Between the proposal and the I do’s, there’s the unique stress known as wedding planning. Even if your big day is a year or more out, many things might will trip you up. But hindsight is the best teacher.
Even though I enjoyed my wedding, I definitely would’ve done a few things differently if I could do it over again (and, oh man, I don’t ever want to have to do it over again). As someone who’s been there and lived to tell the tale, these are the things I wish I had known in advance of my wedding day.
You’re going to offend, disagree with, or feel guilty about someone
Having a wedding is like throwing a big party (which is normally stressful), except it’s a party where people tend to have more expectations and opinions. Some will inevitably want to be in the spotlight or take over the planning. You might discover your partner has absurd taste in napkin colours and is willing to fight you to the death about it. Or, maybe worse, they don’t care at all. You might feel evil as you cut people from your guest list or choose more expensive clothes for your wedding party.
Try to strike a balance between knowing that the wedding isn’t just about you and knowing that it is, in the end, your day. I worried too much about what people thought of my decisions and tried too hard to make everyone who cared about it happy. Short of eloping, you might have to consider other people’s opinions — especially close family members with whom you’re sharing the event — but at the same time you should brace yourself that feelings are probably going to get hurt.
Looking back, that one day meant more to me and my partner than to anyone else (rightfully so), and I should’ve stressed less about what everyone else wanted.
Being indecisive is no better than being bridezilla
I hate making decisions. I hate it so much that I would rather wear t-shirts with holes in them than decide where and when to go shopping and try to pick out replacements. So weddings, with the millions of decisions they can bring (what colour silverware for the table, seriously?) was pure torture for me. Not everyone has this problem, and many brides- and grooms-to-be jump into wedding planning easily, but all those decisions can still wear you down.
If you’re unsure about any decisions, just wait or do your best if the time calls for it (“do what you can, with what you have, where you are”).
I couldn’t have cared less about how my bridesmaids wore their hair, but it put stress on my wedding party and planners when I so vague about what I wanted. I remember dragging my bridesmaids through the streets of Manhattan and all of us rapidly getting depressed because I couldn’t make a decision. Figure out what you want before you bring others into it — at least for the important stuff. Speaking of…
Splurge on the most important things
Your wedding is a momentous, wonderful (and possibly once-in-a-lifetime) occasion, so we tend go overboard making sure every little thing is going to be perfect and that everyone is happy. That awesome day, though, will really be a blip in your many years of life as a married couple — and the things you (and your wedding guests) will remember most probably won’t be the things you worried about the most.
So whether your budget is $100 or $100,000, concentrate on the things you’ll remember most, and don’t stress about (and save more money on) the rest.
Looking back, I think the best decision my partner and I made was the venue: It was affordable enough to accommodate our closest friends and family, a wedding planner came with the deal, and the food was top notch. The experience with our loved ones was, after all, the main thing.
We definitely could’ve cut corners or bargain shopped for the flowers, limo, invitations, tux rentals, and all those other little things to save, because they just weren’t that memorable. (Yes, even though they’re in the photos.) You can save thousands on your wedding budget just by negotiating, shopping around, DIYing, and prioritising only what matters most to you.
Vet your wedding vendors as thoroughly as possible
Even if a vendor is recommended by someone you know or by your wedding planner, if their service is essential to your wedding going well, make sure you’re on the same page. Maybe it was my wedding naïveté, but after discussing with the DJ songs for each part of the wedding and the kinds of music we liked, I thought we had that whole part covered. In hindsight, I should’ve asked to see videos of their previous DJ events to see how they were live, because I was caught off guard when the reception turned into a hip hop party halfway through (thanks to a couple of guests’ requests, but it seemed to alienate the older crowd).
In addition to interviewing them and seeing samples of their work, see if you can do a test run or see the vendors’ work in an actual setting.
Make a checklist of photos you want
In a similar vein to much of the above, make sure your vendors know exactly the things you want to happen and keep yourself on track with checklists. It’s not enough to just trust they know what they’re doing, because when you look back you might think, “why didn’t I get a shot of that?”
So make lots and lots of lists. Download a wedding day photo list, or use this old diagram from BuzzFeed for planning every aspect of your wedding. There are plenty of get-organised-with-premade-lists checklists online. Save them to Evernote or Dropbox or whatever wedding folder you’re creating, and use them.
Skip the rituals that don’t matter to you
I’ll never forget throwing the bouquet for the next bride-to-be to catch, only to hear its thud on the floor. My bridesmaids and female guests just weren’t that crazy about that tradition. Now it seems kind of funny, but I should’ve known better at the time.
Don’t feel obliged to include anything in your wedding just because it’s tradition, or because it’s on someone else’s schedule or wedding template.
Be smarter about your wedding registry
It’s so easy to get carried away with your registry. After all, you’re trying to make it easier for your guests by suggesting a variety gifts in a wide price range — and it’s the most effortless shopping you’ll ever do, with no pain of paying.
Be careful what you wish for, though. I have no idea why I put a food steamer on my registry (other than my weakness for kitchen gadgets), but now that and other impractical (though appreciated) wedding gifts are just cluttering my basement. Choose the things you actually want. A longer list isn’t exactly better.
Hope for the best, plan for the worst
No matter how much you plan, something will deviate from the plan on that day. Plan for it. You’re saying your vows outdoors? Make sure there’s a place indoors (or storm equipment) just in case. Going to eat foods you’ve never had before? Make sure someone close to you is carrying allergy medicine. Whether it’s the weather, the large gathering of incompatible people, or just Murphy’s Law, prepare for something going wrong.
Have a backup of everything possible. Here’s a wedding emergency kit that can help. Bring another copy of your vows, a makeup bag (or other toiletries), and so on.
Delegate as much as you can
I don’t like asking for help, but if there’s one time I could’ve used more of it, it was during the wedding planning. People offered, of course, but I hadn’t learned yet the art of delegating and relinquishing control. Find the small things on your checklists you can trust others with, and let them do it if they want to help you.
And even if it seems your spouse-to-be is nonchalant about the whole affair and doesn’t want to pitch it, still try to get them to pitch in as well. It’s good practice for the later years.
Don’t get hurt the day before your wedding
Don’t do unusual, potentially dangerous activities like bowling right before your wedding. (I twisted my ankle the night before my wedding while bowling, which is a hazardous sport for me.)
Just take care of yourself and try not to stress. Your wedding day is going to be amazing, no matter how much or little you planned (even if you’re limping on one foot). Count that as the eleventh thing I wish I had known before the big day.
This story was originally published in April 2014 and was updated on May 3, 2021 as a slideshow with new photos and information.