterward. If you hire a great DJ (we did - money well spent!), he or she will take care of that for you. Or you could go with a band. Or even work out a playlist on your ipod to plug into the sound system at your venue. Whatever makes you happy and suits your budget :)
6. Offer some yummy food that you can eat too
Notice I didn't say "dinner"? That's because you could totally have an afternoon tea-time wedding, a brunch or an evening wedding with finger foods and cocktails. It doesn't have to be dinner. And it doesn't have to be fancy. It just has to be tasty. And, seriously, you will need to eat too (because you may not have lots of time to do so earlier in the day, trust me). . . so pick something you will enjoy and be able to eat as well.
7. Spring for professionals to make you look (and feel great)
There are some things that you should never, ever try yourself unless you are an expert. Tailoring a wedding gown is one of those things. And it is worth every penny. Because here's the thing - off the rack, that dress (or pantsuit or bathing suit or whatever you decide to wear) doesn't look like it was made for you, because it wasn't. But a few weeks in capable hands and that dress can look and fit like a bespoke item. And while you are likely capable of doing your own hair and makeup, this is a special day on which you need to be photo-ready at all times. . . so if you can swing it, go to a salon or have a friend with mad skills help you out :) And the best thing I did was get my underarms waxed. Seriously. I wore a strapless gown with a halter neck. . . and didn't worry even once about a stray hair or underarm "shadow". So worth it!
8. Don't fret over favours
Do you have a shelf full of wedding favours that you admire daily and a drawer full of favours that you disdain? Nope? That's because nobody does. Honestly. I have been to weddings and received a card outlining a donation to a charity that is meaningful to the couple - love it! We did it too! I have been to weddings and received a collectible - nice, if you collect that thing. I have been to weddings and received food - either a little box of truffles or a candy bar that you help yourself to - tasty and impermanent, two good things! And I have been to weddings and received something "useful" like a gravy boat or a dip warmer. . . and if I found them useful, I'd already have one, to be honest. Whatever you choose to share with your guests, remember you have already shared a pretty amazing moment with them - the knick knack or treat bag that they take home with them is just not that important in the grand scheme of things. So do something, but don't make this a big focus of your time or your budget.
9. Hire a great photographer
S/he doesn't need to be expensive - maybe a talented friend could cut you a deal? But find one whose pictures speak to you. I found mine at a wedding fair and saw his photographs from across the room. I knew that I needed to hire that guy because the way he supersaturated some pics, sepia-toned others, and included some unique angles and shots just spoke to me. It was like art. It also helped that he was reasonable and would be present, taking photos of us getting ready for the big event, through the wedding, a photo shoot afterwards and then the first little bit of the reception. And that was what I wanted. You might not want all that. . . or you might want a videographer following you around. But, trust me, what you do want is someone who will take pictures that you will be proud to show off, frame and look back on years later. Because memory is impermanent, and good pictures can help bring it all back to you. Trust me - that's what I'm doing today :)
10. People matter most
I'll say it again "people matter most". Not what you wore, where you were, what you ate, or any of the other stuff. That's all the trimmings, the gravy, the extras. What matters most is who you had with you: the right partner to share your life with, and all the family and friends you love most to share the moment with. That's it. Whether that's thirty people or three hundred people doesn't matter. So even if you find yourself needing to trim costs here and there, don't worry. The thing you will remember most in five years, ten years, twenty years, is how it felt being surrounded by people who love you as you took a big step with the person you, hopefully still, love most. And that's awesome :)
Cheers! (And, happy shopping)