Everything you need to know to get started planning your wedding. Lay the foundation for your wedding planning by defining your vision, identifying priorities, and setting a realistic wedding budget.
Phase 1: Preparing to Plan Your Wedding
In this article:
- Phase 1: Preparing to Plan Your Wedding
- Before you get started
- Crafting your wedding vision
- Defining your priorities
- Setting Your Budget
- Creating a wedding savings plan
- Getting Organized
- Creating Your Guest List
So you’re just recently engaged and wondering where to start with your wedding planning. This page will walk you through the steps of laying the foundation for your wedding plans so you can put together an event you love on a budget you can actually afford!
Before you get started
So, you’re engaged! Yay, congrats! Take some time to celebrate your engagement and soak in this moment. Your engagement period is a small fraction of your time together as a couple so use this time wisely.
The wedding day is not the finish line, it’s the starting line of a life-long marathon together. Make sure that you and your partner are fully prepared and compatible in the long-term by taking some intentional time to examine all the different aspects of your relationship.
Many couples don’t think to have these conversations until they are going through pre-marital counseling.
But let me get real with you for a sec. Marriage is hard, and money is a big factor and a potential source of stress. Before you head down the aisle, you need to make sure you have your money situation in check.
- Have you discussed your personal finances?
- Do you have debt?
- Do you each have an emergency fund set up?
- If either of your family’s needed help and support, whether financially or physically, would you be willing to do that?
Remember, the Wedding Ceremony = getting married, Wedding Reception = Celebration. How you want that celebration to look and feel and how much you want to spend on it is ultimately up to you.
Another important reminder: Your wedding is just one day. Your marriage is for life. Which are you spending most of your time working on?
Crafting your wedding vision
Before getting started with the nitty gritty details of planning your day, you’ll want to sit down with your partner and discuss your Big Picture vision for your wedding. Tackle these five important points first, because they are the biggest determining factors of your potential cost, and will give you an overall framework to build upon.
- Size – the number of guests you invite to your wedding will have a big impact on the potential cost, so choose wisely. Are you into the idea of a microwedding or a big, epic party?
- Setting – indoor, outdoor, or both; winter, spring, summer, fall, ideal venue types, will it be local or destination?
- Style – personal style. How would you describe each of your personal style? Your home style? Get more resources for defining your wedding style here.
- Vibe – upscale or laid-back? Serious and sentimental or off-beat and fun?
- Timeline – how soon do we wanna do this thing?
- Think about your “why”
- Consider your personal values
- Be true to yourselves
- Define your priorities
- Have fun with it!
Wedding vision discussion questions:
- Why does having a wedding matter to us?
- What is our ultimate goal or purpose in having a wedding at all?
- How do we want to feel on our wedding day?
- Do we see our ideal wedding as a big, raucous party with everyone we know or an intimate affair with close friends and family only?
- How would we describe our personalities or overall vibes? Are we cosmopolitan chic or laid-back casual?
- Is tradition important to us or either of our families? Or do we want to go our own way?
- Are there certain elements of the wedding that are of high priority to us? What are we not willing to sacrifice?
- What are our biggest financial priorities in the next five years? Are we planning to buy a house, have a baby, start a business, or make any other big financial decisions?
Defining your priorities
When you’re working with a limited budget, it’s likely that you’ll have to make sacrifices, but that doesn’t mean your wedding can’t still be awesome! Instead of looking at this list from a negative standpoint, look at it from a place of power. This is your opportunity to weed out all the things you’re not interested in including in your day.
Your wedding doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s. It should reflect who the two of you are as individuals and as a couple. Sit down and decide that’s most important to you about your wedding day. Need help identifying your top wedding priorities? Consider making a list of all the various items and aspects of a traditional wedding day, and then get liberal with a red pen by marking out what isn't important to you.
Wedding Priorities Discussion Questions:
- What aspect of this event is the most important to each of us, individually?
- What are our top 3 priorities for the wedding celebration? Do they overlap with each other?
- Is quality or quantity more important?
- Are we willing to compromise on our priorities to suit our budget?
- Just Engaged? Start Here?
- Defining Your Wedding Priorities
- Deciding Where To Splurge and Where to Save
- The Big Three Wedding Priorities
- Defining Your Values in Wedding Planning (and Life!)
- What to Do When You First Get Engaged
- How to Plan Your Own Wedding Like a Pro in 15 Steps
Setting Your Budget
If you want to avoid Wedding Debt Regret, you’ll want to set a realistic budget and stay within it.
Time to crunch the numbers. The amount you choose to spend on your wedding day should be a personal choice, based on your own unique set of circumstances and values. Despite what is portrayed in the media, you can absolutely have a beautiful wedding on a budget much smaller than the so-called “averages.”
The many pieces that make up your total wedding budget:
- Your personal savings
- Your partner’s personal savings
- Family contributions
- Contributions throughout the year
Look at your personal budget and identify areas you can cut back if needed to save more towards the wedding. We also recommend coming up with a drop-dead number or a max budget boundary that you can not or will not go over, no matter what.
Wedding Budget Discussion Questions:
- How much do we currently have in savings? How much of that are we willing to allocate towards the wedding?
- Are there areas in our monthly budget where we could cut back our spending?
- What is the maximum amount we are willing to spend on this event?
- Can you pick up a side-gig to stash some extra cash?
- How will you be paying? Cash, credit, check? Will you cashflow the wedding or put things on a zero-interest card to pay off over time?
- Do you have an emergency fund in place? IE – can you cover at least 3 months worth of living expenses in case of emergency. If the answer is no, that should be your priority before paying for a wedding.
Creating a wedding savings plan
If you’re not working with a lump sum of cash to pay for your wedding, you’ll likely want to contribute to your wedding fund over the course of your engagement.
You’ll want to start by examining you and your partners’ personal monthly budgets to see if there are excess funds to contribute. We love sticking by the 50/30/20 rule, which suggests using 50% of your income to go towards fixed living expenses, 30% towards flexible personal expenses, and 20% towards financial goals & priorities.
- Examine your personal budget
- Balance your budget accordingly
- Determine if cut-backs are necessary
- Calculate your monthly savings goal
- Automate your savings
It's important to get yourself organized so you can keep track of all your plans in one place. Whether you decide to buy a wedding planning book, or download a free wedding planning checklist, you'll need something to keep yourself on track, on task, and on-budget.
Creating Your Guest List
One important part of getting started with your wedding planning is to create a rough guest list. Before you move forward with researching venues and vendors, it’s important to have a rough idea of the size of wedding you’re going to have. Each of you should start by creating a list of all the people you’d like to have present on your big day, including family and friends.
This doesn’t have to be your final, concrete guest list for your big day, but it’s a great idea to start by making a list of all the people you’d like to have present on your wedding day. This could be your “in a perfect world” or “if money was no object” or even your YOLO list. If your funds are tight, you might want to ultimately aim for the “who would I move my date or change my plans for so they could attend” list.
Guest List Discussion Questions:
- Who are our wedding VIPs? Aka, the people we’d consider changing our plans in order for them to attend.
- Consider your budget divided by your guest count to estimate the cost-per-head. Does it seem doable or realistic for the event you’re envisioning?
- Consider a list of rules to abide by to make the cutting process simpler.
- Look at your list and determine which single guests will receive a plus 1.
From there, you should have a rough number of guests you’d love to include at your wedding. Compare the numbers of your VIPs to the YOLO list. These can be your two benchmarks to consider when doing venue research and getting some quotes.
Moving on to Phase 2 of Wedding Planning
Once you’ve completed all these steps in Phase one, you’re ready to move on to Phase 2: Research & Inspiration!