It's engagement season! If you are newly engaged or are expecting a ring within the next few months, here are first steps in your wedding planning. There are many important things to get done during one of the happiest seasons of your life, so handle these first items to have more joy and less stress.
You can find many timelines on websites, in wedding books, and from a friend who may have just gotten married. Nothing is absolute, and you must do what fits your schedule. If you don’t have 12 months before your wedding, do not worry. Just work down the list and tackle items as you can.
1. Establish your overall wedding budget
You do not need to make one decision – other than who you are marrying – without knowing what your overall budget is for the wedding. Will this money be coming from you and your fiancé? Will either sets of parents or grandparents be assisting with some funding? If you think your family will be assisting you, ask them now. Do not assume they will be chipping in, and you can politely let them know that for budgeting you need to know a number.
Once you have a number, STICK TO IT! Do not assume you will get cash as gifts to pay for the wedding or a big bonus within the next year that will help. Stick with this number so you are not stressed about how you will pay for the wedding over the next decade. Money is one of the biggest stresses in marriage, and you do not want to start off “debating” about money throughout this process.
Decide what are the biggest priorities for your wedding. Is there a venue you have always dreamed getting married that cost a lot? Is there a band you must book to celebrate this big day? Or maybe food is high on your list of items that will make you feel like your day is complete. Decide where you will allocate portions of money within your budget, so emotions do not take over when you are tasting cakes or trying on wedding dresses.
2. Determine the number of guests
This may be one of the hardest things to keep a handle on in the process. Many times, you will want to invite all those sorority sisters and every friend of your mom’s, but with today’s wedding prices, it’s just unreasonable to think you can invite everyone – and that’s okay! Give yourself permission NOT to invite people!
Your number of guests will determine your venue choices and your overall cost. It is not just the cost of the meal per person, but you have to have tables, chairs and decorations for everyone, so those prices add up and can put a large dent into your budget.
You do not have finalize the guest list now, but work with your family on some general ideas of who may or may not be coming. It may be that Great Aunt Sally gets bumped when you finalize the list, but decide now how many people you can invite that will fit into your budget.
3. Reserve the venue
During this process, go to several venues and see what are the pros and cons of each place. Not every place is perfect for your needs, but if you search, you will be able to find one that has all your must-haves and the majority of your wants. By now, you have an idea of how many people are you inviting, so this can also dictate your venue choices.
At this point you probably know a date when you want to get married, or at least the time of year, so that may help narrow down the search. Because of the pandemic and many brides delayed getting married last year, I know of one wedding venue in South Georgia that is already booked for 2022. Keep in mind getting the venue and the date will be the foundation of many of the other decisions you make.
4. Decide the overall style for your wedding
The overall style and feel for your wedding can be determined a lot by the venue or even the time of year you get married. If you love nature and outdoors, an outdoor venue like Grand Oaks Estate would give you that feel, but even within that, options from hay bales for ceremony seating to a more formal Chiavari Chair will decide more of your style….and budget!
Also, decide whether you would like this to be a formal affair or Sunday church dress attire. The time of day you have your ceremony will help direct the formality. Normally the later in the day, the more formal the attire.
5. Select the wedding party
Decision, decisions, decisions. By now you may be biting your nails because you want to include everyone, but that is just unrealistic. The size of your wedding party will directly affect your budget, so chose the size carefully. Sure, the groomsmen and bridesmaids will pay for their own outfits for the wedding, but you will be responsible for gifts for them and they, along with a plus one, will attend the rehearsal dinner which increases that monetary count.
It may be easier to have just one or 10 attendants so you do not hurt feelings, but a true friend will understand if he or she is not included for the wedding party. In fact, there are times when people are glad not to be chosen because of the financial cost to them individually.
6. Reserve the officiant
This person should be an important person in your life, your fiancé’s life, or both, so you definitely want to make sure he or she will hold that weekend to be a part of your wedding rehearsal and wedding. Weekends are busy for many of those working in a church, so especially if it’s during a busy time of year (such as Christmas) you want to make sure your weekend works well into his or her schedule.
7. Check into other vendors
Other vendors that are important to your wedding will be the DJ or band, photographer, caterer, and florist. Now is the time to check into their availability for your date and see what the average price is people pay for their services. This will give you an idea of how they all fit into your overall budget, again, choosing the items that are the most important to you first.
In making all these decisions, remember, this is your wedding...not your mother’s, not your best friend’s, not your mother-in-law’s. Be honest and open with your fiancé and make these decisions together. These are good first steps in communication, trust, honesty, and budgeting when dealing with everyone from vendors to family.
Enjoy making these decisions together!