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Your First 5 Wedding Planning Must Dos

You’re engaged. Woohoo! You’ve spread the news and changed your Facebook statuses. And you have set the date. Or at least a date range.

So now what? You are probably like many and cannot hire a wedding planner to help with everything (although you’ll be surprised how many by-the-piece options you have. Read What to Look for in a Wedding Planner for your DIY Wedding, here). Here is a list of the five must-do wedding planning items to get on your schedule right away.

Completing this list upfront will help the whole process go smoother. Less stress means a happier you!

Your First Five Wedding Planning Must Dos

1. Decide the three areas most important to you.

What is top of mind when you dream of your wedding? Is it the theme? The dress? Food? Location? The guests?

Whatever they are, it is where you should put your emphasis when wedding planning. Knowing the few elements that will make your wedding a success from the start will help guide you through the harder decisions.

Because the fact is, things will go wrong. And things will change along the way. You now know what areas to stand firm in and what to let happen as they will.  

2. Get a complete wedding planning checklist.

Running about putting out emergencies is exhausting. Following a complete wedding checklist from the beginning helps avoid much of that unexpected panic.

Because finishing everything on time is one of the biggest hurdles when you are planning your wedding. The checklist will act as a roadmap and help you foresee challenges. You can then prioritize your efforts.

You will also be able to identify early on what you can do yourself and what you cannot. Enlist family and friends for some. And hire vendors for the others.

Another way you can use a checklist is as a task-elimination tool. Start with the complete list and winnow down to what you will be doing for your wedding. Is your family going to cook everything for a buffet, for example? If yes, mark off every task related to hiring and paying a caterer.

3. Decide how much you can spend and set up budget tracking.

Nearly every couple on the planet began with ideas too big for their wallets. Avoid disappointment and a lot of wheel-spinning by knowing your numbers upfront. Whether your final budget is $5,000 or $50,000, it is crucial to understand how you will get the money.

Lucky you if you are among the small number of families that follow the olden-days convention of the bride’s parents paying for most of the wedding costs. And the groom’s pitching in with rehearsal dinner and other small expenses. 

Likely, however, you are in a different situation. So, knowing your budget is essential. First, sit down as a couple and have a frank conversation about how much you are willing to spend from your own pockets. Think about current savings and what you can realistically save until the wedding.

Next, get realistic about other sources. How much will your parents be chipping in? Are there family or friends that can offer their products or services as gifts? And don’t forget gifts of cash you can choose to spend on the honeymoon or other wedding expenses.

After you know your budget, get an idea about how much you will spend on each category by splitting up the budget. Start with an average percentage for each, then adjust to customize to your wedding planning situation.

Here are some percentage ranges to get you started. Use the wedding budget calculator here to adjust for your own situation.:

  • Wedding planning tools: 1-2%. You may decide to pay for an app or a planning book.
  • Wedding stationery: 3-5%. It is still customary to send printed invitations and thank you cards. Because digital versions often go unnoticed. And not everyone checks email or social media regularly.
  • Your wedding ensembles and beauty treatments: 10-15%. This category includes the wedding gown(s) and suit(s), as well as accessories, for you and your fiancée. Plus, any makeup, mani-pedi, and hairdo costs for the big day.
  • Décor and flowers: 5-8%. Including all flowers like wedding party bouquets and reception centerpieces, as well as other decorations for the ceremony and reception.
  • Ceremony & reception services: 15-17%. Like venue rentals, officiant, licenses, insurance, and other fees.
  • Food and drink: 20-30%: This is usually the most significant single expense category. If you rent a venue that supplies a caterer and charges by the plate, you may want to combine with ceremony & reception services.
  • Photos and videos: 8-10%. Including both time and physical photographs plus videography.
  • Music and entertainment: 6-8%. Like a DJ, soloist, band, or other performers.
  • Guest favors and wedding party gifts: 2-3%
  • Otherwise unaccounted for taxes, tips, and miscellaneous: 2-3%.
  • Wedding rings. You may or may not consider rings as part of the formal budget. In any case, spend what you can afford and in line with how important you find them.
  • The honeymoon. This is another area you may choose to budget for separately or within the master budget.

4. Set at least a narrow range for your guest count.

The guest count has a direct effect on what type of food you can afford to serve. The difference between 50 and 300 guests may mean serving filet mignon versus pasta.

Large or small guest counts will also narrow down your choice of locations. And dictate the size of your venue space. A grand ballroom will be expensive and depressingly empty for 50 people. Conversely, renting a restaurant’s room for the reception is probably not viable for 300 people.

It may be a while until you have a final guest count. But your venue choice may depend on the size of the wedding you want to have. Critical questions for each potential venue will revolve around room sizes and capacities.

5. Create a shortlist of places and book your date early.

Now that you know your priorities, how much you can afford, and the guest count, you are prepared to visit venues. How quickly you must make a decision will depend on the popularity of your location.

Many places book a year or more in advance. If you are vying for one of those spots, it is paramount to begin this process early.

Before venturing forth into site visits, research the sizes available for each of the locations you think you may want to book. (Tip: search for venues here.) Do they have areas appropriate for your wedding size? If yes, yay! If not, move on.

Now you have a shortlist of places to visit. Next, think about questions to ask your wedding venue. These include inquiries related to availability, logistics, requirements, and costs. You do not want any last-minute surprises!

After you’ve completed these first five tasks, you are set for a smoother and more enjoyable wedding planning process. Congratulations!