How to Start Wedding Planning

You’re Engaged! Now What?

Congratulations, this is such an exciting time of life! Now is the time to get organized and I’m here to help you. I’m sharing all of the details of how I got organized after my big engagement and then subsequently planned the wedding of a lifetime.

First things first… If you’re not moonlighting as a party planner on the weekend or if you can’t find the remote control to your tv, you might want to consider calling a wedding planner asap. I will say that I am the complete opposite when it comes to party planning. I absolutely love designing the perfect gatherings for my friends and the thought of organizing tons of small details makes me giddy and happy inside. If this isn’t you, then that’s totally ok, I’m here for you.

Where do you start?

I think it’s important to discuss with your partner the size of the wedding you envision. Starting a guest list is a good beginning place and I think you’ll be surprised by how quickly the numbers add up. This will help you when you are setting your budget and determining your vendors.

I started a budget with soft numbers, I actually googled most of the numbers. Since wedding planning isn’t my every day I was curious to know what an “average wedding cost is in Texas.” I asked google what’s the average cost of a “wedding cake”, what’s the average cost of a “wedding dress”, etc. If the number was obscene or just downright offensive, I knew that it was a category that wasn’t that important to me or that I would probably need to look at multiple vendors.

The main budget categories I included were:

  • Venues (Yes, plural… I looked for venues for the ceremony, reception, rehearsal dinner, bridal shower, bachelorette party. If you are planning to have an engagement party you might consider adding this to the venue list.)
  • Photographer
  • The Dress (you might consider budgeting any other outfits such as engagement photos, rehearsal dinner, or if you plan to have a dress for the reception)
  • Cake
  • Florist
  • Catering and Bar
  • Hair and Makeup (bridal portraits and wedding day)
  • Musician / DJ
  • Transportation

It’s also important to know upfront who is paying for the wedding. Are you and your partner footing the bill or will your parents, other family members, or friends be helping you? This can be an uncomfortable conversation but an honest one that everyone should have with their significant other and respective family members in the beginning stages of planning.

Set a Date

I learned quickly that most vendors would not set appointments with me or provide quotes unless we had a wedding date set. And for the record, I completely agree with this and understand how valuable a small business owner’s time is. Remember providing quotes takes time and it’s important to have a few dates in mind, be flexible on those dates and have an understanding of your guest list.

While setting the wedding date, I also worked with my maid of honor to pick dates for my bridal shower and bachelorette party. Setting these dates ahead of time helped me create a wedding timeline, including setting dates for sending our announcements and invitations. It’s also completely ok to skip out on these traditions… if you’re really not a bride that wants a bridal shower or if you really don’t want to host a bachelorette party – don’t. I think it’s important to remember that this is your special day and there are no rules, just do what’s best for you and your partner and plan a great day no matter your budget.

Picking your vendors

Venue and Photographer

We started by picking our wedding venue and photographer. Both of these choices happened around the same time and here’s why…

We knew the photographer that we wanted to use, we had narrowed down the wedding venue and chosen a few wedding dates that worked for us. In addition to getting a quote from the photographer, I gave her a few of our date options and asked which ones she would be available. Depending on the market you live in, your favorite wedding photographer and venue could be booked for more than twelve months out.

Take the time to tour the venue and also meet with your photographer to preview their portfolio. It’s really important that you have confidence in the staff at your venue and your photographer from the beginning, this will make your big day little less stressful.

Vision Boards

Vision boards are not necessary, but the next few vendors that I list will ask you specific questions about your wedding “vision.” To prepare for that you should consider the answers to these questions:

  1. What is your color pallet?
  2. What colors will your maid of honor and bridesmaids wear?
  3. How many tiers do you want on your cake? (This will depend on your wedding guest list headcount)

Pinterest can be an endless sea of good ideas, but I actually started with The Knot. They have a great survey that walks you through images from venues to wedding colors that help you determine your exact wedding style. Once you have this narrowed down it was easier to approach Pinterest with a narrowed focus. I saved my favorite images and created vision boards for each budget category.

The Cake

The cake was towards the top of my list because it’s something that is important to me. I also had a vision for the cake that I knew only a few bakeries would be able to accomplish. To my surprise, the bakery I picked was already booked for our date.

I was crushed, I know that really seems silly, but it was my first wrinkle in the planning process and I learned the tough lesson quickly – that you need to be flexible in planning, not everything is going to go as planned. So I moved on to my second choice, and on to my third choice until finally finding a bakery that was available and could create the perfect cake.

The Dress

With a shorter timeline, setting my first appointment to try on dresses was rushed. When working with a wedding gown designer or setting an appointment with a dress shop, it’s important to understand their timeline and even more important to communicate yours.

If you are planning to have bridal portraits taken before your wedding and you want to have your beautiful photos displayed at your wedding, you need to build this into your timeline and share this with your bridal specialist.

The biggest takeaways I can tell you about purchasing your dress are… know your wedding timeline and if you are taking bridal portraits. Plan to take a small entourage with you when shopping for the dress. Take your time during your appointment, you don’t have to purchase the dress on your first visit. It’s a big purchase and one you should sleep on.

If you’d like more wedding dress buying tips, read my recap from my buying experience, 5 Wedding Dress Buying Mistakes to Avoid, or Wedding Dress Buying Tips.

The Florist

I knew that I wanted to splurge on the floral and that it needed to be in every room, on every table, inside and out. I wanted the floral to be over the top for my wedding. I might sound like a broken record at this point, but again, know what’s important to you on your big day. I have a personal relationship with our family florist so this was a simple choice and probably one of the easiest decisions I made during the wedding day planning process.

Floral can be expensive and it might not be high on your priority list. Consider contacting your local high school or if you have a university/community college in your town. Often they will have floral design classes, you can place your order through the school and purchase your arrangements from the students. If you decide to go this route, keep in mind that the arrangements will not be made by a professional florist, so set your expectations accordingly.

Buying floral through a large retailer in bulk like Costco or SAMs club is also an option, but again set your expectations and set aside a large amount for your wedding party to make arrangements the day of your wedding. To be clear though, I highly advise against this because I truly believe that budgeting for a florist is the only option. Unless you have a family member or friend who is skilled in this trade and who can dedicate the time to help you.

Floral Tip: In addition to knowing I wanted a lot of floral, I also knew that I wanted to impact other people’s lives the day after my wedding through the donation of my floral to a local hospice nonprofit. Each week the hospice volunteers in my community provide flowers to patients. It warmed my heart to know that the flowers from our big day potentially made a difference in another person’s life.

The Music

There are a few options when you think about the music you want to have at your wedding. Do you want to have live music and or a DJ? Areas, where music should be considered, are during the wedding guests’ arrival at the ceremony, the wedding procession down the aisle, cocktail reception, and or wedding reception.

Live music was important for us, so we opted to have a string quartet for the walk down the aisle and a singer during our cocktail hour before the wedding reception. We did not have a big dance floor for the wedding reception with additional music, we opted for a more low key reception with music from a playlist and an amplifier. I wouldn’t actually recommend this for most weddings. We went this route for the reception because of our concerns surrounding the pandemic. We said “I do” during COVID and we wanted guests to mostly stay seated during the reception. Again this was not ideal, but we thought it was a safer option for our wedding guests.

Hiring a day of coordinator is key and if you have the budget, I would highly also recommend hiring a wedding planner to help you throughout the process. There were many elements of the wedding that I did not anticipate and hiring a professional is a good idea.

Wedding planning can be an overwhelming task, even if you enjoy planning the occasional house party. There are so many small details that can be missed or overlooked. My biggest advice is to make decisions early on in the key categories I’ve outlined above so that you and your soon to be life partner can have a beautiful wedding day and start the next chapter of your lives together as a married couple.

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