I’ve had a few friends ask me about my wedding planning process, so I figured I’d share all my tips, tricks, and resources in a guide to wedding planning perfect for newly engaged brides!
For some background, Jonathan proposed in September 2015 and we are getting married in April 2017, meaning that I had a year and 7 months to plan a wedding. But to be honest, we didn’t really start planning until July 2016 because Jonathan was still finishing up business school, so we’ve planned (ok, still planning!) a wedding in less than a year, without a wedding planner.
First Steps After Getting Engaged
Before looking at a dress or combing through Pinterest for centerpiece ideas, be sure to first agree with your fiance on a date, a budget, and a general theme of your wedding. Whether your wedding is 6 months or 16 months away will have a huge effect on the rest of your planning, so it’s best to decide that first. Your budget and theme also impact the rest of the wedding process, so figure these out before getting knee deep into planning to avoid headache. When I say your wedding theme, I mean the general vibe of your wedding – do you want a backyard wedding? A garden wedding? A destination wedding? Together with your budget, your wedding theme will definitely shape how you continue planning.
Once your date, budget, and theme are set, get yourself organized because there is a LOT that goes into planning weddings. There are a good number of checklists online, but my personal favorite resource is The Knot, because it’s a nearly one-stop shop for all things weddings. I open my checklist on the Knot’s mobile app almost every single day to keep abreast of tasks which are organized by month depending on your wedding date. I also randomly came across a wedding planner Google Sheets template that is my ultimate planning bae because I can pull it up on my phone or computer at any given point. The planner has different sheets for vendors, budgets, guest list, and coordination, all with pre-populated formulas that are a total time-saver. The detailed budget sheet contains columns for your estimated and actual costs, plus it tallies up what percentage of your total budget is allocated to each category, keeping you on top of yo chedda.
Once you get your first quote from a vendor, it’s very possible that your budget may change as you realize the true cost of weddings. I feel like people always say they are expensive but I didn’t really believe them until it came time to plan my own! We definitely had to increase our budget by 50%, but thankfully we are more or less on top of it thanks to a few things. First, we spoke to our parents early on and figured out how much they were willing/able to contribute, leaving us with a clear idea of how much we needed to save and put towards the wedding. Secondly, we designated a separate bank account for wedding funds, so flower money didn’t end up spent on frivolous things like shoes I don’t need from the Zara sale. Lastly, we’ve been using Mint.com to track our general spending (even pre-wedding, I was a semi-faithful Mint user), as well as saving for the wedding.
The most difficult part of wedding planning (after magically finding all the money it costs) is deciding which vendors to collaborate with on your special day! You can find vendors online by searching things like “Atlanta wedding cakes,” you can browse through wedding vendor databases, or you can get referrals from friends and family. I’ve had some luck with The Knot and Wedding Wire, which are great starting points because there are often reviews of the vendor, but there are also resources for more niche weddings, like Southern Bride (for y’all Southern girls), Green Wedding Shoes (for the bohemian bride), or Munaluchi Bride (multicultural weddings). We wanted to support mostly black vendors for our wedding so I did a good chunk of my vendor research on Munaluchi Bride. Jonathan and I also happened to do a shoot with some of the Munaluchi New York Coterie members, so we were able to meet with vendors in person. Venues often have bridal magazines, so ask if you can take one home – flip through them and you’ll find local vendors as well!
One of the hardest things I’ve found in the wedding planning process is managing the guest list. We’re having a 350 person wedding which is HUGE by American standards, but actually pretty small by African standards. Nonetheless, we’ve had to manage guest expectations with both sides of the family. Whether that means allotting a certain number of invitations to parents, politely fielding requests to attend the wedding, or making the tough decision not to invite certain coworkers is necessary to keep your guest list, and consequently your budget, under control.
You’ll also want to identify hotel blocks and/or transportation options for your out of town guests. The Knot has a service called Skipper (I told you The Knot had everything!) which suggests hotels based on your wedding location and desired amenities, and you can contact them directly in the app. It’s best to reserve rooms at more than one hotel, at different price points, and maybe in different locations to accommodate guests who might want a more chill environment versus those who want to be in the thick of the action. Most hotel blocks allow you to block off rooms without having to pay for them, and Skipper makes it clear how many rooms you can reserve for your guests. Some hotels will provide a shuttle to the venue, and we’re even considering using Uber Events to provide codes to our guests as an alternative to a shuttle service.
Gifts & Registries
There are tons of stores where you can register for gifts, or you can choose to not register at all. Macys, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Crate & Barrel are popular choices, but don’t feel compelled to register at a store at which you don’t typically shop. I’ve never purchased anything from Crate and Barrel, so we registered at Target instead since I go there at least once a month and always walk out with something. Another favorite registry option of mine is Zola, because it has items from various different stores, you can group gifts into collections (we separated kitchen things, bed and bath, home decor, and items for entertaining), you can choose when an item ships, PLUS you can add any product from any website or make more expensive items group gifts. There are also registries that allow you to request money for charities (like Heartful.ly) or for experiences such as beach-side massages on your honeymoon (like Honeyfund).
Don’t forget gifts for your guests (favors), your bridal party, your parents, and your future spouse! There’s nothing wrong with the good old personalized pen wedding favor, but think about how you can incorporate your personality into wedding favors, and don’t leave choosing gifts to the last minute.
There is a LOT of information you may want to convey to your guests, and the best way to do that is through a wedding website. Since I make websites, I initially created a custom site for Jonathan and I, but ultimately decided to use a pre-made wedding template from Minted because it allowed us to easily track guest RSVPs and choose which events to display to which guests. I’ve already talked about Minted’s save the dates and guest address printing, but I definitely recommend them for your wedding website.
Ask for Help
I’m really bad with this because I love being hands on, but don’t hesitate to ask for help on tasks from family, friends, and especially your fiance! And if someone asks how they can help, jump at the chance! People can help you find vendors, can help financially, or can help DIY some projects to help save costs. My bridesmaids and I are going to be DIYing our bouquets as a cost-saving and bonding measure, because they expressed willingness to help do something crafty. We’re having a family member from each side co-emcee the wedding to save on that cost as well.
Prepping for Marriage
Though planning a wedding is fun, don’t forget to also plan for your marriage! Don’t blow your whole savings on the wedding, or you may find yourself fighting about money with your brand new spouse. Get pre-marital counseling either one on one or in a group environment (usually offered or required by your officiant if you are having a religious ceremony). At the very least, read a few books on marriage preparation – we read Getting Ready for Marriage: A Practical Road Map for Your Journey Together early in our engagement and it definitely helped us understand each other on a deeper level.
Did I miss anything in my ultimate guide to wedding planning? Shoot me your most pressing wedding questions below!