When you’re planning a wedding, whether you decide to hire a professional planner or not probably depends in a way on some feeling of being ‘overwhelmed’. Either with the process, or with the budget. Stick with me here for a minute, I have two similar stories to tell, but probably not the ones you think.
Traditional weddings are complicated and planning one over the course of a year really means becoming proficient in a whole new skill. Imagine how a lawyer probably feels the first time they stand up to present a case in court; nervous, anxious, a little excited. Well, without a wedding planner, that’s sort of how you’re going to feel on your wedding day. Learning a whole new multi-faceted skill in a fixed timeframe, in the context of a still busy life, can definitely feel overwhelming. And it makes sense too; sometimes new lawyers bomb that first case. Maybe learning all this isn’t realistic, it’s overwhelming, so you hire a planner.
It can be expensive to hire a planner though. You could find yourself caught between a rock and a hard place. “Is it more important to get a planner or a DJ? Should I skip a video for the planner, or even the photographer? It’s just calling people and making lists and stuff, I should be able to do this on my own, can I really justify this whole extra expense?” Trying to find and understand your budgetary priorities can suddenly leave you feeling overwhelmed, and you decide not to decide and just give it your best shot and hope everything goes smoothly.
There’s nothing wrong with either of these decisions. In fact, there’s probably no objective ‘right’. There is only what you want and how you feel, and how you want to feel. So, I promised two stories that end a bit unexpectedly that I think demonstrate what I’m saying here.
The First of Two Stories
The first story is from a bride and groom we worked with several years ago. We’ll call them Angela & Eric. This wasn’t going to be a high end event. The couple was working on a tight budget, but had prioritized photography over all else. Angela, who was handling the budget, had decided she would plan the wedding herself, somewhat acquiescently it seemed. I will admit that some of my initial experiences with Angela & Eric’s planning left me with some concern about whether we’d be able to do what we were hired to do. Would everyone have what they needed, and would they be where they needed to be for photos?
But, to my pleasant surprise, as the day drew nearer, Angela & Eric were clearly getting it together, and when we arrived at the prep locations, everyone was exactly where they said they would be in the process. I mean it literally when I say that everything went perfectly. Everything happened on time, the photos looked great, and the dance floor was packed all night, in spite of there being no formal DJ to speak of.
Now, at least some of Angela & Eric’s success is surely attributed to their unique set of friends and family. Perhaps they’re more likely to dance in general, maybe they’re more punctual than average. Who knows, but without a doubt, Angela & Eric planned an effective wedding for themselves and their friends and family.
The Second of Two Stories
My second story is from a little more recently with a couple we’ll call Cynthia & Steve. This couple was enjoying the benefit of a totally private venue on the water. A beautiful summer home owned by a close (and generous) family friend. Saving a ton of money on the venue, and lacking the administrative support of a professional venue—they had room to spare in their budget and decided to hire a planner to help to integrate the vendors and amenities into what is normally a private residence.
The planner was a real pro, too. She was early and frequent with communications and she made clear effort to keep all the disparate timelines in sync. She was the first person to greet us when we arrived, and she was even sure to check up as we were leaving to make sure we hadn’t left anything behind.
But, things went awry on the wedding day. The tent vendor showed up late, pushing the caterer back, and distracting the mother of the bride during some critical moments for the photography timeline, which in turn pushed back the start of the portraits, which in turn were cut short so that Cynthia could get out of view as the guests were arriving.
Although things mostly fell back into place after the ceremony, we had to shift a few things around at the last minute in order to create all the portraits Cynthia & Steve considered a priority. Here, again, the planner was instrumental in keeping the event’s timeline from imploding on itself. At the end of the day, we created all the photos we intended to create, and although things were rocky, everyone seemed to have a good time and nothing important had to be cancelled or significantly altered. We still left feeling like the wedding day was a success.
The Ending of Two Stories
These two couples both ended up mostly happy with how everything turned out, but they both had regrets. Almost completely opposite regrets. Can you guess what they are?
Angela & Eric planned a wedding by themselves almost perfectly, and it went almost perfectly. But Angela & Eric also agree that if they could do it again, they’d hire a planner. Cynthia & Steve hired a planner who expertly planned the day, and although everything turned out pretty much fine in the end, there were a lot of bumps along the way. Cynthia & Steve, less enthused, agree that although they’re glad their planner was there, if they could do it again, they’d skip the planner.
There’s a common thread here. Both of these couples felt something on their wedding day that is now taking up too much of their memory of that day. It turns out Angela felt stressed out the whole day. She felt like something could go wrong at any minute and spent the whole time afraid her whole plan she’d worked a year on would unravel in one timeline misstep. In her memory, she remembers being stressed out, and she thinks a planner — at least a day-of planner — would have helped her feel relaxed. Cynthia & Steve, on the other hand, spent the day feeling like no plan is ever safe, and spent the day feeling like they were constantly having to adapt and didn’t know what was going on. They recognized how their planner helped on the wedding day, but couldn’t help but think that if it can go wrong even with an excellent planner, well — it still ended up alright — so how much worse could it really be without one?
Neither of these stories is really typical. Most weddings with a planner, and slightly fewer without one, go off without any real problems at all. The common less that can be learned from these though is that having and remembering a good wedding day has more to do with managing your feelings than it does about managing people and events. If you’re great under stress and comfortable with a potential chaos, then it probably doesn’t matter if you hire a planner. If, knowing yourself, you think you’re likely to be flush with adrenaline your whole wedding day just praying the bakery got your last email about bringing the cake at 4 instead of 5, then a planner might just be your best bet at having the feelings you want to have on your wedding day.
No wedding, no matter how meticulously planned, is immune to problems and delays and mishaps. If you want to be a happy person, that’s an important truth to accept while planning a wedding (or, anything else for that matter). You can and should make a practical decision regarding your budget and your priorities, but perhaps that decision should be based more on whatever help you think you need in order to have the emotional experience you want to have.