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YOU'RE ENGAGED! NOW WHAT? 

10 STEPS TO PLANNING YOUR PERFECT WEDDING

First, let me say congratulations on your engagement!

 

As a wedding photographer, I have been capturing love stories for over 20 years.  And as someone who seen it all through the lens, I have picked up a few tricks and tips to help you start planning your big day. Hopefully, this will give you a kick-start to the event planning and help keep things enjoyable instead of stress-filled. 

 

My overarching words of advice are: this is your wedding- do what you want to.  In spite of all you will read in wedding magazines and hear from your friends and relatives about “shoulds”, you do not have to follow any rules.  You do not have to have a color theme, you do not have to have a wedding party, or follow the typical dance-toss-cake kind of flow.  In fact, you may save quite a bit of money by condensing or skipping some of those ceremonial traditions.  Be creative and above all, be you.

1. Pop a cork (or two)- Celebrate and Soak in the Moment

 

Before you dive into the planning, take a moment to enjoy this special time. Announce your engagement, throw a little party, and bask in the excitement.  I always advise couples to keep some bubbly in the fridge, and if ever things get a bit “testy” or stressful, take a breather, pop a cork, and remember the why- engagement is meant to be fun and a lovely time in your lives. 

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2. Set Your Budget

 

Your budget will guide every decision you make. Sit down with your partner and any contributing family members to determine a realistic wedding budget. Consider all aspects, including venue, catering, attire, decor, photography, entertainment… and don’t overlook rehearsal dinner, brunch the day after, hotel, transportation, and so on.  A trend I have always loved is registering for parts of your wedding day or honeymoon instead of items you may not need (do you really need a juice maker?!).   Here’s a typical breakdown to guide you:

 

  • Wedding Venue & Catering:** 40-50%

  • Wedding Photography/Videography:** 10-15%

  • Formal Attire:** 8-10%

  • Flowers & Decor:** 8-10%

  • Music/Entertainment:** 8-10%

  • Stationery:** 2-3%

  • Miscellaneous (favors, gifts, etc.):** 2-3%

  • Emergency Fund:** 5%

(but again, don’t forget wedding rehearsal and dinner, hotels if you are at a destination, and other wedding-related events).

 

While weddings can be expensive, there are smart ways to save without compromising on your vision:

  • Consider a wedding in the off-season or on a Friday/Sunday to save on venue costs.  Remember, too, that long weekends such as Memorial Day or Labor Day may be more expensive.

  • Get crafty with some DIY decor projects. Have a look at my image gallery- there are some fabulous ideas in there. https://www.holmanphotography.com/client-images And Pinterest can also be your friend!

  • Only give plus-ones to married, engaged, or long-term couples to keep the guest list in check.

  • Hire local vendors to save on travel and accommodation costs.  The one exception to this may be your wedding photographer, with whom it is nice to have a relationship prior to your wedding day, and with whom you can meet in person before and after the wedding.

 

3. Create a Guest List

Drafting a preliminary guest list for your wedding will help you choose a venue that fits your needs. Discuss with your partner whom you would like to invite and try to come up with a rough number of guests. I might advise to check with your parents, as well, especially if they will be contributing to your wedding, as they may have guests they want to attend whom you have not considered (remember, this is a celebration for them, too). I will reiterate, however, that it is still your wedding and you don’t have to invite your second cousin’s roommate’s brother just because your mom thinks you should.

 

  4. Choose a Date and Venue

 

The venue is one of the first things you should book, as it often determines the date (and sometimes the number of guests). Popular venues can book up a year or more in advance, especially in peak wedding seasons (spring and fall). Some venues will also offer (or require) catering, wine, service, set up and take down, so be sure to ask.  Here are the main venue considerations:

 

  • Proximity to guests and travel convenience.  Some engaged couples are opting for a destination wedding for family, and a larger celebration at home.

  • Ensure it accommodates your guest list comfortably.

  • Does it reflect your vision for your wedding day?

  • Does it fit within your budget?

5. Hire a Wedding Planner

 

If your budget allows, hiring a wedding planner can save you time and stress. A planner will help you stay organized, manage your budget, and bring your vision to life with their expertise and connections.  They can also be there to help coordinate your day to keep things running smoothly so you can concentrate on the fun!

 

If you do not hire a planner, I recommend starting a tracking sheet that includes vendor contacts and basic contract info (see photography recommendations here.

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6. Hire Key Vendors Early

 

Some vendors are in high demand, so book them as soon as you have your date and venue.

 

  • Photographer/Videographer:  Quality professionals can book up over a year in advance.  This is the one memento you will have to keep after your day is over.  Interview a few, read contracts well, and make sure you like your photographer!  Click here for questions to ask and things to consider when hiring your wedding photographer.

  • Caterer:  If your venue doesn’t offer in-house catering, start looking early. Good food makes for happy guests. The good news is that tastings are really quite enjoyable!  Make a day of it.

  • Entertainment:  Bands and DJs often book up quickly. Some events may call for both.  A live band is hard to beat (pardon the pun).

  • Officiant:  If you have a particular wedding officiant in mind, book them early, or make sure your best buddy gets ordained online sooner rather than later.

  • Florist: Top florists get snapped up quickly, especially during peak seasons.  One note about flowers- remember they will not come with you after the wedding (unless you tell guests to take them home).  It was a shocker for me at my wedding to realize we enjoyed them for a few hours and then they disappeared (note that you can send them home with guests, or there are organizations that will pick them up to donate to assisted living homes and hospitals).

 

7. Research and Book Additional Vendors

 

After securing the primary vendors, focus on other important aspects:

  • Attire:  Start shopping for your wedding dress and suits at least 9-12 months before the wedding to allow time for fittings and alterations. This is one area where splurging a bit can make you feel like a million bucks. And don’t forget to budget for your wedding day shoes and accessories!  Some brides are opting for comfortable and unconventional options for shoes, as well as a second outfit to change into for dancing.  (I might add that having a cute robe or cover up to wear in addition to your wedding night lingerie can be a nice thing to have- I recently spent a night at a hotel where the fire alarm went off at 2 am and bride and groom had to run outside with the rest of us… she looked lovely in her white, silk robe!)

  • Hair and Makeup:  Book hair and makeup artists about 6-9 months in advance, especially if you want a trial run.  Contrary to your instinct, if your wedding is outside, a tad more makeup, rather than less, will look better in your photographs.

  • Cake Designer:  Secure your cake designer early if you have a specific bakery in mind.

  • Transportation:  Arrange transportation for you and your guests, especially if the ceremony and reception are at different locations.

  • Hotel reservations, if necessary, and reservations for activities such as brunch, golf, spa, etc.

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If you are looking for ideas for more unusual wedding activities or themes, here are some creative solutions to consider:

  • Unique Venues: Consider unconventional venues like art galleries, museums, botanical gardens, or mountain tops. They often have character and may be more budget-friendly than traditional venues.

  • Brunch Weddings: Host a brunch wedding instead of a dinner reception. It can be more cost-effective and who doesn’t love mimosas and waffles?

  • Hire a Food Truck: Instead of traditional catering, hire a food truck for a fun and casual dining experience. Your guests will love the novelty.  (This is a great rehearsal dinner option, as well).

  • Photo and Video Livestream: For guests who can’t attend, set up a live stream of your ceremony and key moments of the reception. It is a great way to include everyone in your special day.  And if you decide to let your guests take pictures with their phones, here are some tips.

 

Here are some more slightly different wedding  ideas to consider.

8. Save the Date Cards and Invitations

 

Once your date and venue are set, send out save-the-date cards, especially if you have many out-of-town guests. It gives everyone a heads-up to start planning their travel. Think of it as the trailer to your wedding movie—get them excited!  Some people decide to create a website with wedding details, logistics and registry- this is a good time to share that site and guests can check back in for updates as time progresses.

 

9. Plan the Fun Details

 

With the big-ticket items booked, it’s time to dive into the details:

 

  • Theme and Decor:  Choose a theme or color scheme (or don’t!) and start planning your decor.

  • Stationery:  Design your invitations, programs, and place cards. And double-check for typos so you are not have a "weeding".

  • Favors: Choose meaningful and budget-friendly favors for your guests. Edible favors are always a hit.

  • Seating Arrangements:  Plan your seating chart once RSVPs are in. Strategically place those relatives who don’t see eye to eye on opposite ends of the room. Open seating is always an easy option, as well

 10. Attend to Legal Requirements

 

Ensure you complete all necessary legalities, such as obtaining a marriage license and meeting any other requirements specific to your location.

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A Few Resources to Help Find and Wedding Vendors:

 

  • Online Wedding Marketplaces such as The Knot/WeddingWire, Zola, The Wedding Chicks, Offbeat Weddings, Joy, Budget Savvy Bride, and CaratsandCake provide extensive vendor listings and reviews.

  • For LGBTQ+ unions, try Equally Wed, LGBTQ+ Wedding Directory,  Rainbow Wedding Network, Pridezillas,  GayWeddings.com, Love Inc.

  • Also, Instagram and Pinterest are great platforms to discover talented vendors and see their work (here is mine).

  • Ask friends, family, and other recently married couples for recommendations.  You might also ask a vendor- I provide referrals often.

  • Attend local wedding fairs to meet vendors in person and see their work firsthand.

 

 

 Final Thoughts

 

A wedding is a celebration- it is about your love story, so make choices that reflect your personalities and preferences. And most importantly, don’t forget to have fun—after all, this day is all about you two!

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