How to Begin Planning a Wedding

Wedding planning can be as easy as 1-2-3

What to do now

Spread the big news. After telling your immediate families and best buds, let your boss, colleagues, and other friends in on the good news.

Get your engagement ring sized. Depending on the setting and finish, this can take from a few hours to a few days.

Buy a wedding organizer, so you can keep track of everything from the get-go.

What can wait

Choosing colors: Secure your site first, then pick a wedding palette that complements your location's decor.

Picking attendants: No need to rush anyone into service the day after the proposal. Get the big picture of your wedding nailed down before you put together your bridal party.

Arranging the seating chart: You can do this a few weeks before the wedding, once the RSVP's have all rolled in. Why test your relationship with Mom before you really have to?

Figure out the event’s tone, and other decisions will fall into place.

If Cinderella’s your muse when you picture your fantasy wedding, you’re a traditionalist. Think cathedral train, 10-piece ensemble, chandelier-lit ballroom, filet mignon, flowing champagne, and a towering fondant-covered cake.

You absolutely love outdoor get-togethers and impromptu everything. Chances are you’re a casual gal who’d take to a beach reception wearing a floaty slip dress and flip-flops, with a sensational sunset providing the decor. Or consider a barn or backyard barbecue, with rockabilly as your soundtrack and Chinese lanterns lighting the way.

Couples who get a new wardrobe or car every season might favor a hot new restaurant, a loft, even an architect’s studio for their reception, paying as much attention to their table design as to their attire. No surf ’n’ turf for the likes of you—unless it’s kumamoto oysters with Maui onion salsa, and braised veal cheeks with coconut risotto.

Let practicalities come into play when you mull over possible locations.

Keep the size of your guest list in mind. A large, high-ceilinged space such as a skyscraper lobby or museum atrium will dwarf your group of 75, creating echoes and sapping the energy out of your reception; a large crowd in an intimate room will feel crammed and create a din that turns small talk into shouting matches.

A museum, historic mansion, or public garden may be your dream location, but can require a lot of extras, such as hiring an outside caterer and renting tableware and chairs, even coat racks. Once you’ve thought through the added expense and responsibility, you may find hotels, catering halls, restaurants, and other traditional, full-service sites more attractive.

If music and dancing are a priority, stay away from restaurants that can’t handle boogying masses; places in residential areas with strict laws against amplified music and parking; and soaring spaces that require special sound and lighting help (unless you’ve got a big budget).

For easy planning, choose the right setting.

Getting married where you grew up is a sentimental favorite. Even if you’ve moved, selecting your site and vendors can still be a breeze—provided family or friends living there can help. If not, plan on making several trips home.

Exchanging "I do’s" where you live and work may be the easiest option. Still, if traveling to your adopted city is a hassle and a huge expense for many guests, you may want to select a location that’s more convenient for them.

A destination wedding is fun, but you’ll want help with planning. Enlisting the aid of a local wedding consultant is a smart move. Keep in mind that faraway nuptials may mean that guests with small children, limited bank accounts, and health or mobility issues won’t be able to attend.

Your plans are nothing but dreams—until you figure out finances.

Once you’ve decided who’s chipping in—these days, the couple and both families often contribute, with the bride’s parents usually paying the biggest share—ask each party as tactfully as possible to commit to an amount so you can devise a budget.

Make sure you’re realistic. That means setting your priorities. Is music more important to you than, say, flowers? Researching costs in your area will help you determine the style and size of your wedding, and build in a cushion for "hidden" expenses (postage for invitations, tips for staff, wine-corkage fees if you’re supplying your own liquor).

Estimate how much you can save by the time your final bills arrive. Grow your money by signing up for automatic payroll deductions and parlaying those funds into low-risk investments. (Pick a type of investment that lets you have easy access to your funds, like short-term CDs). Use a credit card that earns points or frequent-flyer miles that you can use toward your honeymoon.

The time of day you choose will affect the party’s mood and cost.

A midday wedding will likely be less expensive than an evening fete (fewer courses, reduced liquor bill since guests will probably drink less), but don’t expect a wild-and-crazy danceathon. If you’re having an outdoor party, factor in the sunshine, which may or may not pose a problem.

Want to dress up and dance without keeping everyone up until the wee hours? Schedule a late-afternoon wedding. With dinner starting between 6 and 7 p.m. and the band departing by 10, you may want to plan an informal after-party for close friends or a romantic dinner for you and your guy.

If you’re envisioning formal fashions, loads of glamour, and partying through the night, an evening wedding could be your thing. Some caveats: This prime-time slot is the priciest, and the children and elderly among your guests may not make it past the cake-cutting.

Asking for money? Don’t put off a financial tête-à-tête with your parents.

Broaching this topic with your folks can be awkward; don’t make it worse by having your fiancé present when you do the asking. The same goes when he has the talk with his parents. Think solo mission. Your parents will likely be more open if they’re talking just to you.

Keeping your tone upbeat, describe the type of wedding you’d like and your estimated budget. Once you’ve told them what you and your fiancé can contribute, ask them if they’re able to help out.

Whatever their answer, be understanding. If they offer an amount that disappoints you and they volunteer no explanation, be gracious and thank them, and leave it at that. Then refigure your budget, either downsizing or brainstorming how to save more on your own.

Create your guest list early to diffuse tension and help you set the budget.

Two basic strategies: Come up with a list of invitees, then find a reception space to accommodate that number, or pick a space that you love and invite guests based on that allotment. The type of meal you’re planning will affect numbers; you can invite more guests to a stand-up cocktail reception than to a seated dinner in the same space.

Once you’ve determined your budget and the number of people you can realistically invite, discuss with your fiancé how you’ll distribute the allotments between you. It’s traditional to split the list down the middle, but there may be mitigating factors, like who has the most must-invite relatives. Be honest: Does your third cousin really need to come?

Decide whether your families should participate in the process. If they’re making significant financial contributions, they deserve a say. Some couples divvy up the list, with the pair and each family getting a third.

When choosing attendants, don’t cast your crew until you’ve thought things through.

Seal your lips—now! There’s no backtracking once you’ve asked someone to be in your wedding party. Instead, the thing to do first is determine style, budget, and size; a small, informal wedding with a huge parade of bridesmaids and ushers will look odd and unbalanced.

Reserve the maid-of-honor position for your closest friend or relative. (It’s okay if it’s a guy—just don’t call him a "maid" or make him go to the bridal shower.) Should there be a tie, you may want to choose the person who’ll be more supportive and responsible. Can’t decide? Have two ladies-in-waiting.

Welcome to Compromise 101. Family diplomacy demands that if you’re having more than one or two attendants you include your fiancé’s sisters. It’s a small price to pay to keep relations with your future in-laws on a positive note.

Friends and family who aren’t in your wedding party can still play an important role. Why not appoint them to one of these positions:

Reader: Ask special pals to recite one of your favorite poems or passages at the ceremony.
Distributor: Children and teens can perform pre- and post-ceremony tasks, such as passing out programs, hymnals, or rice or birdseed, and driving directions to the reception.
Greeter: Teens and friends can help direct guests as they begin to arrive at the reception, steering them toward the guest book, escort-card table, and cocktail area.
Snapshot photographer: Have the older kids take pictures of guests as they arrive. With digital cameras and printers, they can create a scrapbook of candids on the spot.
Toastmaster: Ask a few loved ones who are comfortable addressing a crowd to make a short tribute; choose chums from your childhood, school days, and adulthood.

Schedule a sit-down with your guy to talk through the tough topics.

Starting now, your future in-laws are a part of your lives. Discuss the ground rules about spending holidays or vacations with each family; whether spontaneous visits are okay; and the extent of their involvement in your decision-making as a couple.

How you handle finances will have a major impact on your marriage. Will you have separate accounts or a joint one? Who will pay the bills? When should you start saving for a house or other big purchase? Discuss each of your spending styles. Is one of you a spender, the other a saver? Air your attitudes now so that your long-term goals are achievable.

Don’t assume that the pitter-patter of little feet is a given just be-cause you’re getting married. Before you walk down the aisle, the two of you should agree on whether you want children, how many, the timing, whether one of you will be a stay-at-home parent, and what religion you’ll raise them in.

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