Surviving the Wedding Planning Marathon by Adrienne Alexander, Operations Director

Our daughter got married last summer but the planning began in earnest even before she and my son-in-law announced their engagement. Armed with the sage advice of friends who had already made weddings, here are the five most important things we learned:

  • Discuss all aspects early and often. Before making any plans, meet the bride/groom and other family members who are sharing in payment for the wedding and discuss their expectations and limitations. These include how many people do we want and how many can we afford, location of venue, who will conduct the ceremony, what kind of music, do we want pictures and video or only one of those, format of the invitation or the extent of flowers, etc. Speaking about these upfront makes a huge difference in how everyone works through the many decisions and eventually how happy they feel after the experience. In our case, the groom’s family comes from a different part of the country and they make weddings very differently there. A New York Jewish wedding can typically include an extensive smorgasboard followed by the ceremony and then a sitdown dinner.  In Dallas, a wedding-eve rehearsal dinner is very popular but the wedding itself involves less courses. Since they were coming to our area for the wedding, and were open to trying something different, the discussion was very easy but I do think that having discussed it at length in advance paved the way.
  • Don’t wait to reserve dates with vendors. If you have a date limitation, do not wait to set the date with hall, caterer and band/orchestra until after the engagement. In our case, we had one sister who would find it difficult to attend before a certain date and one sister who was less available after a certain date. This meant that we had one particular date in mind and booked the venue and caterer beforehand. However, we waited to book the band and then they were not available for that date. It was many meetings later that we found the group that performed on the special day.
  • Keep track of expenses. Maintain a running excel spreadsheet of how much things cost, what has been paid so far and who has agreed to pay for them. Include as many items as you can, such as venue, caterer, band, florist, photographer, invitation, transportation, tuxedos, gifts for bridal party and groomsmen, etc. And then share it among all paying parties.
  • Prioritze. It can be overwhelming to decide everything at once and there are things which can be done at the end but certain decisions require a lot of lead time. For example, a bridal gown can take a long time to arrive. Our daughter selected her gown on November 1 and it arrived at the bridal store in early April. As she is very organized(and decisive), we had picked dates well in advance for shopping days to choose the gown and then we had a very easy time having all the alterations done in time. Choosing flowers can be done at the very end and since a florist can provide flowers for several weddings on the same day (as compared to a band that can only play at one event at a time), the florist is not one of the decisions that needs to be decided right away.
  • Enjoy. Getting to know the groom’s family and their style was one of the great pleasures of the pre-wedding preparations. Understanding in advance that they came from a different place, with different priorities and different ways of accomplishing things can be a challenge, and there is much give and take, but it is also an opportunity to appreciate that everyone is pulling towards the end game- a satisfied happy couple embarking on a new life together- in their own way. Collectively keeping our eyes on this objective has resulted in our feeling that the groom’s family is now our family. And we think that they feel we are part of theirs.
  • Despite what anyone says, everyone in the family has an opinion about what the wedding should be like, an impression of what they imagine is the best way to celebrate. Whether minor, such as whether the bride and groom will sit at a table for two or sit with friends or relatives, or major, such as what religious rites are to be included, the issues of how to create a memorable event can lead to much discontent. Indeed, some people decide eloping would have been the better choice after they finish planning the wedding but I think the experience has value in shaping how everyone will get along long after the celebration.