Tomorrow marks my third (!!) wedding anniversary. It’s flown by so fast! And as more and more of my friends are getting hitched, I’ve started reflecting on my own matrimonial experience. I’ve been dishing out advice left and right.
To my surprise, people have told me it’s helpful. So much so, that two of my friends actually approached me for help planning their weddings. (Which, of course, is like the best thing ever. #dreamjob)
You see, I loved everything about wedding planning — from my beautifully organized binder to my highly-detailed run of show. But I got married young at just 26, and because I was the first one amongst my family and friends, there were a lot of learnings I encountered along the way — some good and some bad.
So, I’m sharing some of that advice here. Whether things I was glad I did or things I would change, I hope that if you’re wedding planning, you find this helpful, too.
- Your budget comes first. Before you do anything — and I mean ANYTHING — you need to set your budget. And that means being realistic about your limitations. Real Simple has a great budget planning worksheet. The most important thing to know is that your reception (venue, food, booze) will take up about 50% of your budget. When you first start planning, you think the reception is closer to 80% of your budget, but there is so. much. more. Decor, band, flowers, dress, gifts, rings, lights, ceremony fees — it ALL adds up. And quickly.
- Don’t draw out your engagement. You might be thinking, We want a two year engagement to give us maximum planning time! But seriously — everyone I talk to that has done that says it’s just way too drawn out. Our engagement was 10 months and it was perfect. Yes, it was a busy 10 months, but by the end of it, we were ready. When the whole process is too drawn out, you end up over-thinking and re-thinking everything, making more work for yourself and growing impatient. Don’t forget: it’s just one day.
- Make life easier for your bridesmaids. Yes, this day is all about you, but don’t let it go to your head. Being a bridesmaid is a privilege, but it’s also expensive and a big time commitment. Don’t over-do it on the number of showers and wedding things you request these gals’ presence at, and consider buying things in bulk for them to make life easier. For example, perhaps your bridesmaid gift to them is their jewelry. If they also need a special hairpiece or even a custom tank for your bachelorette, buy it in bulk so they can pay you back, versus them having to stress about ordering it on their own. And seriously? Don’t make them buy a dress over $300.
- Remember that this is about you. If I could do it all differently, I would’ve cut my guest list in half. Our wedding was beautiful, don’t get me wrong. But we were overwhelmed by the sheer number of people approaching us all night — from parents’ friends to cousins we barely knew. We had ~225 people there, and in hindsight, it was just too many. I would’ve much rather focused on those we really wanted to share our day with and had closer to 100-150 guests.
- When planning your guest list, cut it in thirds. Once you determine how many people you want there, give yourself a third of the list, your parents a third and your partner’s parents a third. Your third is for FRIENDS ONLY — your parents’ lists should include family. Your parents will undoubtedly complain at first, but this system sets clear limitations and ensures this is your wedding. However they want to divvy up their X number of people is up to them. After all, you want to dance with your friends — not your mom’s coworkers.
- Don’t be stingy on photos. They are SO important. And yes, they’re expensive. I was so disappointed with ours. Sure, we got a few jems. But overall, they were not the style I was going for — despite multiple consultations, shot lists, examples, etc. I wish we would’ve just splurged and spent a bit more to get better memories of our big day. That’s how you preserve it forever! (And if you’re curious, be sure to read my note on The Knot at the bottom of this post, too.)
- Your dress should cost less than you think. Say Yes to the Dress have you thinking $9,000 dresses are just the way it is? Sooo wrong. My dress was $1,600 and it was beautiful. And I know many women that got theirs for under $1,000. You wear this thing for ONE. DAY. Yes, it’s an important day, but you can easily find something under budget that you’ll love — you just have to look a bit.
- Don’t spend your entire budget on flowers. One thing I didn’t realize prior to wedding planning was just how expensive flowers are! My first quote was over $10,000. YIKES! But I shopped around a bit, made some concessions and figured out a plan that still gave us the look we wanted without breaking the bank. For example, instead of all high centerpieces at every table, we alternated high and low, which actually also helped add depth to the room. We also were able to have the flower company transport the flowers from the ceremony to our reception, and re-use bridesmaid bouquets for our gift table and bar decor. Little things like that can make a big difference.
- Seriously consider a “first look.” I was adamant that I did NOT want a first look — you know, where you get a chance to see your husband before you walk down the aisle and knock out your photos before the ceremony. But hindsight, this is one of the major things I would’ve changed. Walking down the aisle and him seeing you for the first time isn’t this romantic thing like the movies — you’re incredibly nervous and scared, haven’t talked to him probably all day and likely sweating. Plus, doing photos after is a buzz kill and takes FOREVER. I would’ve much rather had a few moments to center ourselves before the ceremony, gotten photos done with and been able to enjoy my cocktail hour with guests before the reception began.
- Give yourself time before jetting off to your honeymoon. After our wedding Saturday night, we had all day Sunday to take things home, unpack and re-pack for our trip, and relax a bit before leaving Monday morning. I’m so happy we did this, because we didn’t have to think about packing prior to our wedding (which would’ve just been one more thing.) Plus, the wedding is a whirlwind! It’s nice to have a day to do nothing afterwards.
And last but not least, DO NOT TRUST THE KNOT. You know those “Best of The Knot” awards? They’re bullshit. After I had such a bad experience with my photographer — a 4X winning “Best of the Knot” company — I reached out to The Knot directly. I asked point blank if the “Best of The Knot” awards are paid advertisments or calculated by user reviews/feedback. Here’s what they said (I still have the email):
All advertisers on The Knot.com are paying advertisers. They are not “recommended” by The Knot.
Anyway, be careful. Word-of-mouth recommendations by friends are always the most powerful, or something like Yelp that can’t be filter out negativity.
If you’ve recently gotten married, I’d love to hear your tips, too! Happy planning.