First thing’s first: planning a wedding can feel pretty overwhelming at first (trust me, I do it for a living). While recruiting a professionals to help out can be pretty ideal, maybe you’re working under a tight budget, or maybe you simply love going the DIY route. It may be a lot of work, but it is possible to plan your own dream wedding!
It just takes a bit of organization to keep everything on track when you’re faced with endless decisions, lists, deadlines and, you know, your own life to deal with. The trick is taking things one step at a time and recruiting friends and family (including that future spouse of yours!) to help. And give yourself plenty of time to plan. You’ll make things so much harder on yourself if you try to plan and oversee every detail and try to do it all at the last minute. A longer timeline is your friend here—aim for around a year if possible. Now, where do you begin?
Once you’ve spent some time spreading the news of your engagement and actually enjoying that special time, the budget will need to be the very first thing you finalize to get the wedding planning train going. And that can involve some uncomfortable conversations if you have any family members who are planning to chip in for the big day. So don’t delay! Have those conversations early and determine the amount everyone is comfortable spending, and then build in a 10% “splurge cushion” for any unexpected costs or urges you’ll inevitably succumb to. Be prepared for a reality check when it comes to budgeting for this big day. Many couples don’t realize the costs involved and may find that their dream wedding is a bit out of reach. In that case, be prepared to prioritize. You really can have your ideal wedding on almost any budget if you iron out what exactly is important to you and focus on those few things.
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 those bridal magazines (ahem, BRIDES!) and blogs to get a sense of the style of wedding you want. Think about weddings you recently attended. What did you like? What would you do differently? Real life experience is always the best form of inspiration. Don’t forget to involve your fiancé in this step as well! Your wedding should represent both of you as a couple.
Organization is key when planning your own wedding. You’ll have so many balls up in the air at once, you’ll need a way to keep track of everything. You can use spreadsheets or one of the many wedding planning management apps or programs out there. Just find what works best for you and stick with it. Just remember that even with the most meticulous planning and organization system, there is bound to be some chaos from time to time. Try your best to plan ahead and don’t be too hard on yourself.
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 those tiny details and focus on what’s truly important: a happy marriage with the person of your dreams.
Now that you’re armed and ready to begin the planning process, here are some of my top tips for planning an unforgettable wedding.
(And for more specific info on what to do the week before your wedding, check out our guide here!)
Mindy Weiss, wedding planner to the stars and The Wedding Shop by Shutterfly’s Style Partner, is our go-to expert on all things 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), her best-selling The Wedding Book, and line of stylish bridal flats with Rollasole, Mindy is the ultimate authority on planning an unforgettable wedding.
Set Your Budget, and Stick to It
Your 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!
Find Inspiration & Create a Vision Board
With so many sources of inspiration out there, it can be a bit overwhelming. Find one or two mediums you like best, whether it’s Pinterest, Instagram, trusty bridal mags, blogs, etc. and start researching. Get a good sense of the type of style you like—translate that into something you can show your vendors. You can create a board on Pinterest or even do some old-fashioned cutting and pasting onto paper (we can’t help but suggest doing your cutting and pasting from issues of BRIDES!).
Get Yourself a Wedding Planning Book
When you don’t have a wedding planner, a wedding planning book is the next best thing. Something like Mindy's The Wedding Book will include tons of expert advice, tips and tricks and even examples of timelines and checklists. Better yet, search BRIDES.com for answers to all your etiquette questions.
You can use checklists, spreadsheets, Word/Google Docs—anything, really—as long as you have all your thoughts, budgets, numbers, etc. in one place. There are also some great programs and apps out there that can keep you organized.
Make Your Wedding Website Guest Friendly
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 wedding website where they can check out the details of your wedding and even have a day-of itinerary that lets them know where they need to be and when they need to be there.
Have 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, beach or even an open field. If you’re planning your own wedding having an “on-site” wedding somewhere like a hotel, restaurant, resort, etc. will make the planning process much easier.
Create Your Guest List
This can be a pretty harrowing process and one that will depend largely on your venue and budget. Sit down with your fiancé and family and create a wish list of guests. Chances are you’ll need to make some cuts. You should also decide whether you’re inviting children and who will be allotted a plus-one.
Use Vendors You’re Comfortable With
Build a team of people 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 so you don’t feel bad when you inevitably have to call and ask questions!
Read Every Contract
This is important! Be sure to read through every detail of your contracts with vendors. Make sure all the details are correct, and read through important things like payment and cancellation policies before signing. Don’t forget to double check that the date and event times are correct.
Take Time Between the Wedding and the Honeymoon
Planning a wedding and a honeymoon at the same time can be expensive, but also very time consuming. Consider taking time off between your wedding and your honeymoon so that you can save up and reset the button on your planning priorities. It helps to just focus on one thing at a time.
DIY can be cost-effective and can add some nice personal touches to your big day. Just don’t go overboard or you’ll end up with more work than you know what to do with. Feel free to go the DIY route with things that can be done well in advance, like favors, table numbers, etc. For things like flowers or food that need to be done close to the wedding date, professional help is best.
Figure out Your Social Media Strategy
Whether you want to broadcast your wedding to the world or have an unplugged wedding, strategy is key. Hashtags, signage and photo booths are a great way to get guests posting on social. If you’re more private, include signage about an unplugged ceremony or have the officiant make a quick announcement before proceedings begin.
Add A Personal Touch
With all of the wedding traditions that people tell you that you should have at your wedding, be sure to plan in some personal traditions too. If your family has any wedding traditions that they've done in the past, or if there is something you want to start for future generations, don't be afraid to give your wedding a personal touch.
Don’t Forget to Make it Legal
In the midst of all the crazy planning and 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 months – so plan accordingly.
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. This person can keep track of vendors, keep everything on schedule and do all the tasks you won’t have time to do while you’re getting ready and having the time of your life.
Create a Schedule of Events
Create a schedule for the run-of-show at your wedding. Include things like when vendors will arrive, when the ceremony will be, when the first dance will happen, when the cake will be cut, etc. Be sure to give a copy to your MC, photographer, maid of honor and anyone else that should be in the know.
Take Some Time Off
For the sake of your own sanity, make sure you schedule some time for you and your fiancé to be together and do anything but wedding plan. Trust me, you’ll need the break! Consider taking the week before the wedding off work, both to make sure last minute details are completed, and just to chill.