5 Steps to Wedding Planning

Updated on April 5, 2018

My love for weddings and event planning truly manifested while I planned my own "DIY" wedding. This is very cliche to some, and I'm certainly not implying that planning my own wedding immediately made me an expert, but it does mean that I have experience with all of the nuances and emotions you may be feeling as a DIY bride yourself. As a Certified Wedding Planner with almost 2 dozen weddings under my belt, though, I definitely have some ideas to help you navigate your whirlwind planning process!

For this blog post, I thought I would share some of my own planning tips (and pretty pictures, of course). For starters, you should know that I got engaged mid-April of 2015 and got married almost exactly 5-months later on September 13, 2015. That's right: I planned everything in five months (and had time to spare). If you're stressing about your timeline: relax! Oh, and I was a flight attendant at the time, so I had a very unreliable schedule and was constantly out of town. You can do it!

[Be sure to click on the pictures throughout this post for more details on planning!]

There are so many details and logistics to think about when planning a wedding, so for now I have narrowed my "game plan" down to 5 major milestones. Keep your eyes open for future blog posts that go more into details on the wedding planning process.

1. Establish Your Budget

It may be an awkward conversation, but it is very important to determine early in the planning process who will pay for what, and for how much. You'll want to sit down and draw up every possible cost that you may encounter and then approach your parents & your fiance's parents to talk money. As an example, my parents purchased my wedding gown and contributed a significant portion of the finances for the wedding itself. My parents-in-law offered to host the rehearsal dinner and pay for/put together all of the flowers. I had friends who offered their services at a reduced charge as their wedding gift to me or who offered to purchase certain wedding elements as their gift, including a portion of the ceremony and reception musicians, our wedding invitations, my hair stylist, our photographer, and our officiant's services.

Here are some cost objects (definitely not an expansive list) to consider:

  • Wedding Dress

  • Bridal Party (will they pay for their own dresses & tuxes?)

  • Rehearsal Dinner

  • Ceremony Location

  • Save the Dates

  • Invitations

  • Reception Location

  • Flowers

  • Officiant

  • Photographer

  • Videographer

  • Hair & Makeup (just bride or bridal party?)

  • Decorations

  • Music

  • Ceremony Music

  • Live Music

  • DJ

  • Food

  • Cake

  • Alcohol

  • Day-Of Coordinator

  • Gifts (for your groom, your girls, your parents, etc.)

  • Lodging

  • Getaway Car

  • Honeymoon

2. Pick Your Guest List

This is more difficult than it sounds, but is super important to establish early on in your wedding planning process. The anticipated number of guests will determine almost every other vendor and pricing decision that you'll need to make, including the type & size of venue, the number of people for which to provide alcohol and food, how much cake to order, how many save the dates & invitations to order (remember your paper/envelopes will probably about half the number of people invited due to couples & families!), etc.

It's very important to figure out your family situations: his mom may have an extensive list in mind and your side may wish to invite all the second and third cousins they know. You are definitely allowed to "veto" certain guests being invited (your mom's neighbor down the street that you met once), but it's also advised to take into account the proportion of the budget that everyone is paying. Did you have a super intimate ceremony in mind, but your parents are paying for everything and wish to invite more people that you originally considered? Weddings stir up tons of emotion from family members, so it's vital to "choose your battles."

On estimating your number of attendees: many people will tell you to estimate that half (or even a third) of those invited will attend your wedding. For us, we found this to simply be untrue and had about 85-90% of our guest list attend the wedding. We both grew up in the DFW metroplex (and still live here), so most of our family and friends are still in the area. Almost everyone invited attended the wedding.

3. Venue & Date

Now that you know how many people to expect, you can pick your venue. It's probably easier to wait & pick your wedding date based around your dream venue, rather than picking your dream date and hoping your venue will have it available. But if there's a date that has great significance, go for it! You just might wind up having to go through more venues until you land on the right fit.

A word on venues: establish your budget for everything prior to venue searching, and prioritize what means most to you. For me, photography was really important and was third on my budget list only to venue and food. Also, tour tons of places! I unfortunately was only focused on a "low budget" wedding and didn't take the opportunity to visit beautiful places or bridal shows: it's not for long that you get to play the "bride card"! Visit open houses, taste cake and catering, and take full advantage of getting to "shop." You aren't putting anyone out by touring or visiting.

When touring, take tons of pictures, and ask lots of questions. Ask how other brides stage certain aspects of the wedding day, and ask what other services or advice the venue offers. Interview the people associated with venue. You're not only purchasing use of the venue, but support from their staff! It's important to get along with their peeps.

4. Pick the People

This one is vague on purpose. A wedding requires so many people on-hand to pull it off, and that includes not only friends & family, but also hired vendors. Be sure to pick your bridal party based on how supportive they will be of you and your marriage: it should be a privilege, not a right, to be added as a member of the bridal party. These are the friends that you can count on to help decorate, to throw you and your groom showers and bachelor/bachelorette parties, and to fill in and do any of the necessary tasks to make your wedding a success. This is also the time when you'll pick your vendors (see the "budget" list earlier): my advice on vendors is to establish priority level, budget, and wishes in that order. Then, take every opportunity you can to "get free stuff" as a testament to their services. I said it once before: you only get to "play bride" for a short time--soak it in and take full advantage of the opportunities that come with the engagement ring.

5. Fill in the Details

Once you've completed steps 1-4, you've just got to fill in the details. During my own wedding, I found that wedding planning is much more like putting on a "production" than it is a party. Nobody will know what is supposed to happen next unless it's been communicated, like a scripted play. This is the part where you need to create a detailed timeline for the complicated logistics of the wedding weekend, assign duties and the division of responsibilities, pick out your decor, and keep lists of necessary items. (P.S. Details & timelines are my jam. I would love to help you out on thinking through all of the "nitty gritty" and make sure you didn't forget anything!).

Vendor Overview

Venue: Zera Coffee Company

Dress: Maggie Sottero from Anonymously Yours

Hair: Sarah at Salon Sorelle

Photography: Zac & Kaitlin Photography

Ceremony Entrance & Exit Music: Melange Saxophone Quartet

Acoustic "Cocktail Hour" Duo: The Olive Press

Invitations: Custom-design from Katie Made That

Day-Of Coordination: Ocean Nelson, Events Manager at Circle R Ranch

Caterer: Cannot Locate (Will update, if still in business)

That's a really broad overview of how to tackle wedding planning!

There are so many more nuances, details, and logistics to think through, but those 5 steps are good order to follow and a great place to start.

If you'd like personalized help getting started, I offer 1-on-1 wedding planning sessions called "The Wedding Coach," which includes planning tools (like checklists and vendor recommendations), logistical help, and all the Q&A you can fit into our session. If you mention this blog post, I will also apply the entire cost of your session towards a Month-of Coordination package!

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