Tying the Knot in a Meaningful and Memorable Way (Without Losing Our Savings or Sanity)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Top Ten Myths of Wedding Planning

Because I'm in wedding planning mode, every wedding I attend becomes fodder and research for my own.

Tonight I accompanied my fiance to the wedding of one of his childhood friends. It was the most sincere, authentic wedding I have ever been to, and yet it didn't follow much of the traditional components that are ingrained in our cultural consciousness as "must-haves" at a wedding.

The Knot would have been exasperated by many of their choices, and yet it was precisely those choices that made it the best wedding I've been to so far. It inspired me to write this list of The Top Ten Myths of Wedding Planning.

The point is: You don't have to follow anybody's rules! Not your parents', The Knot's, or anyone else's! It's your wedding, and it should reflect who you are as a couple.

10. You have to pick a venue based on its physical beauty. Pick it based on how fun it is. Seriously. People will enjoy having a good time more than they will enjoy looking at a stunning vista. Tonight's wedding was at a children's science museum. They rented out the whole place, and we were free to romp around like kids (if only I had worn shorts under my dress!). We played in the bubble room, climbed on the vertical maze, and talked in the whisper phone.

9. You have to wear an uncomfortable dress.
The more comfortable you are, the more beautiful you will look. You need to be able to walk and move and dance around your wedding. The bride at tonight's wedding wore a random sun dress with colored stripes. Was it cute? Yes. Was it spectacular? Not particularly. Did she look spectacular anyway? Absolutely. She was radiant (not because of some mineral make-up). She was deeply content. The dress, hair, and make-up were irrelevant.

8. You have to put fondant on your wedding cake.

Admit it. It's disgusting. It has the texture (and taste) of plastic. And what the cake tastes like is more important than what it looks like. At tonight's wedding they had several real cakes. Real ones. They were absolutely delicious. I was forced to eat two pieces.

7. Someone else's voice has to dominate your ceremony.
It's your wedding. It's about you and your future partner and the coming together of your lives. Why should someone else talk all about it? At tonight's wedding, the bride and groom walked out together. The bride's sister did a brief introduction and then left the bride and groom alone up there. They talked about each other and then to each other. It lasted only about seven minutes, but it was the most sincere and touching ceremony I have ever witnessed. Tears streamed down my cheeks (and that never happens to me at weddings!).

6. You have to hire an obnoxious photographer.
The experience is more important than pictures of the experience (and you'll have plenty of pictures anyway if you just ask your friends and family to share their photos). At receptions, I honestly avoid dancing next to the bride or groom because the photographer is always right there with an interrogation bulb flashing in your face. Argh! At tonight's wedding, in the absence of such a photographer, it occurred to me just how annoying they really are!

5. You have to hire a DJ.

You don't really need one. Either have a live band or hook up an iPod. You just need good, danceable music. Well, if you do hire a DJ, just use him/her to monitor the mood of the crowd and select the most appropriate song. Whatever you do, don't let them speak. They really don't contribute anything to the experience. At tonight's wedding, we just danced to some classic dance tunes coming from an iPod.

4. You have to serve a sit-down dinner.
Sit-down dinners are long, stuffy, and contrived. People have to be assigned to tables. If they aren't interested in the people or the conversation at their table, they have to suffer through it. It's just not necessary. At tonight's wedding, we just served ourselves buffet style. We could eat when we were hungry, we could go back for leftovers, and we could sit next to whomever we wanted.

3. You have to spend an insane amount of money on the alcohol.
Beer and wine are fine. Seriously. People can still get their drink on with those classics. The addition of a signature drink (they did Grandma's Punch) is definitely cool, but you don't need to blow your savings on something that hinders people's ability to remember the event.

2. You have to invite people who aren't close to you.

The more random family friends you invite, the more uncomfortable you're going to feel. Don't feel obligated to invite anyone you don't want to. Invite people you're close to and leave it at that. At tonight's wedding, it was very clear that only the most important people were invited. And the atmosphere felt a lot more intimate and comfortable because of it.

1. You have to obsess about details.

Wedding colors don't really matter. Flowers don't matter all that much. Napkins don't matter. Remember that a wedding is a public declaration and celebration of your mutual love and commitment amidst a community of support. Focus on those things. Write your own vows. Make yourself and everyone else as comfortable as possible so you can really celebrate. And only invite a community of support.

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deepnblue said...

What was the specific venue??? And did the museum allow alcohol??

Sara E. Cotner said...

It was the Wonder Lab in Bloomington, Indiana. Here's the link: http://www.wonderlab.org/

Anonymous said...

I completely agree - Don't hire a DJ! 99% of the DJs ruin it for the rest of us. If you hire someone who is more than just a human jukebox (ie. a trained Entertainer and Master of Ceremonies), this won't be an issue. Problem is, most people won't invest the $1200-$5000 for truly exceptional ENTERTAINMENT. Most still think they are only hiring "MUSIC" and it should only be "about $100/hour". Rental equipment costs more than that!

Kitwench said...

#11 - Sometimes, you need to give in gracefully.
I am one of those rare women who can not stand flowers.
I'm not allergic , just don't like 'em.
My wedding featured candles, and I wanted nary a flower in sight.
MIL to be , however, LOVES flowers, and wanted desperately to contribute exactly that.
Once I realized how much it meant to her, we compromised .
She selected a very simply display made up of flowers from HER departed mother's garden.
This doesn't mean let someone else run your wedding !
But dear Lord, don't be a bridezilla !

Anonymous said...

Great Post! I could not agree with what you had to say more. I had the big wedding and now when I look back at it, wow what a huge waist of funds. I actually just posted a similar posting last week. http://www.austerityblog.com/2009/01/the-austere-wedding-10-tips-for-a-cheap-wedding-on-a-budget/

AmyK said...

Things I wish I'd known before my own wedding for $800, Alex.
Awesome tips. Stuff that would have made my wedding a TON better--Like not inviting my estranged great-aunt.

Anonymous said...

We loved our wedding, and many of our guests say it was the best ever. However, we didn't follow all of your rules.

10) Our location was completely based on physical beauty. We picked out a grassy embankment overlooking the sea. The entire venue was pretty big, but the planners cordoned off most of it so the guests stuck together near the dance floor. The evening breeze was so soothing, and when guests got tired of dancing they could stroll over to the beach and peer out into the ocean.

9) I agree, but then again I was the groom!

8) We didn't have a cake, just desserts served on the dance floor. Anything to keep the guests dancing!

7) I agree. Keep speeches to a minimum.

6) Our wedding photographers were more obnoxious than paparazzi, but the photos will last longer than our memories, and not everyone was able to make it to the wedding. And some shots were just so beautiful and impossible for anyone but a professional. For example, at one point we got into chairs and our friends lifted us off the ground. The photographer took some shots from above using what looked like a big pole with a camera and flash attached.

5) Make no mistake, hire a DJ. Hire a good DJ. This is the person who needs to keep the mood of the party going. They need to be good at reading a crowd, and they are much better at that than you and your iPod. Bad music means that people will be sitting down getting bored, and your taste may be very different than everyone elses. I know mine is! Besides, are you really going to be controlling the music on your wedding day?

4) Sit down dinners are classy, the food is better, and they don't need to last a long time. Non-assigned seating is a total mess, and the older people will hate it! People are going to feel left out if they don't know where to sit.

3) I agree. House liquors are fine, and you can buy a fixed amount of champagne.

2) I agree. This isn't the time to be rekindling lost friendships.

1) You can't really change who you are. If you obsess about these kinds of things then you're not going to change for the wedding. I'm sorry, but I think writing your own vows is cheesy. What's wrong with traditional vows?

Unknown said...

I couldn't agree more with any of those! My wedding was perfect, and I planned it and put it together in 10 days.

I wore a white gauzy sundress that I bought at a hippie store, and let my bridesmaids pick out sundresses that they promised they would wear again. I even let them pick the color (they both got red dresses, and the groomsmen decided to follow suit and wear red ties).

The wedding was at a tiny outdoor chapel that is also the start of a hiking trail. We both love backpacking so it felt fitting. The only music that we played was a simple acoustic version of the traditional walk-down-the-isle music.

The ceremony was short and sweet, and we didn't do any speeches (we didn't want to bore anyone to death, and it didn't feel necessary).

Afterwords we had a potluck/brunch at the park. Everyone seemed to have a nice time chatting, and we got cool pictures of the groomsmen and groom played frisbee in their suits.

Instead of a cake we had cupcakes and cheesecake.

Here are some pics (which the guests took). Hopefully I'm not embarrassing myself here :)



Sol Smith said...

I really, really wish I had known not to hire a DJ. He ruined our wedding. Really. It was humiliating and he wouldn't shut up and he was a bogus square to begin with. It was five years ago and it's still the number one thing people remember about the wedding.

Anonymous said...

Smart girl. Can you spam blast everyone you know with this article in the hopes of convincing brides to be that dropping 30k on 6-9hr event is insane. Seriously, that's a downFRICKINpayment people!

Mike said...

Great summary, great advice. We spent under 5 thousand dollars in 1995 on 100 to 150 people... $2300 for catered buffet (my wife somehow remembers)... in her parents backyard... with a white second hand wedding dress, with living flowers in pots on tables, with 2 musicians playing klezmer, with a inexpensive "just getting started" photographer plus disposable cameras on every table (the guests took better photos without a doubt), plus entertainment "acts" by our guests (juggling, songs, etc.). The dancing and the smiles were free. We rented a bunch of tables, chairs and dishes because it was over 100 people. Friends and family helped set up. We couldn't keep it small because family alone added up to a lot, but for the numbers we kept it cheap, and at the end of the day we were 100% married.... just as married as if we had spent 20 times as much. The saved money went for a nice (and also very low cost) honeymoon to Vancouver Canada, our idea of heaven.

Mike said...

Oh, and the question I disagree about here (and this is strictly a matter of taste and culture and has nothing to do with the cost of the wedding)... I hate weddings where you have to listen to the bride and groom profess their love in their own words. These words are almost always cringe inducing. I no more want the details of my friends' love for each other in emotional terms than I want the details of their sexual positions. That stuff is private, and should be. The only words I want to here are formulaic words, secular or religious poetry, words that DO NOT express this particular bride and groom's "true feelings" but rather that culturally contextualize the only act that matters, the following moment when they each say "I do" or the moment when they put a ring on each others fingers, or whatever symbolic act or words actually "effects" the wedding.

I'm the first to concede that this is a matter of taste or culture, and there is no arguing taste and culture, but I wish people getting married would consider their audience.

And think about it - would your mother or your second cousin want to know the details and colors of your love for him or her? It's private! And it has more value when it stays private. Just like physical intimacy, "damn it!" You wouldn't physically consummate the relationship in front of an audience... must we have a cringe worthy emotional orgasm in front of everyone? Isn't it sexier and deeper to only hint at what lies beneath? I sure think so.

But the stuff about keeping it cheap and simple still applies.

Mermaldad said...

I might add "Follow tradition only if the tradition is important to you." For example, we did the "throw the bouquet" & "throw the garter" thing just because that was what everyone does. Looking back, it was my least favorite part of the affair.

Our photographer was great. She made us feel special and at ease. The smiles looked better because they were real. My conclusion is that when hiring a professional, such as a photographer or DJ, you are rolling the dice on whether the chemistry between you and them will work.

One of the worst experiences from a wedding I can remember was at a friend's wedding, where the photographer thought he was there to run everything. He literally took the knife, stuck it in the cake, placed the bride and groom's hands upon it and said "Okay, now smile."

Mermaldad said...

One more thing, we attended a wedding at a science museum (COSI in Toledo, OH) and it was a blast.

Anonymous said...

The museum ideas sound like so much fun! I really like your suggestions, but I think it depends on the personal taste and values of the couple. Out of all the suggestions, not getting hung up on the details seems like the best one, although also probably the most difficult!

The only problem about having strictly your closest friends/family members there is that, unfortunately, it's not only about you. I agree that ideally, weddings should only have the people nearest and dearest to the couple but that's not always practical. When parents get involved they often want to invite people who are close to them too. At my sister's wedding this included a whole bunch of people she'd never even met. She wasn't exactly pleased, but Mom was adamant that they should be there.

Anonymous said...

my hubby and i spent approximately a grand on our wedding, and that's including our rings! our pastor new we a)didn't care much for the traditional vows, but b)didn't want to write our own, so he wrote some really fun ones for us. we got married at a park, so that cut decorations down to practically nothing. we made a CD of songs we picked out and played them through a rigged up sound system. the day could not have been more perfect :D the main thing i agree with on here is this- do what you want! if you don't want to/can't spend alot of money, don't! if you want to write your own vows, or hook up an iPod, or eat cupcakes, then do it! this is your day, and don't let anyone else make you feel bad about your choices. just please, please, don't focus so much attention on the wedding day that you aren't focusing on the rest of your lives. going into debt for a single day celebration is NEVER a good way to start your life together. just be happy :D

Anonymous said...

Brilliant. BRILLIANT!

I always, always tell brides-to-be:

In a week, or in a year, no but you will remember what your dress looked like, or your flowers, or what you served. No one will care. All they will remember is that they were there when you gave your heart to the one you love, and that's what matters. Don't stress the tiny details, please, because - really - no one will remember, and most don't care!

Anonymous said...

Doh, meant to add:

Don't hire a DJ, unless you'll just die if you don't have one. It's a ridiculous amount of money for something that is frankly annoying to most of us. Spend your hard-earned cash on what makes you happy.

Anonymous said...

That is one seriously bad dress. And people will remember that. Fun and cheap doesn't have to look lousy.

Anonymous said...

Whatever, Anonymous. I think it looks adorable. She looks like a bright and cheerful person, and I bet it matches her personality. Baby-poop-yellow probably matches yours.

Sara E. Cotner said...

@ Rude Anonymous: I have resisted censoring comments because I think open forums are really productive places. It's okay for people to disagree. It's healthy for people to disagree. I don't think everyone should be rah-rah about everyone else's wedding choices. Sometimes those choices have an impact on the environment or the world that are negative for everyone else. In those cases, I think it's okay to raise critical questions. But judging the way someone's dress looks on her under an annonymous pseudonym? That's just rude. I look at her dress and think, "Wow, she had the courage to wear whatever she wanted. Wow, she had the courage to break the mold and be true to herself, regardless of what others would think." The truth is, she looked radiant. Absolutely radiant. It was--and still is--the best wedding I've ever been to. It was so meaningful and memorable. It was heart-felt and the love was palpable. There was no pomp or cirumstance. Everyone was comfortable. That's what I'll remember, Anonymous.

Anonymous said...

Interesting takes on how things should run at a wedding...I only have to disagree with one point in all of the above...a good DJ can make your night more memorable than a fantastic meal...seriously...of course, if you hire a bad one, he can bring it down in a heavy way. The crowd of people your are inviting makes a big difference as well...if you have a group of people that love to party, bringing in someone that knows how to control the tempo, without being annoying, can keep your guest talking about your reception for months to come. Don't be so quick to rule them out.

Jade said...

These are excellent tips. I've been married twice and did both weddings on less than $1000; a good, classy, unique wedding need not break the bank. Wedding receptions are uncomfortable, emotional torture for me so I'm a big fan of the "less is more" philosophy.

Anonymous said...

First off, I have to completely agree with the comment about assigned seats - if people sit wherever they want, there will be people feeling left out.

Second, "only the most important people"?! Wow.

And to Sithean, long after you are dead, people WILL remember what you wore and what the flowers looked like. Wedding photos last longer than most relationships.

Unknown said...

Wow, Anonymous of 3:03am.....spoken like a true, bitter divorcee.

As long as you're planning your wedding the way you want to have your wedding, you can do no wrong. It shouldn't matter how people remember your wedding...what matters is how YOU remember it.

I think these tips are great for those of us that are currently planning our weddings. Thank you for the brilliant post and advice.

Anonymous said...

Wow, hard to agree with anything on this list. We had a DJ and he was wonderful. You'll care about the pictures a few years out, so it's worth posing a bit. No sit down dinner? Really?

blueoceanvn said...

If only I read your article 3 years earlier OR you wrote it 3 years earlier :)

Great article! Good tips!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful list. I'm putting a link and hopefully eyecatching summary to this on http://notnegativenews.com , with the title "Ten Tips to a Happier Wedding" or something similar. Look in the Lifestyle section within the next few days. Fantastic stuff.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree. My wedding was about $1k. The church, one I went to for most of my life was free to use and so was the reception hall. The money was spent on the cake, tux rentals (3), bridal dress, invitations, thank you cards, punch and plastic ware. We had the preacher from our church do the ceremony for free, it was a simple 20 minute ceremony and I did all the decorations, including the unity candles myself. I made my own bouquet the night before and we had family take pictures for us. We made our own music CDs for both the ceremony (including my wedding march) and the reception. The reception was a simple cake and punch deal and was very fun because we had only our closest friends and family there and were able to freely visit everyone instead of being tied down to posing for pictures. I got lots of compliments on our wedding and how it was fun and it was the most touching some had seen. Most importantly...it was the small simple ceremony of our dreams.

Mrs.B said...

We had a big wedding. $10000 or so. And I loved it. It was exactly what we wanted, not extravagant at all. We didn't pay a lot for the flowers or the hall or the pictures, we had a couple of guys who had a club act do the music, and the sit down meal was to everyone's liking. We had over 100 people at the dinner and nearly 250 at the reception, and it was wonderful to be surrounded by friends and family who loved us and wanted to celebrate with us.

You don't have to spend loads to have a great wedding, but you don't have to be cheap either.

Anonymous said...

You must be seeing the wrong DJs.

An i-Pod cannot do introductions, know when to do what. Does the i-Pod know that the bride is in the bathroom when the cake is to be cut or she is to dance with dad? It may work well at the trailer park but even there it's tacky!

Claff said...

I just discovered your blog, Sara; it's awesome. If/when I get married I'm going to seriously peruse it for tips. (at the moment I'm here because a friend is DIY-wedding-ing, and I'm making her cake.)

Speaking of which, I have to say that while fondant usually DOES taste like plastic, it is saving my a** right now. I'm bringing the cake to an un-airconditioned space with no refrigerator on-site. Fondant is going to hide a multitude of sins, including saggy, melty buttercream. :)

Also, I'm using Satin Ice, which actually tastes yards and yards better than the standard Wilton stuff. And homemade marshmallow fondant (which I don't have time to make, but have tasted) is actually quite yummy -- if you're prepared for the resulting sugar coma.

Anyway - wonderful blog!

nachturnal said...

@Mike (28-Jan):

I've helpfully highlighted a small section of this article for you.

Hope your prudish self isn't too offended by tradition.

I, for one, would much rather listen to barf-inducing words of affection, than watch my friends get it on.

Kali said...

Brilliant tips! I hate sit-down dinners, square DJs and anything that "should be traditional". Whose traditions are they, anyway? NOT MINE! I hope my wedding in August is just as great as this one.

Heather Leigh said...

I just stumbled upon your website, and I must say that you sound so much like me and my fiance it's astounding. I wish I had found your website sooner.

My budget is about double yours, but my family is huge (Dad's side alone is 80 people) and really tight knit. So yes mine's more expensive but we're also expecting 125 people. I just couldn't imagine our wedding without the whole brood there!

Thanks for being a cool, positive person!

Amanda said...

I love this list! I am getting married in 2 months (Holy Crap!!) and I am kind of doing all of these! I made my own dress that is modeled after a $8,000 designer dress. I made it for $50 and it looks identical.

My fiance and I decided to get married out of the country because we love to travel and so do our close friends and family, so we are combining our Honeymoon and wedding in Ireland!

I chose in season wild flowers for my bouquet, which is the only set of flowers being used in the wedding.

No DJ or musician. I have my Ipod set up to play the walk down the isle song and the exit...

Our venue is a 17th century castle we rented for 7 days. So it is a personal castle/hotel for us and our guests to stay in. And it only cost $3,000 to rent!

Overall we are spending a fraction of what most do and it is exactly what we have talked about wanting from day one!

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