Sam and I got married last summer, in a wedding that we had been planning for almost two years.
Throughout the wedding planning process, and afterwards, with the benefit of hindsight, I have kept a notes document detailing all the important bits of advice that I would pass on to a friend about to get married. This post is the culmination of every notable thing I’ve learnt about planning and having a wedding.
My advice ranges from the practical to the more emotional side of wedding planning. And for those of us who already have children, there is a section at the bottom of this post for the important things we learnt about planning and having a wedding when you have children.
Wear your shoes lots before the big day
Spend some time wearing your shoes, or shoe contenders, around the house before you settle on a final pair. Or, do as I did and buy your shoes at the last minute, only to realise later the same day as you stand up in them for an hour at your dress fitting, that actually, they are really quite uncomfortable and you definitely need to go for a lower heel.
Beat the procrastination. It’s sooo easy to spend ages browsing around for various wedding related items and services, without getting any closer to making the decision on which to choose. Don’t spend hours upon hours sifting through threads and going down a google hole only to revisit the same process a few months later. Decide on a timeframe in which to make your decision, and stick to it. (Having three young children and a busy life definitely helped curbed my wedding planning procrastination urges!)
Divide and conquer
We were lucky to have almost two years from booking our venue until our wedding date, which gave a really good amount of time to have a slow but steady planning process. But whatever your timeframe, divide the number of weeks until your wedding by the number of items on your to-do list, and that’s the rate at which you want to be aiming to tick things off your task list.
Have a rock solid central wedding planning system
Whether you’re a notebook sort of person or an all-digital type, make sure you have ONE central system for wedding planning and make sure that system is as organised as it can be.
Personally, I am a digital type. I need to be able to add to my notes on the go. I used Trello, which syncs from the app on my phone to the browser version – meaning whether I’m sitting at my desk, or out and about, I can update my lists.
This system worked really well for me, and my personal opinion is the more lists the merrier. I had around 20 separate lists by the end. My list of ‘random thoughts and questions to ask Sam about the wedding’ saved me many a sleepless night with a whirring brain. There was nothing too trivial for my lists, and I’d add a question or thought every time one popped into my head.
Wedding dress hidden costs
When wedding dress shopping, don’t only ask for the price of the dress. Enquire about any additional costs too. Many bridal boutiques have a set charge for alterations and sometimes you don’t find this out until you’ve chosen your dress and received your invoice.
Check your Facebook photo privacy settings
If you are concerned about bad photos of you ending up being broadcast to all your FB friends before you’ve had time to post one you like or are yet to receive your professional photos back, remember to change your tag settings on FB before your wedding day! You can set it so that anything you are tagged in has to be approved by you before it winds up on your timeline. A certain someone MIGHT have completely forgotten to do this and MIGHT have had their entire venue and decorations broadcast to their entire friends list (including many wedding guests who would be arriving the next day). Not still hung up on that one at all, obviously.
Of course, you can also stipulate your own rules regarding social sharing. Perhaps you don’t want any photos online until you, the wedding couple, have shared a photo or message yourselves. Perhaps you want an unplugged ceremony so that your first photo as a married couple doesn’t turn into a game of “How many phones and cameras can I spot?”
Guests don’t read all the small print on the invite, a lot of people don’t take the time to read your carefully crafted wedding website. If you want everyone to be on the same page regarding any specific rules of conduct for your wedding, the best time to add any stipulations is when you have your guests undivided attention. Get your celebrant to make an announcement before the ceremony, or add a note in the order of service.
Spread out your small purchases as well as your big ones.
I feel right into the trap of leaving the smaller purchases till the last 6 weeks. Shoes for the children, a necklace and hair accessories to go with my dress, decorative items and signage. But those purchases add up, and our credit cards took a big hit that we weren’t prepared for. Amazon Prime was our saviour and also our enabler in those last few weeks. Buying one smaller item every month / week would have been far less overwhelming.
Not everything will go to plan
Things will go wrong – ranging from smaller details to the big things (we had a mixture of both for our wedding) This is the biggest event we will likely ever plan, and most of us aren’t event planners. But there are so many amazing moments throughout your day that you genuinely forget to dwell on it at the time and just roll with your day.
That being said…
You might dwell on it afterwards
A lesser spoken about aspect of having a wedding is the dwelling on the things that didn’t go to plan. I’ve spoken with a fair few friends who have all said there were some things they did notice and continue to think about after their wedding.
If this happens to you, know that it’s normal and natural to allow yourself a little moment of dwelling. Mine was definitely heightened in the days directly after the wedding – there were a few regrets that had me irrationally almost-wishing for a redo. The days just after your wedding are a weird time, and it can feel quite raw. But you get over it. The things that seemed important directly after the wedding are things I was no longer hung up about one month down the line.
I could quote so many parts of this article from The Cut – go read it!
Your wedding day will get ruined, that is, if you expect everything to be perfect. Because weddings are never, ever perfect. It’s a testament to the inherent masochism of the human race that people even associate perfection with weddings.
People won’t follow your rules
I’ve dedicated a section above to rules and stipulations, and now I’m telling you that there will be people who ignore those rules. Fellow control freaks: think of it as damage limitation rather than all-out dictatorship – the sooner I accepted that not all instructions would be meticulously followed EVEN THOUGH I WROTE THEM DOWN AND COLOUR CODED, the more ‘Go with the flow’ I could allow myself to be. Rules are made to be broken, so don’t have too many of them.
People don’t care about your wedding as much as you do
In the nicest possible way, friends and family are busy, we all have our own lives. People won’t care as much about your wedding as you do, and if there are aspects that you really wish people would care more about, you need to be direct and tell them. One thing I learnt from my year being part of wedding planning groups on Facebook was that the number one grievances were friends and family not being invested enough in your wedding. “No one wants to organise my hen do”, “My bridesmaids aren’t prioritising dress fittings”, “My mum hasn’t been that interested in our wedding plans” – how are people meant to understand your expectations unless you communicate with them?
That being said…
Don’t be a bridezilla
Read again: everyone has their own busy lives, don’t be unreasonable.
Post-wedding blues are real
You spend so long planning and thinking about one day (or one weekend in our case) and then it’s over in a flash. I definitely went through a weird few weeks afterwards where I felt a bit ungrounded. I don’t think it helped that it was school summer holidays and we had absolutely no plans going on in our lives for the foreseeable future!
Don’t have a friend shoot your wedding…unless they are a wedding photographer
As a photographer, I need to tell you that there is such a HUGE difference between a photographer and an actual wedding photographer. I would not touch wedding photography with a barge pole because I know I wouldn’t do it justice.
Wedding photography is a SKILL. Not only do you need to be everywhere all at once to get those all important shots, you also need to have excellent people skills, and the ability to work with large groups and distracted people on a ridiculously tight time schedule. Your friend might know their way around a camera and be able to take amazing photos in their own area of photography, but you won’t get the same quality of photos as you would with an experienced wedding photographer.
Reasons to hire a friend as your wedding photographer: 1. You do not care at all about having photos of your wedding day. 2. You have zero budget and wouldn’t be having any photos at all otherwise. The only reason you should hire a friend as your wedding photographer is if they ARE a wedding photographer.
Film your wedding
On your wedding day, there is so much going on that many brides report losing memories of the day, or just generally feeling hazy about the whole sequence of events. The day was definitely a blur for me, and I’ve found myself remembering how I felt at a certain point, but not exactly what was said that made me feel emotional, so I’m so so so glad we filmed the speeches, the ceremony, and had our guests film key moments throughout the day as without those I feel like I’m losing those memories already. If you don’t want or can’t afford a videographer, don’t worry – it’s the words that you will want chronicled, having a friend or family member record moments from your day will be just as valuable to you. Ask them!
Find yourself a wedding buddy or three
One of the most enjoyable aspects of wedding planning for me was the chats with friends that were getting married around the same time as me. I was lucky enough to have four friends all getting married within a few months of my own wedding. Over the course of the year and a half leading up to our wedding date, it was lovely catching up with where they are at with their wedding planning.
My wedding buddies provided me with an all-important sounding board made up of people who are equally invested in all things wedding planning related and are unlikely to get bored and tune out of wedding chat. If you don’t know anyone in real life, there are lots of groups online (try FB) where you can buddy up with someone who is getting married close to your date.
Take advice but listen to your gut above all else
Everyone has a different idea of the perfect wedding. Much like parenting advice, wedding advice can be useful, but might not always apply to you. A lot of great tips came from friends who had planned similar weddings to ours (the ‘hire wedding planner’ tip that you’ll read in a minute came from a friend). It can be easy to fall into the trap of getting panicky because “so and so said weddings without a live band are crap and that we HAVE to have a wedding cake”. We took on board advice where it made sense, but also became very good at trusting our gut and knowing when something wouldn’t work for us, or was unnecessary for our particular wedding celebration.
THE BEST DECISIONS WE MADE
Hiring a wedding planner
I could wax lyrical about our wedding co-ordinator ALL. DAY. LONG.
About mid-way through planning a very DIY wedding, with a lot of moving parts, taking place over several days, I realised that our plan for me and Sam – the bride and groom – to manage all the on-the-day coordination was just pure craziness.
Now that our wedding is over, I can say it was 100% worth hiring someone to co-ordinate our day for us. Sam and I were way too busy and distracted to keep on top of our timeline by ourselves – without our wedding co-ordinator, we would have ended up massively skewing our order of the day, or just not having as brilliant a time as we did because we would have been too focused on organisation and clock-watching. Having spent all that time and money organising our wedding, it was so worth spending that little bit more in order that we could actually enjoy the day we’d spent so much time and money on.
Making a weekend of it
One day goes by so, so quickly, barely giving you enough time to spend two minutes with each of your guests. Essentially, at your own wedding, you get to say hello and goodbye to everybody, and not much else – there is no time to actually catch up with your friends and family. This is why it was super important to us to find a venue that would allow us to make a weekend of it.
We had 60 friends and family stay on site from the Friday to the Sunday, giving us so much more quality time with our guests. Even if you can’t or don’t want to hire a weekend venue (it does up the total cost considerably, especially if you are catering for the whole weekend!), you can definitely plan your wedding so that you get to spend maximum time with your guests – choose a small village / town to get married in, you’ll bump into everyone throughout the weekend, and can arrange pub drinks on the days surrounding the wedding day.
Waiting until the right time to get married
When we fell unexpectedly pregnant with our first baby, a lot of people expected that marriage would be on the cards shortly after. But the last thing we wanted was a shotgun rushed wedding. We wanted to savour our day and do it exactly the way we would have wanted, children or not. So, we waited until we were ready, financially and mentally. And having our children there with us for our wedding was just so special.
THINGS WE WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY
Use a dressmaker instead of buying an expensive designer dress
After my year long dress search, I ran out of time and energy to pursue the dressmaker route. But I am still wrestling with my conscience about spending as much as I did on a dress when I know I could have designed something equally ‘me’ with a dressmaker at a significantly reduced cost. If I had my time again, I would have gone straight to a dressmaker and cut out the time I wasted traipsing from boutique to boutique attempting to find something that would work with my extremely non-standard proportions.
In hindsight, I’ve learnt that I was never going to be 100% happy about my body on my wedding day, so throwing more money at the dress situation was not the solution I hoped it might turn out to be. In fact, it was actually a bit of a kick in the teeth to find aspects of myself in the dress that I felt really self-conscious about, despite having spent twice my original budget. (The expectation to look perfect on your wedding day compared the confronting reality that you still just look like… you, is a whole nother blog post in itself).
Honestly though, I think I would always have had to go on that journey in order to come to that realisation, so it’s a decision that I’ve come to be at peace with – our bank balance, not so much.
How much DIY is too much DIY?
Maaaaybe have a venue that was a little less DIY. We did literally everything ourselves – stocked the bar, sourced and organised caterers, even ran our ceremony ourselves with our friend acting as celebrant rather than someone official. It was a huge undertaking, not just for us, but also for our friends and family, who we had to lean on heavily during the wedding planning and venue set up.
And a DIY wedding doesn’t necessarily make for a cheaper wedding.
All this DIY caused me moments of acute stress in the lead up. But then again, we do like doing things our own way and this was why our venue appealed to us. So maybe we wouldn’t have had it any other way ; )
TIPS FOR PLANNING A WEDDING WHEN YOU HAVE CHILDREN
I figured this needed a whole standalone section!
Have a childcare rota for the entire wedding day
When there’s lots of family members around, it’s easy to assume someone has eyes on the children, when in reality, no one actually does because everyone is thinking the same thing. We divided the childcare into shifts of an hour, done in pairs, so no one ever had sole care of all the children, and no one had to miss too long at the party.
Do you actually have time to craft?
If you want to DIY decorative elements, make sure you leave plenty of time to do so in the lead up to your wedding. If you are not DIY / crafting inclined, find ways to outsource the crafting, or just keep it simple and shop buy instead of hoping that you’ll miraculously become Kirsty Allsop before your wedding – it’s hard enough to find time to become a crafting genius as it is, let alone when you have children.
Get a wedding photographer who is great with children
They don’t necessarily need to have children themselves, but if they understand what makes children tick, they will get better expressions / photos. When you are getting in touch with wedding photographers and gathering quotes, start the conversation about your children and how important photos of you all as a family are (not just as a bride and groom alone). Ask them to send you examples of weddings where they’ve worked with children. Through these conversations, you can scope out how confident they are about photographing children and how much experience they actually have / how much time they’ve spent around children before.
Hire a babysitter
Our decision to hire an evening babysitter was 100% worth it. .Our children were very much a central part of our day, and we loved being able to experience our wedding as a family. But at a certain point, we knew we wanted to clock off and party, with our friends that we don’t get to see often….without weary children clinging to our legs on the dancefloor.
Although we had our childcare rota for the daytime, we didn’t want our family to be saddled with our children all evening too – we wanted everyone to let loose and have fun. Our babysitter arrived at 8pm, and it just made the evening part of our day so much more relaxed for us. I would have hired a babysitter to be on stand-by all day if our budget allowed.
Think about where the kids will be at certain moments of the day and talk them through their roles
Wedding tradition and specificities can get confusing enough for adults, let alone young children. Talk to your kids as much as you can about the plans for your wedding day (specifically, the ceremony and the speeches, we found), so that they can understand what it all means.
One thing I wanted to be conscious to avoid was leaving the kids floundering because they weren’t sure what they were meant to be doing. For example, we didn’t want the kids to be trailing hesitantly behind Sam and I as we walked down the aisle after the ceremony. We wanted to leave the aisle in a way that would signify our togetherness as a family. So we armed the kids with bubble guns and let the kids lead the way back down the aisle at the end of our ceremony – it was a great way to have fun with it and make sure every member of the family felt included and confident in what they were doing.
If you want more details on our day, you can watch our wedding day video below. And below that is a debrief video that Sam and I filmed in the days straight after the wedding where we talk about our favourite parts of the wedding, the things we are glad we did, and the things we would do differently.
Photography: Shari and Mike
Videography: Pretty In White
Venue: Hawthbush Farm, Sussex