Today is Monday and I am getting married on Saturday. In the last few days–and weeks–people have asked me the same 3 questions over and over: “Are you ready?” “Are you excited?” and “Why aren’t you stressing out?”
Yes, I'm ready, yes I'm excited, and as for the last question… The fact that we as a society associate weddings with stress is not a topic I am going to tackle here. But I can tell you why I feel well rested and excited, if only daunted by the need to clean my whole house before family arrives!
Know what you’re getting into
Lots of people say to me, “As someone who works in weddings, planning your wedding must have been lots of fun because you have so many ideas that you’ve seen.” The truth is, the reason my wedding planning was fun is because I understood how much work it would be and planned accordingly. In the age of Pinterest, NO ONE, not one bride or groom, is short on ideas; people are short on time, money, and the understanding of what it takes to pull off a large event—or multiply a DIY craft by 150. If someone can manage their expectations, others’ expectations, and their budget, then there’s a lot of room for fun. Otherwise, fun gets crossed off the list early on—nope, we can’t afford fun if we’re having bows on all 178 chairs!
Know why you’re doing it
From my point of view weddings are about community—a couple within the context of their family and friends. People say “it’s your day” but the truth is that you will—and should—–make decisions about your guests’ experience. You’re inviting them to celebrate and witness this key moment in your relationship and so you need to design a day that sets them up to be there, well-rested, well-fed, and able to add to your joy.
The following advice is not for the bridezilla who dreams about just having as much attention as possible for a day (or weeks!):
Ask yourself why you’re inviting people to witness your marriage. If you’re reading this thinking, “I don’t care about everyone else’s experience” then you should consider eloping. I don't mean that to sound sarastic or harsh, just pause and consider: If you want a day to just focus on you and your partner, have a private ceremony. If you feel like your family is a part of your commitment, then include your family. If you feel like your friends are a part of your relationship and coming together, then include them too! If your best friend’s parents have been there for all your rites of passages so far then yes, you’ll want them present for this too! It’s worth it to take a moment to consider "Why am I doing this? Do I really want all those people there?" If the answer is “yes”, then great, and get back to planning how to involve your whole community.
By the way, my partner and I opted for an intimate family-only ceremony; read my previous post if you’re wondering why.
Keep your budget in perspective.
Weddings cost more than you think on almost every level (the national average hovers just under $30k and the Boston area higher than that). You’ll be shocked by the first few price stickers—I should know, as most of my clients invest between $4,000 and $5,000 in photography. $5,000? For some pictures?! Well, when I meet with folks I explain what you get with me as your photographer—which is an authentic and artistic documentary that brings joy to you and your entire family for decades. Couples have to decide—is it worth the $1,000 to get the package with an album, which I value highly and consider your first family heirloom? Luckily, I have 20+ couples every year who say yes, it’s worth that to us. I encourage everyone to keep a sense of how they spend money generally and what things are worth to them. Otherwise, every $500 upgrade will start to feel like no big deal and then the final bill could be overwhelming and possibly regrettable.
On a personal note, my partner and I chose our month-long honeymoon in Asia as our point of reference. We are budgeting $125/day for the trip of our dreams so each time we consider an upgrade or add on, we have a solid comparison to ask ourselves–is this money well spent? By the way, we are able to afford this trip because we registered our honeymoon. No fondue sets or Ultimate Oil Brush showing up at our doorstep—just the funding for the trip of our dreams.
Prioritizing: Time is money
Time is money, so when I talk about prioritizing, I mean how you’re investing both dollars and hours. I wrote out a list of where we allocated money from greatest to least expense. Then I wrote how much time I spent making and/or planning for each category.
If you DIY something, or don’t hire a great professional, it will likely take more time to manage. That said, you might just find yourself joyfully obsessing over details of something near and dear to your heart. For example, we hired a wonderful photographer, but I spent a lot of time thinking about who I would hire, where she should be when, and what I wanted her to focus on. Also I negotiated to edit my own photos for a lower cost—that lower price tag is costing me time. Likewise, to keep our rehearsal dinner budget low we are cooking the meal ourselves—a direct time/money trade off.
Cost in dollars (greatest to least)
Wedding dinner (7 courses!)
Venue site fee
Attire and jewelry (brides combined)
Decor, including flowers
Cost in time (greatest to least)
Decor* ~ mostly DIY, lots of trips to AC Moore and Paper Source!
Officiant/ceremony ~ a close friend is officiating so we only paid license/registration fees, but spent a lot of think writing and planning our ceremony
Photography ~ hired a pro, but I am editing my own photos
Rehearsal dinner ~ cooking myself, along with my fiancee and any family members I can wrangle (wrangling can also be time-consuming!)
Wedding favors ~ we really want people to walk away with something meaningful. It took hours of internet browsing and a few test purchases before finding something affordable that would be a meaningful reminder of the day that people will use and enjoy. We bought hand-made Japanese tea cups that will be used in our tea ceremony, then each person will keep their own. We took care to make sure couples have a matching set.
Music ~ I did a partial barter with a band and had two comprehensive meetings. Read more about why I would need to discuss music in such detail.
Attire and jewelry (brides combined) ~ researching designers, visiting flagship stores, alterations, and hours on Etsy looking at jewelry**
Engagement shoot ~ I edited the photos myself and bartered a day of assisting a with photographer friend
Wine ~ worked with a friend who is a wine seller to choose pairings for all 7 courses of our meal, lots of taste testing over time!
Wedding dinner ~ worked with chef for a custom menu based on seasonal farm offerings, taking multiple dietary concerns into mind
Accommodations ~ found 2 locations for guests, one for those who want to hang out all weekend and one more private. Besides coordinating who stays where and breakfast details, not much time was invested.
Transportation ~ note that is in not on the “Cost in dollars” list since after researching options we decided to let guests drive themselves and carpool
Cake ~ I cheated here. I had an amazing unique cake while shooting a wedding on 9.10.11. I asked the bride where she got it, went to that bakery (Party Favors in Brookline) and had them look up her order. We requested one change and cake ordering was done. Also, a dear crafty friend made our adorable cake topper as a gift (stay tuned for photos!)
*Decor projects include home-made bouquets, welcome packets, place cards, ceremony archway, signage, photographic wedding contract, candles and votives, wedding favor packaging, home-brewed herbal ice tea with custom labels, dinner menus with wine descriptions on the back (a favorite project I labored over, hoping guests will enjoy keeping them), and remembrance photo display (photos and captions of deceased family members, read previous post about why this is so important to me).
**Just a note that I regret the hours I spent on Etsy looking at jewelry–it was hours as I had to imagine what the piece looked like on a body, on my body, not just hanging from a cute tea cup. I wish I had sought out recommendations for good/unique jewelry sellers and spent a single afternoon looking at pieces in person.
DIY early and sparingly
I shot an amazing wedding last year with gorgeous handmade DIY details in evey aspect of the day, including embroidered table numbers! When my fabulous crafty bride told me she was up the night before her wedding embroidering, I took note. As beautiful as the result was, I did not want to be thinking about anything except my family's company during my wedding weekend.
If you are a living and breathing adult I don’t have to tell you: things take longer than you think. How often do we say this in life? If you’re doing something you’ve never done before, it is going to take longer than you think so plan accordingly. I wanted to hand-emboss a field of herbs onto each each place card for our herb-farm wedding, then have my fiancee calligraph each name. I wanted something beautiful and personal that guests would keep and that would remind them of of the day. Back in February I had a craft and movie day and had so much fun, and guess what?! It took the whole day and one more morning before each card has its variety of herbs and ink perfectly in place (please note this project was for only 20 place cards!). The overtime was no big deal because my deadline was nowhere in sight and the process was fun! Crafting months in advance, I could afford to be a perfectionist. If I were doing that task this morning I would feel the hours and minutes ticking by with each card and it would be a burden instead of a handmade joy.
The embroidering bride is an example of a born artist and crafter and she gets tremendous joy from all things cooking, sewing, and DIY. In fact you can learn from her on her blog The Hungry Crafter. But he honest with yourself, if you don't own a sewing machine or glue gun, DIY wedding details may not be for you. If you have something in mind look on Etsy, or ask a friend who does craft. If you don’t already like, or have the skills, to work with your hands the pressure of a wedding could make your new-found hobby frustrating.
(Full admission, this crafty bride really had it going on and I not only copied her cake, but her wedding location! The magical Herb Lyceum in Groton, MA. Jo, how could I ever repay you for the pleasure of photographing your wedding?!)
Commit to relaxing
Build in relaxation time for the week of. My fiancée and I scheduled massages for the morning before the wedding, and a close friend is leading us in yoga on the wedding morning! Deep breathing and gentle yoga are sure to undo tension that might build during a busy week, and help us be fully present so we can enjoy every ounce of this day we’ve planned for!
Please note!: If you are considering me as your photographer, I can lead you and your partner/family/bridal party in yoga the night of your rehearsal dinner or the morning of your wedding! It’s an experience tailored to you so no prior knowledge of yoga is necessary.
Less is more. I beg anyone planning a wedding to remember the old adage “Less is more.” Less is more. LESS is MOOOOOOOOORE. Let the details and elements you choose for the big day shine by not cluttering them together.
Now, off to review our ceremony outline and sweep every room of house for my incoming house guests…