I’ll be talking to real couples about the lessons they learned in planning their weddings – and what pitfalls they want you to avoid!
And, since I’ll be asking everyone to talk about the less than perfect parts of their day, it’s only fair I go first!
Hi. I’m Mell. And these are the best decisions I made for my wedding – and the worst.
Mell and Sam’s DIY London wedding
Hi Mell. Thanks for coming along today.
Thanks for having me. It’s a real pleasure, I love reading your blog.
No, really. I mean it. Best blog there is.
Oh you. To get started, can you set the scene a little? How did you choose the date you went with for your wedding?
Well, that was easy. Sam and I actually got married on the seven year anniversary of the date we met.
Oh, that’s so sweet!
I know! We’d always celebrated it as an anniversary – going for nice dinners and getting each other presents. Whenever we’d talked about getting married, we’d said it would feel weird not to have the wedding on that date.
We actually did things a little back-to-front compared with more couples; we’d been talking about ‘when we get married’ for over a year before we realised, if we didn’t do it either that year or the next, the date of our anniversary wouldn’t be on a weekend for ages. We decided to look into the costs of a wedding – without telling anyone – to see if we could afford it. We’d paid the deposit on the venue before we told our families we were engaged!
So you had a rough budget in mind when you started planning your wedding? Did you come in anywhere near it?
(Laughing) Oh, nowhere close!
(Actually, it might be weeping) Nowhere close.
We’d sketched in a lot of rough numbers for things, but we hit a lot of unexpected costs – things we couldn’t have known about until we were talking to vendors and putting down deposits, rather than researching.
Is there anything you paid for that you now think wasn’t worth the money?
Oh, our cake topper definitely fits that bill.
We decided to make a cake topper ourselves out of Lego. We spent ages buying different Lego sets to build minifigs that looked like us – Sam in Jedi robes, because he’s a big Star Wars fan, and me in a Ravenclaw uniform because I’m a Harry Potter nerd – in front of the TARDIS (because we’re Doctor Who geeks together), with storm troopers, daleks, and dementors climbing the layers to reach us.
It looked incredible. But because we bought it all in drips and drabs, spending a few pounds here and there, we spent much more money on it than we would have ever considered spending on a cake topper outright.
It really does look incredible though.
The little daleks!
Ahem, sorry. So how did you choose your wedding venue?
Well, we had some criteria for what we wanted that narrowed the list a lot more than we’d expected it to!
We wanted to bring in our own caterers, rather than use the venue’s (Sam loves food trucks!), but every venue we spoke to gave us a dry hire price that was more than the cost of them catering – and we’d still need to find the caterers!
We also needed to find a venue without corkage fees. My family don’t drink and we wanted to bring in nice, non-alcoholic alternatives, like Shloer, rather than giving them nothing but Diet Coke. We had to rule out loads of really brilliant looking venues because their immoveable corkage fee was ‘only’ £5 a bottle – 400% more than non-alcoholic wine costs!
In the end, we started looking for dry hire venues, rather than wedding venues – and very luckily found one that was licensed for weddings! It looked great, it was in budget, and they’d give us free reign – so we went for it.
Wow! It sounds like a lot of work! Did you ever think about getting a wedding planner, to take some of the burden off you?
We didn’t really have the budget for one. What we did instead, that I’d definitely encourage couples having more of a DIY wedding to think about, is we asked for help with specific jobs.
It can be hard sometimes – especially when you’re British and extremely polite – to feel you can actually take people up on it when they ask if you need help. You awkwardly stammer out a thanks and then neither of you ever mentions it again.
But we knew we needed help. We were only getting in the venue on the day, at 8am, to get it set up and decorated – and we had to clear everything out by 3am.
Help getting the venue set up – furniture laid out, decorations put up, food and drinks brought in – and cleared out again would be invaluable.
We decided to make a job registry instead of a gift registry. Whenever a friend asked if there was anything they could do to help, we’d say ooh, we’d really appreciate that. There’s a list of things we really need help with on the day on our website and, if you fancied signing up to help with one, it would mean a lot to us.
It didn’t put them on the spot, so if they were just being polite, they didn’t actually need to follow up on it. And we made sure to include jobs of different sizes – the way you’d add different price ranges to a gift registry – so people could sign up to move a couple of chairs after the ceremony, for a few minutes, or spend a couple of hours helping us unload the van and set up the venue.
That’s a great idea! Tell us a little more about the gift registry – how did it work?
I coded the gift registry with a certain amount of spots for every job – 20 people to help set up in the morning, 15 people to jump behind the bar for half an hour each and help serve drinks, 10 people to move chairs after the ceremony… When someone signed up for a spot, I’d tick the number of spots left down, and I’d ask them for a phone number.
The website would send them a text message, right then, to profusely thank them for volunteering to help us, and it would schedule in another message – to be sent around ten minutes before we needed them to do that job, to remind them about it.
It worked really well. And, of course, people who hadn’t even volunteered to help with the job jumped in when they saw other people doing it, so it all went much quicker than we’d been expecting.
That’s a terrific idea!
What a genius use of modern technology to take the burden off yourself when it comes to wedding planning! What a great and clever idea!
Thank you. You can actually get a website that sends notifications and reminders on Gettin’ Hitched Rocks, if you’re interested. There are details here.
Wait – am I not meant to be the one from Gettin’ Hitched Rocks?
Well… We’re both from Gettin’ Hitched Rocks.
Buy a website from Gettin’ Hitched Rocks. I think that’s the advice.
Now, let’s talk about the things that didn’t go well. Is there anything you’d do differently, knowing what you know now?
I think I made a mistake in not checking I could get phone service in the venue; my carrier’s a little flaky and no one could get through to me. Which wouldn’t have been a problem if I hadn’t put down my phone number for deliveries we were getting on the day!
Exactly. We were meant to be getting deliveries of water and ice from a supermarket two times through the day, which we really needed – all our drinks were in ice buckets for people to help themselves to. No ice, no cold drinks!
The delivery drivers didn’t buzz the entry doors, as we’d been expecting, they just phoned from their van. And, because I didn’t have signal, they left.
What did you do?
Panicked! Especially in the morning – we had about forty minutes before our guests were going to arrive and we still had to get ready. Sam was, very sweetly, about to hop in a van to a nearby store and buy as much ice as he could – until I pointed out he was the one person who really couldn’t miss the ceremony!
It was a bit of a mad dash but our wedding party got it sorted. Twice!
I’m glad it worked out!
So, you’d advise all engaged couples to check their phone coverage?
Or just not being afraid of putting down someone else’s number. I was the only one without service!
Funnily enough, I’d made a point of asking my guests to ring my sister on the day but, because I was organising everything in advance, I felt I had to give all the suppliers my number, in case they rang before the day – I was worried my sister wouldn’t be able to answer questions.
The better thing to do, in retrospect, would be to change the contact number just beforehand, or else to give everyone two numbers – mine and hers.
Was there anything else that didn’t go to plan? Any regrets?
Oh, loads didn’t go to plan. Guests arrived in the middle of the ceremony, things were set up wrong, people got missed out of our photos… But I don’t think anyone even noticed.
And none of it bothered me. I think it’s important to go with the flow and, if things aren’t going with the Pinterest perfect vision you had in your head, embrace it, laugh about it, and move on.
The chillzilla approach?
Exactly. I was determined not to be seen as a bridezilla. People kept joking I was one because I’d organised everything so thoroughly – everything was boxed with instructions and photos of how it should look, marked as low or high priority so the important things got done first if there wasn’t time to do it all, with clear notes on how difficult it was – because we had some kids helping – and if it needed more than one person.
I didn’t do it because I was going to go ballistic and accuse all my mates who’d gotten up at the crack of dawn to set up my wedding venue of ruining everything if the chair sashes weren’t in a perfect bow – I did it because I’ve helped set up weddings where the couple haven’t given instructions on how they want things and it’s been incredibly stressful for everyone; no one wants to get it wrong so no one does anything, they just chase after the couple, who get more and more stressed, trying to make thirty decisions on the spot.
Having written instructions and photos gives people confidence to try something on their own. I honestly don’t think we could have set up the venue in the time we had if I hadn’t done that.
It sounds like you’re a highly organised and thoughtful person people should definitely hire to design wedding websites and stationery.
So, no regrets?
Well – maybe one.
We wanted to take our wedding photos in natural light. But we got married in November. And it was cold.
I had a list of photos I wanted to take but, everyone was getting so chilly, I called it off halfway through. I regret not moving us indoors to finish off; I hadn’t wanted anyone to be uncomfortable but I’m sure we could have been warm and taken photos if I hadn’t been so quick to make sure everyone else was happy.
Oh, what a shame! So – go with the flow and your day will never be ruined no matter what happens, but don’t be afraid to push back and insist on what you want for the truly important things?
Exactly, especially for pictures. They’re really all you have after all your hard work. I don’t really care that my dessert table wasn’t laid out how I wanted it or we missed our delivery or people came late – but I do wish I had more photos.
Let’s end on a more positive note – what do you think you got right? What ideas should people steal from you?
I think having a wedding website that reminded people of what they needed to do (so I didn’t need to), and told me all the info I needed to know – like how many people were coming and what food they’d ordered – without needing to count and re-count RSVPs was the best decision I made. I honestly think wedding websites making wedding planning easier – which is why I make them!
I also think carrying the design I had on my save the dates through my invitations, website, table plan, signs, and placeholders was a great idea; everything had a consistent, coherent design and feel to it, and my sense of humour and personality came across everywhere. I still receive compliments for the little touches and detail I put into my wedding. (Which is why I make matching wedding stationery, too!)
I think reserving seats for my wedding party and immediate family was freaking genius – I’ve written about why that’s important here.
And I think organising everything so much in advance was the best thing I could have done, and the only way I could get my real wedding to be even a little like the perfect idea in my head. Sure, my mates teased me about writing up in-depth instructions, but on the day, even my six year old niece could grab a box and get it set up without waiting around to be told what to do. It made everything go smoothly when we were tight on time.
And – while I’m not sure I can claim this as my idea – giving a speech is one of the best decisions I made. I haven’t seen many brides do it, but it’s really good to. You’ll never have a crowd of people rooting for you more. It’s an elating feeling. And it meant, even if I couldn’t speak to everyone there for long, I could talk to them all, thank them for everything, and make them listen to a lot of bad jokes.
Lastly, I’d tell people not to be afraid of asking for help and delegating things they’re not confident with. People love you and want to help on your big day. And you can get weird with it. Sam and I delegated our first dance. No, really.
We’re not very good dancers but my sister’s whole family do cheerleading and gynmastics; we came up with a cute idea that we’d run off to ‘get ready’ and they’d all come out, wearing masks of our faces, and do a thoroughly impressive cheerleading routine we couldn’t possibly have managed. Everyone loved it – far more than they would have enjoyed watching us awkwardly shuffle in a circle – and it definitely went down as one of the more memorable parts of the evening.
What to steal – and what to avoid!
- Have a wedding website. They make your life easier!
- Have a consistent design on everything, to wow your guests and make your wedding feel like you.
- Plan everything you can in advance so people aren’t chasing you down for instructions on the day – it’ll go smoother if they can get on with it themselves!
- Have back-up plans for anything you can’t control – especially anything that depends on being outdoors!
- Reserve seats for the people you want at the front of your ceremony.
- Consider giving a speech. It’s unlike any public speaking you’ll have ever done (or avoided doing) before – everyone knows you, loves you, and will tell you you gave the best speech they’ve ever heard, entirely without sarcasm, no matter what you say. It’s a chance to talk to everyone at your wedding you might not get otherwise.
- Ask athletic friends to wear masks of your face and dance. (Er, or maybe ‘remember you can ask for help’ might be the better takeaway from that point.)
- Go with the flow – nothing will go perfectly to your Pinterest plan but, if you don’t get hung up on it, your day will still feel perfect.
- Do the sums after you’ve bought things piecemeal – keep a tally as you go or you’ll wind up spending a frightening amount of your budget on Lego.
- Only give your vendors one contact number – signals drop!
- Drop something you really want to have, like pictures with your wedding party. Have a back-up plan so you can change things if something goes wrong, but don’t give up on something all together if it’s important to you – you’ll regret it!