Advice for planning a wedding

A friend, and a prospective consumer of Hot Pot, inquires for tips on planning a wedding.  I will offer a few:

1. Non-contractibility is a bigger problem than you think.  You can agree on the number of people, and the amount you will spend on flowers, but ex post many questions will pop up at the margin.  One of the two persons will care more about the right answer than the other.  One party will be more willing to work on the wedding than the other.  Contract in advance for a method of disagreement resolution, not just on the details of the wedding.  Get ready for the fact that one person cares less about the wedding than the other and realize this is not the same as caring less about the marriage.

2. Refuse to accept the intransitivity of indifference: "If we invite Uncle Fester, we surely can't turn down Auntie Mame," etc.  Just say no and (in vain) expect our federal government to do the same.

3. The purchases are a classic Hansonian "showing that you care" problem and the capitalist suppliers are not on your side.  Early, up front, do something to show that you don't care.  Buy a cheap paper cup.  Relish the feeling.  Accept it.  Celebrate it.  Then let the other person see you still care.  Break in the idea of showing that you don't care.

4. Googling to "advice for planning a wedding" is a nightmare of P > MC commercial promotions, not just in the ads but also in the main search results.  Rely more on the reader advice, in the comments section, from a very good economics blog.

What am I forgetting?


The more people you invite, the less of your wedding day you'll actually remember.

Watch "Four Weddings" on LivingTV, to see, objectively, just how identikit and tacky weddings are.
But the weddings that seem to be the most endearing and fun are the ones where the bride and groom have lots of genuinely close friends and family around. No correlation with spend.

DON'T start with the default of a classic wedding and then remove the elements you can't bear. Instead start from scratch and add only what is meaningful to you. This applies to everything: location, venue, catering, music, timing. The suppliers will be "shocked" that you are considering going without _______. This is nonsense. You are throwing a party, and if you include some form of food and shelter the guests will be happy. Indeed the less traditional your wedding the more they will have something to talk about after. Parents generally have a hard time accepting that they will lose the contest. They always come around, but not before exerting pressure to conform. Eventually they end up smug about the savings.

Weddings are not efficient opportunities to rekindle friendships that have lapsed or become closer with distant relatives. If someone has not played a noticeable roll in your life they do not need to be there. Weddings are not a good time to demonstrate how much you care about anyone other than your new spouse. Making your parents understand this is more difficult than convincing yourselves, in my experience.

If you wish to save money then cross out entire lines from the budget. Don't look for cheaper suppliers, just skip it. If you have food, drink (for most crowds), music, and are wearing clothes which are respectfully presentable then your guests will have a good time. Those that would be upset by a lack of [chair covers/linens which match bridesmaids/voluminous flowers at the ceremony/seven kinds of cheese during cocktails/etc.] are not behaving like good friends or good party guests.

If the bridal party and the bride and groom's parents enjoys themselves at the reception, so will everyone else.

We were lucky. I was out of the state and my fiance was out of the country, so her mother planned it all.

It helps if the groom doesn't care too much about the details. I thought of my role as like a small but important part in a play and was quite happy with everything.

There's a 50% probability that your wedding will end up with a divorce, so why the fuss.

The advice I gave my daughter on the morning of her wedding, no one else knows what you have planned or arranged. If something goes wrong no one will notice or care unless you make a big deal of it. So relax and enjoy the occasion.

No kids. No fire. Candles, if used (don't) must not move. If candles must move, have someone willing to hold them up when they don't go back in the holder and can play it off like it was planned that way.

Have someone you trust watch your car. They can douche it up, but they won't let something disastrous happen.

If you're trying to put on a nice wedding without spending a fortune, do not think that it is a good idea to skip the day-of-wedding coordinator. You NEED someone whose sole job it is is to overlook what everyone is doing and make sure it is all happening the right way. If there is no such person, the bride will inevitably become that person, and believe me you don't want your caterer to be asking you for timing decisions at your own reception, or have to run back in your big fluffy wedding gown to turn down the music because someone wants to speak and the music guy has abandoned his post.

Pay for your attendants' dresses and tuxes.

Make low stress a goal. Use that goal to make many decisions

You will thank me for this advice:

Argue about prices with a third party, not the bride. Spoons too expensive? Go straight to the vendor and haggle. If prices aren't flexible, talk to the person helping plan the wedding. If the bride's BFF says $5 per spoon is too much it won't devolve into a fight about how much love is worth, it will just be taken as advice.

Send invitations and thank you notes via email (my wife and I did this). It is much easier and cheaper than sending it via postal service. And if you care, it is a "greener" alternative.

Plan when the bride and groom will eat at the reception. We took this for granted and wound up famished. Someone packed some take-away styrofoam containers of stir-fry for us to consume in the limo ride to our hotel, but once we started the drive we realized we had no utensils!

We eloped to Vegas and everything was taken care of by the hotel. Very much recommended though my mother-in-law wasn't pleased.

Remember that the wedding is for your guests to see each other, not you. Unless you have a very small wedding, you won't have time to even see, let alone have a meaningful conversation, with everyone you invite.

Pictures will take forever. Plan for it.

The honeymoon is not to celebrate your marriage. The honeymoon is to relax and destress and have lots of sex after the months of emotional buildup and stress preparing for the wedding.

Be as involved as you can. You only get married once (if you do marriage right).

Delegate like mad, as if you were running a drug cartel from prison.
What he said. We asked all of our friends to help out with different parts of the ceremony and reception. The whole shebang ended up costing a couple hundred bucks; most of it was postage for invitations.

No plus ones. In the words of my friend who got married when a college friend asked "I am not paying $50+ for you to bring some skanky @#$%* girl who I don't know to my wedding..just so you can feel more like a man."

If people are in a relationship, then by all means include them. But say no to random guests.

Spend $40 on these three books and both read them. That will end up more important to a happy marriage than anything that happens at the wedding.

Fall in Love, Stay in Love by Willard F. Harley Jr. $13.59

His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage by Willard F. Harley Jr. $13.59

Love Busters: Protecting Your Marriage from Habits That Destroy Romantic Love by Willard F. Jr. Harley $13.59

Warning, they can get expensive when you are tempted to buy copies for every other couple you know!

Vegas casino chapels do free webcasting.

Watched a friend get married in an empty chapel at 3:30 on a Wednesday afternoon over the web.

Memorable? Absolutely.

If you can agree on it, eloping is great.

If not, unlike some of these others I say focus on making it fun for the guests. Which means:

1. Let them bring a date. +1's for all. Its not all about you. Unlike their prospective date you'll barely talk to them.
2. Open Bar, at least beer and wine.
3. Let them bring their kids. If they'd prefer not to, they'll get a sitter. This gives them choices. A baby might cry during the vows, so what? There might be teen brats there, again, so what. This is your family and friends. Embrace them.
4. Open seating. You have better things to do than make seating charts. If you must make a VIP table or two so the parents aren't in siberia.
5. Pick one element (the photos, the music, the flowers, invitations, food, whatever - spent some cash on that and go cheap in anything else you can).
6. Don't do the video. Who wants to watch it? If you want to show the grandkids grab the photo album. You're stories will be better anyways.

We went to the county courthouse. Total cost $75 for the license. My inlaws took pictures and had cake with us afterward. Completely relaxed and carefree.

Weddings can be relationally expensive even when they're not financially expensive. Some people have given advice to ask friends for help (see, e.g., Neal at 7:17:32 AM). This can work, but you have to have the right friends and you have to think carefully about how much work you're asking them to do. Catering in particular is a truly major endeavor - there's a reason ingredients costs are such a small part of the cost of catering - but making the dress, taking the pictures, and decorating the venue can all be very substantial amounts of work.

In general, when you are asking for help, consider the relational cost. Ask for less. Give people graceful ways to say no. Ask people to do things they will enjoy, on schedules they will find manageable. If you promise a particular resource (e.g. peel-off stamps for addressing invitations), let them know if they'll be stuck with stamps that need to be licked.

Under no circumstances rely on your friends to serve during the meal or clean the reception venue.

Spend more time/effort etc. on planning for the marriage rather than the wedding.

You need to make a proper investment in your future marriage, it is an investment that can pay dividends for a lifetime to you, your spouse, and society as a whole.

On the other hand your wedding is a one shot deal with no real pay-out.

Further, those who spend all their time thinking of the wedding day are not preparing for a life of being married, thus increasing the chances that the marriage won't work. Everyone knows or at least has heard of someone who had the "ideal" wedding and spent a fortune on it and then divorced 3 years later. Better to get the marriage right and the wedding wrong than the other way around.

Photos are a good investment. Im the end when you do a wedding you are buying memories to carry with you. Photos help cristalize (and sanitize) these.

Have a Plan B for EVERYTHING! What if the caterer's truck is in an accident? What if the venue burns the day before? What if there is a snowstorm? Assume something MAJOR will go wrong and be ready to roll with it when it does. Of course, the fewer moving parts, the less likely it is that something will blow up.

The most important point has been made several times--totally segregate the legal ceremony and focus rigorously on what will create the real joy and memories--the subsequent celebration with friends. Get married at the courthouse. The exact moment that the state government recognizes the union will have no significance to anyone in the future. But two related points that haven't been made:
1. Instead of one big mega-reception, hold a series of smaller dinners/parties. You significantly reduce total cost, and massively increase everyone's interaction and fun. The most wasteful/ostentatious costs get cut automatically, and bang for the buck on food/wine/music etc increases significantly. You can tailor different parties to different groups (relatives, work associates, families with kids), you can hold them in different cities, and with multiple dates you can ensure the people you care most about won't miss out. If your spouse’s parents want a "show off" party for distant cousins and business partners, they can pay for that as one of the multiple receptions, without forcing you to incur those kind of costs for the other 50 people who wouldn't much enjoy that kind of party.
2. NO GIFTS OR PRESENTS. Clearly explained and strictly enforced. Everyone has to know that nobody else brought presents either. This doesn’t stop Grandma from sending an heirloom to the new member of the family, it just tells everyone that you aren’t placing financial burdens on people attending the reception(s). This eliminates the biggest source of discomfort for guests. Very few people know how to calibrate the signaling of this type of one-time gifting, and everyone feels bad because they assume they got it wrong or will be totally shown up by others. And very few non-cash gifts are ever really "special" to the bride and groom. With this rule you make a clear choice between "this is our celebration of our wedding, and we'd be thrilled if you would share the celebration with us" instead of "we're trying to show off our high status, and expect people to pay tribute". And with this rule everyone has a much better time and none of your real friends complain if your bank account limits parties to a modest venue.

I got married a month ago and am loving being married to my best friend. My comments:

1) You won't remember much about your wedding day until you see the pictures. You will get loads of utility out of them over the course of a lifetime. Shell out the dough for a well-respected photographer. It will be worth it.

2) If you have poor friends (read recent grads without jobs), find a place for them to stay. In-town family and friends are usually begging to help and this is a great way to make them feel involved.

3) Unless your in-laws are truly dysfunctional, spend time getting to know them. You will be spending lots of time with them in the future.

4) Be selfish...with the time alone you have with your fiance(e). Wedding planning is a time-consuming, and occasionally stressful experience. Invest the time to strengthen your relationship before you're even married.

5) Take pictures BEFORE the ceremony. Trust me. Your hungry guests will thank you - and you will appreciate it the day-of as well.

6) Make sure you eat at the reception, especially if there will be dancing. Again, carve out the time beforehand, otherwise it won't happen.

7) Have fun! You are marrying your (hopefully!) best friend and life mate. Create positive memories, even if all you remember is it being a fun, crazy blur.

Marriage is important. Weddings are not. Repeat. Not important. Unless your guests are into drinking and dancing late into the night (and you'd be surprised how many people, especially your relatives, are not), they're not going to have fun at that kind of wedding. So stop thinking that you have to spend all this money because it's going to be such a great party. Have a ceremony that means something to you. Memorialize it in some way. Feed your guests and let them say nice things to you. Go home and get started on your marriage.

Your wedding is a party, not a theatrical event. Your guests are GUESTS, not props for your photos.


I've been in the wedding business for years, and that's my #1 piece of advice for marrying couples.

My wife and I got married at the Jefferson County Courthouse in Golden. The lady at the desk was very nice. A perfect introverts' wedding.

If you care about your budget, try to avoid the word "wedding" when talking to vendors and/or merchants. Every time "wedding" is mentioned in a negotiation, the price goes up.

Do not go with the cheapest bid, or glowing testimonials. Look for providers about who you know something meaningful - where they are good, and where they fail (and make sure you do not mind the particular way they typically fail).

Let the person who cares most have the final word.

Do not go into debt: a wedding is just a party, not an investment.

There is a bias that the importance of the event must be signaled by spending months planning it. This is wholly unnecessary, since after the first few hours of planning and decision-making almost all of the incremental effort appears to go into deliberating fine details, eliminating the possibility of relatively minor errors and politicking with relatives. You need a guestlist, food, drink, ceremony, venue, music, photographer, clothes. Two people of normal intelligence can organise all of that in a couple of afternoons so long as they take complete control of the process, accept the inevitability of the odd mistake and don't fall into the trap of imagining that something so important should have taken them longer to arrange.

The comments have grown quite long, but I haven't seen anyone mention this very helpful idea: Don't try to squeeze everything into the wedding.

I know someone who had 7 wedding parties in 7 cities.

My mother-in-law invented a "wedding reception" on the East Coast, which enabled her to invite all her friends to a party that was held after our honeymoon. Our wedding was in California, and was limited to 100 people.

It's a huge mistake to try to make the wedding carry every possible significant emotion, and spreading out the number of occasions to celebrate can dramatically reduce the pressure and pretension of any and all.

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