Getting Started

FIRST STEPS
Before you rush into planning your big day, relish the moment with friends, family and your fiancé

Spread the news!

Tell your families, particularly your parents, first. This tradition protects your mother and father from hearing it elsewhere. Then contact your relatives and close friends—some couples choose to mail out formal letters. You can also announce your engagement in the local papers. To find newspapers in your area that print announcements, and to learn their specific requirements, visit our Local Vendors page. Or create your own Wedding Web Site on Brides.com to get the word out immediately!

Get a manicure

Your hands—the left one, at any rate—will never attract more attention than the moment you slip on that sparkler. Neatly shaped nails, trimmed cuticles and a soft pink polish that doesn't compete with the bling in your ring will be your diamond's best friend.

Photo op

Many couples choose to personalize their wedding announcement with a photo of themselves. If you don't already have one you like, this is a great time to choose a photographer and give him or her a prewedding assignment called the engagement session. Working with a photographer prior to the wedding also allows couples to become comfortable in front of the camera.

Gather the parents

If they haven't met already, now's the time for your folks to get acquainted—the wedding will be much more enjoyable if your families are comfortable with each other. Usually the bride's family will ask the groom's over for a celebratory drink, but you, as a couple, can also invite both clans out to dinner.

Engagement party

Traditionally the bride's parents invite family and friends (from both sides) to a party, at which time her father announces the engagement. Today many couples host the celebration themselves, and it can be as elaborate as a catered four-course meal or as casual as a poolside barbecue. The only "rules": Throw the party shortly after you've gone public with your plans, and extend an invitation only to people you are definitely inviting to your wedding.

Need the ring?

Many men are hesitant to purchase an engagement ring on their own, preferring to pop the question sans sparkler so his fiancée can select the ring she truly adores. If this is your situation and you haven't already started shopping, now's the time. Begin by browsing our Engagement Rings Gallery to view different styles-you can even create the ring of your dreams with our Build a Ring tool. For ring-shopping tips and terms, check out our Wedding Rings Essential Guide.

Get your ring sized-and insured!

Even the guy who delivers the most inspired and well-planned proposal may flounder in finding out your ring size. A trip to the jeweler ensures it won't twirl around, or worse, slip off! And having your ring insured guarantees it will be replaced if lost, stolen or damaged. Most homeowner's or renter's insurance policies require a separate rider to insure jewelry, so call your agent to confirm. Annual coverage costs about 1 to 3 percent of the ring's appraised value.

Register for gifts

Registering isn't only for you and your fiancé—it's for your guests. It guarantees that they are giving a present you'll appreciate. Register for a few things (in a range of prices) early on, for guests who want to purchase gifts for your engagement party. Online registries make shopping easier for friends and family scattered across the country. And if you already have the basics, select wines, honeymoon trips and even contributions to charitable organizations. Visit our Top 75 Places to Register to get started!

Choose your wedding party

Don't worry about having the same number of bridesmaids as groomsmen. And if your best friend is a man, by all means include him in your bridal party. It's also not unusual for a groom to have female friends stand up for him or have his dad be his best man. For your maid of honor, if you require someone by your side to help organize a shower, tie ribbons on favors and address thank-you notes, be sure to choose someone who's up to the task.

Give guests a heads-up

If you are inviting lots of out-of-town guests, getting married on a holiday weekend or having a destination wedding, keep in mind that save-the-date cards should be sent six months to one year before your wedding-but not before you've secured a reception site.

Talk to your friends

Your pals may have already planned their own weddings, and they have certainly been to a few. Use their impressions and ideas as a resource. Don't be shy about asking if they know a great band—tried-and-tested, friend-approved vendors are a big advantage. Are you the first of your friends to tie the knot? Chat with other brides in our Forums.

Get online!

The Internet is a modern bride's best friend. In addition to all the bridal magazines you'll stock up on, you'll also want to check out Brides.com's virtual wedding planner, full of handy resources like the Task Checklist and our Photo Galleries, which are packed with thousands of inspiring images of weddings dresses, cakes, flowers and more!

Hit the gym

If you haven't been exercising regularly, what better reason than your wedding for you (and your fiancé!) to start getting into shape? Working out won't only make you look better, it will help shoo away wedding-planning stress.

FUNDAMENTALS
Don't dive into the details just yet—address these key tasks to establish the scope of your wedding

Set the date

Many couples take a year to plan their wedding, but it can be done more quickly. A word of warning: If you opt for a short engagement, avoid Saturday nuptials in May, June, September or October or on any of the long holiday weekends when wedding services are swamped. Also, take into consideration school schedules, if you are inviting children; tourist-season crowds, depending on the location; and long weekends and winter holiday season because party services charge more.

What's your budget?

Determining your budget even before you begin scouting reception sites and speaking with vendors will set the framework for planning decisions. It's easy to overspend, and knowing your limitations upfront will help make you a savvier shopper. Visit our Budget Advisor to prioritize, itemize and organize!

Who pays?

These days, arrangements where the bride's family pays for the bulk of the wedding are quite rare. In fact, many couples expect to pick up all or part of the wedding tab, with the bride's and groom's families contributing a certain amount toward expenses. Still, some couples have each family pay per guest. Most important, both sides should chip in the amount with which they are comfortable.

Is a wedding consultant for you?

If you are planning a destination wedding or facing complicated circumstances (e.g., a huge guest list or the merging of cultures or languages), or if you are both super busy, hiring a consultant helps. A planner will review contracts, create timelines, arrange seating and serve as a go-between with your vendors—and dueling parents! You can state in the contract just how involved you would like the consultant to be.

Pick your place

Visit lots of venues, including offbeat spots like yachts, museums or galleries, before making a decision. While a home wedding might seem to be the easiest option, it can become a complicated choice for all except the most intimate and casual affairs. Conversely, don't assume that a destination wedding is more time-consuming to pull off: Hotel and resort wedding packages can make it quite simple. Having an idea about head count will also play a role in your decision.

FIND YOUR STYLE
Now comes the fun part! Color, a theme or even a personalized motif will make your wedding unique and memorable

What's your wedding style?

Start by looking through bridal magazines—home design, fashion and travel publications are bursting with style ideas. You may even be inspired by a movie or a piece of art. Use what you are drawn to and get creative.

Choose your colors

You'll want to select a color palette for your wedding—and our fun and addictive Color Studio will certainly help with that! To unify the celebration, you can incorporate the combination you select into almost every part of the planning, from your bridesmaid dresses and bouquets to the table runners, programs and favors.

Settle on a theme

Depending on the time of year in which you are tying the knot, consider playing up Mother Nature's natural decor—perhaps an autumnal-inspired affair in October or a winter wonderland celebration in December. If you love the beach, decorate your seaside nuptials with shells, starfish and nautical colors, or embrace your culture with decorative elements that speak to your heritage.

Close to heart

Maybe you love butterflies, fall foliage, red roses. Couples often design their entire wedding around a single motif. Incorporating your signature design element on everything from the invitations to place cards and even the cake is a whimsical way to put your stamp on your celebration.

How formal will you be?

It is not always true that a casual wedding is easier to pull off: Sometimes it's more comfortable and simpler for everyone to follow the tried-and-true traditional wedding format. The level of formality can also dictate whether you have an afternoon or evening wedding—for example, a garden setting is often more suited to an affair by day than by night.

FINE PRINT
Don't forget to focus on the less tangible facets of your nuptials

Consider premarital preparation

Divorce rates are high. So a premarital prep course or counseling is helpful in pointing out trouble areas and teaching couples how to communicate and work toward shared goals. Many are offered through religious institutions (some require them before marriage), and there are classes offered independently as well. It's best to begin shortly after becoming engaged, giving you time to "practice" your new skills.

Name game

Taking your husband's name is common practice but a decision that is ultimately your own. Tradition, professional/career reputation, children, identity and a personal liking or dislike of a surname are all factors in a woman's decision to change or keep her maiden name. Looking for a compromise? Consider hyphenating both names or making your maiden name your middle name.

Is a prenup for you?

A prenuptial agreement lays out financial expectations of a marriage and is signed by both the bride and groom in advance of the wedding. Financial inequality, ease in dividing up assets in the event of a divorce and the financial protection of children from a previous marriage are common reasons couples engage in this agreement. A prenup is a completely personal decision, not a mandatory one.

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