For Cathy and Chuck Armstrong of Falls Church, Virginia, their wedding was 16 months in the planning, but only because of some common wedding mistakes the earnest young couple made — and decided to try and undo.
“When you’re newly engaged and planning the big day, it’s natural to be excited though a bit apprehensive — maybe looking to others (anyone!) for help just like we did,” Cathy said. “We wanted it to be perfect and had no idea what to do.”
According to professional wedding planners and popular wedding websites, among the most common mistakes couples make right out of the starting gate are:
1) Inviting everyone
2) Telling parents, adult children, and/or other family members they can be involved in planning everything
3) Trying to include too many in your wedding party
4) Telling your bridal party that of course you’ll pay for all of their expenses
5) Thinking the first dress you see — no matter how perfect — just can’t be right because you haven’t yet exhausted yourself and your bridal party by traipsing around to a dozen stores! (The reverse, though less common, is also true: settling on the first dress, which may not be perfect, just because you don’t want to drag everyone around to a dozen stores!)
“We were so excited in the first weeks after we got engaged that we told everyone we worked with, everyone we normally ran into at the gym and our favorite coffee place that we’d invite them,” Cathy admitted, adding that by the time they added in family and close friends and tallied up the list, it far exceeded the number that was comfortably affordable to them. “We’d really wanted to share that wonderful day, but not to the extent of taking out a second mortgage on the house we’d bought six months earlier.”
For Chuck, a mother in the catering field and two older sisters who’d married in previous years were hard to say no to. “They had great ideas about what had worked for them and how it could work for us,” he said. “And while they meant well, after a while what Cathy and I wanted kind of dissolved into all that.”
Pat Settlow, a former wedding planner in Cape Cod, Mass. now living in Florida, said it’s not unusual for a couple to seek out advice from more experienced family members and friends and acquiesce under the pressure of doing it right.
“There’s so much that’s new, and a lot of couples today have high stress jobs putting in long hours as well,” Settlow said, noting they are unable to dedicate all the time they’d like to planning a wedding. “It’s always good to listen so that you can weigh everything, but in the end, set aside a quiet day together to reflect on everything you’ve heard. Then prioritize and include your own ideas before giving anything the green light.”
Fortunately Cathy and Chuck didn’t promise the wedding party they’d pay for all expenses, though an eager couple overextending themselves that way happens sometimes, according to Settlow. Dress or tux, shoes, accessories, hair and make-up can be a lot to bite off when you multiply it by each member of a wedding party. If people are traveling to be there on your special day, add in travel and lodging and you may end up way over the top.
As for the wedding dress, Cathy admitted she really liked the first one she’d tried on but felt pressured by well-meaning friends and family to keep going. “After a few months without anything that came close, though, I went back to the original store and simply got the dress,” she said.
Finally, in addressing the “too many candidates for the wedding party” dilemma many couples face, Settlow said there is a newer trend where family and/or friends are tapped as honor attendants. These individuals may be dressed in the same color or general palette as the wedding party and are seated near the front of the ceremony and reception. They may also be given different tasks such as guest book; programs; reading a favorite poem; etc. — all of which make the many cogs of a wedding wheel run smoothly.
“A month after the wedding, we threw a low key wine and cheese gathering for everyone we didn’t end up inviting — from the gym, coffee place, and more,” Chuck said. “Instead of gifts, we asked them to donate to their favorite charities, which ensured some very deserving organizations benefited from our wedding … mistakes and all!”