1. Come up with a timeline
As soon as news gets out that you're engaged, there's one question everyone will be asking: when's the wedding? But not so fast! There are a few things to nail down first, like what season you want to get married in and what type of venue you want. Sit down with your partner and come up with a range of dates you want to aim for. Once you have an idea to work within, everything else becomes easier!
2. Decide on your wedding day priorities
There's no hard and fast rule for choosing your priorities; every couple will have different needs and wants. Have a chat about the top three to five priorities for your big day. Maybe your partner wants great photography and you want amazing floral arrangements. These things are great to know! It just means you might need to compromise on things like cake or live music if your budget is tight and those things are less important to you. This stage is all about getting to know what you want.
3. Set a budget
Once you've nailed down your priorities, it's time to get serious about budgeting. Sit down with the person who's financially responsible for the wedding (this might be just you and your partner, but it could be family too) and come up with a realistic number. Keep in mind things like travel accommodations, stationary, day-of coordinators, or any other vendor fees you might not have initially thought of. Knowing a hard number will help make sure your decisions don't get out of hand, and it'll keep you from overspending.
4. Think about your guest list and wedding party
Before you move on to choosing a venue, start thinking about your guest list. You don't have to have this figured out just yet, but you should have a good idea of how many people you're going to invite. After all, your venue could be totally different depending on whether you want 75 or 200 guests!
It's also helpful to remember that the more friends and family you invite, the higher the cost. Services and items like catering and stationery and even florals are calculated per guest, so keeping a handle on your guest list is the first step in staying true to your budget.
Once you have an idea of who you want at your wedding celebration, go ahead and decide who you want standing beside you on your wedding day (if you don't already know!). Your bridesmaids and groomsmen are going to be your biggest supporters throughout the planning process too, and they'll be there to pick up the reins if you need a break in the planning process.
5. Two words: vision and venue
Now that you have an idea of your priorities and budget, it's time to dream up what your wedding day will look like. Look for inspiration on Instagram and Pinterest, put together mood boards, and see what your partner thinks. Here are some questions to consider:
- Indoors or outdoors?
- Domestic or destination?
- Big or small?
- Modern, boho, glam, romantic?
- Casual or black tie?
- Cozy or all-out party?
Check out venues in the area. Make a list of all the ones that might fit into your budget, and then narrow it down to three or four that really stand out to you. It's a good idea to tour at least two different venues in person, if possible, so you can get a feel for what your wedding day will look and feel like in the space.
And don't forget: Some venues have preferred vendors and caterers. So, if you have a specific delicacy or snack you want to serve, be sure to ask about this before you sign!
6. Create your wedding registry
A big part of the wedding planning process is gifting, so don't hesitate to get started on your registry early! You have bridal parties, wedding showers, and family visits to think about, and everyone will appreciate knowing what gifts you and your partner need the most.
It's worthwhile to register before your engagement party in case your loved ones want to bring gifts. But at that stage, don't send links to your registry with your invitations; just let it exist on your website or spread through word of mouth. And don’t feel like you have to register only for gifts. Experiences for your honeymoon, cash registries and charity registries are also great options to add into the mix.
7. Build a wedding website
This is where your guests can make travel plans and read all about you and your partner (and it'll also be super helpful for anyone who isn't able to attend). With all the free wedding website options out there, you can update your wedding registry information, share photos from Pinterest or Instagram, create a honeymoon registry, and even send out save-the-date emails. Other than your wedding invitations and paper invites, this is one of the first impressions your guests are going to have about you and your wedding day!
8. Firm up your venue and hire those priority services
Now that you have an idea of all the moving parts for your wedding (guest list, wedding party, visual themes, ideal food and entertainment), it's time to start making your vision a reality. Go ahead and put some money down on the venue of your dreams, then contract your vendors.
A great pro wedding team (ie, the people you hire to help you pull it all off) is key to making your wedding day run smoothly, so only work with people that you feel super comfortable with. And make sure you read over contracts in detail. You want clear expectations on all fronts, including what they will and won't provide, as well as what communication and check-ins might look like leading up to your wedding. Also, some venues provide certain things like audio equipment and chair rentals, so make sure you know who is responsible for what.
9. Decide whether you want a day-of coordinator
Coordinators are distinct from full-service wedding planners; they're only there on your wedding day to make sure things are running smoothly and all your vendors are in place. And a lot of times they make a huge difference! You won't have to be worrying about the details or stressed out over managing other people. You can be fully present, and after all, it is one of the only days of your life that all of your family and friends will be with you! Don't wait until the last minute to hire a coordinator though; they typically get booked at least six to eight months out!
10. Finalize your guest list and send save-the-dates
As soon as your venue is booked, it's time to lock down your guest list and send out save-the-dates to everyone invited. Try to give people as much notice as possible (like 9-12 months is good). And even though some advise you to invite more guests than your venue can accommodate (because some people might send their regrets), we say: don't risk it. Invite only as many as you know you can accommodate and handle. As guests send in their RSVPs, you’ll be able to better gauge as to whether you can handle more invites.
11. Purchase your wedding dress and wedding party attire
One of the most fun parts of planning a wedding is dress shopping! This should happen pretty soon after your venue is booked; you want a bridal dress in your possession nine months before the wedding day (to allow for fittings and alterations), bridesmaid dresses about seven months prior, and groomsmen attire about five months ahead of time.
12. Plan the rehearsal dinner
The rehearsal dinner typically takes place the night before the wedding day, and you want it all booked and planned out about six months in advance. Traditionally, the groom's parents pay for this, but that’s based on old-school etiquette books (and it certainly doesn’t apply if there are two brides or two grooms!).
13. Plan your honeymoon
Don't wait too long to book your honeymoon! Take some time with your partner to dream up how you're going to explore that place you've both always wanted to go. Reserve some cash or credit to book your flights and accommodations well in advance.
14. Send out the official invitations
Invitations should go out at least six to eight weeks ahead of your wedding day (more like three months prior if it’s a destination wedding). The RSVP deadline is about two to three weeks in advance. Stay on top of those dates and set internal deadlines for yourselves. It will help your wedding pro team and venue understand exactly how many people are attending and ensure everything runs smoothly on the day of.
15. Buy wedding bands and get a marriage license
Take some time perusing Pinterest and Instagram for a wedding band style you like (and make sure it matches your engagement ring!). You want your rings well enough in advance that you'll have time for resizing or customization (think roughly two to three months).
Also get (or plan to get) a marriage license! Laws vary from state to state, but many licenses have a 72-hour waiting period after they're issued, and most also expire within 90 days.
16. Confirm all the details with your vendors
Once your guests have RSVP'd, you'll have firm numbers so that your vendors can adjust accordingly. You've probably been in touch with them throughout the planning process, but it'll help to run through things one last time before your ceremony and reception. If you have a day-of coordinator, they'll probably be in touch with the vendors at this point too.
17. Get married!
The day is finally here! Everything is in place, your loved ones are all rallying around you, and your partner is waiting for you. Our best advice: be as present as possible and as you celebrate your partnership with the one you love, and bask in the support and excitement of your closest friends and family!
18. Say thank you
After the wedding and the honeymoon, don’t forget to express your gratitude for gifts and having your family and friends in attendance by sending out thank-you notes. While you’re at it, be sure to leave your favorite wedding pros an online review. Reviews go a long way in helping those businesses work with more amazing couples just like you!