The Ultimate Guide to Planning a Wedding

Every weekend, 44,230 different weddings take place on average. What will you do to make sure yours stands out from all the others?

Social media and bridal magazines may lead you to think that the most important part of planning a wedding is to choose the finer details first. Things such as custom wedding rings and wedding bouquets tend to dominate the mind of a bride-to-be, more than budgeting and fundamental arrangements would.

Instead, the most successful (and least stressful) weddings happen when the largest, less glamorous tasks are taken care of early. This way, you place your focus on the foundational elements of your event, so the smaller, more exciting details can stand firmly on top.

Ready to learn the best ways of planning a wedding? Keep reading to learn everything you need to know.

First: Announce your engagement

Announcing your engagement has taken on a completely new meaning in this digital age — and not entirely for the better. When you announce your engagement to your special someone, it isn’t necessary to go all out with expensive cards or an entire event of its own. But you should let your friends and family know about your engagement non-virtually. Don’t just update your relationship status on Facebook and let it go at that. Consider meeting your closest friends and loved ones for coffee or a spa date to spill the big news, before letting the rest of the world know with announcement cards.

Share and compare your ideas

The logistics of planning a wedding (e.g., what’s actually possible given your budget and restrictions) shouldn’t be the first talk you have with your fiancé. Instead, put money and other practical concerns aside for long enough to gush about your respective dreams for the big day. Your goal at first will be to determine exactly what’s most important to each of you.

Do you imagine a glamorous destination wedding, complete with wedding ice sculptures? Or is your dream to have a wedding at home? Does your partner have a simple, intimate gathering in mind, perhaps where everyone wears matching custom designed tee shirts? Or do they want a formal event, perhaps adjacent to a golf course, with a whole crowd in attendance? Don’t hold back from one another. Share your ideal wedding dreams, whether you feel it’s doable for you or not. You will often find that something you weren’t going to suggest because it seemed too far-fetched is actually completely possible after all.

Although you want to stay away from logistical matters for this part of the conversation, do try to set a general date range for when the wedding will take place by the end of your discussion.

Practice careful, effective communication while making decisions

By now you should have a rough idea of what your wedding day will be like, and it’s time to talk to your partner about the budget. By establishing what you’re able and willing to spend on the wedding, you’ll paint a clearer picture of what’s really possible.

Unfortunately, big decisions are practically a breeding ground for disagreements, especially when large amounts of money are involved. By being aware of this, you can be better prepared to compromise and work with your partner to make the best decisions for you both.

Remember, everyone has fears and stigmas surrounding money based on their background. Depending on how your partner’s parents managed money as they grew up, they may have tastes that seem extremely cheap or terribly extravagant to you. Instead of criticizing or nagging at your partner for their unique money habits, try to understand them. Then express your personal feelings about what you feel is important, without coming across as condescending or selfish.

By having a firm budget in place and knowing why your respective desires are important to each other, you’ll be well equipped to manage disagreements kindly and productively.

Besides being up-front and open with your partner, it’s very important to have a clear line of communication open between you and whoever else will be helping to fund the wedding. If your parents, or your partner’s parents, will be chipping in, make sure you know how much they’re comfortable contributing. If they have any conditions or expectations they want met in return for the money, make sure you know what these are, and that you and your partner are comfortable with them.

The most important thing you can do at the beginning of planning a wedding is to practice healthy, effective communication with everyone involved. This way disagreements can be kept to a minimum, misinformation is less likely to happen, and no one will feel left out as the big day draws near.

Keep everything organized

This is just as important as keeping clear lines of communication between all wedding planners: keep careful track of everything you decide in planning a wedding. From setting the date and brainstorming venue options, to selecting event catering services and choosing specialty produce: everything you decide should be written down. Then this information should be communicated to everyone who has a hand in planning the wedding.

Some couples use a wedding binder to keep track of their musings and plans for their wedding. However, you may prefer to use an app or online service developed specifically for this purpose. Some options include Appy Couple, WeddingHappy, Loverly, and Plan the Day, which can be installed on most smartphones.

Whether you use digital todo lists and calendars, or good old fashioned paper ones, make sure you have everything written down. That includes names and addresses of invitees, your wedding budget, vendor information for any services you’re hiring, all important dates and times, location and venue information, gift registry lists, and anything else related to your wedding.

The most critical part of planning a wedding is to know yourself and how you work. If you’re totally-digital in the way you work, keep your lists and information online where everyone planning the wedding can keep track of it too. If you find digital workspaces confusing and unhelpful, there’s nothing wrong with relying on a paper journal. And if planning a wedding is just overwhelming for you, you may want to consider outsourcing to a professional planner.

Put your guests first

As you’re planning a wedding, you may find it helpful to think in terms of the guest experience first. People typically attend weddings, not so much because they want to, but because they feel obligated to do so. Many people actually dislike weddings entirely. And before you write off these people as killjoys, think about it: when was the last time you were actually excited about having to attend someone’s wedding?

Therefore, it’s safe to assume that your guests will be attending the wedding, not because they like weddings, but because they care about you and your partner. These are people who’ve watched you, or your partner, grow up; people who are happy and hopeful for your future; people who take time out of their lives to wish you well, and help you celebrate the biggest joys of your life.

With that in mind, what can you do for them to make your wedding special? — not just for you, but for them?

Above all, you want your guests to be comfortable. You want them to remember your wedding fondly, after all. After that, you want them to have a good time, rather than feeling bored to death.

This will be your primary goal when selecting a venue for the event. Keep in mind that some of your guests may be spending a lot of money just to get there, depending on where your friends and family live. To minimize their expenses, you may choose to have a wedding in a location that’s pretty close to where most of them are already.

If several of your guests are handicapped or have special needs, the event’s accessibility will be of critical importance. Make sure the guests who are most important to you and your partner are comfortable with your arrangements before you set anything in stone.

You should take special consideration regarding invitees to any events related to your weddings, such as a bridal shower, bachelor party, or day-after brunch. Those who attend your engagement party may be expecting an invitation to your wedding as a matter of course. Wedding rehearsal dinners and day-after brunches are typically reserved for the bride and groom, their immediate families, and the wedding party; however, you may want to open up these events to any guests who had to travel a long way to get to the wedding, such as family living out of state.

Selecting the wedding party

This can be a rather painstaking part of planning a wedding. While it’s all about joining two people together, there’s no denying that it’s also a matter of two families and social circles connecting as well.

To choose members of your wedding party, ask the friends and family members you’d most like to join you if they would be able and willing to participate. Don’t leave out your fiancé’s family and friends; they may have siblings who would like to be groomsmen or bridesmaids.

You can choose as many or as few people as you like to be in your wedding party, as long as they’re all okay with participating. But make sure to be open and up-front with them about what they’ll be expected to do and pay for as your wedding party. The last thing you want is for people to fall short of expectations they didn’t know were placed upon them.

Thoughtfully choose an officiant

You know who you’re marrying, but have you given much thought to the person who will be marrying the two of you? Couples typically choose a minister, priest, rabbi, or other religious officiants whom they like and respect. These people usually have all the qualifications necessary to oversee a wedding already, and they’ll be able to take care of the marriage certification on their end.

If you’re expecting a friend, parent, or elder mentor figure to officiate your wedding, you’ll need to let them know about this far in advance. Then they will need to get all certifications your government or city requires for officiates of marriages. This will be different depending on what state or country you’re in.

Deciding on a venue

To some couples, the wedding ceremony is paramount. To others, it’s just a necessary first step to the real celebration at the reception. Which is going to be the focal point of your wedding?

A wedding’s location will typically determine the venue for the ceremony. Hometown weddings generally take place in the family church or temple of the bride or groom, while destination weddings often take place barefoot on the beach. However, the particular wedding officiant, your religion of influence, and your vows are all ways you can make the ceremony your own.

There are several things you should consider when choosing a venue, but the biggest considerations will be cost and capacity. Once you’ve determined that a specific venue can handle your entire guest list and that it fits your budget, you’ll need to establish any regulations and rules that the venue requires you to follow. These could include things like event insurance, catering options, rental hours, and perhaps an inclement weather backup plan.

Some venues offer their own catering services, but in many cases, you will need to bring in outside vendors to handle the meal and drinks portion of your event. When you make arrangements for flowers, equipment, the cake, and catering, make sure the delivery methods and times will be in line with the venue’s rules and operating constraints.

Hiring a wedding photographer

This aspect of planning a wedding should never be an afterthought. Capturing your wedding’s memories is absolutely crucial to completing the experience. After all, few things could be worse than having a perfectly orchestrated event, only to realize that your photographs were sub-par because you couldn’t hire a good photographer in time.

Truly skilled photographers are often fully-booked many months in advance, so you’ll want to make plans with your photographer as soon as you’ve set the date and location. Be sure and let the photographer known of any backup plans for inclement weather, if you’re planning to host the wedding outdoors.

If you’re afraid you can’t afford a really great photographer for the entire day, consider hiring them for a couple of hours for the very beginning or end of the event instead. This is typically a much better idea than hiring a cheaper photographer for the entire day since the difference in quality would be painfully obvious.

Design, purchase, and mail invitations

Yes, people typically use email and instant messaging to stay in touch anymore, even for professional matters. But that’s exactly why you should rely on the good old mail service to deliver your invites: a digital message or e-card simply can’t compare to the enduring charm and personal feel of a paper note.

You could always rely on local printers for printing your invitations, but there are also a host of online printing services. Some of them can even handle mailing directly from the printing facility.

And there you have it: your complete guide to planning a wedding. Remember, the key to success is to plan the big things first, and to communicate clearly with everyone involved.

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