Updated: Sep 30, 2022
Congratulations on your engagement! As the excitement from the engagement begins to settle, the time comes to actually start thinking about your wedding plans. Give yourself some time to come to grips what comes ahead. Some have dreamt of the perfect wedding since childhood and already have a lot of details planned out. Others may have no idea how to get started, or plan on the fly. Either way, it’s natural and normal to suddenly feel overwhelmed by the mountain of details that come with wedding planning. And you are not alone in that! But before you stress out too much, just remember that with just a few to-dos you’re sure to start planning on the right foot.
The First 9 Steps in Wedding Planning
• Step One: Money Talks
Like it or not, your wedding plans depend on the amount of money you’re willing and able to spend. If you haven’t already sat with your partner and had this discussion, the time is now. This conversation can be both difficult and enlightening as you discover each others priorities for the big day, and perhaps their overall approach to money and saving. It is a necessary conversation regarding finances and is the only way to get some clarity on your wedding budget. This is also the time to approach anyone (parents, grandparents, etc) who may want to help contribute to your big day. Once you have a set budget you can start making decisions regarding all the other planning components.
It’s important to remember to stay within your means, because there’s never any telling how much or how many contributions or monetary gifts you’ll receive. Also remember that whoever contributes to your wedding financially will gain leverage in putting forth their opinions on the big day. Premade wedding spreadsheets offer Budget Trackers that often include items you may not have even thought about, but adds up quickly (wedding night attire, marriage liscense, event insurance, rings, etc).
• Step Two: Determine Your Guest List
After determining budget, I recommend putting together your ultimate guest list and start narrowing it down. Having an estimate of budget and guests attending will help narrow things down for when you start looking for a venue as you'll know an approximate count of how many people you need to host and what you can afford.
It's natural to want to invite everyone to celebrate in your special day, but it's vital to make your guestlist feasible for your budget. Start by making your "must invite" list, which includes close family and friends to give you a base numer. Then expand it to include more distant relatives and friends who would likely expect an invitation (never feel the need to invite someone simply because they expect an invite though!). Finally if you still have a reasonable number of guests you can begin adding in other friends and family.
It's important you decide upon certain guidelines and stick to them. For example many weddings now only extend plus ones to their bridal party, people who have been in a relationship for over a year, and maybe those who know no one there. Similarly, decide if you're interested in having children attend or if you would rather it be an adults only affair. While kids can be adorable all dressed up in photos, they can also quickly add a large cost to your wedding if everyone's children are invited.
Again, those premade spreadsheets include guestlists. I advise creating your seating chart as you narrow down your guest list, as it will help you see how people will fit and show any outliers.
• Step Three: Collect Your Guest's Contact Information
For contact information I cannot recommend Postable high enough. You create a form customized to aquire all the information you need (full name, address, email address, phone number, etc). It even gives you the option of asking for a partners name, which is extremely handy as then if when you request the information about a year prior to the wedding by the time rolls around to send out invites you'll be able to see which people have been in a relationship for over a year.
• Step Four: Start thinking about your Aesthetic
Now that you know around how much you can spend, and about how many people you’ll be hosting, you can start looking at venues. However before doing this, think of your overall vision for the day. How do you see your big day? Do you have a color scheme or theme in mind? Do you want an extravagant 5 course meal or a more relaxed vibe with food trucks? Do you see grand towering centerpieces, or a rustic chic wooden slab slice with simple florals and candles? Pinterest is a great place to start figuring out what you're drawn to in terms of centerpieces, attire, overall look and more.
• Step Five: Determine
When and Where To Say “I Do”
With your guest list figured out, budget known, and aesthetic beginning to take form you'll have a base idea on the type of venue you want. If you're looking for something rustic, a barn venue can make more sense over a traditional hall. If you're looking to have a full weekend experience, you'll need a venue with overnight accommodations.
Some venues offer all inclusive packages that include catering, cake, music, invitations, and more. Venue's like this are pricier but can help alleviate stress at the same time. If you’re opting for a backyard, park, or another affordable DIY wedding venue it is vital to ensure you price out the individual costs for catering, party rentals, music, and more.
Another thing to consider when choosing a venue is do you find a venue or pick the date (or season) first?
The answer depends solely on your vision. Unless you have a specific date for sentimental reasons (such as an anniversary, a holiday, etc.), the first step to think about is simply picking a season based off your aesthetic and then browsing venues to suit that season, and pick your wedding date depending on your venue’s availability.
It’s important to note that your date will have a significant effect on your budget. A larger venue will cost more on "in season" dates and certain days. For example, a Friday or Sunday wedding will be cheaper than a Saturday wedding. A winter wedding will cost less than a peak season wedding. An extremly well known venue will have a heavier hand in deciding on a date as they tend to book out years in advance. A backyard wedding, on the other hand, leaves the door open for whichever date your heart desires.
• Step Six: Finalize Your Bridal Party
Bridesmaids and groomsmen should be some of your main supporters throughout the wedding planning process. They’re people that you care about and trust to play a large role in your special day. However, it's important to note if those you would like to stand beside you are up to the task. I recommend having a conversation about what you expect in terms of support, as well as if they're able to commit to the financial, time requirements, and emotional responsibilities as not everyone is able to. With this conversation it's important to take their financial ability seriously, and make sure you don't assure them they'll be able to afford to be a part of your special day, only to pick out expensive dresses and insist they pay for extras such as hair and makeup.
You know your friends and family best-- choose people you can trust and that are up for the duties and responsibilities that come along with the position. It’s not for everyone, and that’s okay!
Once you have decided on your bridal party it has become common place to do an official "proposal" where you gift them some special things that also serve the purpose of helping to alleviate their financial burden. Some items often included are jewlery for them to wear on the big day, getting ready robes to get the all important getting ready photos, or even vouchers stating you'll pay for their hair and/or makeup.
• Step Seven: Find the Perfect Attire
One of the most exciting parts of wedding planning is deciding what you’re going to wear!
It's helpful to do research beforehand and to come into your appointments with some visuals to help your salesperson choose options that suit your tastes. However, while you'll probably have a billion ideas on your Pinterest it’s important to note that you'll often be surprised at what looks best on your body type. While you may be absolutely in love with the idea of a mermaid dress, you may find an A-line suits your body better. Even though you love the look of a ballgown, upon trying it on you may find the weight is simply too much to imagine being comfortable.
To this end, your bridal gown can play a huge impact on the overall choices you make for your wedding (you won't want a floral light lace gown for a winter wedding any more than a fur shawl for a summer affair). Take the season, venue location, theme, and overall vibe of your wedding day into consideration when choosing your attire. Remember that you’ll be sitting, standing, dancing, eating, and drinking—all while trying to look your best. Find something that you love, that is comfortable, and won’t give you too many issues throughout the day. Something that’s too tight, or requires lots of maintenance could put a damper on your whole day. For your appointment be sure to wear nude underwear.
Finding the perfect attire is a bit more complex than strolling into a store, picking an outfit, and storing it away until the big day. Most bridal stores require appointments and have a limit to the number of people you can bring with you. Think carefully about whose opinions you most value, and be sure to have at least one advocate to ensure your desires are heard above the opinions of others (often times a wedding planner can be helpul in this area)
When choosing a dress, tux, or even non-traditional attire, it's vital to be aware of how long it can take to actually get your finished outift. If you're not buying off the rack, bridal gowns can take monthes to create and ship, and then bridal tailoring can take several months, so make sure you give yourself plenty of time. I recommend beginning your attire search towards the beginning of your wedding planning, giving at the bare minimum 9 months before the wedding for all necessary alterations and changes.
It's easy to loose yourself in your excitement while shopping. Remember to earmark a specific attire budget, and do your best to only look at pieces that are within your budget. By telling your aid your budget upfront they will only pull things within that budget. This is vital as the last thing you want is to fall in love with something you won’t be able to comfortably afford. Start saving up prior to going shopping as you’ll be required to put a down payment on the dress (usually around 50% of the total cost).
There are so many affordable dress options out there, and there’s no reason to spend an arm and a leg. Even if you plan to buy a dress secondhand from sites such as Stillwhite or Preownedweddingdresses.com, I highly recommend going to try the dress your considering buying on in an actual store prior to purchasing, as (like I stated above) you may be shocked at how different things look on you as compared to how you envisioned them
• Step Eight: Complete Your Aesthetic Vision
Now that you have your venue and attire, you can actually begin to narrow down your aesthetic choices into a cohesive design. By now your Pinterest probably has thousands of ideas of what you like (hello to the very real Pinterest rabbit hole spiral). My advice is to begin by choosing elements that speak to you the most and go with your venue, season, attire, and the overall vibe you're going for into a condensed moodboard. Focus on the important elements-- bouquets, decor, centerpieces, color palette, theme, etc.
This is also a perfect time to reach out to a designer/decorator if you haven't all ready, especially if you're venue is DIY. While many all inclusive venues have exclusive or preferred vendors you're required to use venue coordinators are not the same as an independent coordinator. Venue coordinators main concern is the venue; setting up the floorplan, arranging the catering, etc. An independent Coordinator on the other hand focuses more on the couples individual needs and bringing their vision to life. For a DIY venue the need for hiring a professional becomes even more crucial as you will not want to be responsible for setup/breakdown on your big day-- you should be focused on enjoying it!
Based on the package you choose, your location, and how involved you want your planner to be costs for these services tend to range from $1.5