What’s a Priority?

Watching too many wedding reality shows can do strange things to your head. Over the months in which I’ve been writing this blog on weekends, I’ve started watching way too many of these shows. Frankly, I consider it part of my job to know what sort of crap non-advice is lurking in the shadows, as well as what’s worth tuning in to get some great tips.

For the most part, these shows are definitely the nasty things lurking under the bed in terms of advice. Watched uncritically, one could quickly come to the conclusion that weddings cannot be done on a reasonable budget, and that failing to overspend is the worst thing you can do on your big day short of actually assaulting someone. Brides (and far more often grooms and fathers) are berated for asking the simple question ‘does that fit in the budget?’ or for saying outright ‘I’m sorry, but I can’t afford that.’ The rare bride on these shows who dares to ask how something is to be paid for is looked upon with a combination of pity and horror. The men just get ignored with a wink and a smirk.

Then at the end of the show, the prices get toted up (well, on some shows; most don’t ever tell you how badly the budget was blown), and we learn that a pretty pedestrian wedding costs an arm, a leg, and possibly an internal organ or two. After a while, it’s easy to drink the Kook Aid and agree that budgets are made to be ignored.

Don’t fall for this attitude.

Yes, your wedding is important. Choosing to spend your life with someone is a monumental decision that deserves to be treated with due pomp and circumstance. It’s a big deal emotionally, socially, and – for many – spiritually.

At the end of the day, though, it’s…well…one day. It’s flat-out foolish to spend the next five or six years paying for one day’s activities, no matter how important they are.

The key to staying within your budget, no matter how large or small it is, is to prioritize. The biggest budget problem most of the brides on reality shows seem to have is determining what is and isn’t a priority. They make the mistake of making whatever happens to be under discussion at the moment the priority. This does not work.

So far, I’ve seen one bride on all these shows really stand up for her own priorities and stick close to her budget because she was able to do that. The wedding planner kept throwing up her hands in horror, but the lady stuck to her guns. She spent extra on invitations because that mattered to her. But she insisted on using grocery store flowers because that was something that didn’t matter a great deal to her, and she knew she could save money. She didn’t really care about her gown, so she took her mother to the bridal salon, told the sales staff what she was willing to spend, refused to look at anything more expensive, and bought the first gown that made her mother tear up happily.

Would I have made the same decisions she did? No. My priorities were quite different to hers. Her choice to stick with her priorities and refuse to be swayed because something is expcted or because something is usual impressed the socks off of me. She knew what mattered to her, what mattered to her fiance, and what her budget was. After that, the planner could talk all she wanted about what’s in style, what she usually did for brides, etc. Her input was listened to, considered, and rejected where it clashed with the bride’s needs.

So how do you decide what’s important to you? You think about it before you start your firm plans. Sit down with your intended and talk about it. Each of you should set two or three things in stone. If they happen to overlap, you’re set. You know what matters to you as a couple. If they clash, talk it over until you’re on the same page, whether it’s yours, his, or a compromise position.

For instance, it was important to me to be married out of doors, to make my wedding lace, and to have a lot of references to my Scottish heritage. It was important to Mr. Twistie to have live music and enough food that nobody would go home hungry. Actually, for me the enough food and live music were such givens that I didn’t feel a need to articulate them, so it worked out nicely.

But from there, everything was up for consideration, compromise, flat out rejection. We spent our biggest money on: the site, the photography, the food and music, and my gown in pretty much that order. There was no bachelor or bachelorette party. The invitations were simple printed cards, response cards (with self-stamped envelopes for ease of response) and homemade maps. No save the date cards (not that they were done then), no reception invitations (it was all on one site and everyone was invited to both), no matching thank you notes. Decorations were minimal. It was a picnic in the woods, and Mother Nature had done a great job of decorating for us. We just added some tableclothes, a few flowers, and a tiny touch of ribbon. The men all wore formalwear they already owned. We didn’t hire any cars. I arrived on site in my father’s trusy Nissan and left with my new husband in his classic Mustang. To make sure there was enough food for our guests, we kept it simple and hearty rather than elegant.

If we’d had more money to work with, we might have splashed out a bit more on some of these things, but the point is that we were ruthless about cutting costs that a) weren’t priorities, and b) didn’t fit in our budget. And in the end, we’re just as married as anyone who hired limos for the entire wedding party, or had waiters circulating with silver trays of gourmet appetizers. And if we had decided to go with the limos or huge displays of flowers, we would have found other ways to keep within our budget.

The most important thing isn’t what your priorities are, but that you choose them thoughtfully and stick to them.

So what is/was a priority for you?

11 Responses to “What’s a Priority?”

  1. My top priorities were locale (I’d pictured myself getting married on my grandparents’ property for ages and ages) and the cake (I didn’t want anyone to go home hungry, which they didn’t, but dang I love cake). And my stylist, I guess–we actually flew him to FL from NY!

    The Beard’s priorities included having good beer because he’s a total beer enthusiast and exchanging original, interesting rings (we went with mokume gane bands).

    I would have loved live music, but it wasn’t in our price range AT ALL. I prefer buffets over sit down dinners, so I was happy with our awesome vegetarian spread, but I would have loved to have had real silverware and plates instead of plastic. None of the catering or rental companies wanted to rent those things to me for a reasonable cost at an outdoor, kid-friendly wedding on the water.

    We both wanted great photos, but we had to compromise some there because of the selection of photogs in the area. The great ones were soooo terribly expensive–due in part to the economics of the town in which we married–so we settled on a so-so one and let our talented photographer friends fill out our album. We could have gone with the super pricey photogs, but we didn’t want to have to skimp in other areas.

  2. Twistie says:

    We seriously lucked out on the music and the photographer. The band we hired played for my Scottish country dance class, and they cut me a really great deal. The folky, accoustic music was perfect for our purposes, and a nice way of both honoring my heritage and getting around the lack of electrical sources on site.

    As for the photographer, the husband of a woman I was working with at the time had just gone into business for himself as a photographer. I knew and liked him already, and he was a calm presence with a real talent for slipping into the background and getting great candid shots when nobody realized a camera was pointing in their direction. Since he was just starting out, he was offering great deals to drum up sales.

    I was seriously spoiled.

  3. Anusha says:

    I got married in my native country, Sri Lanka, so it was sort of a destination wedding for me because I grew up here in the U.S. I was a bit worried about the quality of the vendors and services I could get there, and my top priorities were: having the wedding in a location with beautiful natural surroundings (since Sri Lanka is a tropical island, and I really wanted its natural beauty to be a part of our day); a great photographer, because that’s all you have in the end, and I know that wedding photographs are family heirlooms that are handed down through generations; and, weirdly enough, my bouquet. I wanted phalaenopsis orchids in my bouquet, in memory of my grandfather (who had just passed away), because he grew orchids as a hobby, and loved them. On his deathbed, he asked my mother and me to get him a Buddha statue (we’re Buddhists) and an orchid plant to look at, in his final hours.

    Anyway, the hotel we chose had gorgeous grounds (more than any other hotel in that area), and our photographer was a little-known professional who ran his business out of his home, but took phenomenal photos that really showcased the natural beauty of the island. I was thrilled to be able to book both. As for the flowers, I was finally able to get them through a wonderful florist who did all the bouquets (which turned out quite gorgeous).

    Everything else, I was like, whatever! But it all turned out sooooooo nice, I just couldn’t believe it! Things just fell into place quite by accident, and I felt as if my grandfather was looking down on us and directing the whole day! I still can’t quite believe how much we lucked out with everything, and the one thing I know for sure is that it all turned out A LOT nicer than it would have if I tried to control and micromanage everything!

  4. Twistie says:

    Anusha, I love the story of your bouquet! That was a lovely tribute.

    And yes, I found that concentrating my main efforts on a couple specific areas and refusing to stress about the others made my day much easier to enjoy. It’s surprising how much simpler planning is when you prioritize and then let the little things fall into place by themselves.

  5. Melissa B. says:

    Our priorities will likely be photography and the guest list (I say “likely” because we don’t have an actual budget yet). I fell in love with my friend’s beautiful wedding album and I really want a photographer who can take equally gorgeous shots of us and our loved ones. My sweetie and his family have a lot of people they want to invite, and if that means we have to cut the open bar or do a brunch reception instead of dinner in order to include everyone we’re OK with that.

  6. Dianasaur says:

    For me it was the theme (Renaissance) because I just think it’s beautiful, the location (outdoors) because my husband and I love God’s creation, and the photographer (but I set a budget and contacted 30 different photographers whose work I liked and had them tell me who could give me the best package for that price.

    Anusha, I went to Sri Lanka after the tsunami to do disaster relief, and even with the devastation it was the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen (and I’m from Hawaii!) Your pictures must be gorgeous.

  7. Rachel says:

    Great post! Don’t you wish that they would make a wedding show with reasonable people? I would *love* to watch a couple go through the process of budgeting, prioritizing, making compromises and doing some of the work themselves. It would be so much more helpful and interesting and I’m sure there would still be plenty of drama to keep people entertained.
    My priorities are photography and the venue. I’m learning that there are a lot of traditional spendy areas that make no difference to me (i.e. centerpieces).

  8. Ladyjane says:

    Rachel, great thought! If such a show ever existed (it doesn’t, as far as I know), I’d definitely be glued to the TV, too, taking notes 🙂

    At this point, my priority will probably be photography. To be honest, everything else is pretty important, too, but your photos are the one thing that will be around, and passed around, even after you’ve passed on (unless your dress manages to stay in style).

  9. Anusha says:

    Dianasaur, you can see our Sri Lanka wedding pix on my blog: http://anchibride.blogspot.com/

  10. Johanna says:

    1) Shoes
    2) Food
    3) Drinks

    For me, now that I have found the most important part of my wedding, the groom, I have been sorting out my priorities too. Funny thing is, it seems I’m satisfied with the handsome guy next to me and great shoes. I’ve got one or two options selected already. If there will be a party, I do want some kind of a scrap book -thing that the guests can write in.

    The third favorite thing about the wedding is the dress, but that’ll be inexpensive as long as I don’t go trying on any frocks at the bridal saloons. I just love designing various models before I decide what to sew, almost as much as reading Manolo for the Brides in anticipation of the event.

    Of course I’d like to invite everyone I know to celebrate, but that will be impossible. Luckily my fiancé thinks plenty of food and drink for the ones who are there is the priority, as do I. I couldn’t care less about the location or the decorations. So we’ll spend all that’s left from my shoe-shopping on edibles, and hopefully our semi-professional photographer friends and FIL’s rock band do a good job. 🙂

  11. Twistie says:

    Wow, Anusha! You were such a beautiful bride, and the setting is beyond gorgeous. I adore the shot of your whole wedding party, too. Everyone looked fabulous.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Now everybody go look at Anusha’s wonderful pictures!

    Rachel, I would absolutely love to see a wedding planning show like the one you describe. Alas! Train wrecks tend to get higher ratings than thoughtful programming with serious advice to offer.

    Johanna, I feel certain The Manolo would absolutely approve your priorities! Great shoes are, indeed, a worthy priority.

    I love seeing how everyone decides what’s most important to them.