Despite what Pinterest may lead you to believe, the most important part of how to plan a wedding doesn’t begin by choosing the finer details. Instead, successful (and less-stressful) weddings happen by taking care of the larger tasks early. That way, you set your sights on the major aspects of your event, and work your way down to the small stuff.
Ready to learn how to plan a wedding? Take a look at our guide.
How to Plan a Wedding
Announce your engagement
Announcing an engagement has taken on a whole new meaning in the social media age. Whether you’re planning a creative reveal or simply updating your status, let your closest friends and family know first – non-virtually.
Share your ideas
Without getting into details or money, have a conversation with your fiancé about what’s important to each of you. Do you envision a tropical destination or a wedding at home? Do you imagine an intimate gathering, or a crowd of all of your acquaintances? By the end of the conversation, aim to establish a date range for the big day.
Communicate effectively while making big decisions
Once you have a rough idea of what your wedding day will look like, talk with your partner about budget. Establishing what you can and are willing to spend will help you paint a bigger picture of what is possible.
When making decisions, especially those related to a considerable amount of money, disagreements are inevitable. Keep an open mind, celebrate what you do agree on, and be ready to compromise with your spouse on your budget, location, guest list, timeline. After all, marriage is all about compromise – so consider this great practice.
If your parents are interested in helping foot the bill, ask them what they are willing to contribute. Right away, have an open conversation of what that means in terms of their say in the details of the wedding. This way, you’re more likely to avoid arguments down the road as to who gets the final say.
Many couples keep a wedding binder, but there are also endless apps and online services that can keep you organized, as well – try Appy Couple, WeddingHappy, Loverly, or Plan the Day. No matter how you stay organized, keep track of names, addresses, vendor information, important dates, timelines, and budget – in short, everything.
Most importantly, know yourself. If your world is digital, put your to-do list online. If you aren’t a DIY-er, plan to purchase or outsource most of your decor. And if you just don’t know how you’ll get it all done, hire a planner.
Put your guests first
Guests should be a huge consideration when selecting your venue location. Keep in mind the expense some may have to shell out just to get there, as well as the mobility needed to do so. You want your closest friends and family in attendance, but you don’t want to put them in an uncomfortable financial situation. So before booking your beach nuptials, check in with those guests you can’t say “I do” without and be sure they’re comfortable and able to make the trip.
Narrowing down the guest list can be one of the hardest parts of planning a wedding. However, it’s also one of the the easiest ways to save money. Again, communication and understanding with your future spouse is critical during this process.
Your guest list also goes beyond your big day. Those who’ve attended your engagement party may be expecting an invite to the wedding. The wedding rehearsal dinner and day-after brunch are traditionally reserved for the bride and groom, their immediate families, and the wedding party, but some couples are opting for opening up the weekend celebrations – especially for those guests who have traveled far to get there.
Choosing your wedding party
While weddings are all about joining two people, there’s no denying the joy of being surrounded by your closest friends. When it comes to choosing wedding party, ask the friends who you’d like to join you, and consider asking siblings of your fiancé. Select as few or as many as you’d like, but do be upfront and honest with your wedding party from the very start about what you expect them to do and pay for as a part of your special day.
Hiring an officiant
You know who you’re marrying, but do you know who is marrying the two of you? Many couples choose either a minister, rabbi, or other religious officiant whom they know from childhood or family relations. If you’re expecting a friend to help you say your ‘I dos,’ make sure to ask them far in advance and have the certifications they need.
Deciding where to say ‘I do’
To some, ceremonies are of the utmost importance. Other couples may view it as the necessary step before the real party at the reception. The wedding’s location often determines the ceremony venue; hometown wedding’s often happen in the bride or groom’s family church, and a destination weddings are often barefoot on the beach. The officiant, religion, and vows are all ways you can make your ceremony your own.
Finding your reception venue
While there are many important pieces in the puzzle of an ideal reception space, the biggest requirement is that its capacity can handle your guest list. Once you’ve narrowed down your list of reception spaces, you’ll want to establish any rules and regulations that the space has, such as catering options, rental hours, event insurance, and inclement weather plan (if applicable).
Dealing with vendors
Some venues include their own catering services, but in many cases, you’ll be bringing in outside vendors to cover different aspects of your event. When making arrangements for the cake, flowers, and equipment rentals, be sure the plan for delivery method and scheduling is established from the start.
Hire a photographer
Capturing the memories of your wedding day is a crucial piece, and it’s important to find a reputable photographer in your area (and videographer, if you wish) that has a style you love in a price range you can afford. Great photographers book up far in advance, so put this task near the top of your list.
If you’re dealing with sticker shock, experts suggest getting the photographer you really want, and cutting back on hours you hire them, versus settling for a full day with a less-expensive hire.
Design, purchase, and send invitations
Even in the age of smartphones and e-vites, paper invitations still reign supreme for their timeless look and tradition. There are always local resources for beautiful paper invitations, as well as online options, like Minted and Paper Source – all of which involve working with designers and order samples. You’ll want to mail your formal invitations 6-8 weeks before your wedding, so allow enough time for editing and ordering (and addressing!) beforehand.
Contract with a caterer
You’ll need to provide an estimate on headcount, budget, and style of which you’d like the meal to be served. From there, explore local catering options and their menu choices, service options and contracts. With services like food and bar catering, gratuity is generally included upfront and in the contract. Bartenders should be tipped 15% of the end-of-night bill. As a courtesy, you’ll want to factor in meals for your musicians, photographer, videographer – you don’t want them to get sluggish.
Testing wedding cakes and desserts is a true treat when planning a wedding. Try a few different bakeries, and provide the winner with plenty of advance to create your cake.
The music dictates the mood of your evening. Cost and preference generally determines whether couples choose a band or DJ. Reputable wedding bands can be hard to find for under $2,000, while DJs typically fall in the $700-$1,000 range. In either case, establish an agreement on how long they’ll play, how many breaks they’ll take, and select songs you’d like for special moments for the evening.
Looking to save on the music costs? Consider using a “wedding playlist” on a low-cost streaming service, such as Spotify. Ask one a member of your wedding party or a diligent attendee to manage the important musical moments – like your first dance.
Consider equipment rentals
If you need something that your venue doesn’t provide, there are plenty of third party companies that rent additional equipment, such as CORT or Classic Party Rentals. Use them for chairs, tables, linen, tents, lighting, portable restrooms, even decor.
Consult a florist
There are no shortage of options when it comes to flowers. You could visit a local florist to arrange flowers for your big day. They will take into account your wedding colors and season to help you pick the best floral arrangement that meets your budget. Or, consider saving big by using an online service such as itsbyu. Just select your arrangements online, receive the supplies by mail, and arrange the flowers using their detailed online tutorials.
Plan your honeymoon
After the wedding, will you take an international vacation for a few weeks, or a mini-moon to a nearby bed and breakfast? Will you go right after the wedding, later in the year, or use any allocated honeymoon funds for something else entirely? Include your opinions in your early-on wedding planning with your spouse.
Planning a wedding can seem like a daunting task. However, establishing the basics and having a plan for tackling the big tasks makes the road to your big day much smoother. With a solid checklist and a bit of research, you can be on your way to planning the wedding of your dreams in no time.
Featured photo by Zivile & Arunas.