When I was an actor at Scarborough Renaissance Festival, we would make ‘What I Learned’ or WIL posts on the Mondays after Faire weekends, to sort of recap our experiences and share our growth and knowledge from the weekend. I’m going to do that here, but instead of Faire, I’m going to enumerate what I learned planning a wedding – my wedding, actually, which is kicking off June 11th, 2016. I’ve been planning this thing for the past year-and-change, and hoo boy, has it been a learning experience. If you’re planning a wedding, in a wedding, or attending a wedding, I think you can benefit from my experience.
- You HAVE TO get your venue sorted out first. Like, it’s not optional – everything else depends on where the wedding will be. We saved a ton by having it at the church where we’re members, so our ‘venue fee’ consists of a donation to the church. The other venue spaces we checked out ran from $4,000 to $6,000, not counting the fact that we would be required to use their caterers, DJ, and servers/bartenders, AND we’d have to rent tables, chairs, and linens from the venue itself, meaning no shopping around or negotiating the price. I’m glad we went with the church, and the reception is going to be in the Parish Hall, which already has tables and chairs. Saves a bundle right there.
- There’s no such thing as ‘requirements’ for a wedding. Seriously, if you’re married by the end, don’t let anybody tell you that you ‘have to’ do whatever – you don’t ‘have to’ do anything you don’t want to do. We decided that dealing with caterers and bartenders and music was going to stress us both out, so you know what we did? We skipped it. We’re having cake and champagne after the reception, and then we’re all going to clean up and go rest. I can’t tell you how much that thrills me.
- It’s gonna get stressful. No matter how on-budget you are, no matter how much everything goes right, it’s just damned stressful because there are so many moving parts and deadlines and things that are out of your control. Don’t be afraid to see your doc, like I did, and get some anti-anxiety meds to get through that last rough bit. I wasn’t sleeping well, and was having trouble going out in public, so getting some medication from the doctor was a good call for me. You may not feel that anxiety, and I’m so glad there’s a chance you won’t. But if you do – don’t be afraid to get some help.
- Attendants need to be ready to work. This is something I’ve learned from other people’s weddings – your attendants are not there to party and to look good and to hit on groomsmen. They gots to get stuff DONE. This is your get-stuff-done TEAM, and when you pick your wedding party, you should pick ladies who have your back, who are willing to spend time helping you with tedious wedding stuff, and who can help you handle the pressure. A bunch of flighty party girls aren’t going to come through for you in the clutch, and that’s what you need for your wedding. Choose wisely, Fledglings.
- If in doubt, delegate. This is one of those times where it’s important to know your strengths and weaknesses and, as far as possible, put emotions aside when making decisions. Personally, I’m not super great with money, and I don’t have much of it. So while I made up a budget estimate, actually acquiring the funds and paying for all those million wedding things fell to my fiance. He’s a finance wizard, so I felt confident letting him do that, and we’ve stayed informed on what we’re both doing the whole time, so there haven’t been any budgetary kerfuffles like there would be if I’d been trying to handle that. Likewise, I told my bridesmaids to find dresses they liked. I don’t live in their bodies, and I don’t know their finances, so I don’t necessarily know what they’d like to wear. I purposely let go of the concept that I needed to make other people look a certain way for my wedding, because that’s creepy and weird, and I’m so glad I did. They found gorgeous dresses from EShakti, and I couldn’t be happier with them.
- It’s hard to not need to control everything – but it’s also crucial. Real talk: some parts of wedding planning are just uncontrollable. Vendors may not be available. The price of something is the price, and it’s rude to try and haggle with vendors. Some people won’t be able to make it. Relatives will have ~opinions~ and you’ll want to tell them off. But you can’t control what other people do or think. Wedding planning is an exercise in self-knowledge and self-control, and it is HARD. Be nice to yourself, and don’t be afraid to walk away from a vendor or situation that isn’t giving you what you want – but also realize that the world is not a wish-granting factory, and compromise will soothe your mind more than trying to shoehorn everything into going one specific way.
- People do NOT know how to RSVP. I wish they did, but they don’t. People – yes, even your closest friends – can be gigantic flakes who wait until the last minute and make you go bug them for an answer, and they’re going to lose your invitation and not know what they need to do, and you’re going to wonder if they secretly hate you because they can’t commit to going or not going to a thing that’s on a Saturday and they’re STRESSING YOU OUT BECAUSE YOU NEED A HEAD COUNT. *pant pant* You can either blow up and lose friendships, or you can vent to your intended and your attendants and handle it as best you can. What I had to do was set a firm close date for the guest list, and everyone who didn’t respond by then (we had about six) were assumed to not be attending. A month before it closed, my attendants, fiance, and I started calling, e-mailing, and FB Messaging people to get them to respond. ‘RSVP’ is French for ‘please respond’ – if someone needs you to RSVP, they need AN ANSWER, not just an answer if you’re coming. Once you plan a wedding, you’ll have a new appreciation for the importance of figuring out your life and committing to an RSVP one way or the other in a timely manner. I would hope.
- Big-box bridal places are kinda crappy. I get that sometimes it’s your only option, but OMG I’ve had so much frustration with some of the bridal chains in the past. I decided to avoid that by going to a boutique wedding dress store for mine – yes, my dress cost a good chunk of the budget, but it’s also perfectly-fitted and ready on time, two things that were not the case for the brides I’ve seen go through the chain stores. If it’s in your budget, go to a higher-end bridal shop with good reviews. It’ll save you a ton of stress and you’ll get a lot more of a custom look. Again, try online and try your higher-end department stores for bridesmaid dresses – you never know what you’ll find, but I guarantee you’ll have more options than you will at a bridal chain store.
- Prioritizing is key. Turns out, unless you have some kind of unlimited slush fund (and if you do, please contact me about advertising on my blog), it is literally impossible to afford the perfect wedding. Getting things custom-made costs more, getting things rush-ordered costs more, getting out-of-season flowers costs more, getting things from independent artisans costs more. It’s super easy to blow a wedding budget, because there’s always, ALWAYS ‘just one more thing’ that you ‘have to have.’ My fiance and I really had to look at what we wanted to get out of our wedding, and then spend our money accordingly. For most of my friends, they wanted a great reception, but for us, we’ve ended up spending the vast majority of our budget on the ceremony itself. It turns out, that’s where our heart was, so we went with it, and went understated with the reception. If it’s the wedding you want, your loved ones will be thrilled with it, and if they’re all that concerned about whether or not you hire caterers, inform them that they can shell out the five grand for that vendor.
- You find out who your friends are when you plan a wedding. I have had so many people help with this wedding. Not just my party – our Best Man’s fiancee offered to be my day-of coordinator! What an absolute gem she is. I’ve had friends send me links, advice, offer to show up early and help set things up, not to mention donating to our Honeyfund to help pay for the Hawaii trip. People came out of the woodwork with their generosity and offers of help and support. Planning this wedding has also reminded me how great my fiance is – he’s been cool under pressure like no other, and he’s had my back every step of the way. If that’s not a great start to a life together, I don’t know what is.
Suffice it to say, I’ve learned quite a lot through this wedding. I’ve learned things about myself, my partner, my friends, and yeah, about the bridal industry and all its foibles. It’s been a growing-up experience for me, to be sure. If you get married in the future, whether it’s a near future or a far one, I hope you have a similar experience to mine. I hope you weather the stresses well, I hope you learn things, and I hope you end up grateful for the whole process, but especially for the end result.