How to Plan a Wedding: The Ultimate Guide
"How to start planning a wedding?" That's what you'll find yourself thinking once the initial excitement of being engaged wears off. You'll need to start making decisions with the end goal of having a wedding that reflects you as a couple. Here are the most important steps to planning a wedding that is as unique as you.
1. Set a Wedding Planning Timetable
The minute you get engaged, everyone will be asking for your wedding date. But in reality, you won't be able to set an exact wedding date until other major decisions—like choosing (and booking) your venue—are made. So first, focus on determining a range of dates that'll work for you. The average engagement lasts 15 months, but also think about what season you'd prefer, any major holidays or family events you'd like to avoid conflicting with, and how long you predict you'll need to plan.
2. Create a List of Priorities
Figuring out what you want from your day is where to start when planning a wedding. What are the most important elements to you? Maybe you want an excuse to have great food and drinks? Want to throw a huge party late into the night with great music? Maybe big shindigs just aren’t your style and you want something small and quiet?
Having your priorities straight will guide the rest of the process, making it easier to choose where you’ll compromise.
3. Find Your Wedding Vision and Pick a Venue
Before you try on a single wedding dress, book a reception band or sample a bite of wedding cake, look at the big picture and imagine the style and vibe of your ideal wedding. Is it a candlelit evening in a mansion or a barefoot ceremony on a tropical beach? While you're picturing your perfect wedding, here are some key questions to consider: Big (everyone you know) or small (just close friends and family)? Outdoors or in? Home (one of your hometowns or your current city) or away (a destination wedding)? Modern, classic, romantic, vintage, rustic or all-out glam? Fancy, casual or somewhere in between? To help you get a better idea of what you want (and what you don't want), take our fun Style Quiz that takes all the guesswork out of creating your dream wedding vision, then matches you with beautiful venues and other awesome pros that fit your style. Don't forget to check out magazines, social media and real wedding photos—and don't limit yourself to the obvious sources. Something as unlikely as a wallpaper pattern, a scene from a favorite movie, or a family heirloom can spark your creativity. Bottom line: Always keep your eyes open for inspiration.
4. Set a Wedding Budget
Sit down with your families and figure out how much everyone is contributing to your wedding. This number will affect every decision about how you plan your wedding and purchase you make, so be sure to work out your budget before you start planning with our The Knot Budget Calculator. It can be an uncomfortable conversation to have, but it's better to get it out of the way now so that you have a realistic picture about what you can spend.
5. Organize, Organize, Organize
If you want to know how to plan a wedding, one thing rules above all else: organization. Shareable spreadsheets are your best friend here. By keeping your essential documents in the cloud, you, your partner and any family members can share access and edit things together so that everyone is on the same page. You’ll also need a plan for keeping physical receipts, brochures and other items from vendors.
A master checklist is also a good idea. Consider The Knot app where you can make a list of every single thing that needs to be done before the wedding day.
6. Plan Your Wedding Guest List Tactfully
As you begin to build your guest list, you'll need to consider several factors. If you have a particular ceremony or reception site in mind, for instance, you're going to be limited by how many people it can accommodate (you can't squeeze 300 people into a lighthouse). Would you rather have quality one-on-one time with each guest or throw a once-in-a-lifetime party for all your friends and family? If mom and dad won't budge about inviting throngs of friends and family, you'll have to hear them out—especially if they're footing a major part of the bill. Keep in mind that including more guests in your wedding plans means higher prices, as catering costs are generally calculated on a per-head basis. So, in addition to location, your budget will have a big influence on the size of your guest list.
7. Register (Before Your Engagement Party)
Worried that you'll look gift-grabby if you register too early? Don't. With all the engagement parties, showers and well-wishing relatives in your future, everyone will appreciate your foresight. After all, planning a wedding definitely includes gifting. And although gifts are optional for engagement parties, some of your guests may want to give you something to commemorate the occasion, so register for at least a few items beforehand so they don't have to ask (or guess) what you'd like.
A final note: Don't include registry information in your engagement party invitations or in any other formal manner. Stick to using word of mouth or links on your wedding website.
8. Insure Your Engagement Ring
No matter how careful you are, the peace of mind that engagement ring insurance will give you and your fiance is worth it. There are two basic ways to do it: As an extension of your renter's or homeownerspolicy (which would reimburse you for a set amount of cash if you lose the ring), or through a company that specializes in jewelry insurance (which might offer more coverage than a standard homeowner's policy by replacing a lost or stolen ring).
9. Choose Your Wedding Party
Now it's your turn to propose to your bridesmaids and groomsmen. Remember, the earlier you ask, the sooner you can enlist their help. And keep in mind that your wedding party is agreeing to spend their money and donate their time—be considerate and kind by informing everyone about all your plans (including costs for attire, bachelor and bachelorette parties and more), showing them a good time and making sure they know how much you appreciate them.
10. Consider a Wedding Planner or Coordinator
If you're a super-busy couple, have demanding jobs or have big (read: complicated) dreams for your wedding weekend, hire a full-time wedding planner. A professional can help you know how to plan a wedding under those circumstances and to prepare your entire event, from the engagement party to the honeymoon. You can also hire a part-time consultant or coordinator to devise a wedding blueprint—including budget, schedule and lists of good vendor and site choices—before you launch solo into the preparations. Another option is a day-of wedding coordinator, who will make sure everything goes smoothly on your wedding day. (Find a consultant in your area with our local wedding vendor search.)
11. Book a Wedding Venue (and Set Your Date)
Your reception venue will become the backdrop for virtually all your wedding photos. It can influence everything from heavy hitters like your budget and guest list to smaller details like your menu (if you choose a venue with in-house catering). Ensure that you plan to get the look, price and extras you want by scouring local listings, shopping around, scheduling visits and booking early. Bonus: By signing your venue contract, you will officially have your wedding date (congrats!).
12. Hire Priority Wedding Vendors
If you just can't imagine getting married without a certain local band playing at the reception or a photographer whose work you love, act fast. Many top wedding photographers and other in-demand wedding vendors are hired more than a year in advance, and once they're booked, they're gone. Translation: Figure out what your highest wedding priorities are, whether it's world-class catering or exquisite flowers, and snap up the vendors whose work you love.
13. Shop Wedding Dresses
One of the most fun outcomes of successfully learning how to plan a wedding is dress shopping. Begin your search by browsing wedding dress photos online (and saving your favorites—you'll want to take them with you to your appointments). Then, learn the lingo before setting foot in a dress salon. Read up on silhouettes, necklines, trains and hues that might flatter you. The season will also affect your choice. Getting married in the sweltering summer? Go with lightweight fabrics such as chiffon, linen or organza. Having a winter wedding? Brocade, faux fur and velvet will keep you warm. Satin, shantung, silk and tulle are perfect year-round.
A final tip for dress shopping: start as early as you can. Ordering and tailoring can take months. Plus, you’ll need additional time for final touch ups..
If you’re looking for a suit, start shopping as early as possible. A well-tailored suit takes time to find and customize to your frame. Explore local boutiques, department stores and even online startups – there’s a surprisingly wide variety of options available for suits these days. Just be sure to chat with your partner about their wedding day fashion plans. You’ll want to make sure your outfits complement each other. Also, consider the post wedding wearability of any suit you’re thinking of purchasing. From job interviews to important meetings, you can get a lot of wear out of a classic custom-tailored suit.
14. Take Time to NOT Plan
Planning a wedding is a big undertaking; it may as well be the first big test of your marriage. It’s a long (but rewarding) gauntlet of compromise, sacrifice and stress management. Before your wedding, take some time just the two of you to do anything but wedding planning. It will help you remember why you’re doing all of this in the first place.
15. Share Your Proposal Story
Not sure where to begin with your wedding planning? Take our Style Quiz and we'll pull together a custom wedding vision and vendors to match, just for you. After that, create a free, personalized wedding website to keep your guests informed (and excited!) about your plans, and a time-saving Guest List Manager to organize your attendees. Even better? You can sync your Guest List Manager and wedding website to update everything at once.