The Process and The Steps
This weekend I tele-met up with a newly engaged friend, who wanted advice on where to start with wedding planning… and I realized this might be a topic of interest to more brides than just my friend. 🙂
There are many wedding checklists available online, but most of them start counting down 18 months of planning – which isn’t very handy if you’re planning a longer engagement, or tying the knot with much less notice. What I realized during my own wedding preparation is that there are certain things that should (or must) be done in a certain order, regardless of your timeframes – and no one had explained it like that to me before.
1. Big picture
Tempting though it may be to start collecting wedding gown swatches, pinning centrepieces and debating if your dog will be the ring-bearer, the first thing you need to is focus on the big picture:
• Budget: Get on the same page about how much you want to spend on your special day, and ideally find out if you might receive any contributions from your parents. There’s no point contacting wedding vendors until you know how much you can spend on them.
• Wedding values: Discuss with your spouse-to-be what is important to you for your big day, and how you want you and your guests to experience it. These values will guide your decisions throughout the planning process.
• Planner: Once you’re clear on your budget and vision for the day, now is the time to discuss if you want to enlist a wedding planner.
• Date: Discuss and finalize the date. You will waste your and potential vendors’ time if you don’t have a date ready when you approach them.
• Responsibilities: Will you do the decorations, flowers, cake and venues while your partner handles the budget, contracts, food/drinks and music? Now is the time to break down who’ll work on what.
• Guest number: Big wedding or small wedding? How many guests? Will kids be invited? Have a target in mind, so that when you start researching venues you can focus on spots that fit the size of your group.
• Bridal party: Only after you know your budget and wedding values should you “propose” to your brides- maids and groomsmen. You don’t want to have lined up eight bridesmaids only to conclude that you want (or can afford) just a smaller, intimate wedding. It’s good though to have your bridal party in place early so you can enlist helpers.
• Inspiration board: You’ll browse a lot of wedding sites between now and the big day, and you don’t want to spend hours gazing at gowns only to forget later where you saw The One. Whether Pinterest or simply copying images into Word, decide early how you’ll store ideas so you can bookmark from the get go.
• Theme: Whether a full theme (casino night or Alice in Wonderland) or simply a “tone” (contemporary elegance or vintage romance), agreeing will help you find an appropriate venue and decorator. You can also discuss colors now.
• Weight: Many people aim to slim down before their weddings. If this is your plan, start sooner rather than later. Losing weight takes a long time; there are reasons people struggle their whole lives with their size. (Read my before and after wedding weight loss story.)
2. Book “exclusive” vendors
An “exclusive” vendor is what I call a wedding supplier who can only do one wedding per day. These are the vendors you want to focus on arranging first, as if they book up on your date, you will simply miss out.
This includes the ceremony venue and officiant (it’s possible they can take two ceremonies in one day, but you won’t know for sure until you make con- tact), reception venue, caterer, musicians (like a ceremony string quartet, cocktail hour singer, or reception DJ), transport, hairdresser, make-up artist and photographer/videographer. When you contact any vendor, state first your wedding date; there is no point exchanging several emails about up-do costs only to find out the stylist is already booked for your day.
3. Book “less exclusive” vendors
The next tier of suppliers you want to book are the ones that can handle more than one wedding a day, but may draw the line at, say, three so that they’re not overloaded with work. This includes your florist, cake maker, decorator and equipment hire (eg, marquee and dancefloor).
4. In-between tasks
We had a 17-month engagement and all of our vendors were booked 11 months before the big day; however, it was too early to start deciding on exact cake designs and the final look of the bouquet… what if we changed our minds (several times) about the “design” of the day? Avoid double work by saving those tasks for later, and instead focus on the following:
• Guest list: Don’t be that couple who sends out save-the-dates before you’ve actually agreed on exactly who you will invite, and then have to un-invite people. Tacky though it sounds, if you have limited seating or budget, you may need to start with an A-list of priority guests and wait for “no” RSVPs before you invite the next group.
• Save-the-dates: Whether you’re sending out fridge magnets, making a video or simply notifying people via email, let attendees know as soon as you have your date and guest list confirmed, especially if guests need advance notice to travel.
• Dress shopping: Clarify your budget before you start drooling over gowns. Wedding dresses can take up to six months to come in after you order them, so if you’re planning with that timeline or shorter, move dress shopping up in your priority list. Also organize outfits and accessories for yourselves and your bridal party at this time.
• Invitations: Shop around for a pro or sort out your DIY plans, then get producing and posting! Etiquette guides say to send your invitations six weeks before the wedding, but if you’re not doing a separate save-the-date you should send them as early as you can. But before you sign off on the invitation text, confirm the below details as you’ll need to mention them on your invitation (or wedding website, if you’ll have one):
– Timing : If you weren’t already required to confirm timing when you booked your venues, you should now decide what time your ceremony and reception (and cocktail hour, if you’re having one) will kick off.
– Events: Will you have a rehearsal dinner? Welcome drinks? Farewell breakfast? Make sure to decide on these so you can mention them on your invitation or wedding website so guests can plan the best dates to travel.
– RSVP date: Find out from your caterer, reception venue or equipment hire company how far ahead of the wedding they will need to know your final guest numbers. Now add at least two weeks to that and make it your RSVP deadline. (Sadly, not everyone will RSVP on time and you need a window for chasing the late-repliers.)
– Dress code: This will link back to the theme/tone you’ve chosen for the day.
– Registry: The jury’s still out on whether it’s super helpful or poor form to include registry details on your wedding invitation, but if you’re going to do it then make sure you have the store and wish list confirmed before you finalize the invitation text.
• Rings: Start shopping for your wedding bands!
• Honeymoon: Start Googling or see your travel agent about your plans for a post-wedding getaway.
5. Things you can’t leave to the last minute (final 2-3 months)
Those things you don’t want to or can’t have unresolved two weeks before the wedding? Yeah, now is the time to check them off.
• Legal: Make sure you have all the licences and paperwork to make your marriage legal ready and in place.
• Ceremony: Finalize with your officiant the wording for your ceremony, including any hymns and readings, and ask your readers if they would do you the honor. Writing your own vows? Time to put pen to paper!
• Speeches: Write your speech early, so that you have plenty of time to refine it and practise it.
• Dance: Decide if you will take dance lessons or choreograph your own fancy footwork, and start rehearsing!
• Menu: Most venues and caterers will require you to finalize your guest numbers at least two weeks before the event so they have time to order in all the ingredients, so make sure you know what food (and drinks) will be served at your cocktail hour and reception long before that.
• Design: Now is the time to decide the final look of your decorations and centerpieces, cake, flowers (and buttonholes) and any stationery you need.
• Hair and make-up: Similarly, brides should decide now on how the ladies’ hair and make-up will look on the day, and go on for trial-runs.
• Bibs and bobs: On decorations, make sure you have any guest books, wishing wells, cake stands and candy buffet ingredients in place.
• Alterations: Got a gown or suit that needs adjusting? Send it to your tailor now so that it’s ready and back to you in plenty of time.
• Seating chart: Chase anyone who hasn’t RSVPed by your deadline, and finalize who is sitting where (or if you’ll have open seating).
• Pay: Most vendors will ask you to pay the balance of their fee one month to one week before the wedding, so make sure to settle your debts in time.
6. Things you can/must leave to the last minute (final 2-3 weeks):
Enough things will crop up in the final weeks that you shouldn’t leave too many things to the last minute, but here are some things that can wait if you can’t get to them earlier.
• Stationery: DIY or print your menus, escort cards, ceremony programs, welcome letters and other paper materials you’ll need.
• Songs: Unless you have any unusual requests that live musicians need extra time to rehearse, now is the time to choose what songs will play during your ceremony and reception and send it to your vendors.
• Catering: Send guest numbers as far in advance as your caterers require. Pass them your seating chart as well, and label anyone who has different dietary requirements.
• Timing: Make a schedule for the day, and confirm with all your wedding day vendors what time they should arrive to the different venues.
• Photos: Create a list of photos that you want your photographer take. This includes groups of guests you want photos with after the ceremony (eg, your school friends, you and your spouse plus in-laws, etc) and also passing to the photographer an inspiration board of photos you would love to re-create at your own day.
Wedding all done and wondering what to do next? Check out our list of post-wedding tasks!
Best of luck with your wedding planning! Are there any steps we’ve missed out, or tasks that you’re wondering where to put?