You just got engaged, and now you’re wondering where to even start? While it can be overwhelming trying to figure out how to plan a wedding, it can be simplified into just a few steps. We’re not saying it’s going to be easy, but with a clear-cut roadmap, a lot of organization, and a partner to help you along the way, you can definitely do this!
No matter if you have a year or a few short weeks, here’s how to plan a wedding in 10 steps.
1. Figure out Your Budget
The bad news? Most weddings aren’t free. In fact, the national average cost of a wedding last year was just under $30,000, according to real wedding data. The good news? You can spend as little or as much as you want on a wedding. You just have to set your expectations.
Sit down with your partner and come up with a realistic wedding budget that you feel comfortable spending. Whether that’s $5,000 or $50,000, it has to be a number that you can afford. You don’t want to dig into important retirement savings or rack up credit card debt. Once you figure out that number you’ll need to stick to it no matter what. Especially when it comes time for the next step…
WGM Says: We go over the specific prices you can expect to pay for each vendor and more in our self-guided wedding planning e-course, The Wedding Class.
2. Come Up With Your Guest List
Grab your computer or your favorite notepad and create two columns (and have your partner do the same). On the left, write down the names of family members and friends that you would invite to your wedding if budget was no object. On the right, list the names of family members and friends that HAVE to be at your wedding no matter what. This would include your parents, siblings, besties, etc.
Once you get that core group figured out, you can start adding people from the left column as your budget allows. If you want to invite 200 people but only have $2,000, that’s going to be hard. A 20-person guest list at that price (if you want to feed them) would still be tough but do-able if you go very casual with food.
On average, you can expect to pay at least $100/pp for food and beverage alone. That number can go to $200-$300 in some major cities. All of this is before you add on costs for photographer, dress, music, etc. One of the most important things to remember when thinking about how to plan a wedding is that every guest adds to your bottom line.
Get a Head Start on Your Guest List with Minted
As you put together your guest list it’s a good idea to start getting your contacts organized. Minted allows you to easily store your contacts not only so you can send them your future wedding invites, but also for your holiday cards, shower announcements, and more. Missing a guest’s address? With Minted you can send free Digital Address Cards to guests which will effortlessly collect their info and automatically store it in your Minted address book.
3. Find Your Venue and Book Your Vendors
Anyone who has planned a wedding will tell you that finding your wedding venue is the hardest part. (That’s why I started this website, so I could share wedding venue reviews for every location I saw.)
You have two options when starting your venue search: 1) If you think you’ll want to hire a wedding planner now is the time to do it. That’s because most great wedding planners have a list of wedding venues they know and love, and can get you started seeing venues that fit your budget. Or 2) After you’ve done your initial web search (IE: best portland wedding venues) and social media hashtag search (IE: #miamiweddingvenue) head to wedding websites like ours and Style Me Pretty for real weddings. Once you narrow down your area if you see a wedding that looks gorgeous, check out the vendors listed, including the venue. This is one of our favorite secrets for finding the best wedding venues.
Once you find your wedding venue, trust us when we tell you everything else will fall into place. You’ll be able to lock in your date, which means you can begin to actively look for all your other vendors. And don’t forget to get your wedding venue’s “Preferred Vendor” list. Vendors that work with the same venue time and time again are known to consistently do a great job. Plus, they’re trusted enough by the venue that they feel comfortable recommending them. That’s a win-win and not a recommendation to be taken lightly!
WGM Says: Vendors love recommending other great vendors, so be sure to ask vendors you love for the names of vendors THEY love, too.
4. Start Your Wedding Website and Send Your Save the Dates
By the time you get to this point you should have set your wedding date and finalized your guest list. (To see what else you should do within this timeframe, be sure to check out our helpful wedding checklist.) Next, you’ll want to start spreading the word to those guests you haven’t told already.
Your wedding website will become your main way to communicate with guests. This is where you’ll share info about your wedding events, the people in your wedding party, wedding registry info, as well as even have your guests RSVP. (Read our review of the best wedding website builders to decide which one is right for you.)
Minted is one of our top wedding website choices. They offer free wedding websites (with custom urls for only $15) that offer a universal guest list, hundreds of designs, photo and video galleries, password protection, RSVPs for multiple events, and more. The best part is you can match them to your wedding invitation suite, which it’s time to start thinking about.
As soon as you have your date it’s never too early to send out Save the Dates. (Check out when to mail your wedding invitations here.) However, now is the time to start thinking about your wedding colors and “vibe.” If you want a cohesive look, you’ll want to think about matching your Save the Dates (and wedding website) with your actual invitations, so the more time you can spend thinking about which colors you want to go with now, the better.
Get a Free Minted Sample Kit
Experience invitation paper types and colors first hand with one of Minted’s free sample kits. You can even get a personalized Save the Date sample with your photo and details to see exactly how it will look before you order.
5. Create a Wedding Registry
No matter if you’re having a small wedding or big, guests are going to want to give you gifts. Do yourself a favor and set up a wedding registry now so you don’t end up with five of the same platters from that store you would never shop in.
Don’t want traditional gifts like towels and dishes? No worries! You can set up an online wedding registry that offers a mix of things, or even one of these honeymoon registries for that dream trip you’ve been wanting to plan forever.
6. Go Shopping for Attire
This is when the fun part begins! Or does it? I have to say that wedding dress shopping was not all “champagne and dreams” for me, so it helps to have a sense of what to expect before you set out to find “the one.” In fact, you can actually read what I wrote about my journey and what nobody tells you about wedding dress shopping.
After trying on anywhere from 1-20 dresses, however, you’ll finally find the gown (or pantsuit, or tux) that you feel great in, and it will all be worth it. Just remember the cardinal rule: If it doesn’t fit you now, don’t expect it to later. Do not buy a dress that you will have to modify your body to fit…it’s the other way around! Chances are you’ll have to alter any dress or suit you buy to fit your body like a glove, but planning on a diet to fit into it is not the way to go. Save yourself the stress and shop for your beautiful self, right here and right now.
WGM Says: Be sure to tell your bridal boutique or tailor your wedding date. They should be able to give you a series of dates for fittings from there.
7. Think About Your Wedding Day Decor
Even if you don’t want to go over-the-top designing your wedding with a ton of decor or flowers, you’ll want to create a great atmosphere. To do this you’ll need a few key things:
Many DJs offer uplighting as part of their package. I love amber uplighting combined with lots and lots of candles (real or fake) if your venue allows.
A central focus on your tables:
Be it flowers or fruit or books with cloches on top, centerpieces add a pop of color and texture to your table.
Table Numbers are Decor, Too!
Don’t make your table numbers an afterthought. They’re not only practical (they tell guests where to go) but they can provide extra texture and color to your tables, too. We love that Minted offers table numbers designed by independent artists with free table number printing.
Yep, you read that correctly! I’m a huge proponent of splurging on great wedding chairs, as they can help elevate your room. Instead of white plastic folding chairs that come with the venue, if you can make room in your budget to splurge on an elegant chiavari, bistro, or acrylic ghost chair, the result will be beautiful.
8. Come Up With a Unique Wedding Playlist
If music is the soundtrack to our lives, then your wedding’s playlist should win for Best Performance. Take time to think about songs that have meaning to you both as a couple now, or those tracks that you want to remember in the future. Key moments to think about include your processional (the song you walk down the aisle to) and your special dances, like your first dance wedding song and father daughter dance song. For the rest of the day’s music, trust your DJ to help create the mood and flow for your event. They are there to help you figure out how to plan a wedding you’ll remember, and music is such a big part of it.
9. Figure Out Your Seating Chart
Just when you think the most annoying parts of figuring out how to plan a wedding are done, the dreaded seating chart arises. Unfortunately there’s no way around it. And no, we’re not a fan of open seating, and we explain why. Thankfully there are some great online seating chart tools that will help you plan. However, some sticky notes and a large piece of construction board will work fine, too.
WGM Says: Don’t forget to order your place cards or seating chart once your RSVP’s roll in. Minted has a great assortment that you can match to your invitation suite for a cohesive look.
10. Appreciate Every Moment
Your wedding day will inevitably be a beautiful blur. Which is why it’s so important to remember ahead of time to be present and soak it all in. You’ll also want to make sure you thank everyone for showing up to your big day. That’s right: Don’t just send thank-you notes for gifts you receive, but be sure to say thank-you to your loved ones on your wedding day (or in a sweet note after) for being there.
And most of all…have fun! This will be one of the most memorable days of your life, so enjoy every single minute. You got this. 🙂