I got married a few months back. It was cool. I mean, it was the best day of my life and all that, but it was also pretty stressful. Okay, make that very stressful. Weddings are funny things -- you only get one (or maybe two), but you learn so much from the first it's almost like you should get a second go at nailing it. Here are all the hard lessons I learned, so you don't have to.
Weddings are expensive. I know you know that, but they are more expensive than you think, even if you already think they are really expensive. Whatever your initial budget is, double it, then add 50 percent. And it's not really the amount of guests that makes up the bulk of the costs -- it's the dress, shoes, suit, hotel, yadda yadda... which you'd be paying for regardless of whether you had 20 or 200 guests. My wedding was small because I am emotionally inept and would have dropped dead from anxiety if I had heaps of people there, so it was more about that than saving money, which is good because I don't think we saved any.
Omitting it's a wedding (to suppliers) doesn't really work. Prices are pretty standard for, say, table and chair hire, or cutlery rentals as stated on hire/event websites, so pretending it's for a birthday or a family reunion is pretty pointless. Also, suppliers are not dumb; they can smell a bride through the phone.
The wedding industry is pretty cliquey. And not always nice. A supplier will ask where your dress is from, where your cake is from (I didn't have one), what flowers you're having in your bouquets (I didn't have one), and judge you on your answers. They like to try and establish the calibre of wedding in their head and will decide if they like you accordingly. This does not apply to all suppliers. I left one very rude dress shop, crestfallen, only to enter another that turned out to be lovely and warm and accommodating, so I gave her several thousand of my dollars.
For the sake of your sanity, have your reception at a restaurant. I curse myself every day for choosing an obscure venue (a school). We had to have every single item brought in -- every teaspoon, every ice cube, every light bulb. And we had to ask someone to stay until all guests had gone to lock up. And we had to go back the next day and take it all away when really we should have been rolling around in all of our money from our wishing well. Which brings me to...
Wishing wells are totally cool these days, despite what your parents think. Old folk think it's rude to ask for money as a gift, but in these "modern times" most couples already live together and don't need another toaster. Some couples list bank details on their invite so guests can transfer money, which is safer (wishing wells can get stolen), but I think it's a bit tacky. A handwritten card and cash is the norm.
You make up the rules. Some of our wedding was very traditional, other parts not at all. Our invite didn't say it was a wedding, we had no cake, no bouquets and no cars. I had two bridesmaids and one brides-man, who all wore black pants. Contrary to tradition, a large group of adults do not need to dress identically (just in case you find it creepy, like I do).
Some religions stipulate banned wedding dates. For example, we were to wed in a Greek Orthodox ceremony which was great for me as it wasn't in English, had background singing and crowns (I like crowns). After several meetings with the father he then realised our wedding date fell within Lent, during which Greek Orthodox marriages are prohibited. This threw a spanner in our wedding works, which was resolved by an Anglican ceremony instead. Not what I wanted, but God is boss (in Church).
Prepare for the most narcissistic period of your life. Or maybe second; only to being pregnant. Because people are generally nice, and caring, they ask you about your wedding. And because you most likely encounter lots of people each day, you get asked about your wedding. A lot. You'll develop an autoplay speech detailing the ceremony and reception location, dress, honeymoon...
You do not need 18 months to plan a wedding. Unless you enjoy the above-mentioned narcissism. I've did it in four months and Khloe Kardashian did it in eight days.
You will get wedding insomnia. Because you feel guilty for forcing your fiancé into a dinner suit he will never wear again when financially it would have been better just to buy a regular suit. Do people even wear dinner suits? What's the difference between a dinner suit and a tux? A tux has tails, right? Lets just go with the dinner suit. We'd better return the others. Where is the receipt? Oh, look, its 4 am!
You will develop a personality disorder whereby you swiftly alternate from thinking "It's our wedding! It only happens once! Buy all of the things! Spend all of the money!" to thinking "Oh my god, this is so much money, just for a wedding, it's just one night, we could have bought a property", to "Oh, look, gold plated cheese knives...".