You found that special someone you want to wake up with every morning. That’s definitely something worth celebrating. If you haven’t already, sing it from the roof top. Flash those bright smiles and that new bling on Instagram, call your favorite people, and get excited about the journey you are about to take together.
Your wedding day will likely be the most complex party you’ll ever plan. You’ll get no sugar coating here…It can be overwhelming. Here are 5 simple steps to kick off your planning and get on the right path.
1. Set Your Priorities
How do you envision your wedding day? What elements are the most important for you? Sitting down with your fiancé and having a candid discussion about your priorities is key to successful planning.
Here are some factors to consider.
Are you planning to marry in the city that you and your fiancé’ live in? Do most of your family live outside of your city or state? Have you dreamed of a magical destination wedding on the beaches of Cabo or under the golden light of Joshua Tree? Selecting your wedding location is a personal choice but will likely be heavily influenced by the people in your life that you love most. If you have grandparents who have difficulty traveling, selecting a location close to them may be important to you. Or if you are planning in a post-covid world, selecting a great vacation destination may be what you and all your guests are swooning for after months in quarantine.
Season & Date
Once you’ve nailed down that location, consider the season and the corresponding weather. Are you envisioning light filled gardens in the spring or snowy mountain backdrops with cashmere wraps for your guests to keep warm. Maybe you are planning your date around holidays to ensure guests have the opportunity of a three-day weekend for easy travel?
It’s one of those questions that I ask all my clients. If you had to name the most important aspects of the day, what would they be? Do you want amazing photographs and video to document the day? Maybe inviting all of your sorority sisters and extended family is a must. Would you rather splurge on florals, food, or a live band. Sit with your fiancé and make a separate list of your top three items. In a perfect world, you have the exact same list, but if not, there is likely some overlap. Together, with some love and compromise, you should be able to decide on the factors that are most crucial to making your day a joyous occasion.
2. Outline a Budget
As mentioned earlier, this is likely the most complex party you’ll ever plan. It’s also likely the most costly. The truth of the matter is, it will be hard to set a budget in the early planning phases. For now, focus on the things you can control.
First, determine who is paying for what. Are your parents covering the bill or are you and your fiancé funding the celebration. It’s important to pull together everyone who’s planning to contribute and have an open and honest conversation about money.
Secondly, you’ll need to refer back to your list of priorities. What elements of the day did you decide were most important? If you’re dreaming of stunning photos in that Marchesa gown and he’s psyched about a five course plated dinner, you may want to allocate a higher percentage to photography and catering. In addition, if your parents are contributing, you should share your thoughts about the importance of those items.
Craft a rough draft of your budget, listing out all the relevant elements of the day. You can utilize online budget guides, including those listed below, but keep in mind, these listed amounts can vary and often leave out important costs including planning, vendor tips, travel fees, and the honeymoon.
3. Define your Style
“The most memorable weddings reflect the couple’s personalities from start to finish” – Darcy Miller, Editorial Director at Martha Stewart Weddings
Look for inspiration from within. What makes you, as a couple, unique? One of my sorority sisters met her husband while in college during a spring break trip to Vegas. She lived in Nashville and he lived in Minneapolis but traveled often for work. Their first year of dating was long distance. They took turns traveling and meeting up in various cities. By the time of their wedding, they had traveled through more than 20+ airports. They took that inspiration and ran with it. Instead of table numbers, each table was designated with an IATA airport code and short statement about that particular trip and why it was memorable.
Do you have pets? Do you gravitate to earth tones or a vibrant spring palette? Maybe you prefer ice cream over cake? Check out this article in Martha Stewart Weddings which asks 20 Questions That Make Planning Your Wedding Easier….So much easier.
4. The Guest List
How many guests you have at your wedding is the likely the largest determining factor in your overall budget. The math is simple. If you are catering to 200 guests vs. 75, your costs are going to be substantially higher. Maybe you’re considering a micro wedding and inviting only close friends and family. If your parents are fully or even partially funding the event, they will likely have an opinion on the list of attendees. Draft your list along with your fiancé and have your parents, if needed, create their own separately.
Take time to consider who makes the list – Immediate family, extended family, close friends, co-workers, your college roommates, high school friends, neighbors. Don’t forget to make decisions about kids and plus ones.
5. Select Your Big 3 Vendors
Now that you have a rough budget in mind along with the knowledge of what is most important, you should begin researching your Big 3 – venue, photographer, and planner. It is likely that at least one of these items fall somewhere within your list of priorities, however that’s not why they’re considered the Big 3. No, these guys top the list because it is essential to book them early. Yep, these vendors often book anywhere from 9 – 16 months or more in advance.
At this point, you should have a general location in mind. Research and visit venues that fit your overall vision of the day. Many venues host open houses 1-2 times each year showcasing several vendors. Follow all the regional wedding magazines in the area to keep on top of any such events.
The most valuable thing you will walk away with on your wedding day is your marriage. Coming in a close second, is the documentation of this special day. You’ll spend months planning every detail, but long after the last crumb of cake is eaten, the champagne toasts, and the final dance will be the imagery of the day’s events.
You should consider working with a planner. As you are probably beginning to gather, weddings are a huge undertaking and having a seasoned professional in your corner, helping you navigate these twists and turns will prove to be a tremendous help. Keep in mind that planners have various levels of service from day of coordination to event planning and event design. If you know with confidence that a planner is the right fit, hire them first and utilize their expertise to assist in finding each of your vendors.
Having these 5 elements under your belt should give you a solid foundation to begin planning the biggest party of your life. My best piece of advice is to slow down and enjoy the process – Happy Planning!