CONGRATULATIONS! I made this wedding planning guide to help alleviate some stress over wedding planning and answer some questions you may have! Regardless of whether you are planning an intimate and small wedding or having a large wedding with hundreds of guests, these basic rules to follow will help make your wedding planning as smooth as possible!
Don’t forget to BOOKMARK (command + D) this page to reference it throughout your planning process!
Set budget expectations
Although this may not be the most exciting part of the process, figuring out a budget is an important first step. This will help you narrow down choices for venues, vendors, etc. you both love and can afford. Meet with parents or other contributors to create a budget, then divide it up accordingly by service and vendor. Write at the top of your list which part of the wedding you will happily splurge on! As a photographer, and being responsible for the only thing that will stand the test of time, I always think the obvious answer would be to splurge on a photographer, but some people will say the venue, or the live band, for example. A wedding planner can help guide you through this process if you don’t know where to start.
Get your wedding party and consider total wedding size
There’s a huge difference between a small, intimate wedding and a 300-person wedding when it comes to this step. While a finalized guest list isn’t necessary until a bit later, coming up with an estimated guest list will help narrow down your search for venues and their capacity options. This is also a good time to choose bridesmaids and groomsmen (if applicable) and ask them to take on this important role.
Close your eyes and imagine how you want your wedding to feel and look like. Clothing, colors, decor, and venue type are sample ideas. Will it be more traditional and relaxed or do you want to throw a wild dance party? Wedding websites are great resources to gather ideas for a wedding that best fit your personalities. If you have already chosen a venue, drawing inspiration from the place can also help you decide on themes, but if you haven’t, gathering inspiration will help steer you towards a venue of your liking.
Narrow down the dates or season
Although you won’t set an official date until you book your venue, it’s recommended to choose a few potential wedding dates before looking at venues. Often times venues will have special dates (9/9 for example) booked well in advance but if you have some flexibility it can help in your decision process. Consider the season in which you’d most like to marry, consider the weather and the effect of it for indoor and outdoor celebrations. Think about what day of the week you prefer (for example, a Saturday night may be convenient but more expensive and unavailable), and take into account work schedules, long holidays, travel to the destination, flights, and lodging, etc.
Considered guest list
Create your wedding guest-list! If your parents are contributing financially, it’s important to get their opinion on who will be invited and be sure to consider any potential conflicts between guests. Remember to take into account your venue’s capacity and don’t invite more than the venue can handle to avoid any potential problems.
Book a venue
It’s now time to officially set the date and book a venue! Be sure to book hotels, transportation, and plane tickets if its a destination wedding. Using your potential guest list above will help narrow down your options. If you would like some help, I have an extensive list of the most popular San Francisco wedding venues to help you on your way.
Contact the most important vendors
If you have any must-have vendors that you have come across in the past reach out to them now! Also, these are the vendors that can only physically do one wedding per day such as wedding photographers or wedding planners. The worst part about planning your wedding is finding out your preferred vendor is already booked…so don’t delay and get these important steps out of the way! Your wedding will be an epic day and hiring a photographer will be the most important part of preserving those memories.
Set up a wedding website even if you are just eloping. It helps to have a site online with your information to help organize things. Simply listing your vendors for example can help with crossing off your to-do list. Consider your registry/honeymoon fund and add to this site as you develop ideas.
Engagement shoot + other trials
An engagement shoot is a great way to get used to your photographer and being the center of attention. These photos can be used in wedding invitations, save the dates, or incorporated during the wedding ceremony! In addition, doing a makeup and hair trial before the shoot is a great idea! Taste food, drink wine, choose your cake flavors…this period is all about enjoying the planning process the most and “taking it easy” after so many other decisions.
Time for guests to save the date! Invitations should be sent out as soon as possible (usually about six to eight months before the big day) so guests can plan their schedules accordingly. If you have decided on theme/color this is a fun time to tease them on your cards if you want.
Book other vendors
Now is the time to finalize other vendors that are good to have, but not totally necessary. For example, some Couples should now consider stationary, bartenders, photo booths, and officiants, for example.
Purchase wedding attire
Don’t wait until the last minute to find your perfect wedding day outfit! Between the time you purchase your attire to the day it’s properly tailored, it can take months for a wedding dress or suit to look and feel like a glove on your special day. Also, give yourself time to choose wedding bands. They will symbolize something very important and make sure they’re comfortable as you will wear them for the rest of your life! Include the smaller details as well – veils, shoes, ties, etc for yourself and / or for your wedding party if giving something.
Confirm information and wedding details with your vendors to make sure the day runs as smoothly and everyone knows where and when to be present. Tie up loose ends on vendors and/or clothing decisions.
Guest list finalized
Have an “RSVP by” date and stick to it! Annoyingly, you will probably have to reach out to people to ask whether they are coming or not. In addition, start writing down VIP family formal group lists while you are getting those RSVPs!
The RSVP deadline for wedding invitations is usually about 4-6 weeks in advance so be sure to reach out to guests who haven’t responded yet.
Work with your wedding planner/venue coordinator to plan out how to accommodate guests. Using an online tool to place guests is helpful and be sure to consider family and friend relationships in mind. Once finalized, send the plan to your caterer, venue, and stationer so escort cards can be made.
Make sure you and your partner can get legally married! Research and study your state’s specific marriage license laws and the rules of waiting periods. If you’re interested, a marriage license will be important to change your last name after the wedding.
Enjoy this joyous day that you, your partner, your families, and vendors have worked so hard to create! Wedding planning is a lot of work, and it makes you think of things you never knew were part of a typical wedding. Enjoy the heck out of your wedding day, because before you know it, it will all be over. Good thing you hired a good photographer, right? 😀