First things first: Planning a wedding can feel pretty overwhelming at times (trust me, I do it for a living). While couples often hire a professional to help manage their wedding plans, there are plenty of reasons why they might also opt to take on the majority of the responsibilities on their own, too. Maybe you’re working with a tight wedding planning budget or maybe you simply love all of the DIY possibilities—in any case, it's a lot of extra details, but it is possible to plan the wedding of your dreams on your own.
Organization is key to keeping everything on track when you’re faced with decisions, lists, deadlines, and everyday life to deal with. The first step is making sure to give yourselves plenty of time for wedding planning. A longer timeline is your friend here—aim for around a year, if possible. So, where to begin?
Take things one step at a time and recruit friends and family (including that future spouse of yours!) to pitch in and help out however they can.
Once you’ve spent some time spreading the news of your engagement and enjoying that special moment, realistically, the wedding budget is the first thing the two of you need to finalize to get the wedding planning train going—and that can involve some real talk conversations with parents and family members who may be able to help cover costs, so don’t delay! Have those conversations as soon as possible to determine a ballpark for your budget, and be prepared for a reality check when it comes to actually budgeting for your wedding day as many couples don’t realize the full scope of costs involved. (Pro tip: Don't forget to build in a 10 percent “splurge cushion” for those unexpected costs or urges that inevitably arise). Trust me though, you can have an amazing wedding on almost any budget once the two of you iron out exactly what's important.
With the budget in place, it’s time to start getting inspired and delving into the nitty-gritty details. Have some fun with this part; now’s the time to indulge in all of that Pinterest-worthy bridal inspiration to get a sense of your wedding style. Also, think about any weddings you've recently attended. What did you like? What would you do differently? Don’t forget to involve your significant other in this step, as well. Your wedding should represent both of you, together as a couple.
Organization is essential to planning your own wedding; you’ll have so many balls up in the air at once and you’ll need a way to keep track of everything. You can use a wedding-budget spreadsheet or wedding planning app; just be sure to figure out what works best for you—and stick with it. Even with the most meticulous planning and organization, there are bound to be moments of chaos from time to time, so just try to not be too hard on yourself (or each other) and trust that all of the kinks will be ironed out in time for your wedding day.
The most important thing to keep in mind: Try to have some fun! This is your wedding after all. Don’t get too hung up on the tiny details and focus on what’s truly important: celebrating the love the two of you share and getting married, all while surrounded by your friends and family.
Here are some of Mindy Weiss's top tips for planning an unforgettable wedding day.
Meet the Expert
Mindy Weiss is the ultimate authority on planning an unforgettable wedding, with more than 20 years of planning weddings and events for top Hollywood personalities (think Sofia Vergara and Joe Manganiello, Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi, and so many more).
Set Your Wedding Budget—and Stick to It
Your wedding budget will be the driving factor for many of your wedding-related decisions, so this should be one of the first things you tackle. If any family members will be contributing, chat with them about what they’re comfortable spending. If you’re footing the bill yourself, it’s time to take a hard look at your finances. Once you’ve got that magic number, stick to it!
Create a List of Wedding Day Priorities
Sit down with your partner and determine what the three most important aspects of your wedding will be. Is it the food and drinks? The venue or specific wedding date? Locking in a certain wedding photographer or live band? Prioritize those details and be willing to compromise on the rest. This will help you stay within your budget.
Determine Your Bridal Style
With so many sources of inspiration out there, it can be a bit overwhelming. Find a few resources you like best—on Pinterest, Instagram, trusty bridal sites (including Brides.com, of course!)—and start researching. Having a good sense of the type of wedding style you want helps immensely once you start meeting with potential vendors. Creating one or more Pinterest boards—or even a visual collage on a cork board or poster board—will help you to figure out what sort of look and feel you really want.
Involve Your Significant Other
Don't feel like you're in this wedding planning process alone. Consult with and ask your partner for help along the way; their trusted opinion is bound to be invaluable and—even if they're only involved in some aspects—it makes wedding planning that much more fun when you can make decisions together.
Purchase a Wedding Planning Book
For couples who opt to take on the wedding planning process sans a professional planner or coordinator, a traditional etiquette and guidebook (such as Mindy's The Wedding Book) is a wealth of information and expert advice, including tips and tricks and even examples of timelines and checklists. (And of course, you can always search Brides for answers to your planning and wedding etiquette questions!)
Create a Master Checklist
You can find tons of examples in wedding planning books and online, too, for master checklists of to-dos that are broken down by the months, weeks, and even days leading up to the wedding. (Feel free to adapt it to suit your own needs, as necessary).
Don’t Rush Into Decisions
It may be enticing to book the first photographer or florist you meet, but when it comes to booking wedding vendors, it's essential to not rush into any decisions. Consider at least a few different options to make sure these important wedding day partners understand your vision and can also work within your budget.
Think About Dates (and Seasons)
Are you envisioning a spring garden wedding? Or do you want to be surrounded by gorgeous autumn leaves on your big day? Choose a few ideal dates for your wedding and try to be flexible, if possible, so you’re not constrained when trying to book a venue and your wedding vendors.
Select a Theme
Whether it’s specific wedding colors, seasonal or style inspiration, or an actual theme (like the Roaring Twenties or Festival Chic, for example), sometimes it's helpful to choose a concept to design your wedding around. Once you have a concept in mind, it's easier to make design decisions, and generally, everything look more cohesive.
Choose Your Wedding Party Wisely
The friends and family you ask to be a part of your wedding party are there for emotional and tactical support throughout the wedding planning process and on the big day, of course! Consult with your partner to decide what size wedding party works best for the two of you—keeping in mind the expenses that come along with this special responsibility. Think about who you really want standing next to you during this monumental occasion.
Consider Having an “On-Site” Wedding
In wedding lingo, an “off-site” wedding is one where the venue doesn’t have a commercial kitchen and where you need to bring everything in—think places like a park, a public beach, even an open field. If you’re planning your own wedding, having an “on-site” wedding—somewhere like a hotel or restaurant—will make the planning process that much easier as they'll likely have a range of catering offerings available, as well as access to the basics, including designated space, chairs, and tables for your ceremony and/or reception.
Start Working on Your Guest List
Making decisions about the wedding guest list can be a complicated process and one that will depend largely on your venue and budget. Sit down with your partner and key family members to put together a wish list of wedding guests. Chances are, you’ll need to make some cuts. You'll also need to decide whether you’re inviting children and who will be allotted a plus one.
Talk to Other Married Couples
Have you recently attended a wedding that you really enjoyed? By all means, ask that couple for advice and insights! They probably have some expert tips and tricks that they learned along the way that they'd be more than happy to share with you. Sometimes, friends and family are the best resources.
Research Your Venue Options
Be sure to investigate prices, packages, and any restrictions (including minimum budget spend) from several different potential wedding and reception venues before you sign on the dotted line. Even if there's a venue and a package price that you really like, still, keep looking at additional opinions. Ask around and see what other venues are charging before agreeing on a price.
Only Book Vendors You’re Comfortable With
Wedding vendors are the nuts and bolts to ensuring your day is ultra memorable and everything runs smoothly, so make sure they're a team of people that you really vibe well with. They should have a good sense of your vision and you should be able to trust them to execute it well. Make sure they appreciate your business; you should never feel bad about reaching out with any along-the-way questions!
Read Every Contract—Closely
This is SO important! Before the two of you sign on any dotted lines, be sure to closely review every detail of any contracts you arrange with any of your wedding vendors. Make sure all of the details are correct—including date, location, event time, deposits, and other fees—and read through important clauses, such as payment and cancellation policies, before signing anything.
Recruit More Hands On Deck
Don't forget: You’re not in this alone! Your bridal party, other close friends and family members (and definitely your soon-to-be spouse) are all ready to help in ways that suit their strengths. But you have to ask—and sometimes, delegate. And don't feel bad about it! Oftentimes, your loved ones and besties want to participate, but just aren't sure of the best way to be the most helpful to the two of you.
Make a Wedding Website
Your wedding guests, and even your family members, will have a lot of questions for you. Avoid getting endless emails, text messages, and voicemails from your guests by putting up a simple wedding website where they can check out the details of your wedding—including having a day-of itinerary that lets them know where they need to be and when they need to be there.
DIY wedding décor elements can be cost-effective and can add some incredible personal touches to your wedding day. But word to the wise: Just don’t go overboard, or you’ll end up with more work than you know what to do with. Plenty of DIY projects can be done well in advance, including favors, table numbers, etc. For things like wedding day florals or food, professional help is best.
Take Some Time Off—Together
For the sake of your own sanity, make sure you schedule some time for the two of you to just be together and do anything but wedding plan, whether it's a relaxing weekend at home or a mini-getaway out of town. Trust me, you’ll need the break! If you can, taking the week off from work before your actual wedding date helps to ensure that all last-minute details are completed and makes the days leading up to the wedding that much less stressful.
Decide Which Traditions Matter to You
Your wedding should be all about the two of you as a couple. If certain traditions make you uncomfortable, or feel outdated, or simply aren’t your style, then just don't include them on your wedding day. Traditions are lovely, but only when they're meaningful to you.
Add Some Personal Touches
Whether it's familial or cultural wedding traditions that have a special meaning, or if there's a tradition that the two of you want to start for future generations, don't be afraid to incorporate some heartfelt, personal touches into your wedding day festivities—prior to the wedding, during the ceremony, or at the reception. Remember, this is your day!
Create a Social Media Strategy
Whether you want your guests to share moments of your wedding day with the world or prefer to have an unplugged wedding, strategy is key. Hashtags, signage, and photo booths are a great way to get guests posting on social. On the other hand, if you don't want your guests snapping shots or taking videos during the ceremony, have the officiant make a quick announcement before proceedings begin.
Finalize Setup Details
As your wedding date approaches, check in with your venue to find out when exactly your vendors can arrive for setup. The earlier the better, but in some cases, venues may have other events going on the same day. Be sure to pass along the information to your vendors so everyone's on the same page.
Don’t Forget to Make It Legal
In the midst of all the crazy planning and endless small details, don’t forget to actually plan time to get your marriage license! Start researching and gathering the necessary documents early on, but keep in mind that marriage licenses are typically only valid for a couple of months—and destination weddings often have their own stipulations—so plan accordingly.
Postpone Honeymoon Planning
Planning your wedding and your dream honeymoon at the exact same time can be not only expensive but also very time consuming. Especially if the two of you are doing everything yourselves, it may be a good idea to postpone honeymoon planning just a bit. Many couples take some time off between the wedding and the honeymoon so that they can save up and reset the button on their planning priorities; sometimes, it helps to just focus on one thing at a time.
Consider a Day-Of Coordinator
Even when a full-service wedding planner isn’t in the cards, hiring a professional to oversee the day-of details can be a game changer. They'll keep track of vendors for you, keep an eye on the schedule, and help with any last-minute details and on-site tasks you simply won’t have time for while you’re getting ready with the bridal party, telling stories, taking photos, and generally having the time of your life.
Create a Comprehensive Schedule of Events
Creating a comprehensive wedding day schedule ensures everyone is on the same page about timing and location(s) and helps to make sure the day's events run smoothly. Include things like hair and makeup appointments; when vendors will arrive; timing for transportation to/arrival at the ceremony location; timing for the couple's arrival to the reception; speeches and the first dance; when the cake will be cut, etc. Print out (or email) copies to your MC, photographer, maid of honor, key family members, all vendors, and anyone else that should be in the know.
Gratitude goes a long way. Be sure to arrange for small gifts for your wedding party and anyone else who played a big role in your wedding planning journey—including friends who pitched in to help with all of your wedding DIY projects and, of course, parents or other family members who have been there for you and supported you along the way.
Focus on the Big Picture
Your wedding day is here! Now's not the time to get hung up on the small details. Honestly, your guests won’t notice if your table runners are ever-so-slightly the wrong shade of blue or if the appetizers come out 15 minutes late. The second you walk down the aisle, just let go of all the small stuff. Be present in the moment and feel the love—you’re getting married!