5 Things I Wish My Engaged Friends Knew

(And would know if they read my books)

Every year, someone important to the APW staff gets married. Which means every year, in some capacity, we basically become de facto wedding therapists, day-of coordinators, and, occasionally, contract lawyers. Because that’s what you do when you’re a wedding expert and your people are about to embark on the huge undertaking of planning a wedding. We also make sure to hand everyone a copy of both A Practical Wedding (for all the emotional stuff) and A Practical Wedding Planner (for the really vital organizational stuff). Because, you know, I’ve spent the last decade of my life researching and writing about how to plan a DIY wedding. And while we all love our friends, every one of them, they never read my books. Not my friends. Not Maddie’s. Not a one.

Which means that inevitably a few weeks before the wedding, when we casually ask engaged friends if they have, say, put their wedding timeline together (after, of course, having mentioned they could Google “wedding timeline” and get a really informative post on the subject—you know, this one from APW), they send over something like this:

  • 8:00 a.m. – Hair and Makeup
  • 2:00 p.m.  – Ceremony
  • 4:30 p.m. – Dinner
  • 5:30 p.m. – Toasts
  • 6:30 p.m. – Party!
  • 10:00 p.m. – Clean up

Bless these friends and everyone else planning weddings, but a few times and tasks written on a scrap of paper does not wedding planning make. Because well…. who is going to make these things happen? Does the schedule contain everything on it and enough time to move from one thing to another? What items need to get to the wedding (and back again)? Who is transporting them? Who is coordinating with the photographer/caterer/baker/makeup artist/wedding party?

A woman in a wedding dress shows off her ankle tattoo that reads "yay" and her bauble encrusted shoes

At this point with my friends, I take over, fill out all of APW’s wedding planning spreadsheets, become their day-of coordinator, and then spend the morning of the wedding complaining to anyone that will listen that I WROTE THIS ALL DOWN IN A BOOK AND I WISH SOMEONE HAD READ IT. And it’s not ego speaking. Enough of you have bought (and I hope read) my books to make them bestsellers. No, it’s pure practicality speaking. Because all of that stuff I put into the APW books is what you need to know to pull your wedding off smoothly… and not have one of your lead bridesmaids slowly pulling out her hair on the morning of your wedding.

TL;DR: Let this be a reminder that these books are great to get for your newly engaged friends for the holidays (especially the lovingly disorganized ones) and even better to get for your own sanity if you’re deep in the wedding planning trenches. But hey, if you don’t get them (or get them and don’t read them, like all my best people), here are the top five things I wish my friends always read in A Practical Wedding and A Practical Wedding Planner.

5 Tips I Wish My Wedding Planning Friends Knew

A man and a woman in white wedding clothes hold hands and look at each other as they walk in front of a pink smoke cloud in the desert.

Wedding Planning Spreadsheets Are Key

When I wrote my first book, we launched a section of the website for wedding spreadsheets. When I was working on my BFF Gina’s wedding this year, I realized that I hadn’t done updates on these spreadsheets in years… so we went through and fancied them up a little. But the truth is, these spreadsheets don’t need to be fancy, because the information that’s important isn’t whatever sample info we put in there… it’s your information, about your own wedding.

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Wedding Spreadsheets

The thing is, you cannot keep this information in your head. Or on a napkin scrap. Or on a post-it. As convenient as that plan seems. The purpose of putting all your planning info into spreadsheets is two fold.

  1. It makes you really dig into the details. Exactly what time are you starting photos and how long will they go? When you say you need to bring “decorations” to the venue, what does that mean? What decorations need to show up, who’s bringing them, and what did you forget to buy/borrow/otherwise acquire?
  2. Putting information in spreadsheets allows you to share the information. Up until this point in wedding planning, chances are good that it’s basically been you and your partner (and maybe a mom or another helper if you’re lucky) in the trenches. So it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that as long as everything makes sense to you, it’s fine. But once you move from planning a wedding to having a wedding, you need a way to pass on all that information to other people. You’re going to be busy walking down the aisle and enjoying this party (or you better be), and you need to have friends/loved ones/people you pay who can wrangle all the details—most importantly cleaning the damn wedding up, because nobody should be cleaning up in their fancy wedding outfit.

A detailed wedding timeline from One Darling Day Events printed out from a typed document.

You Need A Detailed Wedding Timeline

Detailed wedding day timelines are key, in part because they ask as many questions as they answer. When does your makeup artist need to get there? Well, that depends on when photos start, which depends on when you need to line up for the ceremony, which depends on when the ceremony needs to start so that you can get to cocktail hour before sunset, which depends on… you get the idea.

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A Complete Wedding Timeline, Six Ways

A wedding timeline is basically an advanced game of Tetris, or a long version of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. And if you don’t build it out in a detailed way on paper, chances are good that mouse isn’t going to get the glass of milk he really wanted… or at least, not on time. So read our detailed post about putting together your wedding timeline, and then boil all of that information down into our wedding planning spreadsheets, and then share it (in triplicate hardcopy) with everyone you love.

You Need A Detailed Load In (And Load Out) Plan

Over the years, we’ve talked about how common it is to not think about the nitty-gritty details of setting up and breaking down your wedding until you’re in the eleventh hour. When that happens, if you’re lucky, you end up with one super organized friend (like me) who steps in and gets it all done. If you’re not lucky, you’ll end up doing everything yourself. Either way, that’s not the ideal way to pull off your wedding.

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Setting Up And Breaking Down Your Wedding: Everything You Need To Know

Weddings are complicated logistical productions, with lots of moving pieces (literal and figurative). You need a detailed plan for what objects are getting to the venue and what objects are leaving at the end of the night. (Good news! We got you a packing list in our spreadsheets, and we’ve got a detailed article on setting up and breaking down your wedding.) You also need a plan laid out for how you want the room to be decorated (so someone, or many someones, can follow the plan and kick you out of the room to go get your hair done). And remember: all those things leaving at the end of the night need boxes, and your friends are tired… so make sure they have boxes.

A small pink and purple jewelry dish reads "Live in the moment" in gold block lettering, as wedding bands and an engagement ring sit on the plate.

You Need A Wedding Stage Manager (or DOC)

For a decade now, I’ve been preaching the gospel of the wedding stage manager. (I even asked an actual stage manager to write up detailed instructions on how to stage manage a wedding!) But the general gist of the situation is this: you can’t be the director, stage manager, and set crew of the play that you are also starring in. On your wedding day, you need to have space for the emotional process of getting married. (Because if you don’t give yourself this, it’s a quick way to turn into a crying-screaming wreck. Trust me, I’ve seen it happen many times.)

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How To Stage Manage Your Wedding

So if you can afford it, hire a day-of coordinator. And if you can’t (raises hand), ask a particularly organized friend to run the show for you. Give them all of the spreadsheets you’ve put together, printed out, on a clipboard. Spend a few hours walking them through every single thing you’ve done planning this wedding, so they doesn’t have to ask you a million annoying questions when you’re in your wedding dress/suit/jumpsuit. And then before your wedding rehearsal (have a wedding rehearsal) pass the project off to them and get yourself married.

Two men in suits play with giant balloons in front of a colorful balloon installation

Vet Your Vendors

When you don’t have a ton of money, it can be easy to feel like you’re stuck with the vendors (or friendors) that you can afford. And because of that, sometimes you feel like you can’t be picky and shouldn’t watch for red flags or check references. My friends, don’t do this. This is how you end up with a photographer that orders you around all day and single handedly makes your wedding day miserable because A) they won’t leave, and B) they won’t stop telling you to do things that you don’t want to do and don’t care about.

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Everything You Need to Know Before You Sign a Wedding Vendor Contract

In short, there are always options. (Including, frankly, the option of not having a photographer if your only option is a photographer who’s going to spend the day screaming at you and ruin your whole wedding. DIY wedding photography is a thing and we’re here for it, when it’s necessary.)

So take the time. Vet vendors. Don’t sign contracts with people who are rude to you, or condescending, or raise any other red flags. (And read and understand wedding contracts before you sign them.) It’s important that the humans who surround you on your wedding day are people you actually like, and it’s worth it to do extra leg work to find those people.

And One Bonus Tip

Rent Tablecloths (Don’t Buy Them)

When planning a DIY wedding, it’s common to start looking for ways to get one over on the wedding industry. Everything is so expensive, so surely you can think of smarter and better ways to do things… right? And one of the most common hacks that people come up with is to buy tablecloths rather than rent them.

A snail crawls across an empty white plate sitting on a folded white napkin at a formally set table.

Why would you rent tablecloths when you can buy them for the same price on Amazon? Well. I’ll tell you why.

Ironing.

When you rent table cloths, they arrive fully ironed, they’re laid on the tables… and at the end of the night those dirty stained linens are taken away, forever. (Which is great, because as it turns out, you don’t want or need twenty-five large round tablecloths.) When you buy tablecloths, they arrive folded in tiny little packages, and you will suddenly realize it’s going to take ten to fifteen minutes per table to get these suckers ironed or steamed enough to be ready for prime time. And at the end of the night you will realize that you have a giant pile of wine and food-stained linens that you need to launder and… store somewhere? Or maybe you could rent them to someone, but you’d have to iron them first…. at which point it dawns on you… YOU SHOULD HAVE JUST RENTED YOUR LINENS.

So save yourself the hassle, and just rent the damn things.

A woman puts on a motorcycle helmet while wearing a denim jacket with an embroidered back that reads "Just Married"

And also, read the APW book and APW Planner, because there are hundreds of other problems that I’ve researched and solved, so you can avoid making the mistakes that generations of couples before you have made. My friends generally know they can get away with not reading the books, because I am always going to show up IRL to their weddings and solve the problems. I can’t do that for everyone though, so I did the best I could, and I wrote it all down.

What mistakes did you make when wedding planning? What advice would you pass on so that no other human ever had to suffer through that mistake again?

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