The night I got engaged, I couldn’t stop smiling. I’m not sure if I’ve ever felt that good in my entire life – the boy I loved so much had finally decided to officially make me his forever. I remember sitting on the couch with him for hours that night just hugging and talking about all the planning he did for the proposal, and just about how happy we were. Then the next time I saw him and we actually started talking wedding details – a lot of the joy I was feeling subsided. It’s hard to feel joyous when you have a lot of really tough decisions to make (like finances).
Being a bride myself, and a wedding photographer who knows the industry and often helps couples plan their wedding and find other vendors, I wanted to give you an actionable list of just 5 things that will help relieve so much stress when it comes to planning your wedding. This isn’t to say that you’ll get through all of your planning without difficult conversations or disappointment, because chances are good that those things will happen, but I can assure you, the sooner you check these 5 things off your list, the sooner joy will creep back in to your engagement experience. (:
So without further ado, here’s the top 5 things you should do right NOW:
1. FIGURE OUT YOUR BUDGET
DON’T SCROLL PAST THIS. I know you’re rolling your eyes or yelling at me because this is THE hardest part of wedding planning, but trust me, once this is figured out, EVERYTHING ELSE WILL FALL INTO PLACE. You can’t make any decisions for your wedding day without knowing how much you have to spend, or want to spend, for your wedding. The average wedding costs $30,000. Some people spend $100,000 on their wedding and some spend $5,000. No matter how much or how little you plan to spend, figure it out and commit to sticking to it. Ask your parents how much they are willing to help, decide what you can contribute yourself – pull all of your assets together to come up with one total number for your wedding day budget. Once you do that, you’ll want to break it down even further by category: allocated a certain percentage for the venue, a certain percentage on the caterer, on the photographer, etc. This will help you know how much you have to spend on each vendor and will give you a clear vision of what you have to work with.
Even if you don’t follow through with the other 4 things on this list, getting this one thing taken care of will relieve a TON of stress! (I promise – it might be difficult talking through it and figuring it all out, but once it’s decided, you will be relieved.)
2. DECIDE ON YOUR VISION
My what? Your vision – how do you imagine your wedding day? What are your personalities like as a couple? Are you a southern, country couple? Do you want your wedding to have a theme? Do you have specific colors you like? Do you want an indoor or an outdoor wedding?
While it isn’t vital for you to answer all of these questions right now, it is important to have some sort of vision for your wedding day. If you’re a country girl, you may want to consider venues with a barn. If you like a classic, modern look, you’ll want to find a bakery that can make a cake with that sort of feel. If you want to get married in a church with low lighting, you’ll want to make sure your videographer knows how to handle and work around that. Once you have some sort of vision (even if it’s not a clear one), you’ll be able to more easily choose and make decisions when it comes to vendors for your wedding day.
3. The Elephant in the Room: THE GUEST LIST
You will probably fight with your mother. And your mother-in-law. And your fiancé. But not everyone has to be invited to your wedding. Everyone shouldn’t be invited to your wedding. This is a very special day, and you should share it with the people who matter to you most.
Now, most people wouldn’t put “the guest list” this high up in a list of first things you should do after getting engaged, but let me tell you why it’s so important: Almost everything that has to do with your wedding revolves around it.
Your guest list and your budget go hand-in-hand. For one: you need to make sure your venue will hold the amount of guests you want to invite. Two: your cake, catering, rental company, stationery designer, and many other vendors price their services by the number of guests you have attending your wedding. Found a cake you love? They charge by the slice. Ready to send save-the-dates? You need to know how many parties are attending. Start building your guest list now (it took us a while!)
Begin by asking your parents for a list of family they think you should invite (names to start is fine). Then ask your fiancé’s parents. Then list out your friends and your fiancé’s friends. Get as complete a list as possible and then evaluate it. Who are you missing? Should you invite your old baseball team? Did you forget anyone from church? After you feel like you’ve remembered everyone you want to invite, count them up. Is it too many? Ask yourself: if cake is $4 a slice and catering is $20 a plate (plus tax and tip), is this number too big? The answer will probably be yes. Your grandma’s 4th cousin removed that you’ve never met doesn’t need to be invited nor does your mom’s childhood best friend “who was there the day you were born” (that she hasn’t spoken to in over 10 years). A good rule of thumb is if you haven’t spoken to them in the past year, they’re probably someone you should consider taking off the list (that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t invite them, it just means you should consider whether or not this person really cares about being at your wedding—and vice versa, whether you care that they’re attending your wedding). The best way to organize your guest list is to get all of your names and addresses into an excel file. When we were planning for our wedding, I organized it by party and by number of people. This helped me easily know how many number of guests to tell the caterer, and how many parties there were for my invites.
4. BOOK YOUR VENUE
Ok, we’ve got our budget, our guest list, and our vision – first things first: set a date and book the venue! The venue should be the first vendor you book – and do this early! Reach out to many vendors that you like, visit them out, and don’t hesitate to book! This is true for many wedding vendors, but especially venues: they book up EARLY! When it comes to wedding planning, there’s nothing more devestating than deciding on the perfect date and learning that your favorite venue is booked for that day. Do your research now and set up some times to look at venues you’re interested in.
Quick tip: Many venues give discounts for Friday or Sunday weddings, so consider this when deciding on a date!
5. RESEARCH AND ORGANIZE VENDORS
List, list, list…Karly, I’m tired of making lists.
I promise, it’s the best way to keep your sanity. You’ll be reaching out to so many vendors that will constantly be emailing and calling you. Plus, your mom will want you to call her friend Tammy who does flowers on the side, and your sister will have a friend who just started photography and wants to do your pictures, and your uncle offered to build you a cross for the ceremony…You need to keep all of this organized! So make a list: write out the type of vendor (“Venues,” “Photographers,” “Florists”) then list out all the vendors you want to contact for each category (“Venues: ‘The Lace House,’ ‘The Swan House,'” etc.), then leave yourself room to make notes (how much does this vendor cost? what are some of their pros? cons?). Put a check mark next to the ones you book, and a big line through the ones you don’t.
Quick tip: When you decide a vendor is not right for you, shoot them a quick note letting them know you have decided to go in another direction.
Alright, let’s recap:
These are 5 tasks that should be at the top of your to-do list after getting engaged. I get a little overwhelmed thinking about all the stuff I managed to get done while I was engaged, and I’m sure you’re feeling overwhelmed too, but I promise you, I know firsthand that these things will help make your life easier if you get them done early on in the process!
Are you still looking for a wedding photographer? I’d love to connect and continue helping you out through this whole process! Get in touch with me here.
My passion is in documenting the lives of our families well (mine and yours), and teaching you how to do it too. Follow along as I share photography tips, inspiration, and beautiful portraits.
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