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  • How to Start Planning a Wedding (The Crucial First Steps)

If you’re reading this, we’re guessing you recently got engaged. Congratulations! It’s such an exciting time and you’re probably looking forward to making the wedding of your dreams become a reality. You’re going to have a lot of fun in the coming months, we promise!

The idea of planning a wedding can be a bit of an overwhelming process. Some couples choose to hire a wedding planner to manage their plans, but there are many aspects of planning a wedding that you can do yourself with the right guidance and research.

Like pulling off any great event, a successful wedding is all about the planning. That means you’re taking the right first step to a breathtaking wedding by learning how to plan and getting down to business. 

Planning your wedding yourself can take some of the expense out of your nuptials. It’s also a great way to stay in control of the entire process. If there was one rule we implore couples to follow, it is this: start planning early and pin down those critical first steps. You’ll have many more options and it will save you from feeling overwhelmed when you get ahead of schedule. There’s several other things you can do to help your planning go more smoothly:

  • Stay organized. Use your Dream Wedding Checklist to keep track of all your must-do steps.
  • Give yourself the longest timeline possible. A year is a good time frame to plan any wedding.
  • Make sure your fiancé always feels included in the planning process. Also don’t forget to include family members if they are funding your wedding.

Start With a Wedding Checklist

 You may pride yourself on having a great memory, but there are so many details and moving parts to a wedding you probably shouldn’t rely on your memory to manage them all. That’s why it’s so important to have a checklist.

Having a checklist will make sure that you haven’t forgotten a single thing needed to make your wedding perfect. It’ll also remove a great deal of stress especially as your wedding day grows closer.

Wedding Planning Checklist Essentials

Here are some priority items that should be on your checklist:

  1. Setting the wedding date and time
  2. Reserving the ceremony and reception locations
  3. Reserving the date with your most important vendors 

These things should be locked down nine to 12 months out from your wedding day. Secondary items that should also be on your checklist include:

  • Choosing who is a member of your wedding party
  • Ordering invitations
  • Your wedding dress, hair, and makeup
  • Co-ordinated apparel for wedding attendants
  • The wedding rings with a jeweler 

It’s crucial that all of the above items are in place as early in the process as possible. With these key elements in place, it’ll give you additional time to work on the smaller details later. Set reminders for yourself with alerts that will keep you on track. Choosing and ordering flowers, doing cake tastings, getting your envelopes addressed and mailing the invitations, there’s many milestones along the way. Don’t forget fittings for dresses and tuxedos, placing your wedding announcement in local media and purchasing favors and wedding party gifts. Phew it can feel like you’re always on the edge of forgetting something. But that’s the exact opposite feeling we want for you. You should enjoy your planning time before you get married. Hence why the wedding checklist is such a key component of planning.

Six months before your big day you should review your checklist just to ensure that you haven’t missed anything. Share it with a friend or family member. A different set of eyes on your list could make the difference. There are obviously so many more things you’ll have on your list than what’s listed here. We just happen to have a comprehensive wedding checklist designed just for your wedding planning needs.

Once you’re armed with your fabulous checklist, it’s time to get down to the details. Ready? It’s decision-making time!

Set the Budget

Setting a budget is always a critical step when planning your wedding. Although it would be more fun to not think about it and go right to looking at dresses and tasting food, the budget is possibly the most important aspect of your special day. Your budget will determine what’s in your price range and what’s not. Use your planning checklist to make sure you accounted for all the different elements that will make up your wedding. It’s easy to go over-budget when you forget elements and little things can quickly add up. Here are a few guidelines to assist you in deciding on what you can afford.

Who's contributing to your wedding?

Is it just the two of you, or are your parents or other family members going to contribute to the cost? Find out who and how much as early as possible. This will be a good first step in figuring out your total budget.

Find out how much everyone who’s involved is willing to contribute, or which specific aspect of the wedding they are willing to pay for. Maybe your mother wants to pay for your dress, or grandma wants to provide all of the flowers. Sometimes a tangible item like this can make relatives more inclined to contribute. That said, be delicate and understanding with your requests and make sure they don’t come as a surprise to loved ones.

Sometimes discussing money with your loved ones can be a little awkward, but it’s something that has to happen if you’re going to set a budget for your wedding. Be prepared for some people to tell you they’re unable financially to help. It’s better to know going into your planning how much you have to work with, from there you can get creative with how to use those special funds.

Do the Math

Once you’ve established how much others will contribute, think about what you personally can spend.

  1. Think about how much you and your fiance can afford to spend without affecting your regular monthly expenses.
  2. Look at your combined income and establish a plan to see how much you can save until your wedding day.
  3. Can you responsibly draw on your savings to assist in the wedding? How much do you want to put on credit cards (if any)? Do you have a plan for paying off loans or credit card balances? 

Based on the figures you draw from the above statements, you should be able to estimate your personal budget for the event. Then add in all the contributions from other parties and you should have a general idea of your wedding budget.

But, not so fast. It’s important, no, essential to give yourself a budget buffer. What’s that mean? Without fail there will be unexpected expenses or added costs you didn’t factor in. By adding on a 5-10% buffer to your budget, you can be more realistic about your spend. This will save you that stressful sinking feeling when a surprise event causes you to go over-budget.

Number of Guests

Do you want a large or intimate wedding affair? This is a critical step. The cost of your wedding is determined by how many people will be in attendance on your special day. It’ll also be how you decide what size venue you’re going to need for the reception. Attendance also determines the cost of the food and alcohol and how much you’re going to have to provide to your guests.

Break it down into a “per person” expense and it’ll give you a perspective on the overall cost. Your number of guests will also determine how much you’ll need of other items like invitations, wedding favors, chairs, and table rentals, and how many slices you can get out of the cake! As you can tell, the more guests, the more your wedding costs exponentially increase.

You and your fiancé can create your own guest lists and then combine them into one final list. Get your folks involved if you want. Surely they have a slew of people they want to have there on your special day. Although you don’t have to invite every one of them co-workers and high school pals, the family members who are contributing to your wedding budget should get to invite some of their people as well.

An easy way to figure out your guest list is to prioritize. Assign each guest a letter.

  1. Close family and friends
  2. Extended family, additional pals, and possibly friends from work
  3. Guests you’d like to invite if your budget allows 

Once you have a guest list pared down, it’s time to compile current addresses to streamline the invitation process in the months ahead.

What are your non-negotiables? 

It’s time to talk about priorities. Do you want a gourmet five-course meal? Does your finance want a live band? These are questions that you want to discuss and figure out before the majority of your planning begins. Think about that one thing that is at the absolute apex of your wedding list of must-haves. What do you envision when you picture your beautiful wedding scene in your head?

Establish these things and then budget for them accordingly. The bigger the budget, the more things you can choose!

Once you figure out your main priorities, you can push a larger percentage of your overall budget towards them. This will give you an idea as to how much is left in the budget for less important items.

Set Some Possible Dates

You’d think this would be an easy step, but there’s more to it than just picking a day. There are several factors that you have to consider in your planning process. Here are a few of those factors:

  1. Time of year: You may already have a time of year that comes to mind. This can be a factor that helps you narrow down your options. A good idea is to eliminate the seasons you definitely don’t want to get married in. Consider your geographic location and how that will affect your guests. This leads to the next item. 
  2. Weather: You can’t control the weather, but you can factor in what it’s like in your part of the country during certain seasons. For instance, If you live in Florida, what is your contingency plan for a summer storm? If you’re having an outdoor wedding, the weather must be considered. Hot, humid, or stormy weather can really put a damper on festivities if you haven’t planned for the worst case weather scenario. 
  3. Style and Type of Wedding: The style of your wedding should help you decide the type of wedding you want to have. Casual could lead you to an outdoor wedding on a winery or on a beach. A formal wedding could bring you to choices like a ballroom or a museum setting. These will work despite the weather outside or where you live. 
  4. Vendor and Venue: Check the availability of the venues you like and then see if there is any seasonal pricing. If there is a particular vendor that you absolutely must have, check their availability and book early if possible. Photographers and planners book up quickly and it’s crucial to nail them down to your specific date. Researching the availability of these pros will also help you narrow down a specific date. 
  5. Work Schedule/Sports/Holidays: Certain holidays and major sporting events can throw a wrench into your plans. If your friends and family like football, then you probably shouldn’t have your wedding during football season. Or consider looking into the bye weeks! How much time do you plan to take off of work for your wedding? You may not want to schedule your wedding during a particularly busy season at your place of employment. Block out your vacation time so that you can take off with zero stress. 
  6. Family Conflicts: There’s no stopping you from choosing the same date as your second cousin’s anniversary. After all, there’s only so many possible dates to choose from. But if there are major events, like a close relative’s due date or your parents’ anniversary cruise, you might want to schedule your wedding for a different time. 
  7. Day of the Week: We all know that Saturday is the wedding day of choice, but it’s also the most expensive and the most hard to book, especially if you’re trying to book not very far in advance. If you’re looking to pinch pennies a bit, consider a Sunday or weekday evening for your celebration. It may not give you the full day experience of a Saturday wedding, but it also may allow you to book that venue of your dreams.

Set the Tone

The mood and tone of your wedding should be consistent. The color of the flowers, bridesmaid dresses, décor of the reception hall, and even the music are all important aspects of setting the tone of your wedding. The first step is to decide on a theme or look. This can be as simple and understated as choosing a three-tone color palette or as complex as creating a wedding inspired by one of your shared favorite books or movies. It’s entirely up to you! Deciding on this facet of your celebration early on will help you select wedding vendors who specialize in the look you’re going for.

Flowers

Once you’ve got your venue locked down, it’s time to set the mood or theme. Flowers add to the beauty and new life of your special day. You can place flowers at the entrance of the church, along the pews, and some around the altar. The bride needs a bouquet and boutonnieres can be worn by the groom and his groomsmen. Whatever kind of floral arrangements you choose will really add to the beauty of the event.

Entertainment

Music always adds to the theme of any event. The mood can be set with great playlists and songs to create a dramatic feeling through the event. Check with your DJ for suggestions. Normally they know what to play and when, but a great personal playlist that really speaks to the bride and groom is paramount. Obviously, the music will change during the evening, but it’s important that it’s always present. Chill music during the cocktail hour, romantic music for the first dance, and upbeat danceable numbers throughout the reception will only add to the festivities.

The Venue

The venue is the first thing that strikes your guests visually. Your venue can really set the tone of your event. They step into the room where your wedding is happening and it instantly becomes an indelible memory. Here are some examples:

  • A historic estate or a classic mansion works for an elegant or even a vintage style of wedding.
  • Even if the style is rustic or formal, a winery is another great location. The vineyard and acres of land lend themselves to your theme. How about a lovely rose garden for a Spring wedding?
  • Elegant historic churches hold a certain power and voice for your wedding ceremony. The lighting, candles, and stained glass all add to the mood. 

Whatever tone you choose, the music, floral arrangements, and venue always add to the celebration of the day. But how do you begin to look for your venue?

Find Your Dream Venue

There has to be a place where you can bring all of your friends and family together in one glorious place to celebrate. Here are some tips to find your perfect venue:

Talk to a planner. No matter how unique your vision for where you want your special day to take place, a planner can take your ideas and figure out a way to make them work. 

Think about a venue that aligns with your vision. You have a vision. Follow it! Do you want a cool, modern wedding? How about an art gallery, or a hip new restaurant in town. If your heart is set on an outdoor theme, a backyard, ranch, or a nice stretch of beach could work. The closer a venue matches your vision the more comfortable you’ll be in that space on your special day. 

Consider your guest list. You’re going to need a space to accommodate all of those people! If the space is too small, it will fill up quickly and appear smaller because there are too many people in the venue. Do you think that many of your guests would prefer indoor to outdoor? Have a conversation with your friends and family early in the process for assistance in your decision. 

Don’t forget your budget. It’s a bit more than simply paying for a space on a specific date and time. Think about the big picture. In-house catering and per-plate costs, décor, floral designs, and DJ services all need to be factored into the overall venue cost. 

What about all-inclusive venues? Some venues are full-service facilities that supply the space, the linens, tables, and chairs. This is all built into the overall cost. Many will also provide catering and some even have in-house entertainment. Although your spend with your venue will dramatically increase when they supply most everything, it may be a more budget-friendly option than bringing in many separate vendors, each carrying their own costs and the added fees associated with travel, delivery and set-up.

Research Wedding Vendors

Some venues may have contracts with certain vendors and suppliers. So you won’t be able to bring in any third-party vendors. Make sure you’re aware of this fact before signing off on any venue.

Make a list of all of the vendors you like as early as possible. You don’t have to lock them all down at the same time, but there have to be some priority vendors in place like photographers and planners. Think about your priorities for your special day. If live music and unique dining are at the top of your list, then you’ll want to secure the entertainment and catering as early as possible.

Go online to find your vendors. Wedding directories, blogs, and social media are all great places to do your research. Look at their photos from their events and read reviews and testimonials left by former clients. Or, you can do your research the old fashion way. Talk to your married friends and family members about vendors they’ve used in the past. See if there are any wedding fairs or expos coming to your area. Then you can meet the vendors and talk to them in person.

Ask questions! Review with vendors any and all details you may be unsure about. Ask them to take you through the process and the contract step-by-step. Keeping the communication open will lower your stress and make it easier for you to make the right decision on who you want working for you on your wedding day.

You’re On Your Way to a Gorgeous Day

Once you’ve completed all of the above steps you’re well on your way to creating your dream wedding. There’s obviously a lot more to do, but follow your checklist and watch your budget. The people you’ll be working with do this for a living. They’re professionals and you can trust that they’ll do their best for you.

Remember… it’s not about how much money you spend or how many people are there. This is your wedding day. Celebrate your love and enjoy the moment. Having a solid plan in place will lower your stress so you can really enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime special moments that are involved in the months leading up to your wedding day. These are the moments you’ll remember so keep savoring them!

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Take the Stress Out of Planning & Achieve the Wedding of Your Dreams

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