"Buying the ring is the easiest part,” my mother said as I called her on my way home from the jewelry store, having just taken my first step toward marital bliss. As I am sometimes wont to do, I dismissed this statement as motherly melodrama. How could planning a wedding be a bigger quest than finding the one ring to rule them all? Over the past three months, I had earned a veritable Master's Degree in Gemology. I was now a versed authority on cuts, karats and clarity; plus, I’d just invested enough in this forever purchase that its value was equivocal to a continuing education diploma.
My mother was right, of course—as she nearly always is. Planning a wedding is an endurance trial of negotiations, comprises and Himalayan price tags. I imagine it much like a presidential run—you need tireless determination and focus, an ‘ish-ton of money, and at some point, you need to be willing to get your hands dirty to get what you want. I still have three months left before reaching the finish line of this marathon, and I already feel like I’ve hit the wall.
You want my advice: elope! I’m not kidding. Skip the rest of this article, go find the nearest costume shop, buy some cheap Elvis clothing, and get-er-done. Why spend $40,000 (the cost of the average wedding), or likely even more, on a SINGLE DAY OF YOUR LIFE when you can put that money towards purchasing property or investing in your child’s future (if you plan on having children; otherwise, take a dope-ass honeymoon)? This advice is a thousand-million fold if you are going to accrue debt. Don’t dig a financial ditch that will take you years to climb your way out of just so you can spend one day impressing everyone you know.
Now that I got that off my chest, time for a reality check: your parents, and likely your fiancé, won’t be moved by this seemingly common sense approach. So now that you’re locked in to a wedding, here are some lessons my fiancé and I have learned along the way, as well as a few things you should brace for.
1) Making the cut
Perhaps the hardest thing you’ll have to do is cut people from your guest list. Our wedding is small—70 people to be exact—so it’s an unfortunate reality that we are not able to invite many who are near and dear to us. However, this is a struggle you will need to address regardless of the size of your ceremony: my best man invited 500 guests to his wedding two years ago, down from a potential list of more than 750.
This process is much more complex than simply weighing your relationship with one person against that of another: There is a delicate, social equilibrium that must be maintained. Say you have a group of three friends you regularly spend time with on the weekends: two of these friends you absolutely want to attend your wedding, but the third you just don’t care to spend time with one-on-one when you’re not all together. Guess what: in the best interest of not making things weird and risking fracturing the collective friendship, that third wheel now drinks that close-college-friend-who-you-haven’t-talked-to-in-a-while-but-you-would-still-love-to-be-there’s milkshake.
And then there are your parents (see #2). They no doubt have a litany of estranged cousins and friends whose children’s weddings they have begrudgingly attended who absolutely must intrude on your big day, further ousting many on your list. You can negotiate with them to a degree, but, as the likely financiers of your grand production, they get the majority stakeholders’ final votes. Ever wonder why there is so much product placement in summer blockbusters? Well, you’ll understand when you don’t recognize a dozen or so people on the most important day of your life.
One strategy we used was to get the Save the Date cards out eight months in advance. For those who have already RSVP’ed that they could not attend, we were able to move more friends on the bench back into the game.
No matter how you handle this, however, you’ll always have those friends who you wish you could invite that understand the guest list politics and those who will be forever butthurt.
This is especially hard if you hang out with many of these people on a regular basis—and even worse if they invited you to their wedding (which is the case with a number of our friends). You will be out for drinks one evening when one of them asks how your wedding planning is going. You respond by abruptly taking a large gulp of your beverage and mumbling something incomprehensible into your glass. Just take solace in knowing that everyone goes through this, and you won’t necessarily come out a better person for having endured it.
2) The Parentals
“Your wedding day is not about you,” a coworker and veteran of her three children’s weddings recently told me. “It’s all for your parents.”
Real talk: After getting your own place, your folks have been waiting your whole life for you to get married. It’s no surprise they want to parade you in front of their peers like Katniss and Peta after the Hunger Games. This goes double if true love found you forever in its favor before their friends’ children.
Still, this should be your day … if you let your parents muscle you out of the driver’s seat, you may find your special day looks nothing like you imagined it. One good friend’s parents invited so many of their own friends that he didn’t know over half his guests; the mothers also went behind the bride and groom’s backs and completely redid their registry, as they didn’t feel the original requests were “classy” enough.
Then again, they are your parents, and chances are they’re paying for this grand occasion—so you’re going to have to compromise. Maybe you want something laidback and funky while your parents envision a more traditional ceremony. Perhaps you’ll disagree on the menu or the flavor of the cake. Eventually, I promise you, you are going to butt heads. Everyone’s parental dialogue is different, so I don’t have a solid negotiation strategy aside from just think back to what worked when you wanted to stay out late back in high school. Sometimes, you need to take a step back to take another forward.
3) Let’s (not) have a toast to the douchebags
This past October, my fiancé and I caught an Uber a few hours after leaving our friends’ wedding reception.
“Woah, you guys look dapper tonight,” complemented our driver. “Are you coming from a wedding?”
“Yes,” I answered.
“Wait a second, you’re not coming from that Nazi sympathizer wedding are you?” he asked all excited. “I just brought a couple from there back to your hotel.”
Yes, in fact, we were coming from the Nazi sympathizer wedding. And to set the record straight, there were no Nazi sympathizers at the wedding. The best man, having confused the wedding with an SEC game and tailgated all day beforehand, heckled another groomsmen of apparent German descent during the post-ceremony dinner.
Sadly, this wasn’t the only vulgar display of verbal diarrhea that weekend. The bride and groom thought it would be fun to let anyone who desired say a few words at the rehearsal and wedding dinners on their behalf. They also found it generous (as did I) to provide an open bar at each. Thus began two days of radical remarks only Donald Trump could come back from. Both an uncle and a father-in-law went before God and guests and remarked on the bride’s “hot bod.” A groomsman’s bromantic pass at the husband-to-be turned into a nine-minute meltdown pleading him to reconsider his sexual preference and make a mad dash out of there The Graduate-style. And an elderly gentlemen obliviously dropped the kind of PC-free faux pas that had everyone under a certain age checking their phones to make sure that it was, indeed, 2016, while everyone else was nervously preparing their elevator pitch for their adult children to explain later that old uncle so-in-so wasn’t really racist, he’s just “from a different era.” The winning monologue, however, went to the father of the bride, who recited a 25-minute, 40 plus-page poem he wrote in six parts over the better part of the past year.
This is not a Comedy Central Roast. It’s also not a reenactment of the Dead Poets’ Society—this is your wedding. Still, of the dozen or so weddings I’ve attended in my day, not one has passed without some drunk douchebag getting up and saying some drunk douchebag BS.
Invite those whom you would like to speak to do so in advance. Give them a time limit to say their piece … even ask to hear their speeches beforehand if you like. Finally, if they happen to make liberal use of the open bar, revoke their speaking privileges.
4) A Penny Saved
The wedding industry is bloated with unscrupulous businesses just waiting to bleed unsuspecting shoppers dry with inflated prices. If your wedding is on the smaller side, like ours, here are a few ways you can cut back to avoid unnecessary spending.
a) Go Digital
A friend actually responded to our e-Save-the-Date card, thanking us for joining the 21st century. We didn’t send an e-card because we care about our carbon footprint—we care about our credit footprint. Save the Dates and invitations can cost up to $400 by many wedding-planning estimates. On the contrary, eblast sites like Constant Contact will run you $20, and they offer personalized animations, video embedding and other fun cyber flare. Plus, who the hell actually enjoys dealing with real mail in this day and age anyway?
b) No Need to Rehearse
Traditionally, the bridal and groom parties, extended family and out-of-towners all should be invited to the rehearsal dinner. For us, that’s more than two-thirds of our entire guest list. So why not just do something less formal and invite everyone?
Instead of the rehearsal dinner, we reserved space for a Happy Hour at our favorite bar. This way, we can keep it casual, people can come and go as they please, and, if people want, they can still join us for dinner somewhere in the neighborhood afterwards. It’s also saving us almost $2,000.
Bonus Tip: If you are set on having a rehearsal dinner, don’t be afraid to start with some of New Orleans’s more classic and high-end locations. Many of these spots have event rooms and are better able to work with you on a price, especially if your wedding is not during a busy tourist season.
c) Pictures of You
For those on a budget, paying $3,500 for a photographer takes a big bite out of your budget. If your wedding is around 100 people or less, you may be able to find some untapped talent to do this for you at a more reasonable rate. Perhaps you know someone who occasionally freelances for a local paper or you have a friend of a friend who is studying photography in college. If their portfolio is promising, try and negotiate a test run to see if they are up to the task. A good way to do this is to hire someone you are confident in to do your engagement photos. This way, you can see some of their intangible skills at work, such as how they give direction to their subjects.
Be sure to discuss your venue and the particulars of your wedding with them beforehand. One young photographer we met with, completely unfamiliar with Jewish ceremonies, looked at us like we were Vikings two generations removed from cannibalism when we told him we would be hoisting people up on chairs and breaking a glass. Your photographer should be familiar with all of the important details you will want captured.
d) Go DJ
In college, I actually had a part-time job as a DJ. I was hired not because I had any relevant experience making me well-suited to this task, but because in the early ‘00s, hardly anyone had high-speed internet in their homes. My dorm had it, though, and I came equipped with a CD burner and a LimeWire account … I was the chicken that laid the free playlist egg.
Today, you don’t need to pay someone for their musical catalog. Practically every song man has ever composed is available to stream from your phone. For a small wedding, you won’t need a massive sound system or someone experienced at reading a large crowd’s body language to see if they are into your tunes.
Ask if your venue has a sound system. If they do, get the Wi-Fi password and download Spotify Premium. This way, you avoid commercials, and you can download the songs you absolutely must play to your laptop in the event of an Internet outage. Then, pay a college student $150 to man the keyboard for the night. I promise you, anyone under 30 is inherently a pro at this; plus, even professional DJs like Skrillex and Diplo have admitted in interviews that they just queue up a playlist of their prerecorded tracks when they perform live. Why pay some schmuck $1,000 to DJ your wedding when he does the same thing world-renowned bass-droppers do sans a giant cybernetic mouse head?
5) Come Together
Not everything leading up to your wedding is an aneurism-inducing ordeal. In fact, many planning activities will remind you and your special someone why you are doing all of this in the first place.
If you’re having a religious wedding, regularly meeting with your spiritual leader to discuss your future after the ceremony helps give added meaning to the upcoming procession. For me, my favorite part of our preparation has been meeting with our rabbi to discuss what our future home will look like, both as a couple and as a family when we decide to have children. After all, becoming a family is the rock that all the spectacle is built upon … why everyone is gathering to celebrate with you on your special day.
Other small decisions, like selecting the wedding playlist, taking lessons for your first dance, and going on cake tastings all provide for small opportunities for the two of you to work together and continue to learn about each other.
These are the beautiful moments on your journey towards your wedding day. The rational side of me is still convinced eloping would be the fiscally responsible decision. However, the side of me that can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with my fiancé is excited to see this milestone in both our lives through to completion … that is, if the planning doesn’t kill us first.