By Rebecca Benjamin
Newly engaged? Congratulations!! This is such an exciting time – but it also comes with a lot of decisions! So where do you start? First, establish what is most important to you and your soon-to-be spouse. Is it having amazing food? A stellar dance party? An intimate, meaningful ceremony? This will help guide your wedding planning process and make sure you are spending money and time on the aspects of your wedding that matter most. Then, you can start on these next steps!
Setting a Budget
This is one of the not-so-fun parts of wedding planning – but so important! Setting a budget early on ensures that you don’t end up paying more for your wedding than you’re comfortable with and that you don’t spend too much on an expensive venue or photographer and don’t have the budget left for what’s really important to you! So how do you start a budget? Do some research and build your ultimate wedding – what would it cost for you to have EVERYTHING you could ever want? Compare this to what you and your fiance are able to spend. If the amount you’re comfortable spending is less than the total for your ultimate wedding (it almost always is), identify what is most important to you – is it the food? Having a large guest count? The gorgeous venue you’ve always dreamed of? Then, identify what isn’t so important to you – would you be just as happy with a barbecue as a 4 course meal? Don’t care too much about having a big dance party? These are the places to save money.
Creating a Guest List
Creating a guest list will help to narrow in your options based on your budget. The larger your guest count, the lower your per person cost will be. The largest wedding cost is typically food and beverage – and, of course, your amount of guests will change this total cost! A guest list will also help you pick a venue that will fit your wedding. If you have your heart set on 300 guests, a venue that only fits 150 is way too small! You can trim your guest count, but you’ll lose out on celebrating with a lot of people you care about. On the other hand, a venue that fits up to 500 guests will feel empty with 150 guests.
Selecting a Venue and Setting a Date
This is definitely an important first step in your wedding planning journey that allows many of the next steps to fall into place. Looking for your perfect venue? This blog details how to find and select your wedding venue! Setting a date is included in this section because having a flexible date means there is a much higher chance of the venue you want being available!
Book Your Vendors
You have your budget, guest list, venue, date, and wedding vision – so who is carrying out this vision? Vendors! This a list of common vendors couples hire – you and your fiance pick the ones that you need!
- Caterer – if your venue doesn’t provide catering, you’ll need to hire an outside caterer. Think about who is providing appetizers, dinner, dessert, late night snacks, beverages (non-alcoholic and alcoholic), plates, silverware, and glasses.
- Wedding Planner/Day-of Coordinator – A wedding planner works with you and your fiance during the planning process to help you hire other vendors, design decor, and make sure all of the planning details are taken care of. Hiring a wedding planner is a great option if you will have a lot of additional rentals and vendors (chairs, tables, linens, decor), if your venue does not have an on-site coordinator or if you have a very limited amount of time for planning. A day-of coordinator typically works with you and your fiance a few weeks before the wedding and works day-of to help set up decor, troubleshoot any issues, move your gifts/guest book/place cards, and anything else you need on your wedding day. A day-of coordinator is a great option if you would like professional help throughout the day – since they are a professional, they can help to fix issues before they even happen!
- Photographer/Videographer – These vendors can book out far in advance, so if you have a photographer in mind you’ll want to book quickly! Keep your budget in mind when looking at photographers and videographers though – there is a wide range of prices for photography.
- DJ/Band/Musicians – First, you’ll have to decide what type of musician is best for you. If music isn’t a huge priority, you can always make a playlist you love and then hook up your phone to a speaker! If you adore live music, a band may be for you. If you just really want an awesome dance party, a DJ is perfect! Check with any of these vendors what’s included – some DJs include ceremony, cocktail hour, or dinner music, some don’t. Love live music, but looking to save some money? Hiring a violinist/pianist/harpist for your ceremony can give you your live music fix without the cost of a full band for the reception.
- Florist – Decide whether you will be putting your flowers together yourself or if you will be hiring a full service florist. This decision will depend on your dream for florals at your wedding – do you want a complicated, cascading bouquet or a simple hand-tie? Elaborate centerpieces or only greenery on the tables? Be honest with yourself about what you can do yourself. Fresh flowers can’t be done ahead of time, so make sure you have the time and energy (or someone does!) to put together all of your flowers the day or two before your wedding and the ability to store and transfer them to your venue safely.
- Decorator/Decorations/Rentals – What is your wedding vision? If you picture beautiful candles and greenery on every table but no extra draping, hangings on the wall or ceiling, or additional chair covers or other items, it’s totally possible to do your decor yourself. If you have your heart set on lanterns hanging from the ceiling or a flower wall, a decorator is probably a good idea. Run your ideas by your venue coordinator – they will know if the decorations you are considering are attainable in the space without a professional decorator. There are also multiple companies that offer decor rentals – glasses, runners, chairs, arbors, etc. These can be great options to look into to add a special touch to your day!
- Stationary/Invitations – Invitation suites typically include Save the Dates, a formal Invitation, RSVP Card, and a Details/Accommodations Card. If your wedding is taking place in a hard-to-get-to location, directions are also important. Include basic directions from a few major roads that your guests may be travelling on. If your wedding day is more of a wedding weekend, a weekend itinerary is also a good idea. Just make sure that you only include events that the recipient is invited to (i.e. don’t include the rehearsal dinner that only your bridal party and immediate family is attending!).
Questions to ask your vendors:
- “Do you charge any travel fees?” If the vendor you are looking at is traveling (even only an hour!), ask about travel fees. Vendors tend to charge for mileage or airline tickets and these can add up.
- “What accommodations do you require?” If your vendor is traveling far, they will likely require a place to stay the night of your wedding and possibly the night before. Do their accommodations have to be on-site? Within 30 minutes? Also, do they require meals on the wedding day? Just dinner, or do they require breakfast and lunch as well? Make sure these costs are factored in to your total cost estimation.
- “How many hours does this price include? What is the price for extra hours?” Make sure that the time you hire a vendor for will work for your wedding. The hours you need depends on your vision – a 6 hour photography package works great for a couple that doesn’t care about getting ready photos, has a smaller family, or a shorter event. It won’t work for a couple who envisions having photos from the very start of the day through last call.
- “What is your policy if your time runs long?” Weddings are unpredictable! If any delay happens, you don’t want your vendors leaving before big moments! There is likely an additional cost for extra hours, but you should be clear about what that cost is and how it will be charged.
- “What is your deposit? Is it refundable?” Make sure that you can afford the deposit that is required and that you are comfortable with the refund policy (most vendors have non-refundable deposits).
- “What is the payment plan? When is full payment due?” This is important to know! If you are planning on saving up over the course of the next year but full payment is due in 6 months, this vendor may not work for you! You can also ask about alternative payment methods.
Identify Day Of Duties and Assign
There are going to be things that have to be done on your wedding day – and you can’t be the one doing them! Wedding planning involves quite a bit of preliminary work, but of course there are just as many responsibilities and tasks day-of! Identify what these things are – placement of centerpieces, moving gifts to a safe space, making sure vendors have showed up on time, receive any deliveries, etc. Then, think about friends or family that you think would be happy to help. Ask them to help with specific tasks – take photos of how you want the centerpieces to look, include a list of all items each person is responsible for, and give them a timeline for when you need each task completed. This makes it less stressful for you and them – you both know it will be done how you envision it! If you have any vendor payments to be given day-of, give envelopes to one person who you trust. Each envelope should have the vendor name on it and you and your fiance’s name with a date. Paying with a check rather than cash also protects you if one of the envelopes is lost.
Now the fun part – go get married!! Enjoy your day. You’ve earned it after all this planning!
Write Thank You Notes
Within two weeks of your wedding, you should start to write out thank you notes. Start slow – write 5 every night and you’ll be done soon without overwhelming yourself! When you open your gifts/cards, make a list of who gave you what so you can personalize your thank you notes.