Last year, Seth and I planned our surprise wedding in a matter of four months. Still, to this day, I have people come up to me and ask me questions about how we planned it, what made us want to do it and about our friends’ reactions to the surprise. I have people all the time tell me how cool of an idea they think it was and wish they had done the something similar when they got married. I swear there are people who think I am even cooler than I am because of it! But truth is, I’m really not that cool – I’m just somebody who found somebody else, who then had a couple of babies together, who then decided together was really the only place worth being and who then chose to throw a surprise party for all of the people we love to thank them for being there for us. It’s really that simple.
But since I do get so many questions and compliments, I wanted to share a bit more about planning the wedding – the pros and cons, the wins, my few regrets and some tips for those who, or may know someone who, is looking to do something not so traditional for their own wedding.
Let’s start with cons.
How do we get everyone we want to the wedding without spoiling the surprise? This ended up being the #1 con of throwing a surprise wedding. There was just no way of talking everyone into coming without telling them we were getting married – and even then, it’s hard on such short notice. 99% of the people we really, really wanted there were there – we were incredibly lucky considering the event was at least a two hour drive for 90% of the guests. But had we told that 1% we were actually getting married, they would have been there and unfortunately that was part of the price we paid for keeping the surprise a surprise.
The intricacies of a surprise party on steroids. Planning a surprise party for one or two people is one thing, planning a surprise wedding for 90+ guests is basically insanity and I wouldn’t recommend it unless you work well under stress, were an event planner in your last life (like me) or just really LOVE surprises. Seth and I weren’t traditionally engaged when we started planning our wedding, so we couldn’t just plan an engagement party as a cover like all of the stuff (approximately three weddings) I had seen online. We had to figure something else out.
We ended up using an event we were already in the midst of planning and added to it the lure of a proposal. To everyone else the “proposal” was a secret to me, so we were basically using a surprise to cover up for a bigger surprise. It was a lot – still fun, but A LOT. All of the event communication, questions etc. had to go through Seth – and secretly come to me second-hand. We had to keep track of all the little different conversations Seth was having with everyone, most of the time he was so worried he’d say the wrong thing that he spent time dancing around questions and inquiries, I had to layout in detail what Seth should send to my friends, the details he should give them, who of my friends to reach out to (some he’d hardly met), we had to think through accommodations, keep track of everyone’s travel plans, figure out how we were going to coordinate everyone’s schedules without them knowing what was going on and ensure everyone (unknowingly) in our bridal party was wearing something they’d feel comfortable standing up in. Our friends’ main concerns were what if she says no? (I’ve never really been the marriage type) and how the hell are you going to do this without completely fucking it up? (men aren’t elaborate planners). In retrospect, I wish I would have documented the planning just so I could share with everyone how hard we laughed about how seriously concerned some our friends were.
TIME IS AN ILLUSION. Weddings and big events generally pass too quickly but our wedding day LITERALLY passed in the blink of an eye – if not quicker. Seth and I were on such a tight timeline, with SO MUCH to get done to be ready for the wedding that we didn’t have time to enjoy any of the build up. We got the keys to the venue at 7:00am Friday morning, we had to buy all of the booze, decorate and set up and be out of the venue to meet and greet our friends by 1:00pm. My bridesmaids-to-be and I had nail appointments scheduled for 1:00 – I got there close to 1:30, sweating, reeling from a breakdown I had had on the way there about not having time to make my flower crown and overwhelmed with all sorts of emotions. As the ladies started to show up, I got so anxious about sharing the news that I wasn’t really able to enjoy our time together either. At 3:00ish, after our nail appointments, we all walked around the corner to one of my favorite college bars, order drinks and cheeseballs and I handed out the cards asking them to be my bridesmaids. Thank GOD I have tape of that because that moment gets sweeter with each day that passes. As soon as they all found out, it was a scramble to leave the bar, get back to the hotel and get ready. We all met at the venue around 5pm and the rest is a historical blur.
NOW FOR THE PROS.
This list could go on and on because I fall more in love with the entire thing with every day that passes but we’ll try to keep it short.
The seriously awesome fun-to-cost ratio. Throwing a surprise wedding gave us a lot of freedom to bypass a lot of traditional wedding costs. No one was expecting a wedding so we had more room to be creative and laid back. We had a dear friend marry us. We booked a pavilion in a city park which cost substantially less than a formal wedding venue and allowed us to bring in our own food and drinks. We booked a food truck which was cheaper than all of the catering we looked at AND gave our guests the ability to order whatever they wanted and as much as they wanted. With the money we saved on the venue and catering we were able to splurge on what really mattered: our DJ and our booze. We set up booze and beer tables and let the guests serve themselves which was a huge win in both convenience and cost since we didn’t have to hire bartenders or servers. We were also able to budget in a visit from my alma matter’s pep band to play the fight song since it was the Friday night before Seth and I’s alma mater’s rival football game, in my college town (GO HAWKS!). That was probably the highlight of the night, after the initial surprise of course. In total, we spent right around $6,500 (!!!!) and that’s probably being generous. It was probably the cheapest wedding I’ve ever been to by far, and I’m biased, but it was fun AF.
THE WEDDING WAS 100% US AND OURS AND THE BEST FOR US. In my experience, it’s so easy for an upcoming wedding to get bogged down with everyone else’s expectations and opinions and unsolicited feedback but since nobody knew we were getting married, ours was all us. To the way we planned it, to the people we included and invited, to the food, to the venue, to the music and the booze, the decorations, the money we spent and how we spent it – it was all our decision and everything we could have wanted.
SURPRISE! The planning of the surprise and keeping everything in wraps was A LOT to handle BUT the surprise was totally worth every second. When we decided to do this, Seth and I wanted to be together and when we looked into our future with the boys, we saw a family. But for us our family isn’t just the four of us, it’s us and our families and our friends and their families. Our wedding day was for us just as much as it was for all of those people we consider family, whom we’ve loved and who’ve loved and supported us, so getting to surprise them and thank them for being there for us while sharing with them this special occasion, was probably the truest representation of what we value and who we are. We didn’t ask anything of anyone other than to be there, and we both very much approach our friendships that exact same way, so it wasn’t really a surprise that we had 80+ guests and I really couldn’t imagine getting married any other way and having it make as much sense for the two of us as this surprise wedding did.
REGRETS + TIPS
I only have a couple of regrets.
1) I wish I would have planned it differently so that we could have enjoyed more of the day.
2) I wish we would have either splurged on a photographer or videographer OR really made a point to ask the guests to take more photos. I’m a picturefanatic and we had an art student take photos for us, they were great but having a seasoned photographer who would have pushed us to get a couple key group photos (i.e. ONE OF ME SETH AND THE BOYS – ugggggh) would have been great. I mean, this is the best picture of Matty from the whole thing… (stud).
- Be sure before you go down the road of planning a surprise wedding that you, too, are ready for a couple of surprises yourself. There are so many risks and unknowns to planning a surprise wedding – what if no one makes it on time? what if everyone finds out? what if they all wear t-shirts and jeans (and you’re in a suit)? What if they all show up in suits and dresses (and you’re in jeans and a t-shirt)? WHAT IF NO ONE SHOWS UP?! Be flexible and optimistic or it will never be worth it.
- Surprise weddings are getting more trendy but it’s very common for older generations not to understand the draw or the point. If you tell your parents ahead of time, like we did, be prepared for some pushback and if you don’t tell them ahead of time, be prepared for a little confusion.
- Make sure your vendors understand what’s going on and don’t be afraid to make sure they do. We had great vendors who were super proactive and excited about the event, they asked a bunch of questions and we could tell they wanted to be a part of the surprise and it was really reassuring the day of to know we were all on the same page.
- Price linens and glasses to buy, we did and they were WAY cheaper than renting. Granted we had 120 champagne glasses and about 80lbs worth of table linens after the fact but honestly, still worth it.
- Think about ordering flowers in bulk online or at places like Whole Foods the day before – again, way cheaper than florists.
- Since we were having a surprise wedding, we were able to lower costs for things like food and DJ because it was really easy to frame it up like a party. You would be surprised (or maybe not) by how much people will price-gouge you as soon as you say the word “wedding”.
- If you’re going to buy 150+ mini bottles of champagne, make sure you don’t forget to do the toast otherwise you will be left with 100+ bottles
- Don’t be worried about people getting pissed because you didn’t tell them it was a wedding and, therefore, they didn’t show up. My motto is if they want to be there, they’ll be there and in this case, if they absolutely couldn’t be there, they’ll know better than to hold it against you. BUT if this is something you’re really worried about, maybe a surprise wedding isn’t for you.
AND FOR GOOD MEASURE UNTIL NEXT YEAR, let’s all dream to our wedding song…