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As soon as a girl gets engaged, she is inundated with information.  Some of it is useful, and some of it is just advertising.

(Can I say girl?  Am I supposed to say woman?  I think I’m supposed to say woman.  Ah well.  Call me unliberated or whatever. I also wear bras and have been known to enjoy manicures.)

The thing is, the line between useful advice and advertising can get awfully blurry.  Call me paranoid, but the wedding industry really is out to get us, and to get our wallets.  You MUST HAVE whatever it is that they are selling OR YOU WILL JUST DIE.  Chocolate fountains and heaps of flowers and enormous centerpieces and monograms and personalized gobos, oh my!  And the dress, oh the dress!  I was laughed at by friends and salesladies alike for being determined that I would spend no more than $1000 on my dress. (It’s entirely possible, by the way.)  Letterpress invitations hand-wrapped in vellum, nestled into a custom box embossed with the aforementioned monogram.  Personalized custom wine bottles for each guest.  It never stops; every element of your wedding can be upgraded, refined, made more “special” if only you (or your parents) throw a few more thousand dollars at it.  Don’t you want your wedding to be special?

On the other side are the budget bride crazies, the ones who boast that their entire wedding cost under $1000, and they’re judging you if yours costs more.  Of course, when one digs into their budget, one discovers that their parents hosted the wedding at the lake house, a dear friend catered the wedding, their sister baked the cake, a college roommate did all the flowers, and she made the dress herself.  There’s nothing wrong with that, except that many of us do not have parents with a large enough backyard to host a wedding, much less a lake house, nor do we have friends who are florists, caterers, or accomplished bakers.  I take nothing away from these blessed individuals, but I find their attitudes of entitlement inappropriate.  It was a very rare post where one of these brides began with, “I was lucky enough to…” or “We were so grateful that…” — instead, the implication was that if they found it so easy to host a wedding for next to nothing, then anyone should be able to do so.

As someone who neither wanted to go overboard with expenses nor wanted to order pizza and carry dandelions, I found very little support.  I wanted to craft a lot, but didn’t have time to do as much as I might have wanted.  I wanted a formal, fancy wedding, but I didn’t want to go crazy with it.  When I decided I wanted to make my own centerpieces, the wedding industry informed me they would be inadequate and lame.  When I opted to order invitations rather than make them myself, the DIY alternabride set sneered at my unoriginal commercialism.

And yet, I somehow overcame all of that, and in the end I had my dream wedding.  Go me!  Seriously, though, it was both easier and harder than I expected it to be.  I thought I might pass on some of the wisdom I picked up along the way, in the hopes that someone might benefit from it.

Decide what is important to you.

Very early on in the planning process, I knew that photography was important to me, and flowers were not.  BWB said that having enough food, and food that tasted good, was important to him, and that he wanted a videographer.  These priorities informed the budget, and how much emphasis we put on planning and searching out just the right vendors.

It’s not just about what you’re going to spend money on, either.  In terms of my bridesmaids, I decided that the most important thing was that they all feel beautiful and elegant; this meant, in the end, that I let them all choose their own dresses.  I firmly believe that there is no one dress which will make 5 different women feel like rock stars, and since that was my goal, it ceased to be important for them to all match.  Knowing what was important to me also made it so much easier to let things go when they didn’t go exactly the way I wanted them to.  Programs are ugly because someone got overbearing?  Not on my priority list, not a problem.  Keeping in mind what is most important (and hopefully “at the end of the day, we will be married” is at the top of that list) helps get through the craziness that is the lead-up to and day of your wedding.

Pick your projects.

Crafty brides, put a big red flag on this one.  I know this is hard to accept, but you can’t actually do everything.  Unless, of course, you have unlimited time and space to store all of the projects, in which case, more power to you!  But for most of us, we’re going to have to pick and choose.  This goes along with the first point, as you will need to prioritize what projects you’re going to tackle yourself.  In my case, I decided to make our chuppah, so I forced myself not to attempt the invitations, programs, flowers, second line umbrellas for each of the bridesmaids, hankies for the parents, socks for my husband, shawl for myself, or any of the other myriad items that I wanted to make. I did some other projects, like centerpieces, but I made sure that they were smaller in scale and heavily delegated to my mother, sister, and anyone else who felt like helping.

At times, this is going to suck.  You are going to think, it couldn’t possibly take that long to make X, where X is the latest project begging to be made, but trust me.  In the end, it is better to have one big project done well than a lot of projects in pieces and the stress to go with them.

Tell people what you want.

I’m not good at saying what I want in general, and it was only magnified with the wedding planning process.  I didn’t want to be the bridezilla who demanded things from everyone, and I didn’t want to feel like I was twisting anyone’s arm into something they weren’t comfortable with.  There was also a part of me that didn’t want to have to ask — I wanted to be surprised, I wanted someone to read my mind and know that this cute thing would make me incredibly happy.

This just in: Your bridesmaids cannot read your mind.  Your maid of honor cannot read your mind.  Your mother, although sometimes it seems like she might be able to, also cannot read your mind.  Your future husband definitely can’t read your mind, and it would be a huge relief for him if he knew you didn’t expect him to.  Since none of your attendants, family members and/or loved ones are mind readers, it falls to you to communicate what you want.

If you want a bridal shower, you need to tell them that.  If you want cutesy items monogramed with “Future Mrs. Smith”, you need to tell them that.  If you want your bachelorette party to involve male strippers and copious amounts of alcohol, you need to tell them that.  And if you do not want any of the above, then for goodness sake, tell them that as well!  It’s a little less romantic and not really part of the fantasy, but this is the best way to make sure they can give you what you want — and if you’ve chosen your party well, they want to make sure you get what you want, so this way everyone is happy!

Involve other people.

I say this for two reasons.  First, it will keep you sane if you delegate.  That much should be obvious.  Second, contrary to popular belief, this wedding isn’t just about you.  It’s also about your future husband, your parents, his parents, your families, and your friend.  Weddings are about community, and they mean more if it is a group effort.  Give your mother and his mother something to do.  Give your fiance something to do!  Sometimes it can be hard to figure out what or how to delegate, but go back to your priority list and find something.   I would never have ended up with the centerpieces I did, or the fountain decorations, if I hadn’t let my mother take the concept I found and run with it.  I also would never have been given a beautiful shawl, one which will someday wrap up my babies on their baptism day, if I hadn’t been willing to give over that project.

Even if your family isn’t into it, there will be someone who earnestly wants to help you — let them.  Your day will be more meaningful as a result.

Hire a wedding planner.

I did most of the coordination myself, but about two months before the wedding, I realized that I was running into logistical issues I just didn’t know how to tackle.  Transportation to and from the hotel?  How do I hire limos?  What time should things happen, in order to make the evening go smoothly?  Who is going to set up all of the stuff I have to set up?  We had a day-of coordinator through the site, but she wasn’t as helpful when it came to these kinds of details.  Finally, I ended up hiring a planner, and that turned out to be one of the best decisions ever.  She turned around and had contracts for transportation, event rentals, and a basic schedule outline worked out, plus saved us enough money on transportation that we were able to get musicians for the ceremony.  Paying for the planner was an unexpected expense, but I shudder to think how much we would have spent if we hadn’t found her.

Most planners have a package where they will come in for the last month or two and hammer out the last little details.  Even if you want to do most of the planning yourself, as I did (I’m weird, I enjoy that kind of thing), I still recommend highly that you invest in one of these packages.

Et cetera.

There are a lot of other, little things that I could touch on:  Try to have a local bridesmaid, if you can.  Try not to take RSVPs personally.  Keep track of your thank-you notes, and try to stay on top of them before the wedding.  People will respond to invitations or wedding news in unexpected ways — be prepared for this.  You will almost always regret not extending an invitation more than you would if you invited that person at the last minute.  Be gentle with your parents, and your in-laws.  Try not to let family politics overshadow the joy of your day.

Most importantly, remember to be joyful.  Remember that in the end, this day is not the end of the planning process — it is the beginning of your marriage.  And marriage is awesome! (All 2 months, 2 weeks, 4 days, 3 hours, and 36 minutes of it.)  (Yeah, there’s an app for that.)  Every day, BWB and I look at each other and say, “Marriage is awesome!”  I wish I were exaggerating here.  I’m not.  Yes, we are just that shmoopy. We’re pretty disgusting.

But I digress.

In summary of this rather long-winded post, hang in there, future brides.  Don’t let the wedding industry, the alternabride crazies, or even Mrs. White Horse Girl, add to your stress.  Take what works for you, and toss the rest.  In the end, it’ll all be fine.

No, better than fine.

It’ll be awesome.

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