How to Start Planning a Wedding in 5 Steps

How to Start Planning a Wedding in 5 Steps

Almost immediately after the engagement celebratory champagne bottles have been popped open, the first question your friends and family will ask is: “Have you picked a date yet?!”.  It can be a little overwhelming, to say the least. Where do you even start with planning a wedding? Maybe you’re the first one in your family to get married or the first of your friends to start planning a wedding (or both! Hey, that was me and I totally understand the feeling!).

After TONS of research for my own wedding, Pinterest-hunting, and admittedly a few stressed-out meltdowns, here is my recommended 5-step process to start planning a wedding.  I promise that these steps will help you establish a date (go and answer all of the questions with a smile on your face!) and will serve as a roadmap throughout your wedding planning adventure.

1 | Make a guest list

Who do you want surrounding you on your wedding day?  Start by making a list of people and give each person/family a “category”.  For example, your Uncle Joe and Aunt Mae could be “K family”. I used my initial + family for my side of the family and my husband’s initial + family for his side.  The same idea can be used for friends, too!

To break it down even more, you can start adding numbers after the category.  A friend that absolutely positively has to be at your wedding would be “K friend 1” while a friend that would be nice to have at your wedding would be “K friend 2”.  If you have to cut back on your guest list after venue shopping, the category numbers can help you decide where to draw the line.

Send the list over to both sets of parents and have them fill it out, too.  If they are excel-savvy, you can copy their list directly into your Google Sheet file.  If your mom and pop are more the pen and paper type, sit down with them and chat it out.  It’s best to know that you HAVE to invite your mom’s 8 work friends now rather than blow the venue maximum later.

2 | Establish 3 wedding priorities

The best advice I got from my wedding coordinator was to pick 3 things that will matter the most to you on your wedding day.  It really is impossible to do it all AND do it under budget when you don’t have a priority list. Trust me, girl, I tried in the beginning.  

I told my coordinator that I wanted a stress-free wedding day, my wedding guests to gather around us celebrating with good food and drinks, and to have a kickass photo album that captured everyone having a good time.  This translated into hiring a coordinator to manage stressful situations (check!), focusing on the catering to get delicious and casual feel-good food, and hiring a an A+ photographer with a documentary style of shooting.  

These three items will help narrow down the venue choices and expedite the “set the date” task.  Because I wanted really good food, I eliminated venues that didn’t fit with my food vision.

3 | Choose a time of year

Chat with your fiance about when you want to get married.  You don’t have to get specific about a day or even a month.  The “average” length of an engagement is around a year so if you got engaged in the fall, you might want to get married the following fall season.  I did not fall into the average, ha. Our engagement was 19 months because I really wanted to wait until we we finished graduate school. You do you!  Just chat it out before you start the search.

4 | Chat about budget

This one is SO important.  Get on the same page as your fiance about how much your wedding shindig will cost.  There is absolutely no good reason to go into debt for a wedding.

If your parents are contributing to the wedding, talk about what that looks like for you and your fiance.  If your parents or future-in-laws want to financially help out with the wedding (hooray!), discuss their expectations for your wedding.  Do they need or want to be involved in wedding financial decisions?

5 | Start venue shopping

You need a wedding date!  99% of the time, you need to book a venue to lock in a date.  A venue is the first piece of the wedding puzzle - get it settled and everything else can fall into place.  Use your info from the 4 steps above to filter out which wedding venues to visit.

  • Look at the guest list total.  If you are around 170, start with venues that can accommodate 150-200 people.

  • What are your 3 priorities?  If you have a dream caterer or florist in mind, eliminate venues that don’t allow outside vendors.  Want to get married outside? Check that the venue has an outdoor ceremony option (and if you’re in Texas, make sure that you’ve got an indoor backup option on site - avoid that surprise thunderstorm!).

  • When do you want to get married?  Think about weather for that time of year and which venue would match the vision.  Venues might look different from one season to the next (example, think vineyard wedding - the vines will be green for half of the year and bare for the other half)

  • Does it fit your budget?  The Knot magazine is actually a great resource for narrowing down venues.  They have dollar signs next to each listing - cross out the ones that won't’ work.  Don’t let a venue eat your entire budget!

The venue can often be the most difficult item to nail down for your wedding.  I’ve written more helpful tips on venue shopping, check it out:

I’m 100% team Google Drive for planning a wedding because it automated so many tasks (more about that here).