How to Start Planning a Wedding | Before the Wedding Venue

The excitement is intoxicating as there’s a rush to share the news with everyone and show off the beautiful ring. And then, the millions of questions start. When? Where? What? Who will be in the wedding party? Who will be invited? And just like that the intoxicating bliss can quickly turn to stress, panic and overwhelming anxiety that for some leads to paralysis in the planning process. After years of working with brides, I’ve heard all about this. From a professionals perspective, I began taking mental notes for when my turn came around… I’ve got this! I know where to start. I know who to call. I know when and how things are typically done… HA! Oh my! While I did have an advantage compared to most, I was still not ready. The stress of budgets, venues, vendors and guest lists settled in quickly. And things took MUCH longer than I anticipated, which added to the stress.


What I’ve Learned About Planning a Wedding:

Here are a few tips to do first before you even begin to contact vendors. I know most bride’s immediately begin looking on Pinterest for possibilities and researching dresses and venues – if they haven’t already had them picked out before the guy even came along. However, following these few steps will help make the decisions easier and preparations smoother.

Stay Organized. I recommend creating a new email address that is solely dedicated to your wedding day. Your inbox will be flooded with mail, both necessary emails from vendors and junk mail from third party advertisements. The more you search and request information, the more you will receive. If you are like me, I must keep my inbox clean and unread messages to a minimum. There have been some brides that went so far as to have a dedicated phone number just for wedding related calls. Additionally, start a wedding planner binder for all of your information, such as contracts, samples, notes, receipts and more. No, you don’t need the overpriced planning guide from the book store. There un-necessary (and somewhat outdated or false) information taking up space and not enough space for what is actually needed. Just buy a cheap 1-2″ binder, folder divides and a zipped 3 holed pouch for receipts.

Another tool that has been helpful is having a Dropbox account. All of our documents from budgets, guest lists, floor plans and more has been in 1 shared folder. I shared it with my fiancé, mother, and planner. Whenever something was updated, they received the notice. This helped so much with everyone staying included and on the same page. Shared Google docs or another cloud-based storage and sharing method would also work.

Determine your top 3-4 priorities for your wedding day. Is it having food that your guests will rave about? Having a live band or a DJ that will keep everyone, including grandpa, tapping his toes all night long? Is it looking stylish and fashionable so that you appear on a magazine cover? Or of course, is your priority to have stunning photographs and an album that will bring smiles and tears of joy for generations to come as the memories of your special day come flooding back with every turn of the page. Knowing your top priorities will also help determine how much of your budget to allocate to each one and where to save on other items. For Luke and me, this was slightly different from one another. While we both agreed on having quality photographers – obviously-, we disagreed on the size of the guest list. He wanted the big wedding with every person he knows invited. I wanted the small, intimate wedding with only those closest to us and had been fully invested in our dating relationship. Compromise must, and will, be a cornerstone to the wedding planning process.

Select 4 or 5 adjectives to describe your dream wedding. Both of you close your eyes and envision your dream wedding day with no limitations. How would you describe it in 5 words or less? Now, pair these adjectives together and narrow them down to a small handful that you both agree on. Keeping these adjectives in focus throughout every decision will help you design and plan your perfect wedding day, regardless of your resources and budget.  While the guest list was difficult, the style was an easy agreement for us – a sense of adventure is a common passion that brought us together and keeps us dreaming. A vintage travel / wanderlust theme with purple and gray accents was a quick conclusion.

Determine your overall budget and start a spreedsheet. Weddings can quickly and very easily get out of control. This is often the first major point of contention for most couples. There are so many ideas on Pinterest and you only have 1 day, so you’ll want to fit as much in as you can. If you’re not careful and keep track of your budget, you will soon realize you have spent more than you should or can.  First, you’ll need to speak with family about who will be financially contributing to the wedding. How much will they contribute? Will it be in 1 lump some to be distributed by the couple? Will they pay the vendors directly? Are there stipulations to their financial offer, such as required guests or them choosing the vendor rather than you?

Now that you know what your overall budget is and what your priorities are, you can created an estimated budget allocating general amounts toward each part of the wedding. There are several free tools all over the internet to help with this. I tried a few of them, including Weddingwire’s budget tool, apps to download, downloadable worksheets. But what ended up helping the most was the Excel standard template.

Start with your guest list. This is the second point of contention for most couples. Who is invited? Does this person warrant an invitation? Then what about this person? Are we going to hurt feelings if we don’t invite them? Why does this group need to be invited when I’ve never even heard their name, let alone met them, in the past 3 years we have been dating? How many of the parents friends are invited vs the couples friends? This part can really suck! But it is vital to determining the rest of the wedding – from location, to cost per person, to over experience for you and your guests.

When you know how many guests to expect, this will help either determine your budget if you are stuck or how to allocate a proper amount of your budget to each wedding need. Some venues are priced per guest. It is not just the food or beverage tab, but the cost of chairs, napkins, forks, plates, favors and more all add up when multiplied by the number of guests. Personally, I prefer smaller weddings of roughly 80-100 people. Going to far over 150 guests can be overwhelming for many couples we have worked with. Budget aside, we have watched it stress couples out on the day of and keep them from enjoying all of the celebrations they planned for. They felt obligated to spend ample time with each person keeping them eating, dancing, and relaxing. There were more people to interrupt their day before and after the ceremony, during portraits and more details to arrange for those coming in from out of town.

Rack up those air miles or reward points. You’re spending a lot on your wedding day. You may as well get some of it back in the form of rewards. So many credit cards these days offer cash back or travel points. Find the best one for you. It may just pay for part of that dream honeymoon. =)  Just make sure you pay it off right away so that you don’t start your marriage in debt.

Luke and I have been putting as much of the wedding expense on 1 card as possible. I already had several thousand points saved before the wedding, but we want to use them for a special honeymoon. So far, with only 1/3 of the wedding paid for, we have enough to cover a 5-star hotel in Spain for several nights. We also attended one of those travel share sales pitches. Two hours later, several firm “No’s” and we have 2 complimentary airline tickets within the US, 2 nights in that destination (to get us halfway to Spain) and 2 nights in another city for the mini honeymoon on wedding weekend.

Find Help! Planning a wedding is a part-time to full-time job depending on your engagement length. Luke and I wanted a short engagement and since we’ve been in the industry for several years, we thought this would be quick. We were so wrong! If you can afford it, I HIGHLY recommend hiring a wedding planner. If you can’t afford it for the entire process, then I most certainly recommend a “day-of” wedding planner. If you need a referral I have several I can recommend and love working with. Enlist that wedding party to help with several things- that’s part of their duties when they accept. Ask family. Delegate whatever you can!

Communication is always the key to success! Of course, it is best to be clear when communicating with each other and with your vendors. If you have a question, ask it! If you’re not 100% clear on something, speak up! If you can’t find the words to describe what you want, try images, like Pinterest Inspirations. It’s better to be repetitive than to be disappointed after the fact. This is not a day to do over again.

Now have fun planning! Don’t forget to take a few date nights as well. Leave the planning at home and remind yourself why it is all worth it.

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