17 Most Common Wedding-Planning Mistakes Couples Make
Top event designers (with a combined 121 years working in weddings) reveal the blunders, pitfalls, and missteps many couples make during the planning process. Read about them now—accompanied by photos of real weddings that got it right—so you can avoid them later!
Mistake 1: Making Plans Before Setting a Budget
Picking a dress or wedding venue prior to establishing financial parameters is a lot like shopping without glancing at price tags and then strolling up to check out with your fingers crossed. You risk falling for a gown or location that breaks your heart when you realize that to afford it, you'd have to cut your guest list in half—or cancel the honeymoon. "The three initial hurdles are budget, guest list, and venue, and they should be tackled in that order," says planner Lynn Easton of Easton Events in South Carolina and Virginia. "Your budget defines your options and drives your decisions." While drawing one up, "include charges for overtime, gratuities, and car services from the start," advises New York City planner Marcy Blum. "By doing so, you avoid throwing money at things you weren’t prepared for."
Mistake 2: Not Having a Rain Plan
If yours is an outdoor event, rain on your wedding day isn't just ironic, it's a game-changer. Too many people are tempted to just hope it won’t happen, which is the planning equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and yelling, "I can't hear you, Rain!" Bicoastal planner Lyndsey Hamilton of Lyndsey Hamilton Events says, "People don't want to put the deposits down for tents, umbrellas, and golf carts they might not need—you pay 50 percent and lose it if you don't use them. But if you don't book them early on and are marrying during peak wedding season, tents might not be available when the weather starts to look iffy." Meet with the tent company six to nine months ahead and think of the deposits as an investment in your peace of mind. "We believe that if you have a good Plan B, it won't rain, but if you haven't considered 'what if,' it will undoubtedly pour," says contributing editor David Stark of David Stark Design and Production in New York City.
Mistake 3: Underestimating the Cost of Outdoor Affairs
Just because the setting may be breezy doesn't mean the planning is going to be easy. "With alfresco affairs, people think we're just putting a tent in a field, and it’s going to be beautiful," says Hamilton. "They don't realize all the logistics necessary for a tented event to go off without a hitch." Bear in mind you'll need to rent bathrooms, kitchen facilities, lighting, fans or heaters, and generators.
Mistake 4: Planning a Too-Long Party
It's the event of your lifetime, but it shouldn't feel like it lasted a lifetime. "It's tempting to get so excited that you map out a marathon celebration, with pre-vow drinks, a lengthy ceremony, another cocktail hour, a multi-course dinner, three hours of dancing, an after-party, and more," says planner Calder Clark, owner of Calder Clark in Charleston, South Carolina. "But industry insiders agree that a five-hour reception is the tip-top of what people can enjoy and still exit laughing. The evening should have a natural end." It should also have a comfortable beginning: Be sure to supply chairs so attendees can sit for the vows (a five-minute ceremony becomes a painful 20-minute wait if you run late).
Mistake 5: Packing Them In
You want your wedding to feel chic and elegant, not "crowded elevator." "Being cramped makes meal service and dancing difficult, and it really inhibits the guest experience," says Hamilton. Ask your venue how many attendees can comfortably fit, then reduce that by 10 percent, she suggests: "You don't want to get to the max of what your site can accommodate."
Mistake 6: Mistiming Vows
Schedule your ceremony to get the best photos. "Figure out when the sun goes down, then chat with your photographer about the ideal start time," suggests Easton. "There is a 'golden hour' just before the sun sets that photographers love to take advantage of." Think of it as nature's airbrushing; you just have to make an appointment for it.
Mistake 7: Not Supplying Enough Information
No one likes feeling confused, and your guests won't know the wedding locale the way you do. Offer suggestions of things to do and information on getting around, "and if you're having a destination event or weekend-long celebration, hand out itineraries telling everyone where they need to be and when," says Hamilton. "That way, the buses won't be late to the vows because no one knew when or where they needed to be picked up." Speaking of buses, give the drivers their fair share of need-to-know info too. "I can't tell you how many times I've told a transportation company what the address is, and they still get lost," adds Hamilton. "Now we print out directions describing exactly the way we want them to go so we can estimate how long it will take to move guests from place to place."
Mistake 8: Micromanaging
Drawing a map for the bus drivers is a great idea. Plotting out bathroom breaks and a second-by-second schedule for your coordinator, waitstaff, and DJ? Not so much. "Folks forget they're dealing with seasoned professionals who can forecast—down to the nano-second—how the party should go," says Clark. "Be clear about what you want, but know that offering trust and creative license to your team produces a better end result for all involved."
Mistake 9: Skipping Video
Yes, the movie version of your big day will go months or even years between viewings, and videography is a tempting place to cut costs. However, "Nothing compares to being able to relive your wedding in real time; it goes by in a flash," says Easton. "Our clients always call us to gush over the details the next day, and it's hard to hear when their only regret is not having hired a videographer."
Mistake 10: Sweating the Small Stuff
Your brother may forget to bring the programs you spent last weekend hand-stamping, your mom may insist on leading a conga line at the reception, and your father-in-law may call your boss "honey" when they're introduced. But who cares? You’re marrying the love of your life! "Too often we see couples get so wrapped up in the details that the focus shifts from the celebration of a marriage to a fixation on the 'stuff' of a wedding," say Maria Baer and Kelly Seizert, co-owners of Ritzy Bee Events in Washington, D.C. "It's hard to have fun and be present in this once-in-a-lifetime moment if you're worried the peonies in the centerpieces are one Pantone shade off."
Mistake 11: Rushing to Register
Already picturing yourself scanning everything in sight at your favorite store? There's plenty of time for you to go scanner crazy later, but think it through first. You'll save yourself the disappointment of wanting a registry do-over. "So many couples describe their registry experience as stressful and uninspiring,” says Jung Lee of Fete and Jung Lee NY in New York City. Your registry should be the foundation of the home you'll build together. "Register somewhere that offers real design assistance, ideally with someone that shares your sensibility,” says Lee. With the help of a pro you'll be able to set your couple style and pick pieces you'll keep forever.
Mistake 12: Signing a Catering Contract That Lacks Detail
Catering is likely the largest financial contract you'll sign and the most crucial when it comes to creating your wedding experience, says Lee. "The person who promised you something might be long gone by the time your wedding comes around," she says. Get everything in writing. Always check for (or add) these things to your contract: staffing for waiters, bartenders, and support staff; alcohol varieties and brands; what food/courses are included and what counts as an upgrade (and how much it costs); and access for setup/breakdown and any additional charges.
Mistake 13: Making it an Open-Mic Night
Heartfelt toasts can be the highlight of a reception, but too many can quickly lead to wide-spread boredom. "Oftentimes, speakers intend to speak only for a few moments, but once onstage their speeches can last quite a while. We're looking at you, fathers of the bride," says Robin Baab of GATHER Events in Los Angeles. She recommends keeping control of your event by limiting toasts to the host, maid of honor, and best man, staggering toasts throughout dinner, and having a quick chat with your DJ or band leader to avoid any surprises.
Mistake 14: Underestimating the Importance of Stationery
Your save-the-dates and invitations shouldn't be an afterthought when it comes to your wedding style. They may seem less important because there are a few months between the save-the-dates and invitations and the big day, but it's these two items that gives guests the first impression of what to expect. "Setting the right tone from the beginning helps create a more cohesive event," says planner Victoria Cameron. She suggests working with a professional stationer or a calligrapher to get the look you're going for.
Mistake 15: Trying to Please Everyone
Of course you want your family and friends to have fun, but ultimately it's your wedding. Worrying too much about what other think of your decisions will take the joy out of the wedding-planning process and the focus away from what everyone is really celebrating, says Baab. As long as there's enough food, proper temperature control, and plenty of seats, you know your guests are well taken care of. Anything beyond that—colors, dresses, décor, venue—is all about you!
Mistake 16: Thinking That at Least 10 Percent of Guests will RSVP "No"
It's a commonly shared stat that you can expect at least 10 percent of your guest list to RSVP "no." While that may be the rule-of-thumb, it's not an exact science. And this can mean big problems for your budget or space if you've booked a venue that holds 200 but invited 240 with the expectation that 40 people will skip the festivities. "No one can guarantee how many guests will RSVP and how many won't until invites go out," says Baab. "The only way to truly keep your guest count and budget manageable is to limit your number of invitees."
Mistake 17: Being Blinded by Tradition
It's great to stick to some wedding traditions if you like them, but don't feel obligated. If you just follow along and do what you think you're supposed to do, you'll end up with a wedding that says nothing about who you are. "What makes each wedding special is the bride and the groom that are being celebrated," says Cameron. "If tradition is important to you, infuse it with your personal style and attitude." With this simple tip in mind you'll create a wedding that shows off your family traditions while also reflecting your personality.