Weddings for Dummies
March 25, 2008 7:14 AM   Subscribe

[WeddingFilter] I need recommendations for a really, really basic book or Web site that explains how to plan your own wedding. Bonus points if it holds your hand and tells you "there, there, it will all be alright."

We're in our 30s and this is our first marriage. We're on a budget. We have no idea what we are doing. None. We can't afford a wedding planner. We have mothers that are all too willing to help, but we don't want them to stage a takeover (which they will, if given an inch).

We need resources that will explain what to do in baby steps. I don't know how to set a date if we don't have a place and I don't know how to look for places if we don't know how many people we're inviting and I don't know how many people we should invite if we don't know any costs.. etc. I'm overwhelmed.

I've also never been good with remembering traditions and social etiquette stuff. I need something that will tell me if I really should invite that cousin I haven't seen in 15 years, and what to do when the people I'd want to stand up in my wedding are scattered throughout two countries and too poor to make multiple trips for bridal showers, dress shopping, etc. I am not a girly-girl and haven't paid much attention to all this stuff when others around me have gotten married. His sisters had quickie-OMGbaby! weddings, so that's his frame of reference.

I want something fairly traditional, but not at a church. (He's agnostic, I'm buddhist, both raised Christian. The ceremony won't be too far from the normal procedure, just with the Christian references removed. My uncle is a judge and can marry us.) This will be in the midwest US, most likely Milwaukee, possibly elsewhere in SE Wisconsin.
posted by desjardins to Society & Culture (27 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I want to stress again that I am not a girly-girl, so I'm biased towards resources that aren't all ribbons and bows and 50 WAYS TO BE THE BLUSHING BRIDE YOUR MAN WILL ADORE. I will also NOT be doing some Martha Stewart crafty thing to put on everyone's table.
posted by desjardins at 7:26 AM on March 25, 2008

I'm using the The Anti-Bride Wedding Planner and it's got a lot of interesting out-of-the-box ideas. I also just turned down one florist who very badly wanted to give me "the Martha Stewart Look".
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 7:34 AM on March 25, 2008

Best answer: I would recommend a combination of theKnot and Indiebride. The Knot will give you checklists and simple budgeting tools if you're not up to making your own. However, they tend to stick to the formal side of tradition, almost to absurdity. So, when you're asking yourself whether you really need a calligrapher, check over at Indiebride and you will see that the answer is a firm 'no'.

Indiebride is a big site, but the most helpful threads will be 'Was it a hit? Was it a flop?', 'Your Top 5 (or more) Cost Cutting Decisions', and your local thread in the Vendors forum. These threads will give you some ideas for saving money and resources to start finding what you need locally. There are also some good spreadsheets floating around if you want a more customized budget.
posted by Alison at 7:35 AM on March 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

I am a big fan of Manolo for the Brides, the author of which has a book coming out real soon now called iDo.
posted by mkb at 7:46 AM on March 25, 2008

Since someone has recommended IndieBride, I will plug my wife's book: Something New:Wedding Etiquette for Rule Breakers, Traditionalists, and Everyone in Between. She's the etiquette columnist for IndieBride and you can read her column and send her questions here, which is free if you don't want to spend on the book. I happen to know that she answers pretty much every question (and she gets that long-lost cousin one a fair amount, even though she only posts a sample, so she's a great free resource.
posted by The Bellman at 7:59 AM on March 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

I found this book pretty helpful.
posted by krix at 8:02 AM on March 25, 2008

I've read recommendations for IndieBride but when I had my own wedding I kinda did whatever I wanted (with a lot of help from my mother who LOVES party planning and I was burnt out looking after my newborn anyway). The library is another place to grab a few wedding books (wedding books and magazines are expensive).

I think most people set their budget first. Do NOT go into debt or put your wedding on credit cards. Once you have a budget in mind (mine was $2,000 for 70 people) you can decide whether to have a lot of guests - spending less per person, or fewer guests for a more extravagent affair. Somewhere I came across the advice that the secret to ANY good party to is decide what you want people to say when they are leaving and focus only on the things that will make them say that one sentence "Wow, that wedding was really .... fun (get married at a water park), exotic (tiki themed), elegant (small intimate dinner), casual (dude ranch), can't remember (no limit open bar with hard liquor)" etc. I've been to only a few weddings but the $30,000 golf club affairs were no more memorable than the $1,000 potlucks.

When looking at venues/caterers it is a good idea to say it is a party/family reunion rather than a wedding because there is definately a premium price for looking after bridezillas. If you can plan for a time other than a Saturday night you will also save money. I liked the idea of a morning wedding with a wedding brunch (cheaper than dinner) and mimiosa toasts (rather than an open bar with hard liquor) but my husband can't function before noon.

I did NOT have a bridal shower (was way too embarrassed to have such an obvious gift grab) or bridemaids (asking a friend to spend hundreds on a dress worn only once is tacky) but I did have a flower girl.

Items like centrepieces, flowers and token gifts really add up. I bought my flowers at the flower market the morning of my wedding, my wedding cake was a gift from a guest, and either my mother or I made the food ourselves. My mother made my dress and my flower girl's dress from $100.00 worth of fabric. If you buy a dress you don't have to use an over-priced bridal salon, an independent seamstress would be much cheaper and better quality.

Your marriage is way more important than the wedding, don't stress out about it or what the etiquette from 100 years ago. I have really fond memories of my wedding because it was so laid back (I also had it at my parent's house which brought the price down a lot).
posted by saucysault at 8:10 AM on March 25, 2008 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Can I give you one basic suggestion? Make out a list of the family and friends you'd invite if you had an unlimited budget, and have your affianced do the same. As you are writing, you may want to keep two columns -- definites and maybees, to show the folks you really want to invite vs the ones you're not sure about. At the end of this process, compare lists and ascertain whether your idea of "definite" and your fiance's are matching up; if not, edit as necessary. THEN, add up all your definites, and add up all your maybees. Let's say you now have a list of 110 definites and 150 maybees. At least now you know that you probably want a place that will fit 100 people, and maybe as much as 200. (Remember, not everyone you invite will show up.) So you don't need to bother pricing out the place that will only fit 50.

Anyway, congrats and good luck!
posted by onlyconnect at 8:13 AM on March 25, 2008

Seconding theKnot. I'm not by any means a girly-girl type, but I found theKnot helpful for keeping track of the basic necessities for a wedding. I can't remember which dead-tree resources I used, but I do remember that they seemed to come in two varieties: "pretty perfect princess fantasy" and "handfasting naked on a beach at the full moon while your wedding party re-enacts scenes from Star Trek*" (i.e., ultra-traditional and ultra-alternative).

My unsolicited advice: relax. You can absolutely do this! The only things you need at your wedding are the things that are important to you.

On preview: Saucysault absolutely nails it.

And congratulations!

* meaning no disrespect to pagans or Trekkies
posted by Janta at 8:15 AM on March 25, 2008

The unwritten assumption is that you want an ISO Standard Wedding. If this is true, bear in mind that asking ten people what the 'traditional' way to do it will likely net you eleven answers so feel free to ignore them and do what feels right.

A few of our friends have had absolutely nightmarish weddings and they all seem to stem from letting a family member *coughmothercough* off of the leash to plan everything. If you intend to enjoy your wedding it seems to be critical to keep the "help" from your relatives to an absolute minimum.

I'm doing this right now as a matter of fact, and the watchwords are "no you can't help, you can come and get drunk instead."

posted by Skorgu at 8:26 AM on March 25, 2008

Yeah, I've also grabbed a few magazines from the rack at Borders and looked through them for ideas about flowers and hairdos and such. I'm not paying 10-12 bucks a pop for magazines that I'm only using to get ideas. We also are going with a Unitarian minister. God's mentioned exactly once in the ceremony. It's enough to keep grandparents happy, but not so much that I'll puke on my dress.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 8:46 AM on March 25, 2008

I'd like to second Bridal Bargains. It broke things down into easy-to-understand steps and had a lot of good ideas for having a nice wedding without spending a million dollars.

Just remember...breathe! Really, for a wedding all you need is an officiant. Friends and family present and munchies after are usually desired. But anything after that is just trimmings.

posted by christinetheslp at 9:02 AM on March 25, 2008

I would also suggest reading The Offbeat Bride (it's fun, even if you're not doing anything all that strange) and checking out the fast growing Offbeat Bride tribe.
posted by slowfasthazel at 9:05 AM on March 25, 2008

Well for starters, there is a Wedding Planning for Dummies book. I didn't use it personally, but I bet it would help.

Like onlyconnect mentioned, a good place to start is with your wish list of guests. You and your SO make your lists of all the people you could possibly want to invite, and there you have your maximum number of guests. You can use this number to start shopping for venues, because some venues will be limited on guest space. You can also use it to get an idea of your budget. For example, if venue V charges $40/head for X guests, than your budget will start at Y. Despite the commercial / girly-ness of The Knot, they do have some great planning tools that will help you find out, for example, how much of a standard wedding budget goes toward food. At that point, if budget Y looks like it's way out of your price range, it's time to start making adjustments. Cut down on the number of guests, find a cheaper location, have the wedding on a Saturday or even a week day, etc. If there is a date that is significant to you and your SO, you can shop for venues based on that criteria. If not, decide on the general time frame you want to get married (in October, after New Years, before the baby is born in March, etc.) and in most cases the venue will dictate the exact date of the wedding based on their availability.

(I should add that The Knot also has a great checklist that will help you know when in the planning process you should be doing things like booking a venue, hiring a florist, and buying a dress.)

Also, if you have girl friends that have been through this before, they can be a great source of advice and support, even if their wedding was dramatically different than yours will be.

Most importantly, try not to get too stressed. This is your wedding. You only need to follow the traditions if they are important to you, your SO and your families. Otherwise, do whatever you want!
posted by geeky at 9:13 AM on March 25, 2008

Congratulations! I planned our wedding without going near The Knot, but I did use Indiebride a lot. My only other resource was to go to Barnes and Noble and buy the single book with the best looking checklists in the back, because I was paranoid about forgetting something.

My one piece of advice: If you think you don't need it, you're right, you don't. You don't need flower arrangements on every table, you don't need favors, you don't need bridesmaids in matching dresses, you don't need hard liquor at the bar (we had beer and wine only - in fact white wine only because our wedding and reception area was all marble and we weren't allowed red drinks.... nobody minded), you don't need programs (everyone throws them away anyway) etc. etc.
posted by gaspode at 9:42 AM on March 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Nthing both IndieBride and the Knot with appropriate caveats. We quickly mastered the phrase, "What a lovely suggestion, we'll think about it," and then went and did whatever we were going to do in the first place, making sure to give the moms tasks they could do to feel included, without scope creep. Budgeting and paying for it yourself gives you all the power. Example:

"but we have to invite distant cousin XYZ..."
"Mom, we're having a small family wedding that we can afford. We can send them an announcement or something."

Figure out what your shared priorities are, and hold fast to them. Things that aren't so important, farm them out to let people feel a part of it without threat of takeover.
posted by canine epigram at 11:00 AM on March 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Congratulations! There is some great advice above, but if you have questions about any other wedding-related stuff, feel free to email/Mefi mail me and I'll be happy to offer some guidance if I can (event/wedding planning is my field, but really, I just like helping people out where I can).
posted by justonegirl at 11:07 AM on March 25, 2008

Just got married December 29 ... looks like you already got some good tips for Web sites. Let me give you a few tips on how to have a low cost wedding. (Ours was ~$3,500.)

1) Rent the clothes. I rented the tux, my wife rented the dress, the bill came out to a few hundred bucks instead of a few thousand.

2) Consider a potluck. Really. Everyone who came to our wedding said it was one of the best weddings they've been to, because they were more invested in it and liked the food and company better. Doing it as a potluck also meant we didn't have to sweat it on whether to invite cousin Bob and his family and the extra $20 bucks a head that would have been, had it been a catered wedding.

3) Find a responsible relative or very good friend and ask them if they can be the wedding coordinator. Find another one and ask if they can be the wedding planner. The planner helps with big-picture advance legwork, the coordinator takes over at the wedding rehersal and makes sure everybody knows what they're going to be doing. Under no circumstances should either of these people be either of your mothers, they will have tons of work to do as it is.

4) Don't wait too long for flower arrangements, and seriously consider just buying boquets from a regular store instead of special ordering from a florist. We kept our costs down right until one week prior to the wedding, remembered flowers at the last minute and paid ~ $600 for boutineres, boquets and the like. On our honeymoon we spotted almost identical floral arrangements at Safeway for $3 bucks each instead of $50 a popo.

5) Consider a venue such as a community center for the wedding. They often will rent for only a few hundred bucks, and if you decide to go for the potluck option, you can just serve the food there.

Good luck and congratulations. Oh, and we got a lot out of pre-marital counseling, you might want to consider it.
posted by Happydaz at 1:27 PM on March 25, 2008

IndieBride, IndieBride, IndieBride. I got married for £10K with a three day Big Fat Scottish Wedding Extravaganza and IndieBride was absolutely the reason I learned how to do it.

There are a million tips, a lot of them covered in OffBeat Bride (which is written by Ariel who is, I believe, also a MeFite), but the #1 best tip for everything from florists to caterers to venues is: never, ever get quotes for a wedding. The price of a wedding anything is automatically doubled. Always get initial quotes for "a family event."
posted by DarlingBri at 2:59 PM on March 25, 2008

Nthing The Knot. It has a feature that allows you to enter your total budget, then gives you a rough estimate for what you can spend on each area, you can then move $$ around to areas that you want to spend more on, and it recalculates the other areas. It is also useful b/c you have a "notebook" that you save things you like to, as well as other wedding stories, etc. I've heard good things about Indie Bride, but have never used it personally. Good Luck!
posted by nikksioux at 7:38 PM on March 25, 2008

I used The Knot for the checklists and tools and especially the guest list/address list/gift log features.

On a more philosophical level, one thing that saved me a lot of stress was deciding up front what things I absolutely for sure wanted, and which I didn't. Then I gave my (desperate to overcompensate for her other daughter's elopement) mom carte blanche to do the other bits within certain specifications- she did all the decorations, and all I told her was what the main colors were and that I wanted to include celtic knotwork as a design element. The other thing was the sanity check questions - do I REALLY need to invite Mrs. X when I haven't communicated with her in 15 years? Does it REALLY matter if the groomsmen wear gardenias instead of stephanotis? Does it REALLY matter if I have five attendants and he has three? This sort of approach can really help cut both expense and your stress level.
posted by oblique red at 1:16 PM on March 26, 2008

I would like to second oblique red's comment, and add:

Will you really care what centerpieces you had in five years? No.

First, set a date that you like. Think of three possible settings for this shindig, if one doesn't work, one of them is sure to. It is generally cheaper to have weddings during the week than on weekends. May and June are usually totally booked by bridezillas as they are the most popular wedding months. Don't get too bogged down by the details. Napkins, monogrammed crap, guest favors--none of those things mattered, and how many guest favors have you thrown away, donated to goodwill? If you're like me a lot. Just have something that you and your significant other are comfortable with, that you know will be a good time for you both. It is, after all, a celebration for you two.
posted by nikksioux at 4:29 PM on March 26, 2008

Just a little advice:

* Even if your friend is a professional photographer, don't rely on him/her to take the photos; business shouldn't come between friends. Consider hiring a photographer and know that others will provide you with some candid shots from their own cameras.

* Give the photographer a list of pictures that you absolutely must have -- "bride with in-laws", "bride with flower girl", etc. (Remember that the older folks in your family aren't going to be around forever. I regret that I didn't get a picture with my grandmother because she died the following year.)

* With regards to etiquette, use your common sense. Invite those you want and don't expect everyone to drop their life responsibilities for your wedding.

* nthing the suggestion about not going into debt. Also, try not to get obsessed with it.

* Choosing non-typical wedding stuff will likely save you money, if you're wanting to do that. Have your wedding on a Friday afternoon; choose flowers other than roses; create a way for the bouquets to serve double-duty as table centerpieces or cake-table decorations. Select a bridesmaid's gown rather than a wedding gown. Consider having a friend marry you (check state statutes regarding legality of this) rather than a pastor/priest/justice of the peace.

* Try not to get obsessed.

* Try to breathe. Especially at various points during the reception. Catch your breath and look around you. Time passes so quickly and if you don't make yourself stop and take notice, you're going to miss it.

* Don't do everything you read.

* Choose only those traditions that matter (or make sense) to you. For instance, because of multiple marriages among my parents, it didn't make sense to have the "father/daughter" dance, so we nixed dancing altogether and had board games available instead. [I have a fantastic picture of my dad playing "Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots" with my mom's brother while my mom's new stepson looks on.]

* If you're planning on avoiding the "typical" ceremony, please provide a program for your guests. It's hard to follow the activities and understand the significance if you've never seen it before. A program is also a way to preserve the ceremony text in its entirety.
posted by parilous at 4:54 PM on March 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Make sure to have a photo of you and your mom, and no one else. We forgot and still kicking ourselves.

Otherwise - our wedding was like saucysaults to a tee, so i'm going with what she said. (Only I had a maid of honor and told he she can wear anything she'd like).

Have fun! It can and should be be an awesome day of fun and joy.
posted by olya at 10:16 AM on March 27, 2008

First, congratulations!

When we started planning our wedding, the first thing we did was visit the local library and get some books on weddings. The one I liked the best was Miss Manners on Painfully Proper Weddings. Despite the title, I found it was really good at keeping things in perspective. It's also very funny.

Planning a wedding is like running a sizable project; it's a good opportunity for you and your fiance to work together. It may be the largest event you ever have to plan.

Suggested steps: decide on the budget (which you've done), then the guest list, then the venue for the ceremony and reception, then the date. (The guest list comes first because having your family and friends there is more important than the exact venue.) Those are the key decisions. After that you'll be ready to start thinking about invitations, organizing for the day itself, planning for out-of-town guests, finding a photographer, and so on.

Seconding Happydaz's suggestion of pre-marital counselling, we also got a lot out of it.
posted by russilwvong at 12:31 PM on March 27, 2008

The Spring 2008 issue of Martha Stewart Weddings (I know, I know, sounds so prissy, but she is organized) has some tear-outs called "Wedding Workbook" with worksheets on budget + a "schedule" for when to get certain tasks done. It looks very helpful.
posted by nikksioux at 5:19 PM on April 4, 2008

Response by poster: If anyone's still reading this, we've set a date and a place. Now it's on to the rest of the details. Thanks for all the suggestions!
posted by desjardins at 11:32 AM on May 5, 2008

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