We’re planning a simple wedding. We are simple people, we live frugally and spend consciously — so a simple wedding totally fits with who we are. But, here’s the thing: Between the two of us, we carefully manage life-long illnesses, a building site, full-time jobs, and four children. So even a simple traditional wedding would push us beyond our physical and financial comfort zones.
We thought a simple wedding would be simple to organize. What we didn’t count on were other peoples’ expectations for our day, and the strength of the Wedding Industrial Complex (WIC) which constantly justifies their expectations.
Somehow, it is portrayed as perfectly normal to make huge exceptions for your wedding day, from going into debt to inviting too many people, to having melt-downs over canapés. Of the traditional wedding “must-haves,” we didn’t want most, don’t need many, and can’t have some. We said “no” over and over — feeling like rather fussy inconsiderate people (which we’re not at all usually!).
Why was our simple wedding planning snowballing into something we did not want? And worse still, why were we creating an event that would leave both of us exhausted, stressed, and likely to fall ill?
Because the WIC — or consumerism, as we like to call it — operates solely by making you think the things you want are things you actually need.
First, let’s talk about “need” for a second
In this day and age, hardly anyone needs to get married at all. But, if you’ve decided to go down that route, all you really need for a wedding is the right partner — and nothing else is more important than that. Everything else is optional.
Armed with that realization, we threw all our plans up in the air, put each other’s needs at the heart of wedding planning, and started again. It was an eye-opening exercise, but our wedding suddenly made sense again to us and to our friends and family, without offending anyone (yet!).
Here’s what we did…
Identify your main life needs as a couple
These will be present on all of your days, not just your wedding day. For us, our needs included:
- We need to support the children emotionally and financially
- We need quality time together away from the children and our work
- We need time to rest, or we become ill
- We need people more than we need things
- We each need space to be ourselves
Spend some time figuring out your main life needs, and then do not lose sight of these needs during wedding planning. See it as good practice for the big things you’ll face together in the future.
Grab some paper and fold it into these three columns:
- Wedding needs
- Things we can do
- Things others can do
Now, let's break down these three columns:
1. Specific wedding day needs
What do you need to happen so you can enjoy the day without worry? What do you fear might happen, and what is the need behind this? What can you not imagine your day without, and why is this? Once you’ve got them all, put them in order of priority. Ours boiled down to this:
- Everybody (including us) needs to feel comfortable and loved
- Everyone needs to have activities they can engage in at their level
- We need minimal fuss and wedding crap
- We need to have a few meaningful mementos of the day
2. List all the ways in which YOU can and want to meet each need
Nobody else should decide these things for you. You decide the venue, the guest list, the amount of DIY. Be realistic on how much you can do yourself without compromising your needs as a couple, and whether you’ll do these things together or separately. You’ll quickly realize that you’ll need that another column on the right…
3. List all the things OTHERS will have to do to help you meet that need
Here’s some of the ways we decided to meet our most important wedding day need “We need to be comfortable”: marrying at home, no disco, no speeches, clear evening cut-off point, close friends and family only, wearing comfortable clothes, comfort food buffet, short ceremony, lots of seating. Others will help us with the decorations, lifting heavy items, running errands and hair and make-up.
We noticed that many things overlapped — things that made us more comfortable would also make the guests more comfortable, and somehow all our plans just fell into place from there.
Allocate your energy, time and money to meet those specific wedding needs first
This is where the budget and the timeline come in. So, by spending money on the essentials first, lining up your vendors and helpers, you know exactly how much money you have left for some fun!
Time for the small stuff
Hand-drawn stationery? Owl ring bearer? Personalized dressing gowns for the bridal party? If you want them, have them. No shame for sweating the small stuff!
What’s happened since we’ve put our needs first
We’ve brought the whole wedding forward by a year. We’ve already got all our wedding needs covered, booked, and budgeted for. Discussions with friends and family have become much less confrontational. We no longer make excuses, because our wedding day choices stem from caring for each other.
Yes, I care more about my husband’s welfare than someone else's opinion of our wedding. That’s the way it should be and will always be.
Comments on What happened when we put OUR wedding needs first…
I love this. We are planning a very simple wedding. Short ceremony, maybe a backyard barbecue. It’s nice to remember that each couple has different expectations of what is important to their wedding day. For me, it’s having family and friends nearby. Food, drink, friends/family — not much else matters. I don’t know that we’re doing anything “traditional” in the reception. No favors, no centerpieces. It’s just not important to me.
Now, if it’s important to you, I will support your wedding favors till the cows come home! I love a good wedding favor that is meaningful to the couple. I’ve been to themed weddings that were clearly very well-thought out and really were special. I just know I personally don’t need that. So thanks!
This absolutely. When we planned our wedding, we went through the list of wedding traditions and took out the ones that we didn’t want or made us uncomfortable. Once we eliminated the things that we didn’t want, it made everything we picked more meaningful. Unfortunately, some family and friends seemed to think that not going with all the traditions was “concerning” but that eventually just made us giggle. Other traditions we had more fun with. For example, we didn’t want to do a traditional bouquet/garter toss so we each threw an Adipose plushy with pieces of the wedding veil sewed on for good luck. It kept it fun and anybody could participate. To avoid drama and discomfort, we kept the guest list to only people that we knew and truly cared about. No extraneous family members or of-course-you-have-to-invite folks. We emerged from a Tardis for our entrance. My husband wrote one of our readings. At the end of the day, our wedding was 100% us and everyone had a fantastic time because it was “us” down to the centerpieces. We budgeted money for the things that mattered and when we got a bit of unexpected money, we added things we wanted but couldn’t afford initially. Keeping it about us made our day amazing and it helped us stay in the moment since each piece of the day meant something to us.
I recently threw a MASSIVE 200+ person party for my Dad’s 75th birthday, and it was one of the most stressful things I’ve ever done: I barely got to say more than two sentences to anyone, I didn’t eat anything, and I was problem-solving and putting out fires (metaphorically) for eight hours. By the end of it I felt like I had worked a shift, not been at a party! I didn’t sleep for three days decorating the venue. It was also one of the most expensive days of my life…as last-minute needs the week before kept popping up, I kept whipping out my card and I had spent a whopping $1k. So overall, I spent about $1500 on his party. On that day I was like, “YEP, I absolutely do not want this on my wedding day.” So my fiance and I are eloping and then going to have a small party in our home the following week. I have a whole new appreciation for people who actually go full head on for big weddings, and fully enjoy myself at them, because I can’t imagine how much work and tears it cost.
Oh my word! That sounds more like a nightmare than a party (for you, anyway). Well done for managing to pull off something so huge! I totally understand your decision to elope, we had considered that too but only really in our bad moments when we wanted to run away from not only the WIC but also our illnesses. But we compromised by having a legal marriage with 4 guests on a random Tuesday morning, and then a week or so later having an afternoon hog roast in our garden with close friends and immediate family, with perhaps 10 minutes of a ‘wedding’ when we say our own vows to each other. And even if nothing goes to plan for the ‘wedding’, it does not matter as we are already married and we can just relax about the whole thing.
Thank you so much for this! I deal with life-long illness as well, and am already feeling the crunch of managing others’ expectations and trying to keep sight of my own limitations. Every time the fiance suggests we not do something expected that will exhaust me, I get defensive because I’ve been SO WELL TRAINED by the WIC (and, let’s be honest, my mother). But this is a great reminder that I need to prioritize us as a couple before I prioritize what other people expect.
Hi Beth, I totally get that, and we got quite far in planning before realising we were in danger of creating a monster. At our worst moments we considered eloping, but that somehow feels like letting our illnesses win when we actually do want to celebrate the occasion! It is so easy to get swamped by everyone’s wants for your wedding that you forget our very real needs. We’ve had the ‘you can make an exception for one day, surely?’ line when actually, no, we can’t. Just because it is the ‘most special day’ of our lives it does not make our normal constraints go away, so our needs have to be the baseline for anything we are planning. Now we just think of our wedding as a normal day, just with a few very special extras thrown in, and that helps us immensely. Good luck with your wedding planning and look after yourself in this process.
Bravo! We planned our Halloween Horror Wedding for us and no one else. One thing we said all along was that we didn’t care if only the two of us showed up as long as it’s what we wanted. Thankfully, people did show up and they loved it! Some of our choices were naturally questioned along the way (child free wedding, disposable dishware, costumes required, etc) but we made the choices that were right for us and our day was everything we wanted and more!
It was interesting finding out that a lot of people think weddings should be planned FOR the guests. Naturally, we wanted our guests to be comfortable and have fun. What we did not want was to make decisions based on what guests expected us to do. The lines become blurry sometimes but I really think all couples need to stick to their guns and have the wedding that is right for them without worrying what family, friends or society at large thinks about it.
Yes, all of this! 🙂
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