Wedding Planning: What can we stop worrying about?
February 4, 2019 10:51 AM   Subscribe

Mefites who have planned a wedding: what elements do you wish you had worried less about, not spent (as much) money on, or skipped entirely? Alternatively, what are you glad you did de-prioritize? What do wish you had spent more money or time on?

We are trying not to do all The Things just because wedding to-do lists describe them. It's REALLY helpful to hear from people who are glad they splurged on the photographer, and wish they hadn't spent all that time DIYing a cake stand.
posted by amaire to Society & Culture (54 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I am so glad I ignored flowers. The money and effort I spared, I'm quite pleased with that. I had a small bouquet of zinnias that I carried from a neighbor's garden and that's it. For table centerpieces, we had picked up a bunch of wicker baskets at various yard sales, bought a bushel of apples, and filled the baskets with apples. Pretty, and people took them home at the end of the night. Baskets and apples together cost maybe $40 (but my dad knows an apple guy, so that might have been wholesale).
posted by gideonfrog at 10:58 AM on February 4, 2019 [5 favorites]

I would make photos a priority and not decorations, flowers or otherwise.
posted by OrangeVelour at 11:01 AM on February 4, 2019 [10 favorites]

more money/time on photos, less on video; less on save-the-date/invitations, more on food/drink
posted by skewed at 11:06 AM on February 4, 2019 [7 favorites]

If there is one thing Mefites love, it is talking about their weddings. Thank you! My wedding was pretty normal and by the book, which is what I wanted, but I did skip a few things.

I didn't have a bridal shower because I HATE going to showers and I wanted cold hard ca$h gifts. We did not spend any extra money on engagement photos because I think they are embarrassing. But really for me, the main thing I totally passed on was the pressure to add any bespoke or handcrafted elements to the day. I didn't do any special centerpieces besides flowers and I didn't do any favors. I didn't hand-embroider my table numbers or give out mason jars filled with our favorite cookie recipe. I didn't do any of these things because I have been to a bunch of weddings and have never noticed or really appreciated these kinds of touches. To me, they are a huge waste of time when ultimately your guests are there to drink, eat, see friends and (hopefully) watch you get married.

I think people stress too much generally about making their weddings unique and memorable in some way (blame Facebook), when in fact weddings are special mostly because of the people you get to see see and the love you are celebrating. Also the dance party, that part also rules.

On the other hand, maybe you LOVE that stuff! If you love crafts, have the time, will find it fulfilling, and don't think it will drive you mad with stress, craft away! These questions are tricky because everyone has different priorities. A lot of people think flowers are a waste of money, but there was no possible way I was going to get married without carrying a giant bouquet. Think about what matters to YOU and work from there, and don't worry about the stuff you don't care about.
posted by cakelite at 11:07 AM on February 4, 2019 [11 favorites]

I think you should prioritize what's important to you, and deprioritize what isn't important to you. That was key to me in figuring things out; I don't mean to be glib. It's very individual.

We prioritized catering and deprioritized photos. Flowers were in between; I DIYd them, which looked deemphasized but actually took me a while to learn (still fun for me in its own right).
posted by cage and aquarium at 11:14 AM on February 4, 2019 [6 favorites]

The main thing I'm glad we decided not to care about was a seating plan: we did a buffet-style dinner and let people sit where they wanted and I was so happy not to have to deal with the dramafuck that making tables would have been.

The unexpected thing that I'm glad we spent money on was a wedding planner. If you had asked me before, I probably would have told you that wedding planners are for crazy rich people who plan elaborate, over-the-top parties. But then my wife and I paid for three one-hour consultations with a planner and ended up just hiring her. It was really so great to have a professional to sanity-check everything for us. And it was really, really nice to have someone to run interference with our families.

Finally, here's some advice that our planner gave us that I always repeat to people: you can hate the person who makes your cake, and it's fine as long as the cake is good. You can hate the person who owns your venue, and it's fine as long as everything goes well. But you're going to be spending more time with your photographer during your wedding than anyone else, including the person you're marrying, so you should make sure that you like them as a person as well as a photographer.
posted by Ragged Richard at 11:15 AM on February 4, 2019 [6 favorites]

All the performative stuff at the reception is for the birds, IMHO. Bouquet toss, garter retrieval (barf), and even the first dance. My spouse and I have a special song; we learned at the wedding that it is not an easy song to dance to at any pace. So we kind of bumbled around to it and I honestly would rather just have the song remain nice in my memory instead of being strongly associated with an awkward public moment that was meant to be ~*special*~

The rest of the dance party: hell yes. Not saying skimp on music. But give yourself a break on some of the "traditions" if they don't sit right with you.
posted by witchen at 11:16 AM on February 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

The best thing I did was found a reception place that was all-inclusive, so they handled a lot of the basics. They gave me a lot of "do you want this or that" and I chose one, and whatever they didn't present as an option I didn't think about at all. So I didn't get a special cake cutter, cake stand, ring pillow or any of that stuff.

Things I cared about and therefore spent my money on:
the dj
the photographer
open bar at the reception

For my bouquet, I just called a place and said "I need a bouquet that costs this much that has some blue flowers" and whatever they gave me was fine. I love flowers but not necessarily expensive ones.

Things I didn't and therefore took the easiest/cheapest option:
the invites - printed these out at work on card stock. Also did DIY RSVP postcards. Not decorative or anything, just straight up WILL YOU BE THERE YES/NO
the favors - bought fortune fish off the internet
the centerpieces - IKEA hurricane candles with sand in the bottom

I wish I would have spent more time finding a dress that was more my style. I bought a pretty traditional dress, and that's the only thing I would change if I could.

Mostly I thought about what I remembered about the best (and worst) weddings I had been to, and what made them good or bad, and tried to incorporate that into my planning.
posted by lyssabee at 11:16 AM on February 4, 2019

So, we did a small wedding where we rented out a five room bnb in a small town and held the wedding on the bnb site. It was simple, cozy and perfect for us.

So I skipped out on the whole venue issues that way. It was fairly limited decoration (our flowers, table and chair covers) and it was perfect for us.

Bonus, we stayed for a week so it wasn't the whirlwind of travel that some people's weddings become between getting ready, wedding, reception, honeymoon, whatnot. It was all in one place.
Sooo worth it and as weddings go, cheap.

Photographer 100% worth it.
Decorations, and party favors not so much.
posted by AlexiaSky at 11:16 AM on February 4, 2019

For us, it was all about deciding what we wanted for ourselves on the day of the wedding. Our priorities were: we wanted to have fun, we wanted our guests to have fun, and most importantly, we didn't want to be stressed out (or have our families stressed out on our behalf). I am 100% glad with every decision we made and do not miss ANY of the things we decided to skip out on. I thought back to the weddings I had attended. Do I remember the flowers? The cake? The bridesmaid dresses? No!

We had a very small budget, which meant we couldn't hire the worrying out to a wedding planner. We also have a TON of friends, and paring down our guest list wasn't an option. That meant we needed to DIY a wedding of about 100-120 people for around $4,000. Here's what we did and didn't pay for:

Venue: Obviously we needed somewhere to host a hundred people on the cheap. We looked at non-traditional wedding venues and ended up booking a photography studio/event space that was perfect.
Photographer: We would have paid for this, but we were lucky enough to have a professional photographer friend who photographed the wedding for a bottle of nice whiskey
Food: We also needed to feed a lot of people cheaply. We got a local BBQ joint to cater, and had paper plates and plastic cups so nobody had to do dishes.
Booze: Two kegs, and a couple of cases of wine did the trick.
Dress: I sort of "splurged" here by paying a seamstress friend to recreate a $3,000 dress for under $1,000. This part was important to me.

Things we skipped (and didn't miss!):
Invites - We found a design we liked on Etsy and had them printed/cut ourselves.
Florist - I bought a few bouquets from the grocery store and made my bridal bouquet and little mason jar arrangements with my best friends, mom and mom-in-law the night before the wedding.
Bridal party/groomsmen - More decisions to make, more money to spend, more logistics to plan. No thank you. At the last minute, we decided to ask our two best friends to stand beside us, and they were happy to oblige.
Music - We made our own playlist (which was a fun couple's activity) and had a friend in charge of keeping track of the processional music.
Cake - My mom offered to buy cupcakes and used her Martha Stewart skills to DIY an adorable dessert table with cupcakes, cookies, and candy.
Fancy catering - It wouldn't have fit the venue anyway, but honestly, food and booze are likely to be two of your biggest expenses and one of the easiest places to cut costs.

I think that's it, but feel free to memail me with questions!

Best of luck with wedding planning! Despite your best efforts, weddings bring out DRAMA. Decide what you want with your partner, and stand strong against well-meaning efforts of friends and family to change your minds. <3
posted by a.steele at 11:16 AM on February 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

I went to a wedding where the bride and groom, who'd been in way too many weddings, skipped having bridesmaids and groomsmen. This meant they (and their friends) skipped the endless coordination, responsibilities, vehicle rental, fittings, etc. Their closest friends, who'd been in enough weddings, just enjoyed the weddings as guests. I overheard one of the bride's best friends say: "I'm so happy all I have to do today is just have fun. And I didn't have to buy a bridesmaid dress."

Sidebar: My husband and I skipped all of it. We eloped!
posted by Elsie at 11:18 AM on February 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

My husband and I sat down and made a list of the things we personally wanted from our wedding, the things we actively did not want from our wedding, and the things that our respective families would be devastated if we didn't include in our wedding. We were lucky in that nothing in category B was at odds with anything in our category C.

We also let ourselves separate the ceremony itself from the celebration, since having the two connected wasn't important to us, and since I didn't care for the idea of having my family involved in the celebration part (long story, but essentially this was our one potential category B/C clash).

What *we* decided to prioritize was:
Ceremony - nuclear family, pretty bouquet, fancy clothing in semi-trad style, intimate dinner
Celebration - friends, music (we performed in our own band and invited other friends' bands to play), casual buffet, simple DIY decor

What *we* decided to de-prioritize was:
Anything not on our list above. Dress code for the party was "wear what you like - sweatpants, costumes, fancy dress, band t-shirts, etc". We wanted our families to feel respected/honored (ceremony) and our friends to feel free (celebration).

What you choose to prioritize/de-prioritize should be according to your own priorities as a couple.

All that said, I wish we'd spent money on hiring a professional photographer. Both for the ceremony and the celebration. Oh well. :) I *was* glad I spent $$$ on a bouquet I loved, and gave it to my man of honor as a thank-you afterward. And also glad we had a cash bar (we are not big drinkers and didn't relish having too sloppy of a party).
posted by pammeke at 11:21 AM on February 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

The one thing I wish I had spent money on was some kind of day-of coordinator. This is an important job and since I didn't hire anyone to do it, our wedding party (aka our friends and family) had to step in and make sure everything went smoothly when it came to the open bar, the caterers, the sound system, the security guard that we were required by the venue to hire, etc etc. They were glad to do it but it would have been less stressful for everyone if I had paid someone.

I was also very glad we paid for a professional photographer although we still cheaped out somewhat by finding one who was just starting her portfolio and had good rates compared to other local photogs.

We skipped or DIY'd a lot of stuff that I didn't regret - decorations (we just had the wedding outdoors and made DIY centerpieces), DJ, flowers, the officiant, etc. etc. Our philosophy was pay for what's important to us (food, booze, location in our case) and then fit the rest in your budget however you can.
posted by muddgirl at 11:23 AM on February 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

I am glad we ignored/did not worry about:
-Wedding party transportation (limousine or party bus), everyone drove themselves.
-Creating gift baskets or itineraries for out of town guests.
-Late night reception snacks, the night was pretty much done by 10 PM.
-I am very glad our wedding happened before it was standard to create a punny custom wedding hashtag for social media, or a custom website.

I am glad we cheaped out on:
-Rehearsal dinner and all the other events surrounding the wedding that are not the wedding (gift opening brunch, bachelor/bachelorette parties, etc.)

I wish we had spent more time/money on:
-We ended up renting a wedding space that was very plain and DIY and, while cheap, we spent a lot of time and money on trying to make it look more "ceremonial" and I wish we had just paid more money up front for a more wedding-friendly venue instead of trying to force a not-a-church space into looking more church-like.
-A wedding DJ rather than attempting to DIY a playlist (sounds great in theory, works for some, but DJs can read the mood of a room and react in real time, while a playlist cannot).
-My husband wishes he had bought a tailored suit instead of renting a baggy tux.
-Learning a couple basic dance steps before our First Dance.

I am glad we did spend money on:
-A good photographer
-Wedding makeup and hair for me, I looked great despite getting no sleep.
-A live guitarist for the ceremony
-Good food
posted by castlebravo at 11:26 AM on February 4, 2019

I wish we had spent more time making a list of photos we wanted, or having a parent or friend ride herd on our terrible photographer. Still mad, but I didn’t have the bandwidth to cope with trying to manage him myself on the actual day. Buffet and no seating chart was super fun for our friends, but it left us with no formal place to sit, and people did not sit at our table because they kept waiting for our (non existent) bridal party to sit with us. We should have privately asked a few people to sit with us beforehand. Glad our wedding music was everyone sing along and glad we had a live band. Didn’t care about the cake, wish we had dropped the whole flowers thing. Glad we got married!
posted by Malla at 11:30 AM on February 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

I don't know where you are in the great Cycle of Life, but if you're old enough to have been to a bunch of weddings as more or less an adult, then a simple guideline is to think about what you remember positively about other people's weddings, and concentrate on those things.

Like, it's hard for me to imagine someone remembering how great a centerpiece was, but if you're big enough on design that you really do remember how Bob and Carol had really great centerpieces but you were disappointed that Ted and Alice didn't really even have them, that's a clue to go in on good centerpieces, neh?
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 11:33 AM on February 4, 2019 [6 favorites]

A good photographer will ALWAYS be worth the money. The day flies by in a flash, but the photos last forever.
Our friends had a super low key day, really inexpensive and it was WONDERFUL, but they do regret not having any good photos of the day.

It's true that you need to take like 400 pictures to get 50 good ones.
posted by JenThePro at 11:46 AM on February 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

We definitely splurged on our photographer because my view was that it's the only thing that remains when the wedding is over.

I'm glad I spent money on getting my dress altered to fit perfectly, comfortable shoes, and a fabulous hairstylist/makeup artist (I did a paid "trial" of my hair and makeup beforehand and am glad I did.)

Very few flowers. We basically had my bouquet, a boutonniere for my husband, and corsages for the moms. I gave the florist a loose color range (autumnal) and a few pics I liked and let her take it from there with instructions to keep it seasonal and therefore cheaper.

Skipped having a big wedding party. No coordinating everyone's outfits, no buying jewelry or whatever for all the women, no group transportation to worry about.

No favors. No garter. No bouquet toss. No photo slideshow and very few speeches.

Instead of getting one huge expensive cake, we got several smaller ones that doubled as table centerpieces (this was a HUGE, HUGE HIT).

My mom bullied us into passed appetizers and a plated dinner and in retrospect, I really wish we'd prevailed and had a buffet and let everyone sit wherever. The food blew our minds at our tasting but the caterer we used turned out to be jaw-droppingly awful when trying to serve to the masses.

I wish we'd skipped the registry and just let people give us cash. It's a little disturbing how few presents from our wedding we still own beyond our pots and pans and everyday dishes.

I didn't care about the music so much, so recorded for the ceremony and a DJ for the reception was just fine by me.

We should have paid for a day-of coordinator because my husband and I ended up running interference on a few too many things. A friend ended up stepping in when the supposed on-site coordinator had his head completely up his own ass, but she shouldn't have had to do that.
posted by anderjen at 11:52 AM on February 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

One of the single best things we did was pick a very short list of things that we wanted to focus on, and feel free to ignore the rest. It's easier to pick priorities than it is to deprioritize from a list of 50 things, each of which is a brick in the wedding-industrial complex. Our priorities were being married in a lovely space, getting good photos and having a great meal. And I suppose our meta-priorities were not being stressed out and not spending a ridiculous amount of money.

One thing that worked well that stemmed from that, and from being clear on what we wanted, was letting our vendors have some free rein. We told our florist we wanted "a mix of lovely bright flowers that looked like they were picked from a garden" (this is literally about all the guidance we gave her); she came through in spades and no one was worried that the blush pink rosebud wasn't quite blush enough. The meal was at a restaurant -- one that was established, well-regarded and that we'd eaten at -- but they literally had a "chef's choice" option, so that was what we picked. They just brought in delicious food until the table was groaning, and then more until everybody was groaning too.

There are tons of things that we just skipped entirely; our invites/rsvps were entirely through email (we created a joint wedding email near the start, but should have done it right from the drop). There was no decor at the restaurant other than what was on the tables normally. No cake (the restaurant's desserts were incredible). No gifts. No dancing. No bridesmaids or groomsmen. No shower, stag night, rehearsal dinner. We got married in a public garden and literally only brought in benches for people to sit on, and a table and chair (brought from home) for signing the registry. Our music was on a borrowed bluetooth speaker, played on my phone. We took public transit between the ceremony and the reception, but that's probably just for us.

The other thing we splurged on was time. We got married on a Sunday, but we took the Friday off work as well, so we had two free days beforehand (and note that there was not that much for us to do planning-wise). So we spent Friday on a day just the two of us, we went to the zoo, we walked along the river, we had a nice meal together and we just enjoyed each other's company. Saturday we had a few errands, but we also had massages booked.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 12:02 PM on February 4, 2019 [4 favorites]

What I would skip:
Making welcome gift baskets for our family/house guests
Renting a coffee urn, it didn't work anyway
Having cutesy "in case you forgot..." baskets with flip flops, wipes,etc. People don't really need this stuff and if they do they bring their own
Designating wedding party wear - we told them the colors and they wore their own choices. All family so they didn't care.

What I'm glad we spent money on:
A beautiful venue (if a place is already beautiful you need way less decorating/flowers)
Live music
Great food

What I would prioritize more highly:
Set aside the money for a day-of coordinator. Much more valuable and needed than a planner, the day would have gone much better had I found the money for this.
posted by Miko at 12:08 PM on February 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

I think you should prioritize what's important to you, and deprioritize what isn't important to you.

Absolutely true!

think people stress too much generally about making their weddings unique and memorable... .

As contradictory as it might initially seem, absolutely true as well! As neither I nor Mrs.Know-it-some are particularly unique or memorable, making our wedding such was deprioritized. However, I have been to wonderful weddings that, like the couple, were naturally unique and memorable.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 12:14 PM on February 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Another thing to keep in mind is that there are no rules for any of this stuff. If having a wedding party turns you off because you don't want to coordinate outfits or buy them matching don't actually have to do any of those things! Everything can be re-imagined to suit you and what you want. Weddings seem like they have a million weird rules you need to follow, but they really don't.
posted by cakelite at 12:17 PM on February 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

One thing that really helped us was just this: There Aren't Any Rules. Apart from the legal requirements, there are absolutely no rules that your wedding has to be a certain way. And there is a difference between a true tradition like, say, every bride in the bride's family for 3 generations has been walked down the aisle by both parents and what the wedding industry is trying to sell you as "tradition". You are allowed to do whatever you want.

Prioritize. Pick out what's important to both of you, and think about the time vs. value of the rest. A lot of the details won't be remembered in a few years. To use your example of DIYing a cake stand, in the moment it may make sense to spend time doing it because you want to make it beautiful in your photos. But if at the same time, you're also trying to get your finances in order to merge them or figure out your apartment situation, for example, so it makes more sense just to buy a cake stand. The wedding is one day - the finances and apartment are about getting the rest of your lives off on the right foot. Or maybe you're in grad school, or your sister is having a baby. In other words, sometimes it's good to ask, what's more important - X thing for the wedding or Y thing for your lives/marriage/other relationships, and then adjust the time/value accordingly. I know that seems obvious but sometimes it can get lost and it's important to take a step back occasionally, especially if you're stressed out or worried about money or feel overwhelmed. And really, I don't think I'm the only one who will say this - some of the details that seemed so important at the time were forgotten in weeks, months, and years, and the big day passes by in such a blur because it's such an emotional day that some of it won't be remembered. At all.

It may help to make a kind of mission or guiding statement: For example, your wedding is just for you and your parents (if you're on good terms), really, and the reception is for everyone else, as a kind celebration and thank you for showing up to support your marriage and your relationship. (Adjust as you see fit.) Then you can think about if you think DIYing table numbers shows that kind of thank you more than spending more time hiring a good band. Does that make sense? And if you're having trouble, (on preview, already been said) think back to the weddings you've been to and what was important to you as guest, and what you really didn't care about or have forgotten.

We were really happy letting the venue and florist take care of a lot of details - they're professionals, they've done it hundreds of times, so saying, I want a bouquet that looks like this (emails 'em a picture) and then just letting them run with it was a huge relief.

Speaking of details, we didn't go with a lot of fancy photography going to various places in search of the perfect backdrop/making a big deal out of renting a big limo/having a big drinking party in a stretch van with the wedding party or anything. We posed for a few photos, got into our car, and drove to the reception.(It helped a lot that we had a small wedding party.) It was more to save money, but looking back at it, having more time at the reception with our family and friends - with our loved ones - and making memories with them was better than having dozens and dozens of photos of us just standing there. And the photos of us spending time with everyone were way better than yet another picture of me holding the bouquet or my husband doing some kind of "fun" pose with his friends - to us, because it was the last time huge swaths of our families and groups of friends were together and we're just not big photo people. We're glad we spent time with them instead of some of the other things. You, of course, will have different priorities and needs. So think carefully about what's important to you, both in terms of how you spend your time in general and with photos. Maybe you want the perfect picture of one kind of thing, but not everything else - you're allowed to pick and choose! So be clear with your photographer what you want, how to make it happen, and then forget the rest so you can concentrate on what else is important TO YOU, not what Instagram is telling you "should" have. A good photographer will understand that.

We also did the smaller cake thing - we had several flavors of cheesecake! - and agree with anderjen, that was a big hit as well.
posted by barchan at 12:17 PM on February 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

I wish I'd practiced my makeup with a pro. I didn't understand waterproof eye makeup at all and my photos make this clear.

I wish I had either not had flowers or had had someone else deal with them.
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:33 PM on February 4, 2019

Lots of good stuff here.

I wish we had spent a little more money and time finding a good photographer. Ours was...fine. The pictures are also fine. We could have done much better, and wish we had.

The best advice I can give regarding wedding planning: Nothing is more frustrating to either person than to have the other say "I don't care," when asked their opinion on something to do with the wedding. If you really don't care, take a position anyway and then let the person who cares have their way.
posted by bluejayway at 12:34 PM on February 4, 2019

Best thing I de-prioritized was other people's expectations.
posted by Pretty Good Talker at 12:34 PM on February 4, 2019 [10 favorites]

Just to add to the list of "things people have deprioritized", neither I nor my spouse really enjoy dancing. We had a 125 person wedding with no dj or playlist or anything. We had two string players during the ceremony and a guitar + bass jazz duo (local music school students, shockingly inexpensive, we ended up giving them a 25% tip) during the evening next to the tiny dance floor where the like 10 people who really wanted to dance could do so. We got our desired outcome, which was that everybody could actually hear other people talk and it wasn't focussed on something we didn't care about (nb, inline with all above commenters, if you love dancing, I mean, great! We'd just been to one-too-many-events where you couldn't hear a thing over the speakers, there was no where to go to just hang out or talk, etc, and we said to heck with it)
posted by annabear at 12:44 PM on February 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

Important to us: high end food, open bar, photographer and music/live band which all resulted in great compliments and memories

Not so important to us: Big wedding party (we each picked one sibling), flowers, favors (except everyone loved the airplane bottles of Jameson whiskey - I mean fights broke out over it) videographer, fancy decorations
posted by IndigoOnTheGo at 12:46 PM on February 4, 2019

A tip that I read or someone told me before the wedding is when you are looking at wedding examples from a photographer’s book, see if the photos make you feel like you know the people in them. That and just a good fit with the photographer. Mine was a seasoned guy, who was the most expensive of all the photogs we interviewed so we really agonized but he was friendly and professional and his photos really did give that vibe. His pictures from our wedding are still some of my favorite photos of friends and family members. He also missed the “kiss” because his camera opened up and he lost a roll of film! He was so upset but carried on and I don’t miss those photos at all because of all the amazing candids he got.

Wear something that makes you feel good. Have a great photographer.
posted by amanda at 12:50 PM on February 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Tons of great advice here! I found Meg Keene's "A Practical Wedding" (both website and book) very helpful in prioritizing and letting go of what I thought others "expected."

My now-husband and I each wrote down a few things that we absolutely wanted, absolutely didn't want, and compared notes. That helped us decide to invest in a photographer, an open bar, and inviting all the people who matter to us. It meant we didn't bother with a wedding party, transportation, a tux for him, an elaborate dress for me, favors, fancy invitations, and so on. Mr. McWriterson loves music of all styles, so he had great fun spending hours curating the perfect playlists for pre-ceremony, the ceremony, dinner, and dancing, and he put one of his friends in charge of pressing "play" and "next track" at the right moments. For flowers, I asked the florist at my local farmer's market what would be in season the week of the wedding, and she sold me two big buckets of gorgeous assorted flowers that I arranged into mason jars (borrowed from a friend) for centerpieces, plus my bouquet.

You have to decided what's important to you and not let others try to talk you into/out of it. A few days before the wedding, my mom called because she "realized she hadn't coordinated her dress with her wrist corsage" - and when I told her there were no such corsages, she seemed a little surprised and tried to convince me that it wouldn't be a wedding unless the moms and grandmas had their own flowers.

I do wish I had delegated a bit more - with no wedding party it was hard to ask people, though I'm sure they would have been happy to help.
posted by writermcwriterson at 1:08 PM on February 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

I was "older" when I got married (40), and what I spent money on was what I focused on: the day needed to be fun. That's it - not perfect, not "omg the guests will never forget this" just FUN.
We had a live band - Afro-pop, and it was so, so fun! Cost us about $350, and they were free to eat and drink with the rest of the guests.
We had beer/wine, and champagne for a toast.
Friends wanted to help, and that was the best - a friend did my hair, another friend made the (gorgeous, delicious) cake (which I decided on after hearing a friend who's taste I trust impecabbly say it was "the best cake she'd ever had"), yet another friend played a couple tunes for me to walk in to.
My mother, bless her sweet, departed soul, paid for it, but we did the venue, food (catered through another friend-of-a-friend wedding coordinator - so he did decor as well), music, invitations, dress (first one I tried on, and it was $110!) and tux, and booze for about $3000. It could have been a bit cheaper, but it was Fun, oh yes, it was Fun.
posted by dbmcd at 1:09 PM on February 4, 2019

My advice is to buy a professional bouquet even if you skimp on flowers generally. There are considerations in terms of staying power, wilting, etc. that make them somewhat challenging to recreate on your own. Source: my wilted bouquet
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 1:13 PM on February 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Lots of good advice here already. I would echo the prioritization of your own expectations, and the deprioritization of everyone else's.

One thing I didn't really consider when getting ready for my own wedding about is how fast it would go. Think about it: the ceremony's an hour, tops. Then the reception is what -- three, four hours? We spent all this time building up to something that came, and then went. It was all over in a matter of hours. So, whatever you do, keep it all in perspective, and don't get into anything that's going to cause stress -- or debt.

Your priorities will be your own, but my wife and I love to travel, so we prioritized the honeymoon. We spent two weeks in Europe, which were amazing and unforgettable. We had a great time at our wedding, but our honeymoon was really special.
posted by vitout at 1:21 PM on February 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Like a lot of people, I'm really glad we got a good photographer. However, I would emphasize that we did not actually get the most expensive photographer, or the one whose photos were the most perfectly polished images of an ideal wedding. We got a local teacher who did photography as a side gig, because when we looked through his portfolio, every wedding had a unique personality. It felt like he was trying to capture the spirit of the deeply personal, individual humans involved in the wedding. All the other photographers clearly had an idea of What A Perfect Wedding Looks Like, and squeezed every wedding into it.

My wife and I have now been married 21 years. Looking back from the perspective of middle age, the time we spent looking at flowers or fabric samples seems wasted to me, but the time we spent looking through photography portfolios was well spent indeed.

And my one regret is also photography-related. I wish I had sat down beforehand and made a written list of every combination of loved ones I wanted to call together for a posed photograph. I ended up missing some groups that I would have loved to have gotten together for a picture.
posted by yankeefog at 1:39 PM on February 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

The best advice I can give is prioritize what will make you and your partner happy. So, for Dr Bored for Science and I, that meant prioritizing food above almost everything else. Which we did.

Things we didn't care much about and pretty much let the professionals handle? Music. It helped that we'd gotten great recommendations for who to hire for live music for the pre-wedding cocktail hour and the ceremony, but in our case, we basically said "we don't have the brain for this, so please do what you think is best." That worked out fine. Flowers were pretty much "give $florist a little guidance and a budget and don't care so much."

We spent a bunch of time doing stuff that was special to us... Dr Bored for Science made neckties for me, my groomsmen, our fathers and my grandfather. Because she wanted to. We did nice chocolate bars (from TCHO) as wedding favors and she designed a visual illusion sticker that we put on them to make them wedding favors not just free chocolate. We spent time on what we wanted for a Jewish Vision Science wedding, because that's what we wanted.

We made a point of hiring a photographer who we really liked, and that was the best chunk of money we spent (aside from maybe the restaurant buyout, since friends still tell us about the food). When it comes to hiring people, look for vendors who seem like they'll enjoy making your wedding special for you. That turns out to be more rare than you'd think, but it's everything.
posted by Making You Bored For Science at 1:39 PM on February 4, 2019

We went very cheap on clothes (plain secondhand dress, nice generic suit that would be good in the future, told the wedding party of two to wear something nice that they could wear again.) We went very cheap on venue but that was partly luck (husband worked on a campus and was able to get his lovely building for darn near free.) We did beer and wine only for the bar (neither of us were drinkers, and if I had it to do over again I probably wouldn't even have done beer and wine.) We went medium-cheap on flowers and if I did it over again I would have done even less; there was a thing behind us during the ceremony that no one even saw or noticed. We would have done no wedding favors but my grandmother insisted and did them herself, that was her gift.

We spent money on a good cake. If I did it over again I might have spent more on the dinner food and photographer, who was fine but not there the whole evening.

I agree with the folks upthread that say the stuff that's important is probably the stuff you think is important.
posted by tchemgrrl at 1:50 PM on February 4, 2019

Worth the money
Photographer - Preferably one who does an engagement session so you can look at those photos and say "we like this, but not this." Our photographer was unobtrusive, really quick, and got a ton of photos that we loved.

Wish I worried Less About
Making the wedding be special - It's going to be special no matter what. The best part is getting married to someone you love.

Getting the music playlist in the perfect order - No one will remember what order you had the songs in.

-If you get fake flowers or paper flowers you can keep your bouquet forever.
-Navy blue is an excellent color if you feel cool with your bridesmaids picking their dresses and wearing them again. Other colors work if you pick the color and are ok with varying hues.
-Vista Print and Staples make perfectly adequate invitations and they are way more affordable.

Things I skipped
-Father daughter dance
-Being walked down the aisle
-A giant cake (pie is better)
-The wedding dress shopping experience. It was going to be like 100 degrees on my wedding day anyway so I just bought a nice shorter white dress with lace. It was a hit, I could move in it and I didn't pass out when it turned out the main room of the hall's AC was down.

Things I wish I knew
-About two weeks before the wedding I just stopped stressing out because at that point there was nothing that I could really change so I just stopped worrying.
-It's totally ok to panic and want your mom right before you walk down the aisle even if you know your partner is the one.
-You may fondly remember seeing your family and friends all in one place more than most of the stuff you planned.
-Something weird or not according to plan will happen right before the wedding or during the wedding and depending on intensity you will either have to deal with it or just think "I can't wait until I don't have to plan a wedding anymore!"

Something that I was particular about

Ceremony language - I felt more squicked out than I expected about all the giving away and honor and obey and relatively "vintage" gendered stuff in the wedding. I spent a decent amount of time on the ceremony format and language to reflect that my partner and I were joining in marriage as equals. I don't know how much people noticed that, but it was important to me.
posted by donut_princess at 1:53 PM on February 4, 2019

Yes - focus on your priorities! Many people care about photos, we did not (and so skipped the pros). Many people don't care about flowers, but I did, and so we were Ridiculously over-flowered. All good! As the good folks at A Practical Wedding (above) note, focus on how you want to feel, and what will help with that. Skip the rest of it (including Everything that seems like more stress than it's worth).
posted by ldthomps at 2:05 PM on February 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Don't be afraid to ask for help. I have many loving friends and family but I just hate. asking. for. help. Through sheer force of will, I delegated many tasks during my wedding weekend, mostly stuff I didn't have any interest in but my aunts did (floral arrangements, running to and from the grocery store, assembling favor bags).

We had a 20-person, mostly DIY wedding so we skipped a lot of the formulaic things like bridal shower, bachelor/ette party, bridesmaids/groomsmen, mason jar nonsense (as cakelite mentioned), seating plan, speeches, dancing. Spotify playlist of my favorite 90's throwbacks, tons of food cooked by my family. I also made my own dress and cake, because that's what was important to me. Mr Wintersonata rented a tux from Men's Warehouse and it was totally suit-able (badum chh).

Also - your cake doesn't have to be a cake! I made a very fancy layer cake which only got half eaten, but the tiramisu I made "just in case" got DEMOLISHED.

We did not write vows as we wanted to skip the "obey" and "til death do us" bits. As per our officiant's advice, we just spoke a few sentences from the heart at that moment, and I can't remember what I said but everyone (including Mr W) tells me it was perfect.

We were also gifted many services including the photography (done by a family friend). Looking back, I wish I had come up with a written list of photos I wanted taken. We have lots of fun shots of moments, but I don't have a photo of us with our two good work friends because they weren't in the family group shots.

Not worth it at all:
- decorations (I didn't use half the streamers or novelty toothpicks I bought on eBay)
- creating a wedding website with directions or things for guests to do (my family was jetlagged and clung to us the whole time, and people just used Google Maps on their phones)
- registry (people just gave us cash or whatever they were gonna get us anyway, and now I get mailers from Pottery Barn, ugh)

I definitely second A Practical Wedding, if only to read about things you would never ever ever do yourself. This was really helpful since I had only ever been to huge weddings and knew ours would be small.
posted by wintersonata9 at 2:11 PM on February 4, 2019

Seconding x1000 A Practical Wedding (also their comments section is incredibly supportive and diverse!). I'd start with the article the Best and Worst ways to spend your money and then basically the whole "Getting Started" section.

I am currently planning a second wedding. My first I wanted to be picture perfect and exactly as I had imagined it growing up and that was the wedding I got (married in a field, bridal pictures with my horses, over a hundred people for dinner in a huge white tent) but OH MAN was it a lot of work and money and stress and what I mostly remember is the nagging feeling that I was marrying the wrong person.

This time around I'm 100% sure that I'm marrying the right person, so every step of wedding planning has been "what feels like us and will make sure we and our loved ones have a great evening." We're okay with a small guest list, so we chose to do a restaurant wedding and reception, the space is gorgeous so we're basically not decorating, we asked our photographer for recommendations for an officiant she had found special and other weddings, and bought our wedding outfits on the first shopping trip for well under what we had budgeted.
posted by Sweetchrysanthemum at 2:15 PM on February 4, 2019

Wish I'd not bothered with a proper wedding dress and just gone for a normal dress I loved.
Glad I spent a lot of time and effort finding a good photographer.
Glad we didn't bother much with decorations. We got a bouquet of flowers for me, and a small arrangement for each table at the reception and that was it.
Wish I'd spent more thought on the cake - would have been nice if it was a cake we really loved rather than generic wedding cake, and the decorations were not great, so the photos with the cake in it (which includes a lot more reception photos than you might think) are weird.
Food generally is important.

We tried to skimp on the music - just borrowed a supposedly good sound system and made a playlist of music we liked. This didn't work well. We couldn't get the volume right - people on one side of the room said they couldn't hear it at all, and people nearby kept asking us to turn it down. Wish we'd done professional music or just skipped it altogether. (We didn't have dancing, so the music was not that important).
posted by lollusc at 2:16 PM on February 4, 2019

Best thing we did was to have one day a week that was wedding talk free, and also was a date night. (Marriage talk was a-ok.)
posted by warriorqueen at 2:17 PM on February 4, 2019

Worth it - bridal beauty. I am glad that I paid for on-site hair and makeup for me, the bridal party, and the moms. Photos look great and it was low stress. I enjoyed going to a proper bridal salon and getting a nice dress.

Worth it - music. Glad we splashed out the extra $100 for live pianist at the ceremony instead of canned music. We had an electronic music DJ that was a friend of the groom, the music was distinctive, we had a great dance floor, and it was a highlight of the wedding.

Regret - I wish I had opened my dress bag after I got it back from the cleaners and before the wedding. I was missing my veil.

Things I'm glad I did cheap - we did not have a wedding cake, just cupcakes on a tower, we did not miss the cake. I did not do a bridal shower, just went to the bar with the bridal party, that was fun.
posted by crazycanuck at 2:18 PM on February 4, 2019

We had a very small (immediate family only, although that is like 14 people for my side alone at this point) wedding at the courthouse with a retired sheriff. It ended up being a beautiful day, so we actually just went to the park across the street.

Good things:
- I picked a nice outfit, but not a wedding dress
- Mr. Meat wore clothes he already owned
- everybody else wore whatever they wanted (nice or not, whatever)
- we did have a professional photographer
- my family brought flowers, as requested
- my sister arranged a cake as a surprise (because we didn't care about it)
- we didn't tell anybody who wasn't invited until after
- I got makeup, hair, and nails done professionally
- we got really cool wedding rings
- we were paying for it, so we made the decisions
- we had bubbles
- the "reception" was lunch at a private room at a nearby restaurant

The goal was a very small, simple, quiet affair. I wanted it to be A Nice Day, but it didn't need the stress of being The Best Day Ever. Success - every time I am reminded of our wedding, I smile, and that's the most important thing.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 2:42 PM on February 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

I subscribe to a wedding sell/swap group and people who DIY have so much stuff left over! I guess you save over renting but I didn't want to end up with dozens of chargers or purple/burlap tablecloths so we went with a venue that provided all the necessary items and had a lovely venue that didn't need decor. We even used their "house" flowers. (So we couldn't pick "our colors.")

I made corsages and invites and our playlist because those were fun activities for me.

I wish I'd hired a real photographer instead of a friend though. My one regret.
posted by vespabelle at 3:15 PM on February 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

You've gotten some fantastic advice here. I think that the very best weddings are a combination of the things you love and thoughtful touches that make the event fun/comfortable/memorable for your guests.

Mr. Wasp and I made it official a couple of years ago. Here's where we landed on a few things:

- Definitely hire someone to handle the "day of" details. There are SO MANY things happening on day of your wedding that you just don't want to think about. In my case, I contacted a former co-worker who was always an amazing colleague when it came to planning things. She'd never coordinated a wedding before, but loved the idea of getting paid to make sure the day went smoothly. We were really clear about what her role was, but she exceeded my expectations in every way. Worth it. (Plus, no dumping bogus jobs on friends who were there to party.)
-We love dancing and found a DJ through a friend's recommendation. The really great part about having an experienced DJ is that they bring mics, keep the evening moving in a fun way, and read the room when it comes to music.
-Like so many others have mentioned, we definitely splurged on our photographer. We had a great time with him throughout the day; his positive energy was incredible. Most importantly, we have pictures that really, truly capture how we feel about each other.
-I hate some of the hokey wedding stuff - which is totally okay! During our "first look" I was wearing Groucho glasses when my husband turned around. I then handed him his own pair and said, "Marry me?" (Thanks to AskMF for this suggestion in my own wedding thread!) This moment kicked off a day of lighthearted lovey-dovey fun.
-One of our favorite things: we asked our DJ to play the Mission Impossible theme song and time us rushing to each table in the venue. (Each table had come up with their own photo idea beforehand.) These "table photos" are some of our very favorites - they're creative, joyous, and capture us spending time with our favorite people.

Enjoy the planning process!
posted by WaspEnterprises at 3:22 PM on February 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

We did a very low-key afternoon park shelter wedding for 70 people. I loved making the ceremony short and meaningful and having the rest of the afternoon to spend with friends and family enjoying the day. It worked out really well for us.

-wedding party—one friend officiated, one did photography
-car service—we drove over from the hotel in the same car with our photographer friend in the back seat
-giving the bride away—we arranged the picnic tables in two aisles and walked in together. Hugged our parents at the end of the aisle.
-DJ—Bluetooth speaker and Spotify playlist

-BBQ buffet, canned cider and beer, box wine.
-Great cake in a simple design, decorated with artificial flowers.
-We cut the cake and served it ourselves to our guests. I loved doing this.
-Lawn games after the ceremony. We played frisbee, croquet, bags, etc. It was great having everyone spread out to enjoy the beautiful park and all come back together for lunch and cake.
-We set up a camera with timer as a photo booth and brought props, got some great pictures this way.

-dip-dyed muslin for tablecloths for the picnic tables
-made my own bouquet the night before with flowers from Trader Joe’s
-minor alterations on the dress

-made-to-measure wedding dress in a style I loved for cheap
-Feather fascinator and boutonnière from Etsy
-Groom’s blazer and outfit
-Cheap vases from IKEA
-Wood Jenga set in a nice wooden box and some permanent markers as a guest book
posted by impishoptimist at 5:25 PM on February 4, 2019

I got married at city hall and had the party for 50 people in the back room of a pizza/ping pong establishment. Things we cared about: good food and drink and entertainment (ping pong.) Things we didn’t: flowers (got them wholesale), music (Spotify), dancing (there wasn’t room), clothing (my dad wore shorts, a lot of people came from work.) A college friend made our cake. We didn’t take a honeymoon and that’s my biggest regret. Go on a honeymoon.
posted by melodykramer at 6:08 PM on February 4, 2019

The thing that wasn't on any wedding checklist we saw: talk about whether you want a prenup, months to a year in advance.

We ended up getting a super basic one: property acquired before the marriage is separate, property acquired after is joint, explicitly no restrictions on alimony. The conversation was more valuable than the final document (or so I hope it will be).
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 6:15 PM on February 4, 2019

Good choices: pasta bar, wine and beer, nice cake, mp3 “DJ,” no professional photographs we’d never look at again anyway (though I still cherish the candids now that several of the guests have died), silly wax-sealed invites, Costco roses, estate ring for me, inexpensive dress

Less-good choices: inviting people we didn’t even like because we were guilt-tripped about it; church social-hall reception with low ceiling and fluorescent lights; “groom’s cake” so his whole weird family could pig out on it and bail early; wedding party without a skilled toast-giver in the bunch (not really an expense but SERIOUSLY WTF); officiant who didn’t really know us but tried to pretend he did (kind of an expense)

Guests will remember the food more than anything else, but tasty-and-satisfying is more important than fancy-and-impressive. You will be lucky to get a chance to eat; pick your officiant, venue, speakers, and soundtrack with care.
posted by armeowda at 8:55 PM on February 4, 2019

We had a sort of wedding lunch with some ceremony-ish aspects, which worked better for us two fortyish introverts. My husband wanted some traditional wedding-type stuff, so we had a little of that--cake cutting, having rings handed to us by little kids (his nephew, my coworker's little girl I've known forever). The food was nice, everybody got to sit with someone they knew, there were only about 25 people total because we limited it to 1) our generation (ie not extended family), 2) people who could get there in less time than the event itself would take. I was especially glad I got to choose the music, meaning a quartet with friends from my orchestra, and a CD of my father's piano jazz playing.
I do wish we'd spent more time making sure we had photos of everybody, and us with everybody--not hiring a professional photographer, just coordinating friends to take and send pictures.
posted by huimangm at 10:11 PM on February 4, 2019

Things I am glad we paid attention to:
- Ceremony - we worked hard on the right words and music for us, and honestly having initially thought I didn't mind too much about the ceremony it was really special.
- Venues - not expensive but exactly what we wanted in terms of atmosphere and location. They weren't straightforward (the ceremony venue wasn't even registered when we booked it, and the reception venue wouldn't allow set up the day before) but I'm glad we didn't compromise.
- Speeches - no-one believes me but speeches are our favourite part of any wedding, so it was important to us that we had good ones. And boy did our chosen speechgivers deliver. So many good memories! From which I guess the lesson is that whatever you tend to enjoy and remember from other people's weddings, invest in that.

Things where we might have done a bit better:
- An on-the-day coordinator - We hived off various parts of the day to different friends who were all great, but the overall plan did get a bit chaotic at some points and the timing went completely off which meant that our quite expensive ceilidh band only had time for a half-hour set.
- The photographer - a lovely guy, and a pleasure to hang out with. But I'm just not all that fond of the photos he took! I wish we'd been more thorough in our search.

The best thing we did (apart from, you know, the legal and emotional commitment):
- Our 'cake' was a whole anteroom in the reception venue, full of cakes that our generous friends had brought. We had my niece cut a ribbon on the room when it was time for cake. It was a blast, everyone got to eat lots of delicious things and the contributions were really touching.
posted by FavourableChicken at 6:38 AM on February 5, 2019

You sense the theme, right? What matters to you as a couple (and sometimes you as a person if you're willing to go deep)?

For US, priority #1 was food and drink - we wanted food that people would talk about the next day, and wanted an open bar. I personally LOVE paper, so the invitations and assorted other bits mattered to me, so much so that I made them all myself. Note that this was a ME thing, not an US thing, so I didn't expect my husband to spend the same time I was willing to in order to do it "right".

Once I chose the paper, literally all the other wedding details fell into focus for me, but I'm a weirdo like that. Once I could see the other details in my mind, it was easy to choose what I could/should focus on vs. let go. I like to say "you can have things exactly the way you want them, or you can have help - you can't have both".
posted by ersatzkat at 9:18 AM on February 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

A few other tips not yet covered:

  • If you're having photos taken of the usual groups (happy couple, bride with bridesmaids, groom with groomsmen, each with own family, each with grandparents, etc.) do it before the wedding, regardless of whether people freak out about the couple seeing each other then. It's a real drag for everyone when the photos come in between the ceremony and the reception. Everyone not in the photos stands around awkwardly, somewhere, waiting for the party to start. Everyone in the photos suffers from FOMO, worrying about the guests, etc. Bonus: if you cry during the ceremony you won't have to frantically fix up your makeup for the photos afterwards.

  • Designate someone to pay everyone, preferably before the ceremony, to minimize awkwardness as the musicians, officiant, etc. linger around looking to you for their checks.

  • On the day of, enjoy your usual routines, especially exercise. You'll feel more grounded.

  • When decision paralysis strikes, it helped me to ponder how little of the pageantry I remembered from other people's weddings. What stands out are the people, the emotions, the sense that the couple belong together, etc. And to be frank, my memories of my weddings, some 20 and 30 years on, respectively, are a mosaic of the same things. So in the long run, few of the types of decisions that induce wedding planning mania actually matter at all.

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