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Learn from the first-hand experiences of others.

Slide background

Learn from the first-hand experiences of others.

Slide background

Learn from the first-hand experiences of others.

Slide background

Learn from the first-hand experiences of others.


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The day my husband proposed, I wasn’t expecting it at all. We were sitting in a hot tub drinking wine as I complained about work when suddenly a ring flashed before my eyes. I said yes and quickly embarked on a process I’d long dreamed about: planning my wedding.

At first everything went swimmingly. Because I’m artistic, I had endless ideas about how to set the tables, handcraft our save-the-dates, and decorate the cake. We had no trouble with normal nail biters such as choosing a venue or securing a band. Until about three months before the wedding, I laughed openly at the idea that weddings were “stressful."

Then the time came to choose a caterer. We were slated to tie the knot in August at a lodge along one of the Pacific Northwest’s most beautiful rivers. Up to this point, we’d been delighted at the care and service we’d received from the lodge’s owner, who doubled as our wedding planner. She was kind and interested and had invited us to stay several nights for free to help us envision our special day. When she recommended a caterer she knew personally and who would give us a great deal, including a free trial meal, we jumped at the opportunity.

The caterer in question showed up at our front door one afternoon in May to serve us our sample meal. My parents and siblings were also in attendance, and we expected an evening of elegance. Instead we got some foul chicken sludge that we had to give to the dogs, some insipid vegetables, and a rack of cold Costco rolls. We were crestfallen, and though worried about hurting the feelings of our wedding planner, we dismissed the caterer she had recommended.

Little did we imagine that three months later, after we’d already booked another catering service for the rehearsal dinner and wedding meal, she would show up at the lodge with a minivan full of food, insisting we’d hired her. My mother, who is no shrinking violet, sent her packing, but the experience was still scarring.

Unfortunately, our wedding-day surprises didn’t end there. We discovered about an hour before the toasts that neither the white wine nor the champagne was chilled. While the white wine wasn’t needed until dinner, the champagne was crucial, so my mom ran off to deal with it immediately. Unfortunately, this meant she missed the bulk of our picture session, and she only appears in a few photos.

That wasn’t the only thing that went wrong with our photography. Because we’d hired a friend to shoot our wedding in exchange for buying her a camera, we saved a ton of money. Friends routinely tell me they spend between $3,000 and $6,000 on their wedding photos, and we thought that was outrageous. However, I now wish we’d spent that much, too.

Our photos were technically gorgeous, but our photographer was a novice and therefore had no idea how to stage photos. People milled haphazardly in and out, and although we tried our best to include everyone, in the haze of the day we didn’t realize we were leaving out large chunks of my family. My wedding album doesn’t include pictures of me with my favorite aunt or my now-deceased great grandmother, and only a few include my mom.

The last mistake I made was to overindulge. While I didn’t disgrace myself or my family, I believe drinking a little less would have made me a better hostess and made embarking for the honeymoon a bit easier to bear, but that’s just personal opinion.

So here’s some advice from someone who’s been there.

1. Cutting costs is a good thing, but make sure to do it in the right way. Your photos comprise your main wedding keepsake, so don’t skimp. Look for a photographer who knows what they’re doing and won’t break a sweat, and remember that artistic chops aren’t everything.

2. Clarify expectations like crazy. I thought I’d gotten rid of that caterer, but she thought otherwise, and it could have ruined my wedding.

3. Remember that your plan for the day needs to include boring details such as where everyone is going to go to the bathroom and who is responsible for getting the champagne from your maid of honor’s hot car and into the fridge ahead of time. Assign tasks to friends and family well in advance, and then check back in to make sure they’re happening.

It is, after all, your special day, and you are the one who will be disappointed if it doesn’t go off as planned. Weddings are wonderful occasions full of love, happiness and beauty, and while it’s unlikely you’ll survive without a few bruises, careful planning can go a long way toward avoiding them.

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