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

Monday, September 1, 2008

Q & A: How to Thank Wedding Helpers

Reader Question: I had a question about how you approached lodging with your guests. We're looking at renting a large house with a barn that we would use for the wedding, and the house would sleep a portion of our guests who also happen to be our close friends and wedding helpers. We're running into some self-inflicted guilt about making our guests, who are generously helping with the cooking and set-up among other things, pay for their own lodging, but paying for the house ourselves blows our budget out of the water. Any advice?

Sometimes while in the shower, I find myself playing little "What if" games with myself to pass the time (keep in mind my showers are short and I try to conserve water, unlike Lance Armstrong the Water Waster).

One time I asked myself, "What if you had a bigger wedding budget? What would you do?"

This idea came through my mind: nicer table settings. Seriously. I get slightly jealous when I see an artistic table settings while glancing at wedding porn.

But that idea didn't really resonate with me. Yes, my guests would have had that "Wow, this is beautiful" moment, but I cared much more about the "Wow, this is sincere" and "This feels authentic" and "What nice people are here." (As a side note, I know it feels like you should be able to have both, but I have a theory that the less you focus on the surface details, the more you can focus on what really matters.)

And then it hit me: I would have paid for my guests' lodging. And, if I had money left over, I would have sent them those Visa gift cards to go toward the purchase of their airline flights.

So, I understand your desire to pay for lodging. Just like you, our nearest and dearest stayed with us at the reception site. It was honestly one of the best things we did in terms of wedding planning. It meant that we got to spend serious quality time with our friends and family. For example, in the mornings, we spent two leisurely hours eating a homemade breakfast together on the patio. The Welcome Picnic on Friday and wedding reception on Saturday went late into the night because people could just walk to their rooms whenever they wanted to.

In terms of preparation, people stepped up to help constantly. They helped us hang white lights and prepare the food, for example.

In the end, there were so many people to thank (everyone who had an official job, as well as all the people who volunteered to help spontaneously). We did pay for the rooms of two people whose jobs required them to go above and beyond. Everyone else had to pay their own way. Luckily, we had picked such a casual place that the accommodations only cost $25 or $35 per night when we divided it up among everyone.

We tried to thank everyone else in the following ways:
  1. We tried to communicate to everyone that their presence at our wedding was gift enough. They should not feel obligated to give us a tangible gift.
  2. In the moment, we tried to thank people as sincerely and profusely as possible. Because we weren't really stressed out, we could step out of ourselves and constantly acknowledge how much we appreciated everyone's help.
  3. Instead of doing the traditional cake ceremony which is focused on the bride and groom, we used it as an opportunity to acknowledge that the wedding would not have been possible without the support and help of our friends and family. We talked specifically about many of the ways people had helped us.
  4. We're in the process of writing thank you cards to everyone who attended the wedding (not just the people who gave us gifts) and we are going to thank them again for their contributions.
Based on the feedback that I've received from various guests, I think most people truly enjoyed being part of the action. We tried to minimize everyone's job so it didn't feel like too much of a burden. I think the people who helped out had a more enjoyable and memorable experience because they were part of helping an amazing event come to fruition.

In other words, I wouldn't worry about it too much. Simply say, "Your presence and contribution mean so much to me. Thank you for making this day possible. I will always remember and appreciate what you've done. Please know that if our wedding budget were any bigger we would've paid for your lodging as a tangible thank you."

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