A Practical Wedding

Creative Ideas for a Beautiful, Affordable, and Stress-free Celebration


By Meg Keene

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A companion to the popular website APracticalWedding.com and A Practical Wedding Planner, A Practical Wedding helps you sort through the basics to create the wedding you want — without going broke or crazy in the process. After all, what really matters on your wedding day is not so much how it looked as how it felt. In this refreshing guide, expert Meg Keene shares her secrets to planning a beautiful celebration that reflects your taste and your relationship. You’ll discover:
  • The real purpose of engagement (hint: it’s not just about the planning)
  • How to pinpoint what matters most to you and your partner
  • DIY-ing your wedding: brilliant or crazy?
  • How to communicate decisions to your family
Why that color-coded spreadsheet is actually worth it
Wedding Zen can be yours. Meg walks you through everything from choosing a venue to writing vows, complete with stories and advice from women who have been in the trenches: the Team Practical brides. So here’s to the joyful wedding, the sensible wedding, the unbelievably fun wedding! A Practical Wedding is your complete guide to getting married with grace.


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I first wrote this book in 2011. You might remember this as the Time Before Pinterest Exploded. But for me, it was a year and a half after our wedding, and I had been publishing APracticalWedding.com for three years. At the time, the wedding industry was in a terrible moment. I mean, it’s the wedding industry. It’s never really been a beacon of sanity or progressive values. But 2011 was a particularly dark time. We were coming out of the depths of the Great Recession, but every wedding publication in existence assumed that people getting married had piles and piles of money to spend, a professional wedding planner, and a baseline desire to look like a puffy white cupcake. They also insisted on constantly using the phrase “Your Big Day,” a term that made me upset then, and still makes me upset now.

I wrote this book while simultaneously riding the high of our amazing wedding and feeling enormous rage at the wedding industry. Apparently, I was far from alone. When I first pitched this book, publishers told me nobody would want to read it. The brides publishers imagined—and they never imagined anyone but brides—wanted binders filled with endless lists telling them how to have a huge wedding where they could feel like princesses. (Were they imagining brides, or confusing them with four-year-olds? It remains unclear.) But with more than one hundred thousand copies of my books sold, and countless dog-eared pages passed from hand to hand, we can now prove that they were wrong all along. All of which gives me the opportunity to update this book for today’s (still kind of terrible, but now with different issues) wedding industry.

Over the past eleven years, I’ve stayed on as editor-in-chief of APracticalWedding.com, which has gone from a blog being written at my kitchen table to one of the largest wedding publications in the English language. I’ve been quoted in the New York Times, on NPR, on BuzzFeed, and, well, in pretty much any major publication you can think of, on how to have a reasonable wedding. I even wrote a second book called A Practical Wedding Planner (which you should get because it has all the detailed wedding information you desperately need, but that no one else wants to provide). In short, in the years since I wrote this book, I’ve gone from a person who writes about weddings to a professional wedding expert.

Coming back to this book as a bona fide wedding expert has been an interesting experience. In this edition, I’ve worked to share my hard-earned knowledge of why the industry is such a hot mess. But more than that, I’ve tried to provide you with tools to circumnavigate that (or to at least be firm in the knowledge that you’re the reasonable one). I’ve also updated it to reflect the way the wedding industry has improved—because, believe it or not, things are getting better. These days, you no longer have to struggle through buying a bridesmaid dress in white to get an affordable wedding dress, because there are major retailers that sell exactly that (with free returns). I like to joke that in my day, you used to have to walk uphill to your wedding in the snow, and these days you can ride your quirky bicycle built for two in your hip wedding jumpsuit, singing all the way.

And that’s kind of true. But the unfortunate downside is the enormous pressure put on couples to personalize every single aspect of their wedding. Now you can’t just wear a puffy white cupcake dress; you need a super-personalized wedding outfit that reflects your authentic personal style and says something profound about your relationship. That pressure to hyperpersonalize is really the same as the pressure to have a cookie-cutter wedding, just in a different form. It means more work, more money, and even more pressure to seem relaxed and chill, like you’re doing it all without breaking a sweat. Spoiler alert: doing it all while appearing to expend no effort has never been a good look on anyone.

Beyond that, the wedding industry still has so many blind spots. It focuses on white, straight, thin, gender-conforming, able-bodied, wealthy women. That means if you don’t fit that mold, it can be hard to find the resources you need to have an amazing wedding that reflects who you are.

While writing the second edition of this book, I reached out to tons of my favorite people to talk about those very experiences, with the hope that it makes every single human who picks up this book feel less alone.

Because you, the person holding this book right now, you are going to have a wedding that is amazing and exactly what you need it to be. In the pages of this book, you’ll get to figure out precisely what kind of wedding you and your partner want, and then how to make that happen… with as few tears, fights, and credit card applications as possible.

Let’s make some (wedding) magic.

Meg Keene  

Oakland, CA



What Really Matters

Here is what everyone fails to mention before your wedding: Getting married? It’s huge. It’s bigger than you ever expected or imagined. It’s life-changing. And having done it, I can categorically say that it is not about the cute cake, or the glamorous dress, or the luscious flowers (though each of those things can be really fun). It’s not even about the beautiful ceremony site or the packed dance floor. It’s about something more monumental than all of that. It’s about the look on your partner’s face as you walk down the aisle. It’s about that moment when you exchange rings and somehow transform love into matter. It’s about how vowing to care for your partner for the rest of your life, in front of a group of witnesses, subtly changes you. It’s about seeing your most unsentimental friends openly cry. It’s about the feeling that sweeps over when you fully realize that you have so many people you love in the same room at the same time (or a handful of people you love the most circling you in the courthouse), and that they are all there to celebrate the massive commitment you are making.

A whole industry is set up to sell you a beautiful wedding; it’s set up to sell you how things will look. But what matters on your wedding day, what you will remember until you are old and gray, is how it felt. The carefully crafted details are, in the end, just that: details. They barely hit your radar screen on your wedding day. The things that stick with you are those that you could never ever plan. For me it was the four-year-old daughter of our lifelong friend who dressed herself in bright red cowboy boots and an enormous pink hair flower; the wedding dress from the 1950s that I stumbled on in a vintage shop at the last minute; my husband’s oldest friend holding my bouquet while I put on my makeup; feeling our lives intertwine as we circled each other under the huppah; laughing as everyone shared stories.

But as wonderful as the wedding can be, planning it is one of the most complicated and loaded processes of modern adulthood. Getting from newly engaged all the way to your wedding day while staying sane and solvent sometimes feels impossible. The process of negotiating things like faith, money, family, and tradition, all in a very public way, would be difficult in the best of circumstances. When you add the enormous cultural pressures of the modern wedding, you can get something akin to disaster.

I assume that if you are reading this, you are probably engaged. That means you are in one of two places. You’re in the first stages of bliss and excitement: Whole life together! Wedding to plan! Sparkly new ring (perhaps)! Or you’ve moved on to stage two—where you realize that planning even a sensible wedding is going to cost two to three times what you expected, and going to take five to ten times the effort that it reasonably should. Oh. And then there are the expectations. The endless, conflicting expectations.

A cursory glance at a wedding magazine or etiquette book will give you an idea of where the expectations are coming from. First of all, there are the lists. Every book or wedding magazine has lists—lists ordering that you immediately do this, lists forcefully suggesting that maybe you should start doing that, mile-long lists of activities that you need to complete if you want to be a Proper Bride. Worse, these books claim to have both etiquette and tradition on their side (they have neither, but we’ll come back to that), which ends up making you feel more than a little inadequate and crazy.

The average wedding planning book will talk you through everything you ostensibly need to know, in mind-numbing, illustrated detail. It will talk you through your fabric choices for wedding dresses (which is fascinating until you realize that, although gainfully employed, the only wedding dress material you can actually afford is inexplicably a poorly manufactured polyester—even though you were pretty sure what you needed to have was French lace). It will talk you through what kind of chairs (or chair covers) you need, every flower that you must know before you pick out your centerpieces, and generally all the things that Must Be Done or everyone will be Horribly Offended.

If the expectations ended there, we would be more or less fine. Half insane, but generally fine. Wedding websites can be ignored; charlatans selling monogrammed favors under the guise of etiquette can be scoffed at. But the problem is, expectations run so much deeper than that.

First of all, and most simply, there are our own expectations. After years of seeing weddings with lines of matching bridesmaids, piles of expensive food, and all-night dance parties, most of us have a small outline in our heads of what we want: a silk wedding dress, letterpress invitations, pretty flowers, good food, and a wonderful party. That’s not so hard, right? This won’t be that expensive, right? Well. If only.

Then there are the expectations of our parents. Our parents want things. They want reasonable things. They want to see us tremendously happy. They want to not be embarrassed when they invite friends, whose children’s lavish weddings they have been attending for years. They want to look like a happy and normal family at this, the pinnacle of public family life. The problem is that “normal” and “not embarrassing” in Wedding Land have come to look a lot like a banquet room at the Ritz and a slowly melting ice sculpture… that, and a giant wad of cash you no longer have.

And finally there is Everyone Else. Unless you have thrown a wedding or had a baby, you have not met Everyone Else. All those neighbors and coworkers and people at the post office? Before, they were just people we saw sometimes. Now they are our Greek chorus. “Let me see the ring! Ooooohhh, it’s big! You must be thrilled!” “How many bridesmaids are you having and what are they wearing?” “What are your colors? You have to have colors!” “Now, try not to spend a down payment on the wedding dress, little lady, no matter how much you want to.” “Aren’t grooms the worst? They just can’t help out to save their lives!”

The problem with expectations is not the sentiment behind them. People genuinely love weddings, want to see you happy, and want to chat with you about it (God bless them). The problem is when expectations slowly strip you of your capacity to do anything other than what is prescribed. And what is prescribed tends to be massively expensive and stressful enough to give you a need for mood-altering drugs or a hankering for a nightly whiskey.

But here is the kicker: everything we’re being sold as What We Need to Do for Tradition’s Sake has little to nothing to do with the kinds of weddings our grandmothers had or, more dramatically, that our great-great-grandmothers had. One hundred fifty years ago, most Americans were still getting married at home, in their parlor, in their best dresses, holding a prayer book or an embroidered handkerchief. One hundred years ago, most weddings had moved to the church, with only some brides wearing white, and the union was often celebrated by a tea party or a wedding breakfast. As for our grandmothers’ era? Well, my grandmother took a taxi from Alabama to California at the end of World War II, since the trains were not running for civilians, and got married as soon as my grandfather was released from a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp. She wore the one white satin dress she could find in the store, and her attendants were the nurses from the naval hospital where my grandfather was being treated. Other than the white dress, the cake, the flowers, the vows, and the ring, there is next to nothing in modern wedding traditions that my grandmother would recognize, let alone approve of.

How do we plan a modern wedding while keeping our souls and our sanity intact? I suggest that we do so thoughtfully, and carefully, with an eye to both actual history and tradition, as well as to our relationships. In the past twenty years, weddings have become shockingly homogenized. The list of musts has grown longer and longer, threatening to take both the couple and their finances down with it. If we scale back to the level of formality and expense that our grandmothers and great-grandmothers would approve of, and then add and subtract from there, we might make it through alive, and we will have a better chance of remembering what this party is about. That, and we’ll have the ironclad justifications of actual history, and actual tradition, on our side.

So, here is a love song to the sensible wedding, the joyful wedding, the unbelievably fun wedding. Here is to the repopularizing of the courthouse wedding, the backyard wedding, the at-home wedding, the picnic wedding, the punch-on-the-church-lawn wedding. Here is to weddings that are both simple and stylish. Here is to figuring out what you actually want, and then having the guts to stick to it. Here is a handbook to get you to the other side, solvent and sane. Here is a how-to guide to get your wedding back to basics: a fantastically fun party to celebrate the day on which you start your marriage.

Because the real point of your wedding day is to end up married. Married, with grace.

Meg Keene   

San Francisco, CA



Getting Started

Here We Go…

You’ve just gotten engaged! You’re thrilled, your families are thrilled, and your friends are giddy for you. So, what should you do next? Well, nothing. Nothing except tipsily sip champagne and passionately kiss your partner. Take some time to enjoy being engaged. Celebrate.

When people start asking you about the wedding, tell them, “Oh, goodness, we’re just so excited to be engaged, we haven’t even thought about that yet.” Then, when you’ve spent at least two weeks enjoying the feeling of glee and bliss, you’re ready to start the planning process… slowly.

In this chapter, I’ll walk you through the first steps: finding your way through the process of being newly engaged, dreaming up ideas for your wedding, and then slowly aligning those dreams with reality (without losing any of the joy). If you learn nothing else from wedding planning, my wish for you is that you learn to say “yes” to what makes you happy and a kind but firm “no” to things that are wrong for you. And if you can remember during this whole planning process that all you really need is the man, the preacher, and the dress (or the woman, the officiant, and the stylish pantsuit)? Well, you’ll be halfway to wedding peace already.

Joy: Yes, It’s Fundamental

I know what you’re thinking: joy? This is the first subject in a wedding planning handbook? Yes, my friends, it is. Because joy—full-throated, fully present, vibrating joy like you’ve never felt? That is what your wedding is about. That is the “why” in this planning process, and that is always, always the goal.

While our wedding day wasn’t the best day of my life (nor was it perfect), it was one of the great joys of my life. When I showed up on my wedding day, I made the conscious decision to let everything go and just be as present as I could be (we’ll discuss how to actually pull this off in Chapter 8). In almost every single wedding picture, I’m grinning my head off. Britta Nielsen, who married on family property in Washington State, described her wedding this way: “There was dancing and ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and fireworks. I saw nothing but grins in every direction. I’d be hard pressed to think of a happier day.” When you look back at your wedding, you’ll want to remember how happy you both were. You won’t care too much about how the details looked; you’ll care about how you felt. So, it’s important to focus your planning on things that will make you a nonstop-grinning ball of happiness.

Yet somehow, in the world of weddings, very little ink is spilled on joy. We see a lot of pictures of the couple looking beautiful, and the decorations looking quirky and artful, but very few pictures that show the two people getting hitched with heads thrown back, grinning, eyes twinkling with delight. Anna Plumb, who married her scientist husband outside of a rock and minerals museum near Portland, Oregon, told me, “Before we got married, I thought that I would sob my eyes out during the ceremony, but mostly I laughed. Almost all of our photos show my mouth wide open in laughter or the two of us grinning like idiots at each other.” While it’s impossible to know if you’ll laugh or cry during your ceremony, you should focus your planning on things that make you feel delighted and alive. Because if what you are able to give your guests is yourself in your purest form, if you are able to lead them by joyful and relaxed example, then you are giving them the greatest gift you can give. Your wedding will be one for the history books—not because it was the prettiest party that anyone has ever seen, not because you played by all the rules and hit every single mark, but because it was so real, so true, so indescribably full of joy.

Remember what your wedding is: a celebration. It’s a reason to rejoice. And it’s as simple and as complicated as that.

The Real Purpose of the Engagement

You’re about to spend the next few months being feted because you found the right person to settle down with. You may have more than one party (engagement party, bachelorette party, wedding shower—to be discussed in more detail in Chapter 5) topped off by the one party to rule them all. You will swim in a pile of place cards, tulle, flowers… and spreadsheets and stress… while you plan your wedding. This can be, by turns, fun and overwhelming, but it is not the purpose of the engagement. The real reason for the engagement is to adjust to the idea of forming a brand-new family unit and making a major life transition. This period is about getting to know your fiancx’s family in a different way and to allow you and your family of origin time to work through the inevitable changes.

Oh, and to fight.

The other reason for your engagement is to give you time to yell at each other, or to, um, gracefully hash out the big issues. It’s better to yell your way through how you will set boundaries with your mother-in-law now than to fight your way through it the week following the wedding after suddenly realizing you don’t see eye-to-eye on this at all.

Being engaged is not just about planning a wedding. Yes, you’ll want to try on killer wedding outfits and make the perfect dance mix on Spotify. But this is also a time to focus on your relationship and discuss your shared dreams and goals.


  • "Keene offers couples of all faiths, ages, budgets and sexual orientation a wise and well-written hands-on guide for navigating the complexities of etiquette and cultural expectation. (Five Stars)"— Portland Book Review
  • "Expect a big-hearted, broad-minded, super smart low-down on the indispensable practicalities of getting married."
    Book Page
  • "In this sane and comprehensive guide, Keene guides partners through every step of marriage, from announcements to thank-you notes -- all with a decidedly realistic stance. This 2011 classic is a must-buy if not already owned."— Library Journal

On Sale
Dec 17, 2019
Page Count
240 pages

Meg Keene

About the Author

Meg Keene is the creator of APracticalWedding.com, the ultimate wedding planning website for independent-minded brides. Her work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, CNN.com, Glamour, Chicago Tribune, Feministing.com, and more. She lives with her family in Oakland, California.

Learn more about this author