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How to Plan a Wedding: The 25-Step Guide

Feb 17, 2021
By Wedding Spot

You’ve decided to marry each other. Congratulations! Next step: Learning how to plan a wedding. Don’t worry — every newly-engaged couple is in the same boat. And we’re here to help.

In this post, we cover the basics of how to plan a wedding, from the engagement all the way up until the big day. We include additional links and resources for inspiration, provide expert advice, and, most importantly, give tips on how to actually enjoy the process.

This guide on how to plan a wedding is designed to help keep you organized and on track, whether you’re planning a wedding abroad or in your backyard, next year or next month, for 50 guests or 500. But before getting started, it’s important to remember that every wedding is different. While this guide explores 25 of the main aspects of wedding planning, it may not fit your wedding — and all of the little details that come with it — to a T. And that’s okay! Simply adjust and adapt accordingly, and you’ll be well on your way to the big day of your dreams.

Learn how to plan a wedding by following these 25 tips and steps:

1. Daydream about your day.

You and your partner have probably already discussed the kind of weddings you like. You attended a friend’s formal wedding together and agreed it’s not your style. Or you both went to a lakeside ceremony followed by a laid-back reception in a tent and absolutely loved it. Maybe Justin Bieber and Hailey Baldwin’s wedding was more your style.

Now’s the time to ask yourself what you want your wedding to look like. Do you want it to be large or small? Perhaps you want to incorporate vintage elements into your attire and the decor. Maybe you want a traditional wedding with a classic design. What about a Game of Thrones-themed wedding with an extravagant venue and an Iron Throne? What about location? Is there a specific wedding venue you have in mind, or a unique setting you’d love? Close to home or a far-flung destination?

Take a deep breath. You don’t have to decide right now. This is simply about brainstorming. Most couples change their vision multiple times throughout the planning process. But you have to start somewhere, so explore your options and let your imaginations run wild over a lunch date or hanging on the couch.

Pro tip: Plan a “meeting” with your partner. Before the meeting, both of you should prepare at least two inspiration images and your ideas for the following:

  • Location

  • Theme

  • Colors

  • Food

  • Activities

This way, you can share your thoughts from the get-go, and both of you can be heard by the other. Surprises aren’t usually a good thing when it comes to wedding planning. It’s important to be on the same page from Day 1!

2. Set your budget.

This is where you need to get realistic and take a close look at the funding for your wedding. Budgeting can be stressful, but try to look at it as an exercise in making wise financial decisions as a team. Here’s what to do:

  • Get clear on contributions from others. Are your parents helping with the wedding? A favorite aunt? Has a generous friend offered to pay for your photographer as their wedding gift? Get clear on how much everyone plans to contribute so you can factor that into your overall budget. We know this might not be the easiest topic to bring up with others, so prepare before having “the talk.”

  • Look at your savings. How much money do you each have in savings? What percentage of your savings are you willing to put towards the wedding? Make note of this early on and try to stick to it.

  • Start saving now. How much you can set aside will vary depending on the date of your wedding. Some couples opt to reduce their monthly spending (fewer lunches out, canceling the streaming services you barely use, etc.) and put those savings into their wedding account.

  • Add it all up. Put the above numbers together and you should have a rough estimate of your wedding budget.

A few caveats: You don’t HAVE to spend that final figure. You can opt for a lower-cost wedding, and put that money towards your honeymoon or a nest egg for married life. Also, don’t fret if your budget is tight. There are plenty of creative and affordable ways to design a beautiful low-cost wedding — and in the end, you’ll be glad you didn’t break the bank.

Pro tip: To minimize the chances of going over budget, you need to do two things: Create a comprehensive spreadsheet and add in a 5-10% buffer for unexpected expenses. Your spreadsheet should list every major service, fee, and potential expense. It’s not a quick task, but it’s absolutely vital if you want to get a realistic look at what your wedding will cost.

3. Bring in backup.

When it comes to learning how to plan a wedding, the most important step realizing that you and your partner can’t do it alone. There are simply too many details and intricacies. So don’t be afraid to enlist support when and where you need it. Here are a few options to consider:

  • Hire a wedding planner. A wedding planner will manage many of the tasks on your wedding checklist, as well as help you with decor, venue selection, wedding music, dress ideas that match your style, and much more. And they don’t have to be full-service. Some couples opt for partial-service planners. Others hire a day-of coordinator but do the rest of the planning on their own. Weigh your wedding planner options and decide what’s best for you!

  • Ask for help from family and friends. If you don’t have the budget for a planner, it’s okay to seek help elsewhere. It’s more than likely that your friends and family will be glad to help, but don’t lean on a single person too heavily. Remember, they also have work and their day-to-day lives to manage.

  • Utilize technology and resources. There are many excellent free wedding planning apps to help you stay organized and relaxed throughout the process. Download them! Also, consider checking out some top wedding planning books and following wedding experts on social media.

Pro tip: When it comes to completing any wedding-related task, don’t reinvent the wheel. Instead, lean on pre-made checklists and design templates (like the wedding invitation ones on Canva) to lighten the load. Chances are there’s a template, tool, or system already out there that you can work off of and save yourself the headache of learning new skills.

4. Choose a wedding date.

Select your wedding date as soon as you can. There may be some back and forth as you reach out to must-attend family and friends to hash out dates that work for everyone. But weekends for popular venues fill up fast, so decide as early as possible. If you’re planning a weekday wedding (a good option when your budget is tight), you’ll have more wiggle room.

Pro tip: Have your top-3 wedding dates in mind as you begin your wedding venue search so you can compare rates at the same venue or expand your options. If you’re planning 14+ months in advance, include two dates in one season and one date in another for variety. If you have less than 14 months and have a dream venue in mind, check what they even have available first before choosing the best dates.

5. Pick your wedding party.

Maid of honor. Best man. Groomsmen and women. Bridesmaids and bridesmen. Decide who among your close friends and family you want to be with you throughout your wedding. Choose wisely, because they’ll be the folks on hand from the rehearsal dinner until you drive off into the sunset.

Pro tip: Your choice for wedding party members should be based on what you want and how you feel. There will be egos involved, however, all you have to do to mitigate sore feelings is have an honest conversation with anyone who wasn’t chosen that may have been expecting it. If you’re really stuck, use this handy decision flow chart by Brides of North Texas to help pick. Additionally, consider inviting the people who didn’t make the cut to some “special” wedding activities, such as the bachelor/bachelorette party, rehearsal dinner, etc.

6. Build your guest list.

First things first, commit to keeping this process as stress-free as possible. Pick a relaxed time on a weekend when you don’t have other demands and sit down with your partner. Keep your approximate wedding size in mind — building a guest list for a small wedding is going to be different than choosing who to invite to a large one. Here are some tips to keep the process smooth:

  • Write down all of the names of people you’d like to attend — even if they live across the world or your partner doesn’t know them that well.

  • Track your guest names in a wedding planning app or a spreadsheet.

  • Manage guest requests from family. It’s okay to invite some people your parents would love to share your wedding day with, but try to keep the number reasonable.

  • Create two categories (A and B) for your guest list. A is for the names of family and friends who you absolutely want and/or need to have at your wedding. B is for the extended family, friends, and work colleagues you’d like to share your day with, but it wouldn’t devastate you if they couldn’t attend. Take a break and come back to list B. Narrow it down together until the list fits wedding size.

Pro tip: A good way to start sorting who you want to invite is by going through the contact list in your phone, as well as who you’re following/interact with on your most-used social media platforms. Chances are, if you want them at your wedding, you’ll at least have their phone number or Instagram handle.

7. Choose your wedding ceremony location.

Deciding where you’re going to hold the ceremony has an impact on where the reception, and the rest of the wedding events, will be held. Some venues offer both ceremony and reception space, while others, like many places of worship, may be ceremony-centric. Use a wedding venue search tool like Wedding Spot to sort venues by services offered, distance to other venues, and more.

Pro tip: If you’re planning on having live music for your ceremony, make sure your venue isn’t located in an area with a strict noise ordinance in place, and consider the needs of neighboring homes and businesses. You’ll also want to consider any sound issues your venue has that may interrupt your ceremony, such as nearby roads, gun ranges, etc.

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8. Choose your wedding venue.

This often goes hand-in-hand with Tip No. 7 but since not all venues offer both ceremony and reception services, let’s dive a little deeper. Wedding Spot lets you explore venues by location, style, budget, number of guests, and services offered by the site. Popular wedding venue types include:

  • Barn/farm/ranch

  • Outdoor

  • Garden/park

  • Brewery/winery/vineyard

  • Rustic/vintage

  • Beach

  • Hotel/resort

Once you’ve settled on your top three or four venues, it’s time to find out if they’re available on your wedding date. If they are, the next step is a site visit, either with your wedding planner or with your partner — or both.

Pro tip: Narrow down your search by budget first, then aesthetic and scenery. Choose several related aesthetics and scenery such as outdoor, beach, and waterfront to get the most options for your chosen area. Also, use a tool such as Farmer’s Almanac to estimate what the weather will be like on your wedding day and let that influence your venue decision.

9. Decide on the wedding’s theme, decor, and details.

If you’re having a Justice of the Peace wedding, followed by a dinner for one or two dozen of your closest family and friends, you don’t necessarily need a theme — it’s already baked in. This is a celebration, and you simply need good food, drink, and loved-ones on hand.

But many couples like to dream up a theme that adds to the magic and fun for you and your guests. Here are a variety of popular themes, with decor and color ideas to match:

  • Romantic. Oversized floral arrangements, satin ribbons, soft lighting, and pink, white, and pastel hues.

  • Formal. Black tie and a traditional wedding gown. Formal weddings usually include the whole nine-yards: Paper invites, multi-course sit-down feast, string quartet, sumptuous setting.

  • Winter/holiday. A winter wedding with indoor pines, fairy lights, and red ribbons adds a sprinkle of seasonal magic to an already special day.

  • Rustic. Add country-chic elements to your wedding for a traditional wedding style with a laid-back vibe.

  • Nature-inspired. This overlaps with rustic, but goes further with the botanical elements. Many couples with a nature-inspired theme also make sure every aspect of their wedding is eco-friendly.

That’s just scratching the surface. There’s truly an endless amount of wedding themes out there. A library theme held in a historic library. A pets-welcome outdoor wedding. A fall, pumpkin patch wedding. A seaside or tropics-inspired wedding. Choose one that puts a smile on both of your faces and fits your personality, and you can’t go wrong.

Pro tip: Remember that your venue can do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to bringing your theme to life. Use the architecture, wall colors, and layout to determine your key decor options. And keep in mind that while you don’t want to DIY every aspect of your wedding, themed decorations are a good area to invest in.

10. Create a wedding website and social media hashtags.

Like everything else, weddings have gone digital. Online options and social media are great ways to keep guests up to date on the wedding details. It also helps out-of-town guests stay oriented and connected to the big day.

Today, there are scores of easy-to-build wedding website templates. The wedding website builder With Joy lets you track guest RSVPs, share pictures of the wedding (before, during, and after), and offer transportation and hotel information for guests. Zola is another super popular option.

While you’re in the process of creating your website, consider creating a wedding hashtag for social media shares, too! It’s often a combination of your names, the year, and perhaps the location. A wedding hashtag generator makes it easy.

Pro tip: Plan out what content you’ll share on your wedding website and social media ahead of time. If you don’t, you’ll run the risk of letting it sit untouched. Updates such as your finished wedding registry, engagement photos, and accommodations are all great things to share.

11. Pick your save-the-date cards.

Save-the-date cards aren’t necessary, but they’re a nice option to give guests a heads up, especially if your wedding date falls on a holiday or some other time that guests may be busy or out of town. Sending them 6-10 months before the big day is a good rule of thumb, but it can vary depending on the rest of your wedding timeline.

Pro tip: When wording your save-the-date messages, good things to include are the wedding date, location, hotel information, wedding website address, and an actionable next step with clear instructions on what to expect next.

12. Choose your wedding invitations.

Consider picking out your formal invitations while your save-the-dates are top of mind. You don’t have to send them until about 6-12 weeks before the wedding, but there’s no harm in getting them ordered early.

It’s traditional to send out cardstock invites, and it’s lovely to have a hardcopy invite to frame after the wedding. Visit a stationery store, or browse invite websites online. Select invites that reflect your wedding style and theme. The words you select will also set the tone for your wedding. For example, use traditional language for a classic wedding and opt for laid-back wording for casual, rustic, or beach weddings.

If you want to buck the traditional trend, there are many lovely digital options for invites as well, including Paperless Post, Greenvelope, and evite. These are perfectly acceptable, and (double-bonus!), they’re eco-friendly and usually more affordable. You can even give invitees a link to your wedding website and have them RSVP there.

Pro tip: As people RSVP, add them to a free wedding seating chart tool so you can begin to assign seats, add in dietary restrictions and meal choices, and make special notes for your catering team that they can reference as you plan your menu.

13. Research vendors.

How many vendors you need to hire for your wedding depends on a variety of factors, including style and location. All-inclusive wedding venues will manage most of the vendors if you want them to, but you’ll have to meet to discuss style and specific choices. If you have a wedding planner, they’ll also do most of the research based on your preferred style.

If you’re planning the wedding yourself, vendors you’ll likely consider include:

  • Musician for the ceremony

  • DJ/band for the reception

  • Photographer

  • Videographer

  • Catering service

  • Hair/makeup

  • Florist

  • Officiant

Pro tip: First, keep your budget front and center when researching your preferred vendors. Then, ask around for recommendations in your area, preferably from weddings you’ve attended yourself. Finally, prioritize your spending. Ask yourself which areas you’d like to splurge and which you’d like to save. For example, some couples may prefer to spend more on food than flowers, while others may want to go all out with their videographer but book the same DJ for both the ceremony and reception.

14. Figure out what you’re going to wear.

It’s your wedding, so the best ensemble is the one you feel best in. There’s no right or wrong option. Perhaps you’ll wear jeans and a casual jacket. You might go with a bow-tie. Maybe you’re going to honor your cultural heritage with a traditional look — colorfully-patterned clothes, a Saukele, a kilt, a kimono. Just make your selection early so you have time to get everything altered if you need to.

Pro tip: Schedule enough time for multiple alteration appointments if needed just in case something changes between the first fitting and the last. Anything from weight to shoe choice to personal preference can change in a matter of months, so it’s good to leave some buffer.

15. Choose the food and beverage for your wedding reception.

Whether you’re going with a third-party caterer and wedding cake designer or an all-inclusive venue that provides these services, you’ll have plenty of decisions to make around food and drink. When creating your menu, pick a wide variety of options so every guest has something they’ll enjoy (include vegan and vegetarian choices), and ask guests to share their dietary restrictions on the RSVP. Once you have some options narrowed down, schedule a wedding tasting so you can pick your favorite.

Pro tip: Keep in mind that you’re not limited to one formal meal and dessert. You can opt for a budget-friendly buffet-style dinner, a multi-course serving of heavy appetizers, a food truck wedding, or even a brunch if you prefer an earlier celebration.

16. Create your registry.

Don’t just start adding toasters, flatware sets, and crystal vases to your wedding registry. Look around every room in your home and take an inventory of what you have and what you want. If neither of you enjoys baking, do you really need an electric mixer? Probably not. What about fine china? It can feel like you have to register for china, but not every couple truly wants a set for their home. Honeymoon funds are growing in popularity, so that’s always an option, too.

Pro tip: Create a spread of options across different price points and take your guest list into consideration. For example, if you and your partner just graduated from college and plan to invite a large group of friends from school, plan to include enough options in the $100 or less range for them to choose from. Or, if the majority of your guest list is close friends and family who are financially comfortable, don’t be afraid to add in the pricier pillows or cookware items they can feel special about getting for you.

17. Plan the before and after events.

There’s often much more to a wedding than the big day itself, though you won’t necessarily do them all. As usual, the particulars depend on the size of your wedding, the logistics, and the complexity of the ceremony. These are the events you may prepare or need time for beyond the wedding:

  • Bachelor and bachelorette parties. This isn’t your responsibility, per se, but if your wedding party is throwing bachelor or bachelorette outings, you’ll have to fit them into your schedule.

  • Rehearsal dinner. This usually takes place the night before the wedding and involves you, the wedding party, family, and friends from out of town. To throw a memorable rehearsal dinner, consider reserving the event room at your favorite restaurant, an outstanding restaurant near the venue, or, depending on your budget, booking an entire venue just for the dinner itself.

  • Honeymoon. If you’re having your honeymoon right after the wedding, you’ll need to fit more planning into your schedule. Add honeymoon decisions and activities to your wedding planning checklist. A week before the wedding, invite friends over for a packing party so you have your suitcase and travel necessities ready to go. If going out of town right after the wedding isn’t for you, some couples decide to put off planning the honeymoon or take an easy weekend trip until they’ve had time to relax.

  • Wedding after-party. You may want to continue the celebration after the formal reception is over. Choose an after-hours bar or club and plan ahead with the likely headcount.

  • Next-morning brunch. This puts a relaxed finishing touch on the wedding, and is especially appreciated by out-of-town guests. If your wedding was in a hotel, they can often provide a set brunch. Otherwise, book a local restaurant.

Pro tip: You should also plan breaks for yourself and your partner into your schedule. This includes ten-minute breaks to catch your breath between activities to entire weekends off between events to recenter and relax. Do whatever makes you feel rested. It can be anything from booking a luxury massage to deep cleaning your storage closet to taking your dog on a hike. Just add in these non-negotiable breaks to your schedule to keep your sanity in check. Which brings us to our next tip …

18. Enjoy some non-wedding-related activities.

It’s easy to slip into nonstop wedding planning mode. To prevent this, put regular check-ins with your partner on your checklist. Are you enjoying the wedding planning process? Are you distracted by wedding “stuff” during dates, or when spending time with friends?

Renew your commitment to enjoying the process and keeping things in perspective. The most important thing is your relationship and your life together today and in the future — not whether you decide on a donut wall or a cupcake tower.

Spend a weekend doing zero wedding-related activities. Of course, you’ll probably talk about it (because that’s fun!), but don’t make phone calls or tick boxes off your to-do list. Go for a hike or to a museum or a live music event or dinner out — the stuff you two enjoy together. It’s a good breather, and a reminder of what matters.

Today, many people take advantage of couples therapy before marriage. If you’re finding the stress of planning is causing a strain, make an appointment with a therapist. It’s not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of strength, honesty, and vulnerability. For more on this, check out our guide to managing wedding planning stress.

Pro tip: Look for fun hobbies to do in your spare time on sites like SkillShare to take your mind off wedding planning and learn about photography, taking care of plants, therapeutic journaling, and so on. You may even enjoy MasterClass with topics such as the Art of Negotiation, which will likely heavily factor into your future married life.

19. Send out your invitations.

This is an exciting moment in the planning process. Once those invites are in the mail, or you pressed “send” on your digital invites, the big day starts to feel more real.

Pro tip: Artist and owner of Invitations by Dawn has this to say about wedding invitation etiquette on her blog:

  • “Tip 1. Everyone invited should receive an invitation. Don't overlook people you know will be attending (parents, bridal party, ushers, etc.).

  • Tip 2. Clearly print the names of all invited on the inner envelope. This is your chance to state each person by name (this includes children).

  • Tip 3. Only one invitation per married couple.

  • Tip 4. Indicate a plus one is welcome by writing ‘and guest’ after the recipient’s name on the inner envelope.

  • Tip 5. Invitations to unmarried couples should be sent to the closest friend but each person’s name (first and last) should appear on the inner envelope.”

20. Get your marriage license.

You need a marriage license before you can officially get married. Usually, you’ll get the license from the city or county clerk, depending on where you live. Call your municipal or county clerk to find out the license requirements because they vary by state or local government. Things you and your partner may need to provide include:

  • Birth Certificate or passport

  • Driver’s license or other photo ID

  • Money

  • Witness

  • Certificate of divorce or death certificate (if previously married)

Pro tip: Something no one tells you about a wedding certificate is that, in most states, including California, it’s not a piece of paper you can grab from the office and fill out at home. We’ve heard stories of people swinging by on a lunch break with a friend who they definitely were not getting married to then having to explain to the court what was going on. Save your friend the embarrassment and only go to the office with your partner when you’re both ready to sign the paperwork.

21. Help out-of-town guests with accommodations.

For weddings where many guests are traveling from out of town, it’s traditional to help them find places to stay. Here are some tips to make it easier:

  • Talk to local family and friends about their ability and interest in hosting guests they know. Only suggest this option to people who love having (or being) houseguests.

  • Book a block of hotel rooms near, or at, the venue. Though you are reserving the room block, remember it is not your responsibility to pay.

  • Book rooms at multiple hotels if you are having a large wedding, or options are limited in the area.

  • Book rooms early, especially if your wedding is on-season in a popular vacation area.

Pro tip: Send multiple reminders to your out-of-town guests that prompt them to book their rooms by the required date the hotel gave you. Set up an auto-reminder using Google’s send later function or use an app like SMS Scheduler to text everyone at once.

22. Choose your wedding rings.

It’s possible you picked your wedding rings shortly after getting engaged. But if you didn’t, we recommend that you start looking a few months before the big day.

Select matching bands, or two distinct styles — they don’t have to be made with the same precious metal. Choose the one each of you prefers. The rings can be simple bands with a polished, hammered, or matte finish. Or, you may choose ornate bands with faceted gems and a combination of precious metals.

Pro tip: If you’re wondering whether or not a warranty is worth it, you’re not alone. There are a number of Reddit posts on the subject. Here are some reasons why you should at least consider it, according to one user:

“If the plan is lifetime and doesn't have a maximum number of uses or total repair value AND you live close enough to have it checked twice a year it will likely save you a boatload. Ask exactly what they cover (does it cover the stones or just the setting?) and if there are any maximums.

Most common repairs are in no particular order:

  • Rhodium dips ($20-40) resizing ($50-70)

  • re-tipping and tightening prongs ($15+ each prong)

  • replacing the shank (bottom part of the ring) ($50-$200)

  • replacing lost side stones (varies)”

Another good rule of thumb is if you couldn’t replace it all today in cash and feel good about spending that amount of money, then it’s probably worth it to pay for a warranty.

23. Take a break and manage last-minute issues.

The hiatus before the hoopla. The breather before the big day. The calm before the celebration. However you want to think about it, this is the sweet spot between all the planning and the actual wedding. There will be things to manage and decisions to be made. But mostly, this is a time of anticipation and excitement. Enjoy it.

Pro tip: Assign someone to be your crisis manager during this time. They’ll handle incoming requests, take care of tasks that they don’t need you for, and can filter out anything that actually does deserve your attention. Wedding planners, maids of honor, and best men are all great for this role as long as you trust their judgment and feel they are reliable.

24. Touch base with the wedding team.

Check-in with all of the key people in your wedding. Talk to the wedding planner to see if there are any final details they need from you. Reach out to the venue and vendor teams so you know they’re all set. Give a call to family members and the wedding party to make sure everyone feels comfortable with the itinerary. And finally, prioritize a few relaxed evenings with each other before the wedding.

Pro tip: Create a “week before” checklist with everyone’s names, contact information, and key points to address with them. Make this in advance and keep updating it as you go along so you don’t miss anything. Have someone involved in the planning process review and edit it accordingly.

25. Start the festivities and enjoy!

You know what to do from here. Congratulations!

Pro tip: Remember that your wedding day is about you. It’s okay if you don’t have a full-blown conversation with everyone there. And it’s okay if it’s not the best day of their lives too. So remind yourself of that in the chaotic moments. Enjoy celebrating your successful planning, your love for each other, and your future together!

Now you know how to plan a wedding!

But remember, this guide doesn’t cover every aspect of wedding planning. There are tons of other little details that go into a wedding, like selecting wedding favors for guests, writing your vows, choosing escort cards, and so on. Be sure to stay up-to-date with our blog for all of the additional tips, tricks, and advice to help you along the way.

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Wedding Spot

Wedding Spot

The Wedding Spot blog is designed to help couples navigate every step of the wedding planning journey. From before the engagement to after you say “I do,” our goal is to give you the tips, ideas, and inspiration to prepare for your big day — and all that comes with it.