Congratulations!! You’ve found the person you want to spend the rest of your life with and now you get to plan the wedding of your dreams. Some people have been planning their wedding since they were 13 (e.g. me). For others, the idea of planning such an event gives them hives (e.g. my best friend). No matter where you fall on the wedding planning spectrum, there are a few things you need to figure out first.
The number one thing you want to do is figure out a budget. Not exactly the most glamorous part of wedding planning, but an absolute necessity. Most of us would love to have an over-the-top, extravagant wedding that our friends and family are talking about for years to come; but for many of us, that is not a reality. While, traditionally, the bride’s parents paid for the bulk of the wedding, times have changed and now both sets of parents and even the couple themselves are pitching in. Talk to your families and see what, if anything, they are willing to contribute.
Once you have a total budget, use an online budget calculator to help you estimate how much of your budget should be spent on each part of your wedding. No budget calculator is exact and it can definitely be adjusted for what you care about the most. As vendors are booked, make sure you continue to fill in your budget to see if you’re sticking with it or going over.
Keep in mind that it is EASY to go over your budget! When filling out your budget, it’s a good idea to leave a miscellaneous or slush fund of about 5% of your total budget for any vendors you might go a little over on. This way, you won’t destroy your entire budget because you found an amazing photographer that’s out of your price range.
The next thing you’ll want to start working on is your guest list. This doesn’t need to be a final list at this point, but you’ll need to have an estimate for when you begin looking at venues. You don’t want to book the perfect venue, then realize that your guest list is far beyond its capacity. On the other hand, if you’re planning a small wedding, keep in mind that some venues have minimums that you may have trouble reaching.
There are a few things to keep in mind with your guest list. The more guests you invite, the higher your reception expenses tend to be. More guests mean more food, favors, linens, etc. Obviously not everyone you invite will come. Take into account the time of year and if it’s a holiday weekend, but you can assume that, on average, 75-80% of the guests you invite will say they are coming.
Once you have your budget figured out and your guest list estimated, you can start in one of two places: planner or venue. If you know that you want (and have the budget for) a planner/coordinator to help you throughout the entire process, you can start there. They’ll be able to make recommendations for venues (and all of your other vendors) based on your budget, style, and guest count.
Even if you intend on hiring a planner, some venues are all-inclusive or include one in their packages, so you may not need to find your own. A great place to start your search for venues is online. There are tons of wedding planning websites (The Knot, WeddingWire, etc.) and blogs (Woodlands Bride, Rustic Bride, etc.) to help get your search started. It’s also a good idea to talk to your married friends that have a similar style. Even if you don’t want to get married at the same venue they did, they probably looked at several and can save you some time on your search.
If you find a venue you like, but they don’t have pricing on their website, e-mail or call and they should be able to give you at least estimated pricing so you know if it fits into your budget or not. You don’t want to go visit a venue, fall in love, then realize it’s double (or more) what your budget is.
The venue you choose will typically propel your planning into full gear. Now you know the space you need to fill and what vendors you still need to find. Most venues can provide a list of vendors that they work with for anything they aren’t providing. Even if they don’t, you can always go online and to your married friends. It’s also a good idea to read reviews of vendors you are considering using. If you can’t get word of mouth referrals from your friends or family, reviews from other brides are the next best thing.