5 Lessons I Learned While Wedding Planning

photo by friend Joey Bastelli, minutes after our engagement.

Congratulations! You’re engaged! Now welcome to Purgatory.

Ok, engagement isn’t that bad… for some people. Honestly, I was one of those brides who was generally a stressed out hot mess while planning. I don’t understand the (very few) women who are completely calm about the whole process and knock out the entire wedding plan to the last detail in just a few months. I love to throw a great party, but I’m also a complete perfectionist. I warn you now – this is a recipe for insanity. I found the planning process fun at first, but I was over it within a few months. So please, take my advice looking back on engagement from a year later, and hopefully you will be more successful than I was!

Avoid long-distance engagement at all costs.

I realize that this is not the norm, but we were engaged long-distance for the first three months of our nine month engagement. I understand sometimes this is unavoidable, but it is definitely not preferable. Being away from Nick during what was supposed to be one of the most joyous times of our lives turned it into one of the most trying. We fought more in those three months just trying to nail down a date and a venue when I was 600 miles away than we ever had before or since.ย We got engaged in April of 2010, but I didn’t quit my job and move until the very end of June. I wanted to give myself closure at my job and say adequate goodbyes to my friends in Tennessee, but looking back, I wish I had done that in May rather than waiting an extra month.

Decide your priorities early.

Pick a few aspects to focus on, and realize that the rest will get taken care of. It becomes overwhelming if you try to pick the perfect everything. We focused on three.

  1. We wanted the entire day to be a celebration (dance party included)!
  2. We knew we wanted to focus the theme of the wedding around story – the amazing one God had written through us, reflecting His bigger story of restoration and redemption for us all. This ended up deciding the direction of our ceremony, including a worship set, and even stretched as far as our table centerpieces.
  3. We wanted to make sure that all of the above was captured timelessly. Photography became our biggest priority budget-wise, so we did something kind of crazy and decided to wait until January to be able to have the photographer whose work I had been following for three years shoot our wedding.

Don’t be engaged longer than necessary.

We got engaged in April of 2010 and married in January of 2011 – that time span was a little too long. One of the loudest pieces of advice we were given from multiple older and wiser couples was that the ideal amount of time for engagement is six to eight months. I knew before I got engaged that a six month engagement would be ideal for me. I understand this rule may not apply to everyone, but we were trying to maintain a pure sexual relationship before marriage, and let me tell you, those were a trying 9 months! What I found was that I was ready emotionally at six months to be married, but I was stuck with an extra three months of planning and stressing over details just waiting for the day to arrive.

Embrace compromise.

This is the essence of marriage, after all. If you can’t embrace compromise while you are engaged, how will you ever make in marriage?ย Decide what is most important to you and what is most important to your fiance and when you differ, try to meet in the middle. Your wedding should reflect both of you, not just the bride. You also may need to compromise your vision of your “perfect” wedding. When we first got engaged, I said I really wanted an October wedding, but my “dream” photographer wasn’t available until January. So I could either have my perfect time of year, or perfectly captured memories. Obviously, the latter won, even though I hate winter. While I absolutely love my pictures, I also realized that had I decided to get married in the fall, my alternative choice of photographers still would have done a great job.

You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

Your wedding budget will be your best friend and your worst enemy. I was convinced I didn’t want to come anywhere close to spending what the average American wedding costs (somewhere around $26,500 in 2011) but once I started looking at the numbers and the kind of wedding I wanted to have (largely impacted by the sizable guest list because of our big families), I realized my desire for a wedding on the cheap probably wasn’t going to be realistic. However, we cut costs where we could. We had on off-season wedding. Photography and guest list were at the top of our priorities, so we ended up sacrificing in other areas. We didn’t do save the dates, I bought a sample dress, salads were axed from the menu, and I decided on handmade instead of fresh flowers. Don’t get me wrong, I would have loved to go crazy creative and fancy with all of those, but it just wasn’t worth it to completely break the bank.

What is the best advice you gathered during engagement or the engagements of friends? What was the worst? What do you wish had been done differently?

19 thoughts on “5 Lessons I Learned While Wedding Planning

  1. I agree that 6-8 months is perfect (just make sure it’s not a 6-8 month span where you’re already in busy season at work or where you’ll lose a month due to holiday obligations, etc.) My engagement was 10 months and we could have done without 2 of them. I did all of the “early planning” and then was stuck until the date got closer to do last minute stuff. Month 5 and 6 were full of excruciating thumb twiddling.

    Great post!!

  2. Totally agree with all! I’ve been to many weddings, & I’ve learned that the ones where the couples are laid-back about things are the most enjoyable. It’s really all just details, details, details…& they don’t really matter in the big scheme of things. You want to enjoy your big day, of course, but it’s much easier to do that when things don’t have to be exactly ‘perfect.’ A wedding should definitely be a reflection of both bride & groom. Do you think our beach wedding was for us? I sure hope so!! ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. During my wedding planning season I started asking married women about the “worst” thing that happened on the day of their wedding. Most stories are very funny and never a big deal. One co-worker brushed against a car and got a huge black smudge on her dress (pre-ceremony) and one woman forgot to hand out her programs! It helped relieve a lot of my stress — to know that, yes, things will go wrong (guaranteed) but at the end of the day we’ll be married! I recommend it all the newly engaged!

    And I agree with the engagement timeline. Keep it short if you can! Our 8-month engagement was probably too long. Kind of felt like torture in the end.

    Keep writing, Erika!

    1. Those are some good stories ๐Ÿ™‚ I might have freaked out a little had I attained a huge black smudge prior to the ceremony since photos were so important. But I did kind of take that risk having a “first look” and meeting in a Lancaster alley!

      That’s my issue with a long engagement – it shouldn’t feel like torture! I’m glad there are others who had a similar experience. Thanks for the encouragement Alicia!

  4. Our story went something like this, “I can get a fourteen day pass (Marines) at Christmas let’s get married.” Three weeks later I walked down the aisle in a wedding dress I loved with Maid of Honor and Bridesmaids decked out in red for the season. That fits my personality. Just get it done and the quicker the better!!!!! Your wedding was so lovely and showed the hours of planning. God just made us all different.

  5. We had a year-long engagement and by the end, I was so sick of talking about weddings and people asking about how the plans were coming along. BUT, all the planning paid off and I’m glad we went the traditional wedding route. Towards the end, I had my diva moments… “I’m the bride, and this is how I want it!” I’m also a bit of a perfectionist, so I knew it was bound to happen. Tim was smart and just went along with what I wanted, and we never really disagreed on much (he’s pretty laid back). The biggest problem with being engaged for a year is that I kept changing my mind! If I had a re-do, I’d have a 6 month engagement. Or maybe I’d just run off to Jamaica & elope…

    1. I totally identify with this: “The biggest problem with being engaged for a year is that I kept changing my mind!” I have learned that my decision making style is that of a “maximizer” – I LOVE to research and want to gather all the available information possible in order to make the best possible decision (for the best possible deal). This was fantastic for wedding planning because I had many months to research, but it was miserable because it made me second-guess some of the decisions I had already made or made me envious of what other brides were able to pull off. For example, I thought I didn’t like my dress until my fitting a few weeks before. Ha! I make myself crazy.

      1. I loved your dress, Erika! I thought it was so pretty. I also found myself second guessing decisions during our long-ish engagement. I even found another dress. Yes, I did. I ended up deciding I hated my first dress, which I bought about 2 weeks after we got engaged and the first time I went dress shopping, and bought another COMPLETELY different dress.

  6. Your wedding was still one of the most joyous occasions of my life! I have never felt such pride in your hard work and the beauty that was your wedding. I can only hope one day (when I am even allowed to get married) that I have a wedding half as perfect as yours!

    1. Luke, I’m so glad to hear you say this ๐Ÿ™‚ I still remember asking you if you wanted to participate formally in any way and you responding, “Weddings aren’t really my thing.” I laughed, and figured that was legitimate because you were a 17 year old boy, but I think it’s awesome that you were able to enjoy it so much! I’m sure if you have a wedding one day and want to go through the planning process, you’ll have two sisters who have been through it many a time willing to help pull off your version of “perfect.”

  7. I was engaged for 14 months and it was ideal for us. I never once felt stressed or rushed, and everything turned out how I envisioned it. A friend got both engaged and married between my engagement and marriage, and I definitely did not envy her stress… So, I disagree with you that there is a “perfect” length for an engagement. You just have to know yourself, and your limitations. And whatever other limitations that scheduling can put on you.

    I also had a long-distance engagement for most of it; we were only physically near each other for the last 3 months of our engagement. But we had a long-distance relationship, too, so it was nothing new. I got a lot of planning done early that way. We knew we wanted to be together, and it worked out. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. I definitely don’t think there is a standard “perfect” length of engagement. I think the length ultimately has a lot to with personality. I commend you for both the long engagement and long distance!

      I am somewhat impatient and not someone who handles stress all that well, so those two factors equaled MAJOR stress in my life. I tend to procrastinate, so the longer I had, the more details I tended to push off (increasing my stress, of course). I think if I had just knocked it all out in six months, it probably would have been a healthier choice for me to race towards my deadline at a steady pace rather than dragging it out.

      However, I wouldn’t have had the location OR the photographer I wanted had I done it in six months. And I wouldn’t have locked down the off-season rate. So ultimately, I can’t regret my choice. I loved my day, even though it took me 9 months to get there ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. I found this to be so true! And, I felt the same way about the engagement time. I felt ready to be married at 6 months and had to wait another 4 months!!

  9. We have been engaged one month and have 7 to go. I’m finding that I know immediately when I find what I want (ie dress, venue) but if something changes, I have a hard time going along with it, even if it might be better. I dot like backtracking on the things I’ve checked off my list! :p

    For instance, we booked a ceremony site on a Saturday in Sept. A few days later the coordinator there called and said if we would move to Sunday we could have it for a third of the cost. Even though I know this would open up the door for other things I could get with that money, I’m having trouble letting go of the ideal-ness of a Saturday. And just letting go of the day I had solidified in my head as my wedding day.

    Yesterday my fiancรฉ said, “You know, sometimes you really know exactly what you want. Like REALLY know. It’s a pain, but it’s cute.” I just hope the “cute” is what sticks through this process. ๐Ÿ™‚

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