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. And don’t forget to involve your significant other in this step, as well. Your wedding should represent both of you, together as a couple. So, where to begin? We’ve got you covered. Just remember to keep one very important thing 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 our 42 top tips for how to plan your wedding, from getting organized to traversing the legal framework of a vendor contract to maintaining your mental sanity.
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. 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. Once you’ve got that magic number, stick to it!
Construct 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 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 and help you focus your efforts on what really counts.
Determine Your Bridal Style
Find a few resources of bridal inspiration you like best—Pinterest, Instagram, magazines, trusty bridal sites (including Brides, 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. Don’t overwhelm yourself with all the wedding inspiration that’s out there. Creating one or more Pinterest boards—or even a visual collage on a cork or poster board—will help you to figure out what sort of look and feel you really want and keep you aligned with your larger vision.
You can use checklists, spreadsheets, Word, Excel, Google Docs—anything, really—as long as you can gather all your thoughts, budgets, numbers, etc., in one place. There are also some great online tools and apps out there that can keep you organized. We love WeddingHappy for staying on track with tasks and AllSeated for visualizing seating charts and venue layouts.
Involve Your Significant Other
Don’t feel like you’re in this wedding planning process alone. Consult with your partner along the way; their 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. Working towards a common goal not only further bonds you and your partner but also helps you grow as a couple with every issue you tackle as a team.
Buy 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 The Wedding Book) is a wealth of information and expert advice, including tips and tricks and even examples of timelines and checklists.
Create a Master Checklist
Check out our master wedding-planning checklist and timeline to keep yourself on track and tackling tasks like a pro. (Feel free to adapt it to suit your own needs, as necessary). This will help you visualize and prioritize goals without being overwhelmed with everything all at once.
Think About Dates (and Seasons)
Choose a few ideal dates for your wedding and try to be flexible, if possible, so you’re not constrained when attempting to book the wedding venue and vendors. Take into consideration external factors like how popular those dates might be for other to-be-weds (making availability scarce and prices higher), if the dates would be difficult for your guests to attend, and the price differences of venues and vendors between seasons.
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 an aesthetic in mind, it’s easier to make design decisions, and generally, everything looks more cohesive.
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. In contrast, having an “on-site” wedding—somewhere like a hotel or restaurant—will greatly simplify the planning process as they’ll likely have a range of catering offerings available, as well as access to the basics, including designated space, chairs and tables, and possibly even an on-site coordinator to assist you.
Start Working on Your Guest List
Making decisions about the 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 will 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 or guest count) 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
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. 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.