Planning your wedding can be just as exciting as your engagement, full of joy and wonder and discovery. The key to successful wedding planning is to be thoughtful, thorough, and loving. That’s it!
I’m going to walk you through a deliberate, step-by-step process that will help you avoid lots of potential stress and heartache.
Here’s how to do it:
Step 1. Think about the wedding you want. FEEL about what you want. What do you want your wedding ceremony and reception to look, sound, smell, and taste like? Who is there with you? What are you hearing? How do you feel, and how does the space feel?
What things do you want to have happen? How does everything look? Is it night or day (or both), bright or dim, large or small? How might it start, and how might it end? Do you very best to imagine as much of it as possible. You can do this with your sweetie, or do it separately and compare your results.
If you don’t know where to begin, think about the wedding that you don’t want.
Step 2. What’s your budget? How much money do you have available for everything and everyone involved in the ceremony and reception? That includes the venue, caterer, photography, entertainment, decorating, officiant, planner/coordinator, and cake?
If other family members have indicated their desire to contribute, now is the time to find out how much money they are willing to offer. The rest of your planning will go much easier when you know your budget to within a thousand dollars or so.
Step 3. How many guests do you plan to invite? Forget who you think will accept your invitation. It’s the number of guests you plan to invite that should guide your decisions around venue and catering choices.
I have a lot to say about whom to invite, some of which can be found in older posts of this column on the online version. My favorite piece of advice is one that I attribute to Judith Martin, also known as Miss Manners, who says: “Invite the people you love and who love you.” Really, who else do you want at your wedding? You want to look at every face, every single person, and think, “I’m glad you’re here!”
Step 4. Where in the world do you want to get married? What state? What city, town or county? Do you want to be in the city, the country, or in the suburbs? We’re talking geography here. We’ll deal with the specific venue soon.
Step 5. When do you want to get married? Is there a season or two that you favor? Are there months that you especially like or are off-limits? What year? What day of the week do you like (Pro Tip: Venue rates are often lower on Fridays and Sundays than they are on Saturdays.) Perhaps you have an exact date in mind. Even if you don’t — and that’s perfectly fine — it’s a good idea to look at some dates to see if they might work.
Step 6. Choose a venue (or two, if your ceremony will be in one place and your reception at another.) It’s easy to start your shopping online. Once you’ve narrowed down your list, make an appointment, grab your sweetie, and go out and see how each venue looks and feels.
Step 7. Chose a caterer. Finally, food and drink! Yum! And so many choices! It can seem mind-boggling at first, but a good caterer will walk you through the vast array of possibilities. They will help you make choices that work for your needs and desires while staying within of your budget.
Step 8. I’m cheating a little bit here and breaking this step into four parts. In no particular order, it’s time to make your choices around photography, decorating, entertainment, and an officiant.
Entertainment: If dancing is important, you’ll want a DJ or a band. If not, a room-filling sound system with recorded background music played from your iDevice or computer will be just fine. Pro Tip: Don’t depend on an internet connection for your wedding music!
Photography: Here are my basic criteria for choosing a wedding photographer, in descending order of consideration: the quality of the images shown in the photographer’s (hopefully extensive) portfolio, their personality, and the price. If the first or second criteria don’t make the grade, the last one isn’t important. Move on.
Pro Tip: Anyone can get a good photograph of a happy couple outside in the daytime. If your reception is going to be indoors or at night or both, you want to see a portfolio full of images made in those settings. Look for photographs that show well-exposed people while allowing the venue that the couple chose to also look good.
Decorating: You might be engaging a florist or an event design company or doing it yourself—or some combination thereof. If you wedding is complex, start step eight with decor, followed by entertainment.
Officiant: You need someone to make it official! Choices range between denominationally-accredited, seminary-trained clergy; professional, internet-ordained clergy; and friends or relatives who obtain an internet ordination. I’ve watched hundreds of weddings and seen all three used. How well the ceremony goes depends more upon the officiant’s personalty, preparation, and skills than it does anything else.
Step 9. Buy something to wear. Now that you know how your wedding will look and feel, you can make an informed choice about clothing.
Wedding dresses can take six weeks to six months or more to arrive from the time you place your order. With that in mind (and even if there isn’t a dress being ordered), plan to have steps one through eight completed before you get here.
Step 10. Send out some invitations. You’re just two months away now! It’s time to invite the people you love and who love you to your fantastic, well-planned wedding!
Even in ten steps, wedding planning is complex. There is a lot to do. You’re likely to be spending money in amounts rarely seen in your life. The key to success is planning—thoughtful, thorough, and loving planning. Do that, and I promise you’ll have a fantastic wedding!
David L. Egan is the proprietor and steward of the castle at Chase Court, a wedding ceremony and reception venue in Baltimore. He also consults with couples about their weddings at gettingtheweddingyouwant.com