Let's Learn About Weddings: A Guide for Guests, Wedding Party, and Future Brides and Grooms
I got married last year and I am blessed to have celebrated my 1 year anniversary with my husband last month. In the spirit of wedding season, the friends I know recently engaged or in the midst of wedding planning, and discussions from multiple Facebook post on the subject, I thought it would make sense for me to share my personal experience with planning a wedding as well as etiquette. So I am going to give a list of things to help cut cost, remember to do, and etiquette for both guest, the wedding party, and bride and groom.
I planned EVERY detail of my 1920's themed wedding and hired a day of coordinator for my wedding day (shout out to Michelle Pickney from Bella Event Planning who was a God send) so I consider myself, pretty well versed on all the pieces that go into having a wedding. So let's dive right into it. Please scroll to the parts that apply to you.
Things Guest Should Know:
While planning my wedding, it quickly became clear to me that there are a number of people who do not understand the propensity of how much weddings cost because they either never planned a wedding or haven't planned a wedding in decades so they do not understand a lot about what goes into a modern wedding. So I felt it was best to provide insight to those persons.
The average US wedding is $32,000. I know what you are thinking..."why would anyone spend that?" or "why do folks need to be so extra?"...well that's because now days, the industry controls the prices for EVERYTHING and not the bride and groom (ex: even the most modest venue that accommodates 100 guest has a hard non-negotiable fee for rental of at least $3,000 minimum. Basic chair rental cost $1,500 minimum...you see how you can get to $32,000 in no time?). Matter of fact, the best way (if not the only real way) the bride and groom can only control the price of the wedding is on how many people are invited. That being said understand the following:
1. Adding "JUST ONE" extra person cost HUNDREDS OF DOLLARS. It goes beyond just their plate of food. One extra head means one extra plate, one extra chair, extra linens, possibly an extra table, a calculus equation for where tables will go in the venue, a totally reconstruction of a carefully created seating chart (one of the most political things I've ever done in my life FYI), an extra charger, an extra invitation, extra staff that must be paid (per x amount of people x amount of staff must be on site and paid), consideration of Fire Marshall codes. Basically "just one" extra person means "just $100-$300+ extra dollars."
Further details. Some vendors require that you rent things in sets of 5-10. For example, that one extra person may mean there are now 10 extra chairs that must be rented and delivered (delivery fee increase) and these chairs cost $8+ per chair. This is why you do not need to ask for a plus one and you definitely do not need to ask for a plus one, get the ok to bring that plus one, and then that plus one doesn't show up. Which brings me to my next point...
2. Plus one's are for married and engaged couples. Refer back to one. No one is paying HUNDREDS of dollars for your flavor of the month. Worried about not knowing anyone at the wedding? Most brides and grooms make sure their guest are seated by people they know. (i.e. all my former colleagues from a previous job were seated at the same table). If that still does not give you comfort, you can always RSVP "not attending" and send a gift from afar. We gave plus ones to unmarried couples we personally hung out with regularly.
3. DAMN IT! RSVP ON TIME. Please be a respectful adult and RSVP on the RSVP deadline date that was on the invitation. This is not a backyard BBQ (refer to point one). Each person invited must be accounted for for financial purposes and for head count deadlines that the venue and vendors established with the bride and groom. If the RSVP deadline date is approaching and you still don't know if you can feasibly make it, just RSVP no. Honestly, the bride and groom understand that everyone has circumstances in their life that do not allow for them to make their wedding day. I have yet to come across a bride or a groom who was furious that someone RSVP'd no to their wedding. In that same vein, do not RSVP yes and not show up (we get that things come up but try to relay that as soon as possible).
4. If you are attending the wedding and you are not in the wedding party or a contributor to the wedding (financially or services rendered), bring a gift. I really am not trying to hear "everyone has different financial obligations," because you knew about this wedding the day you got a save the date, the bride and groom are not idiots...that is why they registered for things ranging from $10-$600 to hit everyone's price point, and while you are a friend and they are delighted by your presence...they did pay HUNDREDS of dollars for you to eat and drink for free. If you are a grown adult with income coming in and you will be in attendance, get something from their registry that fits your budget, a gift card, or slide a few dollar bills in a card.
5. This is not about you. Believe it or not, this is about the bride and groom. Again, please refrain from stating your preferences. Especially if you aren't cutting a check. Also please refrain from contacting the bride or groom the day of the wedding about ANYTHING. Do not ask the bride and groom to do research projects for you that you can reasonably do yourself (ex: the hotel block is full, can you find me a room? Can you help me find plane tickets or a buddy pass?)
Things The Wedding Party Should Know:
1. If someone ask you to be in their wedding, you will be required to spend money and time. For this reason, it is important to be honest with yourself and whoever asked you to be in their wedding about if you can or can not afford the time and money required to be in their wedding party. Committing to such a request and then not holding up your end of the deal is highly disrespectful and in some cases can cause the end of a life long friendship or create negative dynamics to a friendship. If you are a bridesmaid, your responsibilities include paying for and planning a bridal shower and a bachelorette party, buying a dress and possibly shoes, and paying for you hair and makeup. Consider the fact you may need to buy multiple plane tickets to attend all these events if they are not in the city you reside in. If you are a groomsmen, you will be required to pay for and plan a bachelor party and rent a tuxedo. Do not worry that declining to be in someone's wedding will causing an end to your friendship, because any reasonable bride or groom understands what they are asking of you. If you are in a wedding, it is a serious time and monetary commitment and there is no way around that.
2. Try not to stress the bride out. Chances are, the bride is a wreck. She is on the phone DAILY with multiple vendors, juggling multiple task and deadlines, constantly number crunching, and dealing with guest and family that may not understand the things discussed in the previous section. It is for this reason that any issues you may have should be filtered through the Matron/Maid of Honor first.
3. If you find you can not do something, do not go MIA, use your communication skills. At the end of the day, the bride or groom is supposed to be one of your closest friend. They get that things happen, people fall on hard times, etc. All you have to do is call them and tell them that you can't make an event, you are having financial struggles, you need to re-neg on your role of being in the wedding party, etc. I have yet to hear about a bride or groom that did not understand that when the lines of communication were open and changes in plans were discussed beforehand...and if they don't...sounds like they aren't your friend anyway. Also, never ignore the wedding coordinator, best man, or matron/maid of honor when they are trying to reach you or ask you to do a task. These people were put in place by the bride and groom to handle task and they are an extension of the bride or groom.
4. This is not about you. Just be ok with the dress, tuxedo, color scheme, theme, etc. Remember you are there to assist not just stand up at the top of the aisle looking good. Please think of things you can do to help out whether that is volunteering to help the bride with DIY projects, drop off something, be an open ear when the bride or groom need someone to vent to, be responsible for making sure nothing is left behind in the preparation area the day of the wedding, the rings are with who they need to be with, the brides veil is looking good, etc. If you are a bridesmaid or groomsmen, your role is to relive stress on the bride or groom. It's imperative that you do anything you can to help with this.
5. You probably don't need a plus one. Most brides and grooms give a plus one to everyone in their wedding party as a courtesy, but you are involved in so many aspects of the wedding you probably won't even get to hang out with that person. They will probably be wandering around on their own for a good majority of the evening and definitely the whole ceremony.
Things for the Bride and Groom:
1. This day is more important to you and your future spouse than everyone else so respect folks pockets. Listen, your friends and family are super happy for you, but they still have to pay their bills after this wedding. Try your best to minimize cost associated with your wedding for them. I tried my hardest to make my wedding affordable to my bridal party. They were allowed to choose their own dresses (as long as it was floor length, black, and chiffon) and vote on where my bachelorette was taking place. I also paid for their lunch the day of, and rented a room at our hotel the night before the wedding so that all of my single out of town bridesmaids had one less night of accommodations to pay for. I gifted them their hair and accessories.) You may not have to do all of those things, but try to do whatever you can to make their commitment as cost effective as possible. Choosing a $600 bridesmaid dress is selfish. Expecting folks to throw you a bachelor party in Greece is selfish (unless your groomsmen have it like that). Choosing a location that requires your wedding guest to book $300 rooms, a rental car, and drive for 3 hours to get to your venue it in a foreign city may not be the best policy (if you want to do this do not hold it against anyone who say they can not make it). You can still honor your vision and dreams with your wedding by not making your family or friends homeless.
2. Not everyone needs to be in your wedding. Save yourself the heartache and choose friends and family to be in your wedding party that have proven on multiple occasions they are dependable. I am sure you do not want people to feel slighted because they were not asked to be in your wedding party, but chances are, some of the folks you ask "out of obligation" or in efforts not to hurt their feelings will actually be relieved to NOT be asked! The last thing you want to do is end up with no shows or flakes in your wedding party all because you were worried about hurting people's feelings...undependable friends or friends who are not super close to you will end up hurting your feelings on the biggest day of your life. There are a variety of roles in weddings and all of them are important...find ones that fit the people in your life. Also don't feel bad if you loose a friend during your wedding process. This happens in almost every wedding I've been a part of. Weddings, births, and funerals will show you who is really in your corner.
3. There is an order in which things should be completed. Your success in planning your wedding is all about checking things off your to do list in order and on time. I recommend using apps like The Knot or Wedding Wire (my favorite) to stay on schedule. Handle your major details first, and then do the rest later. Major details: guest count (that determines everything like the size of the venue and the budget), venue, date, photographer, caterer, DJ.
4. Figure out your budget and stick to it. I suggest sitting down with all parties that are paying for the wedding and creating a budget. I also suggest already having researched how much things cost before making your budget. Make sure everyone knows the exact price or a range in which things cost if they are committing to pay for them. Sometimes family members will commit to paying for something without knowing how much it cost, putting you in a bad situation. Other people may have family members with great intentions who agree to pay for something, but end up not being able to afford to do so. I know of a couple who had a family member agree to pay for the reception because they assumed the whole thing would cost $1,000 (FYI the reception is like 50% if not more of the wedding budget) and that did not occur almost making their big day have to be canceled. I also know someone whose family member agreed to pay for the venue then did not because they fell on hard times. It may be best policy to plan for what you and your future spouse can afford by yourselves and consider any donated money lagniappe (extra).
5. The only real way to cut major cost is to cut your guest list. Almost everything associated with your wedding depends on the anticipated guest count. You choose your venue on what venue can accommodate your guest count, the caterer charges per person, the bar charges per person, the rental company makes you order in sets of 5-10, the baker makes your cake to feed x amount of people, you have to pay for invitations, save the dates, and postage (and rsvp return postage) for x amount of people, the venue and state laws require you to have x amount of staff for x amount of people....see where I am going with this?
6. As I stated earlier, the industry sets the prices. That trick you heard "don't tell them it's for a wedding" doesn't work. Venues have set non-negotiable prices based on the day of the week you are renting them out regardless of the event. Saturdays are the most expensive, Fridays and Sundays are the least expensive weekend days, and weekdays are the least expensive of them all (there are few venues that may change pricing on season and fall or winter is cheaper in this case). Daytime weddings also can cut cost. Just think about it, how do you tell a baker to make you a cake without it looking like a wedding cake??? You can't. Anyways, bakeries charge by slice/how many people the cake must feed and intricacy of the design, not the fact is a wedding. Same thing with florist...why would you need 6 bouquets if it weren't for a wedding? Yeah...doesn't work.
7. You need to know your expected guest count before you know your venue then you need to know your venue before you know your date. How this works is like this. You decide your anticipated guest count so that you know what venues can accommodate that many people, then you go to the venue and tell them "I want a Saturday wedding in May," the venue then tells you "these dates are open." you do not own that date until you drop that non-refundable deposit. If you have a date that is special to you and your future spouse (the day we met, the day my parents were married, my deceased grandmother's birthday, etc.), you may have to shop around many places to get it and be willing to pay more as the venue in your budget may not be available on the date you need.
8. Find a venue that lets you bring in your own liquor and caterer if possible. If you don't have an alcohol hook up, it may be better to rent an open bar ($5,000-$7,000). The caterer will need to be insured in most cases so your auntie and them may not be able to provide the food, but it can help you cut cost and shop around for what you need if you have specific cultural preferences or want certain dishes.
9. Use vendors that provide the most. If you can find a vendor that provides linens, place settings, servers, and food, that's a major win. Ask all of your vendors what all they are capable of throwing in.
10. DIY as much as possible. If you are slightly crafty, it's worth it to try your hand at making some of your decor. Ask your bridesmaids to help (that's what they are there for). However, don't take on massive projects you know you can't handle. If there is a project you are working on and it is taking months to get completed, don't play yourself, spend money on it.
11. Those dumb chairs are going to cost you at least $1,500. There's no way around it. If you go cheaper you run the risk of getting chairs that are badly chipped, etc. Also you probably have to rent them in sets of 5-10. Don't worry...you will quickly find that the smallest of items and items you never expected to be big ticket items end up being big ticket items.
12. Feed and water your guest. If people are taking off work, buying a gift, flying in to town, booking hotel rooms, ubers, and rental cars, they should be fed and watered If you must cut cost by having open bar for only a few hours then do that, if you have to only serve beer and wine then do that, but having an all paid bar is tacky. Also, people can't survive on finger food alone. If you have to opt for a brunch wedding (which is cheaper) or have a short daytime wedding then do that so that people get a real meal.
13. Real flowers cost REAL money. The first quote I got from a florist made me think my phone went through a dead spot. I had to ask her if she thought I said bouquets for one day or for the rest of my life. That being said, flowers can cost THOUSANDS of dollars. Fake flowers aren't a bad idea, they have high end ones now that look real until you try to smell them or physically touch them. You can also be creative with centerpieces that don't use flowers.
14. All about the cake. Display cakes save you money. It will still be cut up (some parts may be fake) and served, but there will be sheet cakes of the same flavor in the kitchen cut up and served too. Once the cake is on the plate, no one knows where it came from. Also make sure the staff knows how to cut cake for a wedding. Big slices result in wastage or cake running out. Also make sure you know what your baker is providing. You may need to purchase dowel rods for your cake so it doesn't collapse (although most bakers worth their salt will include this in their price). You also need a cake stand and cake cutting utensils. Toasting glasses are optional.
15. Reach out to RSVP's you have not heard from. It may be time consuming, but it's worth it to call people who have not RSVP'd the week of your RSVP deadline to know if they are coming or not so you are not paying hundreds of dollars for people who do not plan on showing up.
16. Dress Stuff:
A. Don't try on a dress over your price range. You are going to fall in love with it and then blow your budget. Remember, your future husband and guest have nothing to compare it to. They won't see you and go "she should've bought the other dress."
B. Don't forget that alterations is a part of this dress cost so add $400-$800.
C. You need a veil so add that to the cost $300-$800.
D. Buy your shoes after you decide what dress you want (body shapers too if needed). The alterations must occur with you in your shoes.
E. Don't take forever to find a dress. It may take 6-8 weeks for your dress to come in. Then you have a month of fittings and alterations to get you ready. They will make that dress fit your body to a tee so that you look amazing. You have multiple fittings to account for weight gain and weight loss.
F. Those dresses you were pinning on Pinterest? They are $7,000+ FYI. Don't get your feelings hurt when you go to a bridal salon and a designer who creates dresses that you love and have been pinning for weeks wants BIG BOY MONEY for that dress. My heart was broken when I realized the Jenny Packham dresses of my dreams were $10,000...yep I noped out on that.
17. Unforseen cost. You may have corkage fees, cake cutting fees, same day delivery and pick up fees. Some staff may require breaks and if you do not want them to stop taking photos or working the bar for said break, they require that they are fed (an plate you must pay) so they continue working without stopping during your wedding. Make sure you know about all these in advance and ask your vendors about these. Read all contract. Every. Single. Word.
18. Things not to cut cost on:
A. The photographer and videographer. This is a big ticket item ($3,000+) but you can not relive the moments so you want high quality photos and video to look at again and again. Make sure the photographer is familiar with weddings, and make sure you express everything you want. Also make sure that family members know where to be for group pictures and that pictures of all your family and guest are taken. Research the style of photography you want (photo-journalistic, more stagged, a mix of both, etc.) BUY THE DIGITAL RIGHTS TO YOUR PHOTOS (more expensive), otherwise you will not have the rights to do whatever you please with ALL of your wedding photos. Decide if you want to create an album yourself or have the photographer pay for one. Luckily, there are many companies that will create albums for you if you choose not to have your photographer make an album for you.
B. Food & Drink. I have been to plenty of weddings in my life. I may not be able to tell you what the center pieces looked like, what the church decor looked like, what the wedding party looked like, but I can tell you if the food sucked or I was starving. I can also remember if I was pissed there was no alcohol available.
C. Things important to you as a couple. It's ok to splurge on things you as a couple are passionate about or things specific to why you are doing this thing in the first place. Your dress is one of them (within reason of course) this is the dress your future husband will see as you walk down the aisle to him and the very first thing he will see you in the second you become his forever. Cultural items, etc.
D. Wedding Planner or Day of Coordinator. You need a day of coordinator. This is not up for discussion. The day of coordinator is more of a month of coordinator. They make sure the vendors are all on point and understand what is expected of them, they run everything behind scenes, deal with unruly guest or wedding crashers, handle all guest questions or concerns, make sure you eat (mine even packed up the top of my wedding cake for us to save for our one year anniversary), make sure things run on time, make sure things are set up properly, they handle and solve things behind the scenes that may be problematic before you even know they happen, they make sure the wedding party is where they are supposed to be. I am sorry, but you do not want to hire a friend of the family for this because it's cheaper I don't care how organized they are. Example. On my wedding day, the vendor delivering the centerpieces called my day of coordinator to tell her the centerpieces did not come in on time, meaning my tables would've been bare. Because she is an actually event planner, she had her staff run to her warehouse, get similar centerpieces, and have them put on the tables....this all occurred without me knowing. Instead of dealing with having a heart attack, and destroying my makeup from crying, I was calmly told my centerpieces would be a different color (still in my color scheme) shortly before I entered my reception.
19. Send out thank yous in two weeks. Look, you aren't that busy. Just like you wanted RSVP's on time, people want to feel that their efforts were appreciated in a timely fashion. You want everyone who gave you a present to feel appreciated. Write your thank yous as you open gifts (yes handwritten) and send them out two weeks after your wedding. A month tops. Anything else is tacky and ungrateful. Don't forget your wedding party. Also put reviews on all internet platforms for your vendors as that's a thank you that gets them paid.
20. Assign someone to make sure your leftovers are accounted for and your gifts go to the right place. Even in times of joy, theft happens. I've heard of many weddings where people have had their card box run off and gifts disappear. The staff often employed by the catering company, is all temps and will quickly run off with extra food and liquor. You paid for all of that, unless otherwise stated, it should be packaged up and given to you. Make sure, someone makes sure this happens...see point 18 under wedding coordinator (they usually handle this).
21. Consider donating left over flowers and food. You may have tons of bouquets that will do nothing but die. Donate them to hospitals or nursing homes for folks staying there that have no friends or family that visit them. Take food to a homeless shelter if you know you won't be consuming it later.
Feel free to drop any questions! Happy Wedding Season!