The average wedding in America costs roughly $30,000. Egged on by countless wedding TV shows, magazines, and websites, people throw what appear to be pseudo star-studded events that aim to rival the kind of blow-out parties you only see in movies. In the end you wind up with one night of clouded memories, a ton of photos, and a group of hungover people hovering over breakfast in the hotel lobby the next day. The bills may last you months, even upwards of a year. And for what? To make your grandmother happy? Because you really liked that episode of My Fair Wedding? You can have a great, regret-free wedding without sacrificing yourself to the Wedding Idol. Here’s how.
10. Stop listening to everyone else.
It’s great to do research and get ideas and referrals, especially for vendors. But don’t allow someone (a family member) or something else (a TV show) to tell you what kind of wedding you need to have. When our wedding came around, my husband and I were horrified at the cost of event halls. One day I had a brainstorm. My grandmother had a humble beachfront clubhouse in her 1960s community that would fit our needs. It was outside the box and anything but glamorous. But, the folks who asked, “Are you sure?” were the ones who wound up complimenting us on the big day. “It’s gorgeous! I feel like I’m on a cruise!” Never hesitate to see the potential in a non-traditional, cost-effective venue.
Side note on wedding planners: My brother-in-law had a wedding planner who was a complete nutcase. Not only did she almost tear a hole in a 300-year-old Iraqi tallit (prayer shawl), she marched around screaming orders at the wedding party for at least 2 hours before the ceremony. She disappeared sometime during the night, probably to go have a smoke and a Xanax out back. Don’t let someone rain stress on your parade and scare your friends. Unless you’re willing to trust this person with your life, just say no.
9. Don’t be a stressed-out bride.
“Hello, my name is Martin and I am your maitre d’ today. I’m here specifically to attend to the needs of the bride and groom.” He was a sweet kid who obviously picked up catering gigs to supplement his income. The only thing we asked was that we always have a full glass of water waiting for us at our table. At one point I also asked him to hold my veil when I was getting pictures done. At the end of the night he thanked me. “Last week a bride bit my head off! You’ve been the nicest bride I’ve ever worked with. You don’t worry about anything!” Nope. No point. Why was I going to fill my day with stress? Yet, many brides do. You work hard, you want everything to be perfect. But, the bottom line is, when you wake up on your wedding day you have to accept that your job is to focus on each other, go with the flow and have fun.
8. Remember: Your wedding is the beginning, not the be-all of your life together.
Every romantic movie ends with a wedding. We’re trained to believe that a relationship culminates the moment a couple says, “I do.” Therefore, we devote countless dollars to the celebration of this endeavor, unwittingly contributing to the notion that it is the happiest day of the couple’s life together. Perhaps that’s why the more lavish the wedding, the greater the chance of divorce. A marriage is, first and foremost, a legal agreement. That is why a Jewish wedding begins with the signing of a ketubah (marriage contract). By the time the bride and groom walk down the aisle they’re already legally wed. The rest is just pomp and circumstance. You are beginning a lifetime of events that you’ll want to celebrate, so don’t waste your time and energy on the false notion that your wedding is the be-all (and end-all) of your relationship.
7. Use the day to make a statement about who you are as a couple.
Your wedding should be an expression of who you are as a couple, what drew you together, and your vision for married life. This can all be expressed in a variety of ways, from venue, to ceremony, to decor. Our wedding theme was Israel. I designed and crafted the centerpieces, clear glass vases anchored with blue and white stones containing bouquets of Israeli flags that acted as wedding favors (instead of throwing rice, guests waved flags) with postcard table markers at the top. Instead of being numbered, each table was named after a different city in Israel. My husband’s godfather collected enough postcards on a pre-wedding trip so that each table could be marked and each guest could have a location card addressed to them waiting at the reception table. Blue and white Chinese lanterns with Stars of David were strung along the ceiling of the tent and lit up as the sun went down. Guests were given a bookmark inscribed with a Zion-inspired love poem penned by my husband’s great-grandfather and our wedding program featured Zionist Bible verses and quotes. Make your wedding a complete picture that not only declares you’re getting married, but why.
6. It’s your wedding day: Eat what you want!
Apparently everyone wants to eat half-cold rubber chicken and three hard green beans at a wedding. Except for us. Our beachfront cook-out menu (stolen from the caterer’s Bar Mitzvah selection, meaning it was professionally styled for 13 year olds) was a winner with every guest and suited our desire to have a relaxed, casual wedding. Any caterer you go to will automatically offer the traditional sit-down dinner options when they hear “wedding.” Think outside the box. And to be sure they don’t charge you a “wedding” price for a menu they might create for another occasion; ask to see all of their event pricing options before bringing up the “W” word.
5. Skip the pre-parties.
Bachelor and bachelorette parties used to exist in order to tease the virginal celebrant with mild sex as they celebrated their last night of freedom. Get over it. Most couples today are so sexually familiar with one another (and/or so insanely stressed out about the wedding) that wedding nights are spent collapsing in utter exhaustion. If you insist on a party, do it well in advance of the wedding, make it something everyone can afford, and consult the betrothed for their approval before proceeding. Most importantly, don’t ever, under any circumstances, leave anyone out. One of my bridesmaids was under 21, so I was given the gift of a shower versus a bachelorette party (that I didn’t want anyway). My husband found out after the fact that his brother went with his other groomsmen for a weekend in New Orleans. Suffice to say, the sheepish “I didn’t think you could afford it” excuse didn’t fly. And whatever you wind up doing, if you aren’t the bride or groom-to-be, your only job is to play along with complete support and enthusiasm.
Side note: Before you build your guest list, remember the equation: Girls + Alcohol + Weddings can = unnecessary amounts of drama. Sometimes it really is better to play it safe and stick to a movie night with your maid of honor.
4. Craft a wedding party with purpose.
I never understood the point of having a line of women and men standing next to you while you got married. Like flowers on the cake, they look gorgeous but serve absolutely no real purpose. If you want someone to dress up and be stared at during your ceremony, at least give them something to do. Our party worked out rather well. The groomsmen held the chuppah (wedding canopy) while my two bridesmaids worked holding flowers, the tallit, and anything else that required an extra set of hands. Everyone in attendance is there to support you on your big day. You don’t need to force ten of your closest friends to show their support by spending a ton of money on clothes they’ll never wear again only to wind up staring at the ceiling until they pass out.
3. Remember, the wedding is about the two people getting married, not everyone else.
Wanting nothing more than to be a good, dutiful daughter-in-law, I caved to my best instincts when my mother-in-law to be pressed us with, “But you want to celebrate with people, don’t you?” Out of the goodness of their hearts, my in-laws decided to throw an engagement party for us. So,350 people later, we had our guest list. I grinned through clenched teeth and stood back as nearly 300 people, most of whom I did not know, RSVP’d that they’d be coming. After my fiancee and I left our party exhausted, starving, and dehydrated we put our mutual foot down and cut the wedding guest list to 100 people. Worried about stepping on familial toes? Mothers and grandmothers exist for a reason. “Weddings are expensive,” they’d simply explain, “we’d love to see you, but…” enough said. People understand. And if they don’t, oh well. Send them a piece of cake via FedEx.
2. Don’t have a “wedding” if you don’t want one!
My grandparents got married in the parlor of a pastor’s house at 10 o’clock at night. Their reception was a drink of well water and a slice of a cake my grandfather’s sister had gotten from a local bakery. Seventy-three years later, my grandmother still has no regrets. Her’s was the kind of wedding I grew up wanting: Intimate, private, personal. In the end I compromised to incorporate my husband’s desires and we both agreed on ground rules to ensure that our day would be as special and personal as it could possibly be. Ladies and gentlemen, you do not need to have a big wedding if you don’t want one. There are a million ways to get married. Ultimately, the choice is up to you — not your parents, your family, your friends, or what’s trending. As a couple, you are about to embark on a lifetime of mutual decision making. What better way to start than with how you get married?
1. Have a ceremony that matters.
Your ceremony should be the focus of your wedding day. The party is just a bonus. Too often, the opposite is the case, which is why a number of couples I know chose to elope and throw a party later. Craft a ceremony that allows you to rejoice in your commitment to one another and your life ahead, without the millions of little distractions a party can bring. This requires the right officiant. Nowadays, most couples are not affiliated with a religious institution. For many, a friend who is Internet-ordained will do the trick. But, if you’re looking for a spiritual officiant with a personal connection, don’t hesitate to search through your past. My husband contacted the cantor who had trained him for his Bar Mitzvah. Now retired, he made it a habit of officiating ceremonies for the unaffiliated, many of whom were his former students. Your ceremony is your focal point. Make it what matters most.