Every bride has her vision of the perfect wedding. Your wedding is one of the most memorable days of your life. Who can blame you for wanting it to be everything you’ve dreamed of and more? Here’s where the equally perfect, supremely organized, visionary genius of a wedding planner comes in...or doesn’t. The fact is, weddings are expensive. Really freaking expensive. That’s the bad news. The good news is that you, too, have what it takes to be a veritable wedding genius. With the right knowledge, tools, and inspiration, you can plan your wedding so expertly that no one would guess you didn’t have professional help. Want to pull off the perfect wedding- without taking out a second mortgage or selling an arm or a leg? Here’s how to do it your way.
1. Set a Budget You Can Stick To
There’s a reason we began this list with setting a budget, and it’s not just to get the most tedious part over with (although that’s part of it). Think of your budget as the foundation upon which your wedding will be built. It’s not the prettiest or most exciting layer, but it informs most of your most important wedding decisions. A simple Google search yields dozens of creative ideas and resources for wedding planning on a tight budget.
If you’ve got family members who will be contributing to your budget, open communication is important from the start. Talk to them about your priorities and find out what they’re comfortable spending. If you’re financing your own wedding, this process is a little less complicated but just as important. Once you’ve taken inventory and figured out your finances, apply this information to your priorities. That leads us to our next golden rule of wedding planning.
2. Set Your Guest List and Send Out Invitations
Once you’ve set your date, give your guests time to save it. We suggest sending out save-the-dates up to a year before your wedding. About four months before the day of your wedding, send out invitations with a reasonable RSVP date. (Think 3-4 weeks prior to the day). Wedding invitations are sneak previews into the main event, so it’s a good idea to make sure they jibe with the style of your wedding. For example, if you’re having a traditional, ultra-romantic wedding, elegant calligraphy in soft colors is a complementary option. (Classic black and white is another classic spin on this). If you’re having a modern, minimalist wedding, you may want to try a unique graphic design that stands out.
It’s a good idea to request a sample before purchasing invitations. Another good rule of thumb: review the finished product to be extra sure your invitations are free of typos or other pesky mistakes. Always purchase more than you need- you never know if an unexpected guest might pop up. Some people like to put an invitation aside for the photographer to capture on their wedding day.
3. Set the Mood- and Some Priorities
One of the benefits of planning your own wedding is the creative freedom that comes along with being in control. Sure, an unspoken part of a wedding planner’s job is to capture the essence of the couple getting married. But who better to capture the sentimental value and mood of your wedding than you and your partner? This may be the most ephemeral, least practical part of your wedding preparations, but for many couples, it’s the most important (or at least one of the most important). Some brides and grooms prefer a real-life fairy-tale wedding, complete with a princess dress and tiered white cake. Other couples may want their wedding day to reflect their free spirit, opting out of formal tradition and getting married on the beach. (Think simple slip dresses and/or fashionable pastels).
Do you have a deep-rooted love of nature, and dream of being married in the sun-dappled woods, making use of natural light for photos? Are you a regal bride whose vintage wedding will transport guests to another time? Ask yourself these important questions as well: Do you and your partner want a simple, private wedding, or a spectacular party atmosphere that will propel your wedding hashtag to Insta-fame? Are you and your groom more spiritual or religious? Or is getting married not about religion or spirituality for you? This list could go on and on, but you catch our drift.
Decide on a color scheme and style for your bridesmaids’ dresses well ahead of time. This way, you’ll not only save time and prevent chaos in the last breathless weeks before your wedding, but you’ll also have the option to coordinate wedding wear with your venue. If you’re like many artistic souls, your pre-wedding mind might look like a canvas splattered with different colorful ideas. In need of some wedding inspiration (and organization)? Create a Pinterest board and pin ideas that you like. Don’t worry if there’s no method to your madness- think of your Pinterest board as a brainstorm session. Collect every image that really calls out to you, and eventually a theme will emerge.
There’s also an app for that. Wedding planning apps are designed to help you strategically create a checklist that moves along an appropriate timeline. For those who struggle with organization, this option is really convenient!
4. Say “Yes” to the Perfect Dress
Once you’ve set the tone for your perfect wedding, do some research based on your budget. When it comes to bridal wear, including those customized bridesmaid dresses, there are usually more affordable versions of the most coveted designer gowns. When it comes to their perfect dress (which is often something they’ve been dreaming of since childhood), brides often reach a fork in the road: Say yes to the expensive dress or find a more affordable lookalike? It’s all about priorities, and only you and your partner know what they are.
Wedding dresses are usually custom made or fitted. We recommend ordering your dress up to a year before the wedding. While that may seem excessive, it gives you ample time to make any necessary alterations or adjustments. You should encourage bridesmaids to follow these guidelines as well.
There’s no wrong or right way to choose your perfect wedding dress. When choosing a style, you can take into account any number of influencing factors. For a breezy summer wedding, you might want to choose from a strapless selection or go for a light silhouette. If you’re a glamour girl, go all out with a mermaid style or ornate fitted gown of satin and lace. Traditionalists may go for a romantic princess dress. An emerging trend in bridal wear is to put a unique spin on traditional dresses by making them in pale pastels, which add just the lightest mist of color. A lot of these dresses have a fairy-like, whimsical quality that’s becoming increasingly popular on the runway and real brides. Bridal pants are an increasingly popular alternative to the typical dress. Fashionistas can find inspiration on the runway or even on Instagram. Unconventional brides also have more options than ever, and a lot of these alternative collections have no cap on creativity.
5. Find the Best Venue for You
Your wedding venue should be aligned with your vision of your wedding. Some couples want a destination wedding that feels like a romantic getaway. When it’s done right, a destination can be like a paradise of your own making. Needless to say, destination weddings require a considerably large budget- you’re not just paying for luxury, but for the flying and lodging costs of guests. Of course, you can have a luxury wedding locally, which has the benefit of more convenience for your guests.
We’ve got a few tips that apply to all weddings. For one, be flexible about dates and times, as there may be a dramatic difference between on and off-season costs. Getting married at an off-season time for a particular venue or location can save you hundreds to thousands- and many destinations are beautiful all year long. Sometimes simply avoiding Saturdays can go a long way toward cost effectiveness.
It’s also a good idea to get cost estimates for venues and see which of your top choices are willing to negotiate where some aspects of pricing are concerned. If your reception is at the heart of your celebration, consider opting for a standing-only ceremony. You can also use local vendors to avoid extensive travel costs for caterers and entertainment such as live DJs, bands, or other types of performers.
Referring back to the second piece of advice on our list (setting priorities), you’ll want to choose a venue that fits your wedding style like a glove. For traditionalists who want their wedding to stand out, consider adding historic charm by getting married at rambling old estate or iconic landmark.
This may sound like a no-brainer but consider your guests when choosing a venue. Obviously, the size of your venue has to accommodate your guest list. Did you know there are venue directories on the web that make suggestions based on budget, location, and venue type? Wedding Spot is a popular one, but dozens can be accessed by a simple Google search for “wedding directories”. When you do find your dream venue, learn its busiest season and day of the week. The last thing you want to do is fall in love with a venue and then find out it’s booked for the entire season when your wedding takes place.
6. Cater to Your Guests- and Your Preferences
We mean this in the literal sense. Again, factor in your guests, budget, and the style and feel of your wedding. Do you want a formal sit-down meal followed by the grand entrance of a multi-layered cake and designer desserts? If you prefer a buffet, do you want a display with something for everyone or should it be tailored to a particular taste or theme? Perhaps even more importantly, your caterer should be catering to you. Food professionals have many of their own creative, expert ideas, but you should choose a caterer who caters to your vision. The ideal situation is a meeting of the minds in which your caterer is inspired to build on your central idea. Your catering team should be enhancing your vision, not altering it (unless, of course, you trust them implicitly and grant them full creative control). If you’re not sure where to begin, ask your venue for a list of preferred vendors they know and trust.
7. Book a Picture-Perfect Photographer
A little bit of research has a big payoff when it comes to choosing the right photographer for your wedding. Luckily, these days many wedding photographers have blogs that regularly showcase their work on different weddings. (And those who don’t blog usually have sophisticated websites that display their work). It’s not hard to get a snapshot of a wedding photographer’s style and ability. Now, many large and small photography businesses, as well as freelance photographers, have more than one area of expertise. It may well be the case that the photographer who shares your vision and brings it to life does not exclusively photograph weddings. But if you want to narrow down your choices, we suggest searching local or destination businesses that only photograph weddings or events. In any case, your wedding photographer should be able to expertly conceptualize your ideas and bring them into fruition behind the lens.
Styled wedding shoots, which tell a story with pictures, are remarkably similar to fashion editorials. This type of shoot is inspired by a concept or a mood and allow you to really use your creative license. If you choose to do a styled shoot, which can be a fun way to express and commemorate your love, we recommend working with a photographer who has a lot of experience with them. They are very nuanced and require an expert eye for detail and a knowledge of current trends.
Once you’ve narrowed down your choices, don’t be afraid to ask all of your questions and communicate candidly with prospective photographers. No question is too big or small, and you should be given as much time as you need to learn about the photographer before committing. Your photographer should work with you, not simply stage and design the whole session without taking in your input and ideas. Don’t worry that you’re being a backseat driver- this is your wedding and the photographer is there to capture the images you want.
Obviously, you also need to factor in the kind of photos you want. Do you want an engagement and wedding session along with your wedding day photo collection? How innovative is your photographer? Do they know how to take control in a chaotic situation and come up with spontaneous ideas on the spot as needed? How capable are they to organize a large group into place for multiple photo ops? Do their past work and ideas at the time of your session inspire you?
Aside from skill and creative ability, the most important question to ask yourself is probably this: Does your photographer share your vision and know how to enhance it using their expertise? You may not think of chemistry in terms of wedding photographers, but it’s absolutely necessary. These images are meant to last a lifetime, so it makes sense that you want them to capture the essence of your love, personality, and your big day. For example, natural light photographers are often perfect for outdoor weddings with historic charm or sweeping scenic views. If your wedding has glitz and glamour to spare, you’ll want a luxury or destination wedding photographer. Very often, high quality photographers shoot many different types of weddings, including outdoor and luxury venues. The main things to remember: View a diverse spectrum of their past work, engage in an ongoing conversation to establish an easy rapport, and put your creative minds together to create something you love.
Be sure to inquire about availability in the searching stage and mark it down for each photographer you like. The last thing you want is to find your perfect match, only to discover that they’re booked far beyond the date of your wedding. In this case, you can never really start too early. Once you set a date, start your search and give yourself ample time to deliberate over your options. After all, wedding photography is meant to capture a moment in time that will last throughout your whole lives.
8. Hire the Right Makeup Artists and Stylists for Your Wedding
This is a big one. As with photographers and caterers, stylists should share your vision and make it happen. If you’re like most brides, you’ll be looking for inspiration from almost the moment you say yes. Wedding blogs are a great source for such inspiration, and usually include vendor lists with websites to peruse. Factor in the size of your wedding party. If you’ve got five or more bridesmaids, you’ll probably want to opt for a stylist who can travel to you instead of vice versa. Again, consult your budget and consider your guests. Think realistically about the budget of your wedding party. Many brides give their bridesmaids the option of having their hair and makeup done on the day of the wedding so that their look is fresh throughout.
9. Send Rehearsal Dinner Invitations
This one is fairly simple. If a traditional wedding party is part of your procession, you’ll most likely want to have a rehearsal dinner in the weeks or days before your wedding. Invitations should be sent out at least 6-8 weeks in advance in order to ensure your whole group can make it. A rehearsal dinner leaves room to smooth out any possible kinks in your procession and ensures that everyone is on the same page.
10. Complete Last-Minute Tasks
It’s inevitable: Unexpected tasks will come up at the last minute, making you feel like your head is going to explode before you make it down the aisle. The good news is that most, if not all, of these tasks can be made manageable by a few good organizational practices. To avoid last minute chaos or confusion, be sure to confirm arrival times and schedules with your wedding party, vendors and photographers. Remember, you don’t have to go it alone. Relegate certain tasks to the wedding party, as part of their honorary role is to support you.