After all of hugs, congrats and bling-sharing are over, you and your fiancè are left with a lot of questions. Where do you even start?
#1 – Sit down with just your fiancè
Take some dedicated time to sit down and discuss exactly what kind of wedding you want to have. Don’t talk details – think big picture. How do you picture your wedding experience? Maybe you’ve always wanted a destination wedding in Italy, and he’s always wanted a big, at-home blow-out. One of you might be dreaming of a romantic, candle-lit evening ceremony while the other thinks getting married in a sun-drenched field is ideal. Discuss what kind of day you want – the weather, the level of religion, the size of the party, the type of party, all of it. Don’t worry about costs, locations, etc – the point of this first step is to get a general plan together so you can have a shared vision for your day. Planning a wedding is practice for planning a life – this is your first opportunity to learn how to compromise together.
#2 – Money rears it’s head.
Now that you are both on the same page for what kind of wedding you want to have, it’s time to figure out how you are going to make that happen. There are two big tasks here: Determine your number of guests and determine how much money you are willing to spend. Find out how many people your parents will want to invite, how many you will want to invite. Assume about 10% of that guest list won’t be able to come (more if you are planning a wedding far from most guests). Also have a frank discussion with your families to find out how much they are willing or unwilling to contribute.
Of course the secret of this step is that these two factors are linked. The more guests you have, the more money everything will cost you. The less money you have, the less you can do for your guests. Finding that fine balance between the two is the ticket.
Don’t start chopping your budget up into categories yet – that will come later.
#3 – Not so fast!
So, now you have a rough guest count and an overall budget, you might think the next step would be setting a date or starting to search for venues. STOP! Before you start any of that, take a moment to consider what sort of planning experience you want to have.
This was the big mistake I made with our wedding – I skipped this step, and continued to ignore it, until it was too late.
Are you a naturally organized person? Do you have the time in your existing schedule for a part-time job? (Planning a wedding is at least that equivalent) Do you have people to help with the projects, parties and other tasks? How do you handle stress? Do you have other goals before your wedding day – buying a house, getting in shape? What are the demands of your job – will you have time for appointments, phone calls, etc? Will you be in other weddings during this time period?
I’m going to lay it out frankly for you – it is a VERY RARE bride or couple who can truly handle planning their entire wedding and still maintain a normal life, enjoy the process and have their plans go successfully.
I was bull-headed about our wedding and we did it all ourselves. I didn’t get to enjoy my engagement – all nine months were hectic, stressful, filled beyond capacity and a total blur. If I could do it again – I would be smarter and hire someone to handle all of the things I didn’t need to do myself so I could, oh, have time to buy a dress to wear to my bridal shower. It is the best money you can spend.
Give yourself the gift of enjoying your engagement and hire someone. Saying yes or popping the question didn’t make you a planning expert. This is an important day and a crucial time in your relationship – treat it with the same respect you give your hair. Hire a professional. In some capacity. Wedding planners and designers are available in a wide range of capacities – from someone who can totally take over for you, to a one-time consult. Whatever level you choose to invest in – make sure it includes someone who will be there on the big day to turn those dreams into reality so you and your families can be emotionally present for the experience.
#4 – What Matters to you Most?
So, now you have a vision, a rough idea of your guest count and an overall budget, and you’ve made appointments with a few planners. To get the ball rolling, you will need to decide just what is most important to you about your day. Is it the music? The location? The photography? The food? Write down all of the things you want to have for your wedding (go ahead, dream big) and then rank them (do this together!) in order of your priorities. Everyone has a different set of priorities, and you need to have a clear idea of what yours are.
Once you have a list of priorities – start with the top of the list. The availability and money required to meet those priorities are what come first. Now is where you can start parsing out your money into different categories – because you will base those amounts on what it costs to meet your priorities and what you are willing to sacrifice to meet those wants. And, you’ll be setting a date based on what is non-negotiable for you. Let’s say you really wanted a certain band for your wedding – that is your top priority. Contact them first – find out their schedule and their rates. Set your budget for the band at their rates, and then start looking at venues and other high-priority vendors who are also available on the dates your band is.
Keep in mind that venues, photographers, bands/djs and caterers are the first to book up their calendars – often a year or more in advance. Whether you have them at the top of your list or not – you don’t want to be left with no choices.
A few final words (because this post isn’t long enough yet).
This is just a starter on planning. There is more that comes after these four steps. If you’ve taken my advice with #3 – you’ll have a guide for that.
I’ve seen and been inside of a lot of weddings – successful, disastrous, just okay, and truly incredible. A few things are universally part of every successful wedding:
-Your marriage is more important than this one day. The planning process is meant to challenge you and your families – to help you see how to work together for the future. Keep that in mind with every discussion and choice.
-A couple that has a clear vision, idea and purpose in mind for their day, and who shares that wholeheartedly will have an awesome day.
-Don’t set your budget for an item – food, photography, etc – until you have educated yourself on what those things typically cost, and what you will want. Do your research. An arbitrary number isn’t a budget – its a guess.
-You don’t have to do anything. It’s your wedding – do it the way you want to do it. Make it your own.
-Think critically about how you want to look back on this day and this time of your life – create the memories you want to have.