A Guide—from My Married Girlfriends—to Wedding Planning

June 17, 2016

When I thought about whose advice I would actually want if I were starting to plan a wedding—these are the musings of an editor in the throes of Wedding Week—my mind did not go to the professionals. It went to my married friends! (I collect them.)

When I reached out to a handful of married folks I know, though a spontaneous semi-mass email last weekend asking for their very best tips they'd give to someone planning a wedding, I didn't expect a flood of responses. Some of these weddings were years ago! People are busy! Who cares about your silly article! But the thing about friends? They typically surprise you for the better.

A dozen of my girlfriends chirped up, and all their tips—29 in total—were ingenious, and based in experience, for better or worse. (Thank you, ladies!) Here's the lot of good advice they shared, in one big must-bookmark list:

On staying organized:

  • Keep a comprehensive running to-do list. And keep it hidden from your roommate who relentlessly makes fun of you for keeping said list. [Editor's note: I used to steal her to-do list and write things like "adopt a kitten" and "run around the house naked" on it.] —Jordan
  • Honestly the best advice I can give anyone is to hire a wedding planner. I know that it's expensive, but I just think it is an extremely worthwhile expense: to have someone who literally plans weddings for a living guide you through the process. Nothing will go forgotten, ideas will be recommended that you would never have even thought of, and timelines will be kept. —Caroline

Or, alternatively...

  • Even if you don't hire a wedding planner, hire someone to do "week of" planning. "Day of" doesn't really cut it—there is a lot of work the week of... confirming with vendors, etc. You may be the most organized person ever, but no one should be dealing with that on their wedding day. —Sophie
  • Make a list of who you've mailed thank-you notes to. Everyone tells you to keep track of who gave you which wedding gifts, but it's equally important to keep track of who you have mailed thank-you notes to (especially if you and your partner are splitting them, because you will inevitably get confused about whether someone sent a thank-you note to a certain person). And don't check them off the list until you have actually PUT THE CARDS IN THE MAIL, because otherwise you will end up thinking you sent them all and finding a stack of unmailed thank-you cards in your desk a year later. (True story). —Sophie

These two! #forever

A photo posted by Amanda (@mandasims) on

On stress:

  • All the little decisions mean nothing. I cannot tell you what color my tablecloths were, what material the napkins, what kind of silverware, cutlery, etc. They seemed big decisions at the time and are not. I remember the fun I had dancing with my friends and maybe one flower arrangement. Focus on the feel you want your guests to experience—you create the tone. —Marguerite
  • Having a small freak out, at some point during planning, is normal. No matter how much you like planning parties, how chill you are, how much you think you are not a crazy bridezilla, you will have at least one irrational, emotional freak out. Getting married is a big deal, and that can make even small, insignificant decisions emotionally charged. —Annie
  • Don't try to leave for your honeymoon the day after your wedding—spend one more night at the hotel so you can have a relaxing dinner after all the guests have gone and finish getting packed (because honeymoon packing falls by the wayside when you are stressed about the wedding) rather than rushing to the airport straight from your goodbye brunch the morning after your wedding! Plus, if you are spending a lot of money for a hotel room the night of your wedding, it's nice to be able to enjoy it for a whole other day. —Sophie
  • It's all about compromise. Which sounds weird, because you never technically want to compromise on a day like your wedding. But you can't fight and win it all—choose the few things you care the most about and then let the rest go (or else you'll go crazy!). —Lucy
  • Once you make decisions, don't look back. Don't go into "analysis paralysis." Weddings require a million decisions. With each one, do your research up front and see what you like, but once you make a decision, move on. I feel like so much stress can come from reevaluating perfectly good decisions that were already made. You made the right choice the first time. Don't second-guess yourself. You'll just stress yourself out and make the whole process unenjoyable. —Caroline

Lighty tighties

A photo posted by Amanda (@mandasims) on

On balance:

  • Set aside a day to work on wedding planning so you don't do it too often. My husband Charlie and I eventually decided we'd block out two to three hours on one day a week to tackle wedding stuff. That way it didn't dominate the rest of our weekends/conversations and we were both 100% focused. —Sarah
  • Set aside one day of the week that you don't think about or talk about wedding planning, especially with your fiancé. This day off can protect your relationships with your loved ones from disintegrating into discussions of to-do lists and complaints about how hard it is to choose which shade of off-white paper to use for the programs. Otherwise, you might actually forget why you are marrying that person in the first place. —Annie

On budgeting:

  • Don't spend too much money on food! People start socializing and don't eat, and then you've spent a fortune and the food goes to waste. Keep it simple. —Ashly
  • Limit yourself to big-ticket items at the outset. I made a rule at the beginning that I would limit myself to just three choices— florist, bakery, venue, dress shop, etc.—for the biggies. The options really are endless, so you could spend way too much time considering each one. Plus, I tend to be indecisive. —Sarah
  • You can negotiate everything with vendors, but only if you do it the right way. Respect them and their businesses/livelihoods/art that they do, first and foremost—and then ask them how they think other people have made it work to use their services. Instead of "give it to me cheaper," say, "I love what you do but I unfortunately can't pay that much. How in the past have you worked with people like me to make this work?" I wish I'd known that sooner, because I just kept taking no for an answer instead of being more creative. —Lucy
  • Be considerate of your wedding party. We knew everyone was traveling from far and wide to get to my tiny town, so we figured we'd try to keep the cost of their attire down. I couldn't fathom asking a friend (who was paying for a flight and hotel and the bachelorette weekend) to pay over $200 for a dress, so I found one that was regularly under $200, and my mom found the dresses on another website for under $100. The also wore whatever nude or metallic shoes they had. The dress was cute, comfortable (I think), and photographed well. They may never wear it again, but at least it didn't cost a ton. More than anything, I wanted those girls beside me. They could have been wearing a potato sack. ​[Editors note: I really, really, really appreciated this—and loved the dress!]​ —Lelan

#countryroads #ilewed

A photo posted by Amanda (@mandasims) on

On the guest list:

  • Set realistic expectations about the headcount with your families. Managing invites with parents was the hardest thing for me and my husband. Both sides gave us an initial list that ended up growing over time (example: "You want me to tell my cousin Trudy that she and her husband can't bring her kids too?? I can't do that!"). We should have said: "We have mapped out a budget and figured out how much we can spend on music, food, and how many people we can have overall. Based on this budget, the Sadrai family gets 50 heads—this includes you, Mom and Dad, grandparents, aunties, my siblings, and anyone you want to invite whether they be your friends or our family. You will be the one to make trade-offs of which two people will have to be cut from this 50 if you allow cousin Trudy to bring her two kids." —Sasha
  • Unless your wedding is an extremely intimate or seated affair, don't stress too much about the RSVPs. Keep up with the responses you receive in an Excel document, but do not try to track down all the replies you don't get. Plan for food and drink on the generous side and save yourself the frustration! —Jordan
  • Number the back of your RSVP cards and make a list of who was mailed each number card! Because lots of people will forget to write their name on the card and you will end up spending forever tracking down who sent in the card. —Sophie
  • Make extra table assignment cards. To avoid having to redo everything at the last minute in case you have a last-minute emergency cancellation or addition. —Sophie

On venue:

  • Have a rain plan! Consider even going to look at your wedding venue in the rain and walking through where each event would be—because you might realize things you wouldn't have thought of (e.g. the short walk to the port-a-potties from your tent might seem even longer when the ground is covered in mud). As much as one would like, we can't control the weather so when you wake up to not great forecasts on your wedding day you will be a lot less panicked when you have a good backup plan. —Sophie
  • Make a rough guest list before you go look at wedding venues. Otherwise you will end up looking at places and wasting time before you realize that the venue is too big or too small for you. —Sophie

A photo posted by Amanda (@mandasims) on

On photography:

  • Wedding hashtags are the best. This way you can relive your wedding the day after without waiting for your wedding photographer. —Michelle
  • The most important person of the entire day (aside from you two, family, love, etc., blah blah) is the photographer. The rest can be as intense or casual as you want it to be. Just get a good photographer. —Carly
  • If you are awkward in front of photographers (as I am), take engagement photos to get out the kinks! —Sophie

On the big picture:

  • Keep in mind that your marriage is for you and your spouse—your wedding is for your family and friends. This philosophy runs against everything that wedding magazines and movies tell us, that it's all about you (the bride and/or groom) and how much satisfaction you'll get out of planning the wedding of your dreams to a T. The reality is that planning a wedding is inevitably full of compromise, and those compromises become much easier when you reorient your thinking and focus on the comfort and enjoyment of your guests—especially your close family and your wedding party. They shouldn't be slaves to your "vision" of the perfect day. The more flexible you are, the more your loved ones will enjoy themselves, and that will rub off on you. —Maddie

Congrats to Meg!

A photo posted by Amanda (@mandasims) on

  • If the family tradition doesn't fit your significant other and you, don't feel bound to it. I love family traditions—I got married at my grandparents' house, where two of my aunts had their receptions—but we strayed in other ways. For example, we don't like cake, so we had someone from a Ben and Jerry's scoop shop come serve ice cream. We still fed each other, but it was something we loved rather than something dictated by tradition. —Lelan
  • Don't lose sight of the marriage for the wedding! The wedding is one day and the marriage is forever. If we spent 1/10th the time we spent on preparing for the wedding preparing for marriage instead—by strengthening our communication skills, talking about expectations, seeking advice from older couples we respect, discussing books on relationships, and participating more in-depth in our premarital counseling—that probably would've served us better in the long term. —Annie
  • You have to separate what other people are saying you want (wedding planners, magazines, TV shows, etc.) with what you actually want. Everything seems awesome and necessary, and although we did have a big wedding, there were things that I chose to do myself: I made the programs, wedding menus, and all the seating cards. Sometimes, when you want things a certain way, you just have to get your hands dirty. —Michelle
  • You can break all the rules about how you are "supposed" to do things. The elements of my wedding that were not traditional are the details that people still comment on and remember as special five years later. —Annie

Married? Give me your best planning tip, in the comments.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Ally Shivka
    Ally Shivka
  • plerple
Amanda Sims

Written by: Amanda Sims

Professional trespasser.


Ally S. June 17, 2016
I feel like most of my married friends consistently tell me "please please elope. Just do it."
plerple June 17, 2016
Our "day of" planner was priceless! And while that's what she called herself, she helped us with lots of things leading up. My main suggestion is try to find a place that provides everything (or close to it.) I didn't want to get married somewhere super generic and I get why someone might choose somewhere unorthodox but the hassle of dealing with a million vendors can be a real pain. I got married at a concert venue that also does a lot of events so it was a cool place but also had tables/chairs/sound system/dishes/onsite good catering and so on.