42 Essential Wedding Planning Tips and Tricks
When planning your wedding, there are things that are nice to know, and there are things you need to know—advice so essential anyone who's lucky enough to hear it thinks, "I'm so glad someone told me that!" If you're wondering whether there's something you may have missed (or even if you've got everything under control), check out indispensable wedding tips from our editors and expert planners below.
1. Guests Come First
"When you first get engaged, before you really do anything else, sit down with your fiance and parents and write down a complete guest list," says planner Samantha Leenheer of House of Joy in Ohio. "This is so important to give you an accurate number of guests to plan for and will help create a more accurate budget as well. When you go searching for venues you will want a very solid guest count to lean on. You don't want to get stuck in a situation, where not all of your guests fit in the cocktail or ceremony room and you have to search for a new venue." As a rule of thumb, allow for 25 to 30 square feet per guest. That may seem like a lot, but it's really not if you count the space you'll need for the tables, bustling waiters, the band and a dance floor.
2. Investigate Wedding Blackout Dates
Know ahead of time if your wedding date falls on the same day as a trade conference, charity walk or other local event that could affect traffic and hotel room availability. Here's a handy list of potentially problematic wedding dates coming up in the calendar.
3. Hire a Planner
One of our top wedding tips? Enlist a wedding planner! Yes, a planner is an additional expense, but it's one that's well worth it. An experienced planner can help you set (and stick to!) a budget, pick a venue, hire the right vendor team, make sure you stay on track during the planning process, and ensure your big day runs without a hitch. While you certainly can hire a full-service wedding planner from the jump, you can also start smaller. "Don't be afraid to treat wedding planning like consulting," says Julian Leaver of Julian Leaver Events in Texas. "You don't always have to jump right in with a planner when you don't know your plans yet. Ask if they have an hourly beginner package that helps you construct a budget and find a venue and then move into a larger planning package if they are a good fit."
4. Consider a Destination Wedding
"Destination weddings are a blast for everyone involved," says Alex Moreau of XO Moreau in Texas. "Guests get to break free from their daily routine, explore new places, try new things and create lasting memories with their loved ones. For the couple, it's a chance to personalize their celebration with a touch of local flavor, all while getting a mini-vacation in the process. Plus, pending the location there may be no need for guests to travel back and forth to the venue—that's less stress for everyone!"
5. Inspect a Venue Thoroughly
"When you're searching for a venue I recommend asking the venue to see the back door and vendor entrance," says Leenheer. "Sounds odd but a well-kept back door and vendor space means you are less likely to have issues with bugs, rodents, or trash odors."
6. Listen to Mother Nature
Heed the weather and other potential annoyances. Guests have been known to skip out early from hotter-than-hot summer tent weddings and improperly heated winter loft receptions. Bugs (gnats, deer flies and mosquitos) also swarm in certain areas during certain seasons. Consider renting pest control tanks to alleviate the problem or including bug repellent in guests' gift bags. And if you want a sunset ceremony, make sure you know when to say your vows by checking SunriseSunset.com. Oh—and always, always have a Plan B for unexpected weather snafus.
7. Check Your Credit
Take advantage of the high cost of weddings and sign up for a credit card with a rewards program. Whether it gives you airline miles or great shopping deals, consolidating all wedding-related purchases to this card will help you accumulate thousands of rewards points (which could be used for your honeymoon).
8. Pay It Forward
Let one vendor lead you to another. Your wedding photographer can tell you which florist's blooms really pop, and your reception manager should know which band consistently packs the dance floor.
9. Hire a True Vendor Team
"When choosing your vendor team, make sure the people you're bringing on your team are great personality fits," says Angelica Laws of Angelica & Co. Weddings in Maryland. "We always match our couples with creatives who also could be their friends. That makes the day way more fun and the end results that much more enjoyable. In the end, you really need to love the people on your team you're entrusting with the biggest day of your lives to date!
10. Lighten Your List
The easiest way to trim your wedding budget? Cut your guest list. Remember, half of your wedding expenses go to wining and dining your guests. If it's costing you $100 per person, eliminating one table of 10 can save you $1,000.
11. Ask and You Might Receive
Request an extra hour for cocktails or for your band to throw in that Frank Sinatra sound-alike before you sign on the dotted line. Most vendors would rather secure the reservation than nickel-and-dime you early on (which might turn you off of them). Later on, though, they may be less inclined to meet you halfway.
12. Let Your Personalities Inspire You
"We always encourage our couples to stop overthinking traditions and lean into what matters the most to them," says Laws. "Insert those memories and moments you've had throughout your relationship (like your standing Friday pizza nights and that whiskey bar you love) and use that as your inspiration in your wedding day's details."
13. Make a Meal Plan
Another unforeseen expense? Feeding your wedding day crew. Before you sign the contracts, make sure you're not required to serve the same meal to your vendors that guests will receive. Otherwise, you could be paying for 20 additional lobster tails. Choose a less expensive (but equally hearty) meal for them instead. You will have to let your wedding caterer know a couple of days before the wedding exactly how many vendors you need to feed (don't forget photography assistants and band roadies) and what you want them to serve.
14. Get Organizationally Focused
In a Google folder, Dropbox or three-ring binder, compile all your correspondences with vendors, notes you make during meetings, and photos you want vendors to see. Set up a special email address dedicated to your wedding, and store important vendor numbers in your phone. For on-the-go planning that keeps everything in one place, download the The Knot All-In-One Wedding Planner app to keep all of your planning info digitally on-hand at all times.
15. Tend to Your Bar
Typically, you need one bartender per 50 guests to keep the line at a minimum. But if you're serving a signature cocktail that cannot be made ahead of time (or in large quantities), consider adding an extra server designated to this task.
16. Leave Some Room in Your Wallet
Reserve about half of your wedding budget for your venue rental and catering, and then divvy up the rest as you prioritize your vendor team. It's also essential to allocate an extra 5 to 10 percent of your money for surprise expenses like printing extra invites because of mistakes, additional tailoring needs, umbrellas for a rainy day and ribbons for the wedding programs.
17. Don't Be Afraid to Ask
Your wedding vendors should be your go-to, most-trusted experts during the planning process. When working with them, you should feel free to really explore what it is you want—maybe it's serving a late-night snack instead of a first course or doing a portrait session rather than an engagement session. The bottom line is that you should feel like you can have an honest conversation with them about what it is you want. Their job will be to tell you what you can and can't do given your wedding budget.
18. Lean Into Color and Pattern
"Creating a colorful and pattern-filled wedding can be a blast!" says Moreau. "Start by picking a color scheme that reflects your personal style and vibe, and don't be afraid to mix and match patterns for a visually striking look. Add some luxurious fabrics like silk or velvet to add a touch of opulence. For an unforgettable touch, incorporate statement floral arrangements that pack a punch of colors and textures. And lastly, use lighting to enhance the colors and patterns of your decor for an extra pop of pizzazz. By following these tips, you'll create a fun and playful wedding that will make your guests say "wow"!
19. Wait for a Date
Sometimes, last-minute planning can work in your favor—as long as you're flexible. The closer your date, the more bargaining power you have. Since most people book their wedding venues at least six months in advance, calling for open dates two months prior to your desired time can save you up to 25 percent. And, Friday and Sunday weddings should cost about 30 percent less than Saturday weddings.
20. Manage the Mail
Of course you want the perfect stamps for your wedding invitations. But not all stamps are widely available at every post office, especially in large quantities. Save yourself scouting time by ordering them online at USPS.com. And be sure to weigh your invitation and all the additional paper products before you send them out so you can attach the right amount of postage. Ask your stationer about the need for additional postage for oddly shaped envelopes.
21. Don't Overlook the Power of Lighting
"From elegant chandeliers and glowing lanterns to whimsical string lights, functional lighting and dazzling LED light shows, lighting installations can create a truly unique and unforgettable experience for your guests," says Moreau. "They can transform any space into a magical wonderland and enhance the beauty of your wedding, while also serving a practical purpose. So, don't be afraid to get creative and let your imagination run wild with the endless possibilities of lighting!"
22. Keep Your Stationery Cohesive
"Try to avoid ordering from many separate stationery vendors for invitations and day-of paper goods (menus, escort cards and place cards)," says Xin Huang of Le Petite Privé in New York. "Trying to match the font and paper quality will be very time consuming. Keeping things cohesive will really save lots of time and headaches comparing and contrasting to find a perfect match."
23. Prepare for Rejection
Know that as a rule, about 10 to 20 percent of the people you invite won't attend. Naturally, this depends on the location of your wedding (destination weddings are harder to attend), how many out-of-towners are on your list and the timing of the event (some guests may have annual holiday plans).
24. Make a Uniform Kids Policy
You have four choices: You can welcome children with open arms; you can decide to have an "adults only" wedding; you can include immediate family only; or, you can hire a child care service to provide day care either at the reception space, in a hotel room or at a family member's home. To prevent hurt feelings, it's wise to avoid allowing some families to bring children while excluding others (unless, of course, the children are in your wedding party).
25. Prioritize Your People
Pare down your guest list with the "tiers of priority" trick. Place immediate family, the wedding party and best friends on top of the list; follow with aunts, uncles, cousins and close friends you can't imagine celebrating without. Under that, list your parents' friends, neighbors, coworkers and so on. If you need to make some cuts, start from the bottom until you reach your ideal number.
26. Take It One Step at a Time
Put together a wedding planning schedule (and follow our wedding-planning checklist!) and do things one by one, in a logical order, so you don't take on too much too fast and end up with everything snowballing around you. Don't hire any vendors before you've confirmed your date; don't design your cake before you've envisioned your flowers; and don't book a band before you've settled on a space.
27. No Ring, No Bring
If your guest list is bursting at the seams, assess the plus-one scenario. Do a faux seating chart in your mind, and imagine whom your single pal would sit with. If it's a table of singles that she knows pretty well, then you're all set. If it's a table of couples (making her the odd one out) or if it's a table of singles where she won't know anyone, consider bending the rules. If asked why you're not allowing single friends to bring guests, size or budget constraints or your parents' never-ending guest list are always good reasons.
28. Release Rooms
As soon as you've picked a date, start to look for hotels in a wide variety of price points. Many hotels allow you to reserve rooms for guests under a special wedding block and a reduced rate. You can then release any unbooked rooms a month prior to your wedding. If the hotels you contact insist upon contracts with cancellation penalties, just say no—you don't want to be responsible for rooms you can't fill.
29. Provide Accurate Driving Directions
Make sure guests know where they're going. As easy as online map programs are to use, sometimes the directions are wrong or there's a quicker, less traffic-prone route to take. Ask your ceremony and reception sites for printouts or digital copies of recommended driving directions and even test out the routes yourself. Then include the best directions on your wedding website or email them to your guests to print out if they'd like.
30. Keep a Paper Trail
Get any nonstandard changes to your agreements in writing or send the vendor a confirmation email saying, "Hello, just confirming that you'll keep the venue open until 2 a.m. versus midnight." Don't just assume everything's all set—sometimes, by the time the actual day rolls around, your contact for a certain may no longer be working there to vouch for you.
31. Schedule the Setup
You must make sure there's ample time for setup. If you're renting a venue and bringing in outside help, ask what time people can come in to start setting up. See if they can do it the day before, or at the very least the entire wedding day, before the event starts. "Discuss if your venue is flexible with the times vendors deliver and pick up," says Leenheer. "Inquire if there are events before or after yours, as this will also impact the availability of the venue and their staff to get the space cleaned well and turned around in time."
32. Learn About Marriage Licenses
You can check your state's license requirements online, but confirm with a call to the county clerk's office to see when they're open. Even if it's open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., they may issue marriage licenses only during slower times like, say, Thursdays from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. Give a copy of your marriage license to your mom or your maid of honor (just in case you lose yours during the final days before your wedding).
33. Go Over Ground Rules
Be prepared—ask the manager of the house of worship or site where you'll be married for the list of restrictions (if any). For instance, is flash photography or bare shoulders prohibited? Or, if you're exchanging vows outdoors, are you allowed to plant tent stakes in the lawn (which is often not allowed)?
34. Allot Time for Transportation
"Couples often forget to add enough time for transportation," says Leenheer. "Shuttles need more time to get from one location to another because of their size and capacity they are a bit slower moving. Not just longer drive time but also add time for guests or yourself to load and unload. Your wedding party will need to collect their things, clean up and get off or on the shuttle. We recommend between five and ten minutes, depending on the number of guests, of loading and unloading time and add five minutes on either end of the drive time you can find in google. Even better if you run the drive time during the expected time frame so you can estimate more realistic traffic patterns"
35. Track Down RSVPs
"When it is time for guests to RSVP and the due date is coming up fast, we recommend reaching out to guests about one week prior the RSVP due date to start requesting any stragglers send their RSVPs," says Leenheer. "It is helpful to remind them that you need a final headcount for your catering and rentals. If any situations arise this is a great time to talk about them whether they have the time off, are on call that night, or possibly are healing from a recent medical procedure. Have a discussion so you can game plan and know how to deal with them as an RSVP as well as for any seating needs that need to be arranged."
36. Trust Your Pros
"While it may be hard to give up control of your wedding to another person, I have seen time and time again our couples get much better experiences overall when they trust their vendors and give them creative freedom," says Caitlin Fulton Kuchemba of Fulton Events in Pennsylvania. "Wedding vendors are some of the most hardworking and committed people I have ever met—our names are attached to our work and more than anything we want to create something amazing for you. If you let us take the lead, trust our experience and give us creative freedom, your wedding will be worlds better than it would be if you try to micromanage the planning or design process. This is the same with your florist, photographer, videographer, stationery designer and more. That is why it is so key to hire vendors you trust from the start who will turn the vision you had in your head into something even more incredible if you let them."
37. Classify Your Cash
Wedding budgets are all about balance. Start your budget planning by making a checklist of the crucial details, like the music, your wedding gown, the invitations, the flowers and the photographer, and assign a number to each—one being the most important and three being the least. Invest your money in all your number ones and cut corners on your number threes. (But everything can't fall into the number one category!) For example, if a designer gown and fabulous food are what really matter, you may have to choose simple invitations and smaller floral arrangements. And remember, says Huang: "Don't overspend in one category and leave yourself bare for other categories."
38. Help Guests Pay Attention
Make sure your guests can both see and hear from their seats. If people are seated farther than 15 rows back from your ceremony altar or podium, consider renting a mic and a riser. This could range anywhere from $50 to $100, depending on the equipment used. You'll need to coordinate the delivery and setup with your ceremony space, so put your wedding planner or best man in charge of this task.
39. Write Down Your Digits
Another top wedding planning tip: Keep an emergency contact sheet or phone with your vendor contacts on you on your wedding day—it may come in handy in case your limo driver gets lost or you decide you'd like your photographer to take some behind-the-scenes shots.
40. Don't Rush to Purchase Attire
"Your attire is one of the key pieces in providing a cohesive wedding design and is not something that should be rushed," says Fulton Kuchemba. "I've had far too many couples who purchased their wedding gowns or attire before evening booking a venue or considering the design direction they want to go in. Remember that a lot of different styles might look good on you, but you have to consider what will be comfortable and appropriate for your specific venue on your specific date. I've had brides purchase larger formal ball gowns for more casual summer outdoor weddings and they are so uncomfortable all day. Comfort and feeling your best is key and it all starts with your attire. Also don't allow both partners to choose their attire in a vacuum, have a trusted source—a friend or even better, a professional stylist who can work with you to ensure your attire fits both of your personalities and preferences, but also coordinate well together to give the wedding a more complete feel."
41. Call the Fashion Police
Don't shop for attire on your own—all the ensembles will start to look the same after a while and it will be harder to recall which style you really loved. But be careful about who you bring. If a parent or sibling can't make the trip, ask a friend who is truly honest. This is the time when you really need to know what looks best.
42. Be Realistic With Your Time
When it comes down to the last month of your planning (and when you're particularly harried) look at your mile long to-do list and cut three things. Yes, cut three things. Not crucial things you just don't feel like doing, such as picking a processional song or confirming final details with all of your vendors. Eliminate only the over-the-top tasks like hand-painting "Just Married" signs, or baking cookies for all of the welcome bags. Cross them off and make a pledge not to think about them again.