1. Pick what is most important to you and your fiancée and write it down.
If you don’t read past Step 1, fine. But doing anything that is awesome and memorable requires Step 1. Do me a favour and readd the next three paragraphs and I promise it will be game changing.
Decide WHY you are having this wedding. Seems super simple right? Maybe, but maybe not. This is going to be your guiding light when making all decisions, so pick wisely. I can’t do a better job explaining this than Simon Sinek, so I’m going to point you to his TED talk here. If you haven’t seen this video already, it’s a great watch.
For you this could be “We want to follow tradition”, “We want to honour our family”, “We want to make our parents happy” or “We want to get married for x reason”. I highly recommend that you pick something that both of you TRULY believe will make YOU happy when you look back on your wedding day.
Go old school and write it on a piece of paper. This is so important that it does not belong in your notes section on your phone, or in your head. Get a real piece of paper - splurge for a nice one that isn’t the back of that thing you printed by mistake or a used envelope. Write down your why on this fresh piece of paper. Look at it every day.
(Note that this complies with the Canadian Armed Forces Principles of War number 1: Selection and Maintenance of the Aim)
For us it was – “We want our friends to have an awesome time at an epic party”. Being a military couple, many of our friends are like family to us. They have been there for us through our whole relationship and they continue to support us to this day. And unlike the majority of our family, they are scattered across the country. Bringing everyone together and having a great time was the ultimate wedding gift to us and created so many great memories that we wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.
2. Set your budget
Start by setting YOUR budget. You are going to need to consider two budgets: Money and Time. This budget is what you as a couple can afford and should NOT take into account any money or time that you think or expect you will get from others. At the end of the day, this is your day, and everything that happens or fails to happen is your responsibility.
This is a budget that many people don’t actually consider when planning a wedding (or in many parts of their lives) but is very important to discuss. Planning a wedding can be a very easy or a very time-consuming process. It’s crucial for you to decide early on how much time you have to dedicate to the process as it will guide your spending decisions.
Unfortunately, the general rule here is hitting the easy button or spending less time doing something yourself = more money. If you have a small budget, but you want every last traditional wedding item, you are likely going to end up doing a lot of DIY and spending a lot of friendship capital.
Time is incredibly undervalued, especially when it’s the time of your best friend, or your parent. Be incredibly mindful. Put yourself in their shoes. Do they have a lot going on in their personal life? Is it going to be a big ask for them to spend 6 weekends in a row crafting party favours or going to multiple wedding events? Think of both your time, and the time that your loved ones have and spend it wisely on things that are important.
Think very realistically about what you can and cannot afford before you even begin to think about anything else. This should cover ALL expenses, from the events leading up to the wedding, your rings, and the honeymoon.
Make sure that you and your partner agree on this. It’s going to be one of the first major purchases you make as a couple, so it should be decided on together. This is when you need to consider other things that are going on in your life.
For us, we were getting our business going, had our first little person on the way and needed to buy a house. So, the wedding budget took a hit in both time and money. Getting married was very important to us, but we also knew we were going to be spending a lot of time and money over the next few years and those other things were also very important, expensive and time consuming.
Food for Thought: If your family offers you money, that’s awesome, lucky you! But consider. Is their “why” going to be different than yours? Is that going to be truly OK with them and you? This is something you need to deeply consider before accepting budget help from family.
3. Pick the top three things you can’t live without.
Now it’s time to spend that budget you set in Step 2 -
Pick three things that you both absolutely can’t live without on or leading up to your day. This will very likely be what you spend the majority of both your time and money budget on. Before these get set in stone, go back to your original statement you came up with in Step 1. Do these things actively work to achieve your statement? If not, go back to the drawing board.
For us, it was:
When you look at those three things, you can see that all three of those contribute to our guests having a great time.
You may be thinking, “But how do photos make your guests have a good time?” In the words of my husband - I’m glad you asked that question When we hired our photographer, we specifically requested that she only spend 10-15 minutes photographing us in the 6 hours that we hired her for. This actually was a bit difficult as wedding photographers are always thinking about catching the moment between the couple. We asked ours to make sure that all our guests had a great photo of themselves from our party so they could look back on it and think, that was such a great time.
4. Make everything else work, and BE FAIR
Ok, this is where some people might not be happy with the direction that I am going in… but hear me out. :)
If one of those 3 things in the above list was something for only one person (like a special venue, or a pricey engagement ring), it’s time to let some budget go here for your partner, even if they say they don’t *need* anything, or they just want you to be happy. I’d highly encourage you to make sure your partner picks at least one thing they want to spend some cash on. It’s a partnership for a reason, and you want your wedding to be a reflection of you as a couple, not just one person.
The remainder of the budget you set in Step 2 is going to be used for everything else leading up to and for the big day. I recognize that not everyone has a tight budget, and some can afford to spend more. But what I am driving at is that if you followed Step 1-3, spending more or adding more things is not going to make the day more awesome.
If you are working with a smaller budget, remember that everything doesn’t need to happen all at once. For example, you can take your honeymoon later, but actually block that time off. Most of us have seen the movie “Up”. Failure to plan is planning to fail.
For us, we really didn’t have a ton of budget left after we spent on our top three things and that was OK, because we had actually met our objective already. We did have to let a lot of traditional things go. We got married in a friend’s backyard. My bouquet was picked by a good friend from her mom’s garden. We didn’t have fancy dishes (paper plates for the win ), the wedding rings we exchanged on the day were under $100 for both, and we put off our honeymoon until we have the time and money for an amazing one.
I would highly encourage you to make the remainder of things you spend your budget on things that last beyond the wedding day and that you spend in ways that make sense and are as equal as possible. Picking a suit or dress you can wear more than once can be hard but is achievable. No matter what you tell yourself, a $10,000 dress just does not look good next to a rented, ill fitting, suit. It’s like buying a Porsche to haul all the scraps from your latest home reno project in. It doesn’t make sense.
Final Food for Thought
If you’ve made it this far, I know you are going to have an awesome wedding - so enjoy it! That’s the point after all :)
Consider using the above steps for any big decision or change in your life – starting a new business, buying a house, or picking a new career path. By following these 4 simple guiding principles, you will at least set yourself up for success and leave as little to chance as possible.