Congratulations on your engagement! Such an exciting time can also be a stressful one with months (or years) of planning on the horizon. Planning this once-in-a-lifetime event is a massive undertaking, and because most people enter this process without any prior experience, the need to simultaneously learn all the ins-and-outs of the wedding industry and make important decisions on the fly can be overwhelming.
As a wedding planner with more than 7 years of experience curating weddings across the US, I’ve seen everything from backyard elopements to extravagant, no-expense-spared multi-day celebrations. I’ve picked up a few tips and tricks along the way.
Here’s what you need to know: there are seven main categories to consider for the typical wedding. Venue, Catering, Entertainment, Decor, Attire, Preservation of Memory and Guests. Every wedding is as unique as the couple it commemorates, so there may be additional things to plan for or entire categories to disregard, but these are the seven that apply to a vast majority of nuptial events.
Read on for a few tips to get started on your planning journey!
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How to Start the Planning Process
Before you set foot in a single venue, before you start shopping for a dress or decor, and before you start making the guest list, sit down with your significant other and decide what kind of wedding you both want: intimate or large, local or destination, kid friendly or child-free. Remember, this day is to celebrate both of you and it’s important to get clear on the expectations that each of you have of this milestone event so you can be on the same page throughout the whole planning process.
The very next step is to calculate your budget. Where is the money coming from? Are your parents or in-laws contributing? If so, how involved do they expect to be in decision making? The idea is to get a clear figure in mind and figure out who gets a say in how to spend it. If someone else is involved in paying for the event, they may want to make sure they get to influence the guest list or the style of wedding dress they are paying for. At the end of the day, it is your wedding, but be prepared to make some small concessions in exchange for financial help. Once you’ve got a budget on paper, you’re ready to start tackling the main categories.
What to Book First
This may surprise you! Many people believe that finding a venue is the very first and most important category to tackle. While finding a place to carry out the event is indeed imperative to hosting a wedding, one of the first things you should consider is actually how you would like to preserve the memory of your wedding day.
Though it takes months to plan, the actual wedding is here and gone in a flash. On the day-of, you’ll be outrageously busy spending hours getting ready, greeting guests, saying your vows, and then tearing it up on the dance floor. Make all the planning and preparations worth it by hiring a photographer to capture important details. Your wedding only lasts 24 hours, but your wedding photographs last a lifetime.
According to Sussex Wedding photographer, many wedding photographers are booked several months (or years) in advance! They can only photograph one weekend at a time, after all. Finding the perfect photographer to immortalize your day can be difficult if you wait too long in the planning process. Once you have a budget and a date, find a photographer with a shooting and editing style that you absolutely love. Send an inquiry immediately (even if you don’t have a date in mind, being flexible can sometimes work in your favor! You can figure out things like venue and guest count later). You may also want to capture all of the most important moments of your wedding day on film. You hire someone to do this for you just like stunning cinematic quality wedding films done by talented Portland wedding videographer from DJ Cutt Entertainment. As with all of your vendors, make sure you are prepared to pay a deposit at the time of signing the contract to lock in your date.
How to Create a Guest List
A guest list can seem like one of the largest projects to tackle. It is labor intensive, emotional, and can be downright exhausting–but only if you let it. Spreadsheets are a tried-and-true tool beloved by type-A brides and wedding planners for this exact purpose.
To use a spreadsheet to help with your guest list, start by listing relational categories across the top row – parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts & uncles, cousins, family friends, work friends, school friends, childhood friends, friends you’d like to invite from community groups, etc. These will create columns that you can take turns filling out – first one then the other – and color code according to which side the guest comes from, bride or groom. Make sure to account for spouses and plus-ones (if you’re allowing plus-ones, that is). Once you’re satisfied with your entries, sit down and edit the list together. Is it too long? Maybe re-evaluate a few of the guests with whom you don’t currently have a close relationship. Have some extra space? Get with your parents and in-laws to see if they would like to invite a few guests. The spreadsheet will come in handy again later when it’s time to make a seating chart or decide how many tables you’ll be needing.
Once you have a guest list (or at least an approximate guest count) you’re ready for the next steps! Start booking tours at venues, make tasting appointments with caterers and bakeries, select invitations and wedding props such as wedding sparklers and decide if you’d like a DJ, live band, or string quartet for reception entertainment. Make sure you have enough tables and chairs rented for all the guests and that your vendors will have everything they need for a successful wedding.
Think about the overall feeling you want your event to have and make sure you stick to it for a cohesive theme. Work on a day-of timeline. Start with your ceremony time and work backwards if you get stuck. Once you have the first half of the day worked out, go back to the ceremony time and work forwards to allot appropriate time for cocktail hour, golden hour photos, and all succeeding reception events like the cake cutting and traditional dances.
Select your bridal party (if you’d like one) and get an affirmative that they are all ready and available to stand by your side on your big day. Gather your closest friends together for dress & suit shopping, and while you’re at it, plan the pre-wedding events. An engagement party, bridal shower, and bachelor/bachelorette parties are all optional parts of the planning process, but more often than not you can recruit a member of your bridal party to assist you in executing these smaller types of events leading up to the wedding.
Above all else, remember this: it’s just one day and not worth losing your sanity over. It will be beautiful simply because it’s a celebration of your love. The rest is just icing on the cake! Plus, once you get the ball rolling on the first few categories, the pieces will start falling into place. Planning is as simple as organizing things into categories and checking off boxes on a to-do list. The more you plan ahead, the more easily you will be able to relax and enjoy the flow of your wedding day. You’ve got this!
About the Author
Shelby Baker is an American wedding-planner-turned-copywriter. After 5 years of traveling across the United States as an executive event planner, she joined a beautiful Midwestern wedding venue as an in-house event manager in 2021. Since retiring from wedding planning in 2022, she has enjoyed transitioning into a full-time writer and exercising new skills.