Start Here: How to Plan Your Wedding
— By Lorna Urwin
19 July 2017
Planning a wedding is a huge undertaking full of decisions and compromise, but there’s no denying that it’s also lots of fun! To help prepare you, here’s our step-by-step guide on what to expect on the road from engagement to marriage.
Image by Patina Photography
Share the news
Once the ring’s on that finger, you’re bound to want to share the exciting news with the world! It’s customary to tell your parents and close family first followed by close friends, but the exact order and way you do this is completely up to you. After you’ve shared the news personally with your nearest and dearest, you can then broadcast it more widely, whether via social media or putting an announcement in a local paper.
Throw an engagement party
You might want to have an engagement party to celebrate this huge moment in your lives. Though not necessary, it can be a lovely idea – especially if you’re having a longer engagement.
Have an engagement shoot
There are so many great reasons to have an engagement photo shoot. The timing depends on your preference – you could hold it soon after your engagement while you’re still basking in the glow of your news, or you could wait until you’ve chosen your wedding photographer a little further down the line. Either way, be sure to check out our list of awesome engagement shoot ideas.
2/ Big picture planning and organisation
Image by Lori Paladino Photography
Discuss your dream wedding
It’s time to start planning! Set aside some time to sit down with your partner and dream up some ideas. Think about the big picture. Indoor or outdoor? Formal or informal? Summer or winter? Big or small?
Discuss your priorities, too. Which aspects are essential to your dream and which are less important? (Are you all about having heavenly food? Or is the venue/entertainment/décor/atmosphere most important?)
Consider colour and theme
You definitely don’t need a theme, or even a colour palette, to plan a wedding, but they can be a great way to create a coherent aesthetic from invitations through to venue and decor. It can also be helpful when it comes to looking for inspiration. If you know you want a rustic wedding, searching on blogs or Pinterest can yield tons of ideas you might not otherwise have come across that perfectly suit your style!
To avoid feeling overwhelmed by all the ‘wedmin’, make sure to establish an organisational system that works for you, whether that’s a wedding binder, notebooks, electronic documents or a mixture of the three!
Once you’ve sketched out some rough ideas for your dream wedding, it’s time to ground those dreams in reality by setting up a realistic budget. It's crucial to budget before you start exploring specifics - it's no fun planning your dream wedding only to realise it's beyond your means.
There’s no ‘right’ way to allot your wedding budget to different elements. Much depends on the priorities you’ll have already discussed, but here’s a guide to typical spending proportions:
- Reception: 40%
- Honeymoon: 14.5%
- Photography and videography: 10.5%
- Wedding attire: 7%
- Engagement rings and wedding bands: 6%
- Flowers: 5%
- Music: 5%
- Invitations: 2%
- Miscellaneous incl. celebrant: 10%
If you’re worried about your wedding breaking the bank, read up on our advice for where to save and where to spend, easy ways to save money on your wedding, and how to get the most out of your wedding budget. (And don’t forget to watch out for those hidden wedding costs!)
4/ Guest List
Image by Rachel Pearlman Photography
Next, it’s time to decide who’ll join you on the special day. Creating your perfect guest list from a headcount figure all the way to the final list can take a bit of time and even heartache, but it really is vital to have this sorted early so that you can make better-informed choices about many other aspects of wedding planning. (How large will the venue have to be? What will my costs per head be?)
5/ Book your venue(s)
Image by Jen Dillender Photography
Now on to the setting for your wedding: will you have your ceremony at your reception venue or somewhere else? Will you hold it local to you, local to your family, or somewhere else altogether? A huge array of factors will feed into this decision, including time of year, the size of the wedding and potentially your theme or the level of formality you’d prefer. Search the internet, ask others for recommendations and start scheduling those visits!
When you think you’ve found ‘the one’, here are 21 questions to ask when making the final decision.
6/ Choose the bridal party
Image by Natalie Watson
When to ask
You’re free to ask your bridesmaids and groomsmen much earlier in the planning process. After all, getting loved ones on board is probably one of the most fun parts of wedding planning! But waiting until you have a location and a date set in stone does mean that you can give them more information to determine their availability.
How many bridesmaids/groomsmen?
Choose as many or as few people as you want – a large bridal party can end up being more expensive and harder to manage, but it also means more people to support you in the lead up to the wedding. Including your partner’s relatives is a sweet and diplomatic move that can only strengthen family relations – providing they are reliable. Otherwise, there are several alternative ways to include loved ones in the wedding without having them in the bridal party!
Be sure to be open and up front with your squad about what the role will entail, e.g. any tasks you might like to delegate, any party planning you’d like their involvement with and any financial commitment for their attire. Check out our unstoppable bridesmaid guide to learn more about what a bridesmaid’s responsibilities involve.
7/ Book your vendors
Image by Justin DeMutiis Photography
If you’re looking for a wedding planner, you might want to start the search at an earlier point in the planning. Otherwise, once you’ve got your venue and your date, there’s every reason to get booking the experts who’ll bring your dream wedding to life.
Weddings involve a lot of different people, from a photographer to a make up artist, a DJ to a florist. If you’re not sure where to begin, our best tips for hiring wedding vendors guides you through each step of the hiring process, while our ultimate vendor booking timeline will help you decide when to book each vendor.
8/ Work on the details
With vendors in place (or soon to be in place!) you’ll want to turn your attention to the many details big and small that will make up the design of the wedding. Some of these will be quick to organise, others will take weeks or even months of research and discussion with vendors:
- Wedding website & registries – to keep your guests updated with information about the wedding, you can’t do much better than a wedding website! Not sure you need one, or not sure how to create one? We’ve got you covered. You’ll also want to make a plan for wedding gifts, which for many couples means setting up a registry.
Image by Tenth & Grace
- Stationery – those invitations should be sent out six to eight weeks before the big day, so work backwards from the wedding date to be sure you order in time. (If you want to send a save the date, that’ll go out even earlier.) Read our complete guide to choosing gorgeous wedding invitations and, while you’re at it, get some inspiration for some unique invitation designs too!
- Wedding timeline, ceremony and reception details – we won’t lie, there’s a lot involved in planning the details of the day. From avoiding timeline pitfalls, through to making the ceremony your own, mixing in some wonderful international traditions, through to the reception timeline, planning your seating chart, table settings, speeches, the first dance song and that unforgettable exit. There are also some less obvious things to consider, like how to create a romantic ambience or make your wedding more photogenic.
Image by Kristen Beinke
- Wedding attire – dress shopping can be amazing, but also a little stressful. Don’t miss our list of 6 important things to do before dress shopping, plus how to find the right dress for your body shape. Alternatively, take cues from some stand out bridal style or learn how to take your style to the next level. Of course, the dress is only the beginning. You may also be on the hunt for the perfect veil, headpiece, bouquet and/or some eye-catching jewellery. And that’s only the bride! You’ll also need to find outfits for the groom and the rest of the bridal party, whether these are purchased or rented.
- Beauty and health - it’s easy to become so caught up in the planning that you forget something fundamental: you! Start early to create and stick to a self-care plan. Exercise regularly and keep to a healthy diet. Get plenty of sleep. For a bit more guidance on this subject, check out our bridal beauty timeline and our dos and don’ts for your hair and makeup trials!
- Honeymoon – Even though the honeymoon will come post-wedding, most couples research, plan and book it in advance of the big day. Here are our suggestions for romantic city breaks around the world and top New Zealand honeymoon destinations.
9/ Additional parties
Image by Mariel Hannah
On top of the wedding itself and the engagement bash, there’s potential for plenty more partying. A bridal shower can be particularly fun – in the past we’ve rounded up some great ideas for activities as well as a guide to bridal shower etiquette.
Next come the hen and stag dos – get some inspiration for a classy event from our articles on 9 classy ideas for a hen do and 6 classy ideas for the stag do. For couples who want to keep the fun going beyond their last dance, check out our guide to different types of wedding after parties.
Image by Sophie Kaye Photography