What I Wish I Had Known When I Was Getting Married

Our writer shares her tips for wedding planning.



The newly married couple arrives//PhotoS by Martelli Photography.

Planning a wedding is, in a lot of ways, like pregnancy and childbirth. In both experiences, you spend months prepping for a momentous day that will forever change your life. You can explain both, but no one will completely understand it until they go through it. That can be the hardest part. Throughout my pregnancy, I constantly referred to the mom-to-be Bible, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.” There should be a similar, all-encompassing reference book for all things wedding related. If there is one, I don’t know about it. In lieu of an official guide, here are five things I wish I had known then. 

1Know thy budget.

Weddings are expensive. I know you’re thinking, “Duh, everyone knows that.” I disagree. Everyone thinks they know how costly weddings can be, but until you really start planning and decisions start getting made, you have no idea how quickly your expenses can start to snowball. 

Industry execs have tallied the cost of an average wedding in Philadelphia to be around $40,000—more than I made working my first year out of college. When I heard that grand total, I smugly thought I’d never get to that “ridiculously high” number. I not only reached it, but I exceeded it by a significant amount. It’s very easy to do, even when you think you’re being frugal. My husband and I had a running joke that everything we priced was a minimum of $1,000. 

I didn’t realize as I was scouting reception sites in Philadelphia that the cost per plate listed on a website didn’t include the city hospitality tax plus gratuity. When you multiply that number by 150 (or more) plates, you get instant indigestion. 

Every venue is different: Some include a cake; others allow you to bring your own, but then charge $2.50 to cut and serve it. For those doing the math, 150 guests times $2.50 equals $375. Other unplanned expenses: uplighting for my tables (my videographer said it was needed because the reception venue was too dark for video and photos); extra postage to mail my invitations because no one told me that choosing an open top envelope and addressing them vertically costs more; adding a second photographer because I was assured one wouldn’t be enough to capture every important part of the day.

Bridal reality check: Whatever you and your partner decide is the budget for your big day, stick to it. You don’t want to come back from your honeymoon to a pile of bills that you’ll be paying long after your first child heads off to nursery school. 

2Watch where you say “cheese!”

My husband and his groomsmen were staying at a hotel in Old City, Philadelphia, the morning of the wedding. Since he is a history buff, I thought it would be fun to get shots of the guys at local historical sites in the area. I was thinking the Liberty Bell or the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum. I didn’t know that you need a permit to take photos at historical sites and certain areas that fall under the umbrella of Philadelphia Parks and Recreation. At the Water Works Gazebo, for example, a permit costs $150 per hour. If a photographer gets caught without a permit, he or she could be fined (a fee that is sure to be passed along to the client). As the saying goes, “It’s better to be safe than sorry.” If you really want those shots, get a permit. Bridal reality check: Always hire an experienced wedding professional who can advise you on things you wouldn’t be expected to know as a first-time bride and groom.  

3. Double, then triple check your date.

I got married on a Friday night in mid-November. (I could easily write a story on the different reactions you get from people when you don’t have your wedding on a Saturday afternoon). I didn’t know that the next day was the Philadelphia Marathon, which attracts more than 20,000 runners to the city. Hotel space is at an absolute premium, and it’s very difficult to reserve groups of rooms for weddings. I was fortunate. I have a friend who is a wedding planner, and she pulled major strings with her hotel connections to secure a few blocks of rooms. I had a lot of out-of-town guests coming to the wedding, and not having hotel rooms would have been a nightmare.

Bridal reality check: Before you put down any deposits, make sure you have completely researched the logistics for everyone, including guests. 

4Limit your sharing.

In the age of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and all other forms of social media, it’s fun to share various moments leading up to your wedding. Remember that people are tracking your every blissful post. I had a friend from grade school who I hadn’t spoken to in five years write me to say she was “heartbroken” that she wasn’t invited to the wedding. I had another friend who assumed she was going to be one of my bridesmaids and wrote as much on my post about getting engaged.

Bridal reality check: Planning a wedding is stressful enough without dealing with the opinions and unsolicited advice of social-media followers. Limiting your shares will definitely help your wedding planning. 

5A honeymoon is a must.

After spending so much money on your wedding, you may feel guilty when it comes to shelling out more dough for your honeymoon. You may think, like I did: “Maybe we should just skip it.” Don’t. You deserve a relaxing, romantic trip. Even if it’s just a long weekend, it’s nice to be able to unwind and reflect together on the wedding. 

It seems like European getaways are the “it” destination, but I recommend a lazy, tropical paradise where your biggest decision of the day is whether you’ll sip a daiquiri or a margarita while you dip your toes in the crystal-clear waters.

Bridal reality check: You may regret spending the extra cash to release those doves after your ceremony, but you’ll never rethink the investment you made in an unforgettable honeymoon. 

Tara Behan is a contributing editor at Main Line Today. She and her husband, Mark Marmur, were married on Nov. 16, 2012, and are the proud parents of 1-year-old William.  

 
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