10 Things To Do Before You Start Planning Your Wedding

November 14, 2012 by Pauline Millard
shefinds | Weddings

It’s day 2 of our New Bride Guide series, and today we’re tackling the very first steps in the planning process. The bridges you need to cross once you get that ring on your finger. This includes announcing your engagement (the right way!), the decisions you need to make regarding size, date, and venue (before you even pick a dress or meet with a vendor), and even the difficult budgeting decisions that need to be made day 1.

The good news is that you got the rock. You got the guy. Congratulations! Now, before you start planning the most perfect, magical wedding day ever, there are a few details (To-do’s! Already!) to take care of first:

Remember: if there are any terms you don’t understand, check out our wedding dictionary.

1) Announce your engagement to friends and family — the right way. When announcing your engagement, a blast to all your Facebook friends is just not appropriate. We recommend categorizing your friends, families and acquaintances  by level of intimacy, and then announce the news in that order:

First tier: These are the people you should tell first, such as your parents, siblings and closest friends. Make sure they hear it from you, in person,  and not on their newsfeed. If you think there are other people who might want to hear it directly from you, maybe chronically single friends, the person who set you up, or your ex (if you’re still friends), pick up the phone and tell them yourself before they catch wind of the news.

Second tier: There are many people that you only keep in touch with via e-mail or see sporadically at parties. For that group, consider a digital announcement.

Third tier: Eventually you will want to make the engagement official online. When is it to update your Facebook relationship status to “Engaged”? Once you’ve gotten in touch (in person, via phone or e-mail) with all of your friends and extended family, you can update your social media profiles. This may be a week or 2 after the proposal, so be patient.

As for posting a photo of the ring, it’s a personal decision. It is generally accepted that one tasteful photo of the ring is acceptable, as long as you don’t go into specifics such as carat size or anything that may sniff of bragging. Err on the side of modesty.

2) Pick a date and time for your wedding. After asking to see the ring, most people will ask if you’ve set a date. The Knot offers some great pointers for picking a date, which include:

Availability: When planning a wedding, often two venues, both the church or temple and the reception hall, have to be in sync. You may not want a huge gap in time between the ceremony and reception, and this may play into what day you book. Transport between the two venues should also be considered and worked into your budget.

Sentimentality: What if you could get married on anniversary of your first date? The anniversary of your engagement? If you’re a sucker for romance and want a date or month that is special to you and your groom, go for it, under the caveat that you might be limiting your options.

Season: If you’ve always wanted an outdoor, tented wedding, you’re looking at a summer wedding. If you like black tie opulence, go for a winter, evening wedding. It’s important to do a little soul searching about what kind of bride you want to be when considering a wedding date.

Budget: June, August, September, and October are the most popular months to get married and will therefore be more expensive. Winter months, such as January, February and March, less so. Consider a Friday evening wedding if you find yourself in a peak wedding month but no available weekend wedding dates. (Instant excuse for a black tie event!). Venues almost always have Friday nights free and they generally charge less for them.

Something else to consider: black out dates. The truth is, some dates just won’t work. Holiday weekends seem like an awesome, obvious choice, but keep in mind that people often plan family vacations during them and travel fares may be higher. There are other wedding dates to avoid, such as the week between Christmas and New Year’s, as well as Thanksgiving weekend.

3) Choose the style of your wedding. Weddings are all about personal style and the event itself should be a reflection of your taste. If you’re a jeans and T-shirt kind of gal, a formal wedding may not seem authentic. There are a handful of other considerations:

Formal: It’s all champagne wishes and caviar dreams! Well, not exactly, but think big gestures, such as a black tie dress code, formal seated dining, top shelf liquor, a big band, a ball gown for the bride and tuxedos for the groomsmen. Consideration: formal weddings often come with a hefty pricetag (although there are always ways to cut costs.)

Informal: You can still get married without the pomp and circumstance of a big, formal wedding.  Informal works well for small weddings, rustic or outdoor locations, couples on a budget (or where the parents aren’t contributing), destination weddings (barefoot on the beach), and are often less expensive than formal ones. Consideration: limit the number of attendants and encourage guests to come as they are (cocktail or casual attire).

Traditional: A traditional wedding reception starts with a spiritual ceremony at a church, temple or other house of God, then proceeds to a receiving line, cocktail hour, introduction of the couple, first dance, father-daughter dance, mother-son dance, toasts, seated dinner, cake cutting, bouquet toss, garter toss… phew, you still with me? Consideration: the most traditional of weddings require a planner (there are many parts and people to orchestrate!).

Destination: When members of both families are spread across the country, a destination wedding is a good idea, and can serve as neutral territory. Destination weddings can be held anywhere – the beach, mountains, wine country, foreign country, castle, cruise, the city where you met. Consideration: Match your decor, color scheme and theme to the locale. If you’re having a beach wedding, nautical invitations or a starfish centerpiece is fun.

Civil Ceremony: Just want to elope? All you’ll need is a civil ceremony, which is usually held at city hall or the local justice of the peace. Everyone — even if they are having the biggest bash known to man — has to pick up their marriage license at city hall anyway. Make a day of it.

4) Settle on a budget: It used to be traditional for the bride’s family to pay for the wedding, but it’s becoming more common for both sides to chip in. Talking about money is almost always awkward, and add in laws, a huge event like a wedding, and heightened emotions, and the whole process can feel like a root canal. In fact, dental work may even be preferred.

Some tips:

Be clear on what you and your fiance want: Before you start hitting up the family, map out what you and your fiance could afford on your own. That way, if neither side can offer you anything, you still have a an outline of a day you both like and can afford. Anything else will be an upgrade.

Know how much weddings cost in your area: Large metropolitan areas, such as New York City, will be more expensive than the suburbs. A little web research, as well as a few phone calls to vendors, can answer a lot of questions for you. Be sure to also check out our advice for easy ways to cut corners on everything for your wedding.

Attitude check: no one owes you a wedding. Other friends’ parents may have paid for their big days, but yours may not be able to. Keep expectations in check. Sit down and start by telling them that you do not want to assume that they are planning to pay for your wedding, but you need to know if they can so that you can create a budget. Your fiance should have a similar conversation with his family. These talks should happen separately. If either side is willing to contribute, be sure to involve them as much as you can. It’s their money you’re spending, after all.

Use an online budgeting tool — and stick with it: There are lots of budget calculators online and you should definitely use one. It will keep your spending in check. The temptation will always be to spend more or invite a few more people. Remember that your wedding is the first day of your new life together, so there’s no need to blow your life savings on one day where there are many more days ahead.

5) Estimate, roughly, the size of your guest list: Budget will most likely dictate the size of your guest list. A little arithmetic will tell you how many people you can invite. If you have $20,000 to spend on the reception, and the venue charges $100 a head, you can invite up to 200 people. Create lists of people you must invite, such as family members and very close friends, and find a cut off for everyone else. Easy ways to make cuts are people you haven’t spoken to in over a year, eliminating co-workers, second cousins, etc. Be sure to consult our list of people you should never invite to your wedding.

For more guest list tips, check out our list of 10 common guest list questions, which were answered by an actual etiquette expert. If invited guests start giving you trouble, we decoded the 10 most annoying wedding guests, and how to deal with them.

6) Determine the size of your bridal party and who will be in it: You may have a lot of friends, but they don’t all have to be in your wedding party. Most people would actually prefer to just be a guest. It’s even become trendy to not have a bridal party at all, shy of brothers or sisters who serve as best men or maids of honor. The more people you have in your wedding party the more complications will arise, so keep things simple. If you decide to include close friends as well as family members, read up on how to keep your bridesmaids happy.

7) Decide whether you need a planner: It may seem like a luxury to hire someone to plan your wedding, but in the long run they can be worth every penny. If nothing else, consider hiring one for the big day to organize vendors and other details while you get ready. Destination weddings almost always require a local wedding planner, since they know local vendors and customs. Wedding planners have other bonuses, such as getting you deals you wouldn’t get otherwise. Check out our guide to what your wedding planner should be doing for you.

8) Narrow your venue options down to 3.  There are a lot of factors when it comes to choosing the venue. The bottom line will come down to how much you get for your money. Unexpected deal breakers can include whether you can or have to bring in your own food, and if there are approved food vendors. Bringing your own liquor can be less expensive, so be sure to ask about corkage fees. Be clear about the payment schedule before you sign anything.

There are, of course, places where you should never get married.

9) Research vendors: Referrals are some of the best preliminary research you can do. Ask your recently married friends who they used and start your research there. Pay attention to reviews on Facebook or Yelp. If there are more than a handful of bad reviews, keep looking. And yes, legitimate vendors will be completely covered in the web and social media space. Pick up a few local wedding magazines as well for more ideas.

Stay organized and download a list of vendors you’ll need to contact. Know what to ask them, too. Don’t forget to book an officiant — you can’t get married without one. We have a great cheat sheet for picking the right officiant.

10) Ask family members (in laws, parents and groom) for a preliminary guest list/guest size: If someone else is picking up the tab for your wedding, you may have to play a few of their reindeer games when it comes to the guest list.  If you start to wonder why you father’s dentist’s daughter is on the list, it’s time to tactfully pull a Will & Kate. When they didn’t recognize many of the names on the guest list that Buckingham Palace put together, they made the point that they wanted control. Chelsea Clinton and her husband did the same thing. The offending inviters will understand. Eventually.

Another way to control the size of the guest list is to consider the size of the venue. A room that seats 100 can’t hold 200, so blame the laws of physics when you have to make a case for cutting your mother’s tennis buddies.

Ready to really start planning? Check out our wedding dictionary, wedding disasters that really aren’t and ideas for the wedding bar.





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