How To Start Planning A Wedding: The First 5 Steps
Congratulations!!! If you’re reading this, chances are you’re one of the many couples who decided to take the plunge during engagement season. We’re thrilled for you! And we hope that you’ve had a chance to celebrate your way. As we enter the new year, many couples like yourself are getting down to the thrilling (and overwhelming) business of planning their weddings.
We understand that it may seem daunting: answering the big questions, like where and when, as well as the small ones, like chicken or fish. But it’s manageable, as long as you start early and attend to everything in order of priority, rather than trying to figure it all out at once (and when it comes to crafting the right words for your wedding, we can help).
With that spirit in mind, below you’ll find the first five things you should do when planning your wedding.
Step 1: Align On A Vision
Before you dive into the many, many, many logistics that go into planning a wedding, begin with a simple conversation — one that, for the moment, prioritizes imagination over facts and figures. Set aside time to discuss with your partner: what is your vision for our wedding?
Be as specific or as general as you like. Perhaps, you already have ideas for the perfect place, the perfect day, the perfect dress? Or, perhaps, you have more of a general sense of how you hope the day will feel: a celebration of your communities? A union of your cultures? Just a damn good party?
Whichever it is (perhaps it’s all of them!), articulating that vision at the outset will help you honor it through every step of decision-making, ultimately arriving at a compromise that makes you both feel seen.
And if you need some help defining your vision, our ceremony designer can lead you through a guided reflection.
Step 2: Set A Budget
Now on to the logistics.
First things first, you and your partner should get real about finances and decide what’s a realistic (and comfortable) budget for your wedding. It may seem counterintuitive to discuss budget before you’ve decided on a date, but we recommend doing so because starting with this figure (which, of course, may change) will inform every decision, including the wedding date, venue, and number of guests.
Outline Your Financial Snapshot
To begin, you and your partner should outline your financial snapshot — including information about current savings, debts, income, as well as any financial goals you may have. Now’s also a great time to discuss if you expect to receive any financial support from either or both families in planning the wedding. It’s important to determine not only the total amount of money you could spend, but the various sources or contributors you plan to pull from.
Set A Number (Or Range)
Once you’ve put together your financial snapshot and have a directional idea of what you could spend, you should have a conversation about priorities. Begin your preliminary research, for instance considering average wedding budgets in your state, then determine a number or range you’re both comfortable with.
With that directional number in mind, you should discuss priorities and allocate budget accordingly. For example, if the venue and catering are most important to you, you may want to allocate a larger portion of your budget to those areas. In this process, there are a number of useful tools online, including wedding budget calendars from Zola and the Knot.
Step 3: Pick A Date
Once you have a rough budget in mind, it’s time to decide on a date. While some couples elope after weeks and others have years-long engagements, most wedding planners agree that eight to twelve months is a realistic amount of time to plan a mid-sized wedding.
With that in-mind, set some general priorities: are you planning to be married this year? Next year? Which season?
As you’re deciding, you should keep budgetary considerations in mind. For instance, setting a date during “wedding season” — May to October, when the bulk of weddings take place —means that you will likely pay a premium on everything from the venue to the catering. Demand for these services peaks during summer, ebbs during autumn, and is at its annual low in winter.
After selecting the year and season, it’s time to talk specific dates. First, determine preferences for day-of-the-week, keeping in mind that weekday weddings (while not ideal for many) tend to be less expensive regardless of the season. You should also each identify any major conflicts (work, other weddings) for you or any VIP guests. Through this process, plan to come up with 3 - 5 dates that would work well for your wedding.
You can read more about selecting a wedding date here.
Step 4: Select A Venue
Now that you have a rough idea of your budgetary allocations, as well as a few dates that work well for you, it’s time to select (and maybe book) a venue.
Return to the working vision: what sort of atmosphere are you looking for? Local or destination? Religious or secular? How many people, roughly, do you hope to invite? Establishing some high level expectations and priorities like these will narrow your research to reduce wasted time and effort.
While the research process is harrowing for some and simple for others, every couple should make a few considerations while selecting their venue.
Of course this kind of goes without saying, but be sure you’ve double and triple-checked availability for your potential dates before setting sights on a venue. Particularly if you’re looking to book during January / February, at the tail end of engagement season, there may be a great deal of competition. Popular wedding venues tend to get claimed in the blink of an eye, so your #1 choice today may no longer be available tomorrow. I don’t say this to scare you! But to encourage you to have a few back-ups and to try to maintain a spirit of zen flexibility.
Ask About Amenities
Save your future self stress by asking about the amenities the venue offers and confirming that they meet your needs. For instance, do they have a catering kitchen, ample parking, and a rain plan? Getting these details locked in at time of booking is always wise.
Go See It In person
If at all possible, try to go see the venue in person before putting down a deposit to ensure it’s exactly what you want. If booking somewhere out of the state or the country, it may be advisable to have a representative go see the venue or to request a tour over video chat.
Step 5: Decide Whether Or Not To Hire A Wedding Planner
Now that you have a handle on the major logistics, it’s time to shift to the details. Everything from the dress code, to the guest list, to the dj. For many, there’s a million little things that go into planning a wedding, which is one of primary reasons wedding planners can be so invaluable.
SO, as you move on to the next stage of planning, discuss with your partner whether it feels feasible AND desirable to hire a wedding planner. In doing so, keep two considerations in mind.
Time and Energy Constraints
How much time, realistically, do you each have to put into planning this wedding — all of the research, the calls, the contracts? Depending on work and personal considerations, as well as your tolerance for stress, a wedding planner may prove to be a massive relief.
For many, a wedding is the first large event they’ve ever planned. Therefore a wedding planner with years of experience may be able to flag concerns or considerations that wouldn’t have otherwise occurred to you. But even if you decide against a wedding planner, it’s advisable to enlist a friend or family member who has more experience planning a big event — even and especially if that “big event” was their own wedding. What are the greatest tips they can impart? What, if anything, would they have done differently?
Expense and Savings
It’s worth mentioning that while wedding planners obviously work for a fee, they may actually save you money in the long term — as they will likely have relationships with vendors as well as general know-how that allows them to get discounts across the board. Of course, this depends on the planner themselves, so feel empowered to ask them directly: what kinds of deals can you get me?
Compare this, along with the time and energy you’ll be able to devote to other things over the next year or so, to the expense to determine if it’s worth it.