Wedding Advice, From Somebody Who’s Been There!

Photo by the amazing Erin King.

Wedding post (or maybe posts) is still coming – I haven’t gotten my photos back yet, and even though it’s been three weeks, I am still exhausted from the lead up. I have sent out my thank you cards though, so that’s a win. I’ve mentioned it before, but planning a small wedding has almost exactly the same quantity of planning that goes into a big wedding – it’s just that the numbers are smaller, and you probably have less people annoying you about inconsequential details. I have discovered that I am an extremely detail oriented person though, so there were probably a lot of things that I took upon myself that wouldn’t have been considerations for more easy-going brides.

However, I am proud to announce that I didn’t go Bridezilla at all, through the whole thing. I might have cried my eyes out more than a few times, but I tried my hardest to not put unreasonable demands on people, and to always accommodate everybody where I could. Because I’ve been to enough weddings where I’ve had to stand around for hours outside in the freezing cold in the dead of winter, or have seen people across the table served food that they just can’t eat but were too scared to say anything, or shelling out for an expensive gift and never receiving a thank you. Stuff like that. I wanted everybody there to feel like our special guest, rather than an audience that we felt obliged to feed.

The most ironic thing about planning a wedding though is that (if it’s your first marriage) you are going into it with absolutely no experience. But you learn as you go, and by the time you are done, you’re an expert… with absolutely no cause to plan a wedding again anytime in the near future. It’s kind of like putting years of work into a university degree, having a graduate job for one day, then retiring for the rest of your life. It’s odd. I’m definitely in a good position to give my sisters advice when it’s their turn, but then again, they could opt for something entirely different and then my skills will be useless all over again. But I suppose I can bask in this sense of personal achievement – I learned something new, it was hard, I got through it and I did a damn good job, and I should be proud of that.

But there are little bits of advice I can pass along here, for anybody who might find them useful. No situation is the same, but if it helps anybody, it will be worth it!

  • A wedding can look however you want it to look. Don’t get sucked into the idea that you have to do it the way that everybody else has done it, because at the end of the day, it’s about two people getting married – that is it. That’s the common thread in all weddings. What happens before and after that moment is completely up to you and there are no rules. Well, there are a couple – I would advise that you should feed your guests, especially if it’s at a meal time, but that does not have to mean a beef-or-chicken alternate drop three course meal. It could mean tacos, or a brunch buffet, or cake and punch – whatever you want.
  • You do not have to go with a wedding reception package at a wedding reception venue. For a small wedding, lots of restaurants have private dining rooms, and some don’t even charge a hire fee (just a minimum spend). Don’t think that it won’t feel like a wedding, because with the right decorations, the right music, the right crowd… it will. Simple can be special too. And an advantage of picking a restaurant is that, if you are foodies, you can pick something really good or unusual instead of standard wedding food where you often don’t have a lot of choice or variation. And you avoid the wedding tax**.
  • Registry offices can be lovely, so don’t write them off before you’ve had a look. The one in Melbourne has an open hour once a week where you can go in, have a look around and talk to the celebrants. Many of our guests commented that they thought a registry office wedding would be plain and dingy, but it was anything but. The room has gorgeous architecture, high ceilings, antique furniture and floral arrangements already there. We got to pick our own music and personalize our vows. The ceremony was very quick and to the point, but it never felt rushed or procedural.
  • You do not have to invite every person you know. Nathan has a Catholic family on one side, and I got a double dose, which equals a LOT of aunts, uncles and cousins. Some of whom we are close to, others who we could pass in the street and not recognize. We were faced at first with a situation of inviting all or none, but I didn’t want that either, so we just invited a very special few. If people love you, they will understand – I got messages from aunts and cousins who weren’t invited who were just so thrilled for us and sent nothing but love and wishes of happiness. Some people will be petty about not being invited though, other people will consider it a tit-for-tat thing if you went to theirs, but it’s just not the way things should work.
  • Pay for it yourself, if you can. I cannot stress this enough. One of the reasons we chose a small wedding was because we wanted to fund the thing ourselves without taking out loans. As generous as it is when parents offer to contribute, it does give them certain rights to decide how that money should be spent, and how many of their friends should be invited. They basically become a shareholder. We got to make every single decision for our wedding without any interference, and I honestly don’t think I could have dealt with the stress of having to navigate other people’s extremely different views on what our wedding should look like.
  • In terms of budgeting, I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all approach to this. We ended up actually doing a retrospective budget for ours. We researched all the things that we wanted to include and made a ballpark figure as our absolute maximum total, but we definitely didn’t assign arbitrary amounts to different aspects and try to make them fit regardless of whether or not we actually liked those choices. But we were mindful the whole way through – if we spent more than we had imagined on one thing, then sometimes we would find a way to get a better deal on another thing. There were a few things that blew out significantly from our initial projections, but other things that were surprisingly cheaper. When we added it all up after the wedding, we were happily under our maximum – Nathan especially was thrilled with how I managed to throw together so gorgeous and fun for so much below the average cost of a wedding (plus he thinks I’m super smart… 🙂 ).
  • Figure out which things are your non-negotiables and which things you don’t care that much about – do this together, and it will give you a better idea of where the bulk of your budget should go. Our priorities were amazing food and an extensive cocktail list (Nathan), beautiful flowers (me), gorgeous photography (both of us) and pretty stationery (both of us) – so that’s what we focused on. But we had absolutely no interest in spending money on fancy cars for the event – we ended up walking and catching a taxi at the end of the night. Likewise, we could have easily spent a thousand dollars on an amazing wedding cake, and I’m sure it would have been beautiful. But instead we went with a extra-large size of what was essentially a party cake from a boutique bakery – it was definitely not a wedding cake, but it was so cute and so different and so tasty and it was definitely our wedding cake.
  • Realize that something is inevitably going to go wrong on the day. Something tiny and something much bigger went wrong for us, but you cannot get through a wedding without something falling over. Try to keep your cool and realize that when it’s all over, the main thing you will remember is how wonderful it was. Do not fixate on one of your groomsmen forgetting their tie or having a chipped nail or the celebrant mispronouncing your name, it’s totally inconsequential and nothing can be a hundred percent perfect.
  • Make sure you eat breakfast or at least snack while you are getting ready. It’s a long day, especially for the bride, and you don’t want to crash mid-afternoon like I did because I’d been too nervous to eat much.
  • Order extra invitations and save the dates, especially if you have pretty stationery. I have put away a bunch of them so our future hypothetical children can have a copy of their own. I’m also thinking of framing a copy of the invitation, a la Father of the Bride, for the house.
  • Brides – make a speech! It’s your wedding too, don’t just leave it to the guys. It turned out that I wrote the big heartfelt thank you speech, and Nathan just ended up (lovingly!) roasting me, but I’m so glad I spoke.
  • Do book a honeymoon. Even if it’s just something tiny and local, even if it’s just a weekend away – wedding planning is stressful, you deserve it. So many people say that they will do a honeymoon later, but life will always manage to get in the way. After all the stress of the lead up, it’s so nice to have some time together as a couple to completely de-stress, drink champagne and giggle over calling each other “my husband/wife”.
  • Write thank you cards as soon as you can. Please, please, please do this. Your guests have arranged babysitters, got their hair/nails done, bought new outfits, traveled long distances, potentially booked hotels for the night just to see you get married AND probably given you a gift too. It is the very least you can do to thank them for it. Emily Post says that personalized and handwritten is best, but a mass printed thank you postcard is better than nothing at all, which is what I’ve gotten from a lot of weddings lately.
  • Have fun on the day! Be present. Remember why you are there, what it means, and how much it means. Put aside any fights you will have inevitably had in the stressful lead up, and enjoy each other. Let yourself be excited. Look around the room at all the smiling faces of all those people who love you and are thrilled to be witnessing one of the most important milestones in your life, and be grateful for them.

There! That’s all we could think of – I’ll try to add to this list when we’re no longer on a post-wedding high. 🙂

** The wedding tax! There are a lot of things that cost more as soon as you mention the word ‘wedding’. Sometimes it’s necessary to let vendors know that it’s your wedding, so they can put extra special attention and care into their service for you. Other times, it’s really worth looking outside the box. We had our reception in the private room of a restaurant that said they held ‘functions’ – no mention of weddings. And surprise – for something like ten courses plus canapes, it ended up costing less per person than I had been quoted for ‘wedding packages’ of only three alternate drop courses elsewhere. Look around and don’t be afraid to step outside the square.

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